Why I am fascinated with Aboriginal spirituality

On Tuesday, we heard a lecture from Australian scholar Mary Graham, who told us about the aboriginal perspective on life, the universe, and everything, basically.

Before now, I never had a reason to look far into this culture, or rather, a huge variety of cultures grouped under the catch-all designation of “aboriginal.” After Graham’s lecture, I was surprised at some of the beliefs and ways of life of the native Australian people.

Graham told us about their “dreaming,” a progressive, ever-changing collection of origin stories.

I was struck by the adaptive nature of the dreaming stories. Graham said, for an example, that there is an aboriginal origin story for Toyotas. She called it the Toyota Dreaming. People giggled, but Graham was serious.

“It is a fact, a thing that plays a role, so it has its own dreaming,” she said.


Torres Strait Islander artwork of a woven Toyota truck. Photo credit: Balnaves Foundation

I was fascinated by the aboriginal idea of adaptable spirituality, and how, while many religions base their beliefs on ancient, unchanging documents, the aboriginal people are constantly adding to and changing their stories to fit reality.

This acceptance of change shows in their view on the climate as well. While aboriginal people are currently working with the government to try and combat some of the negative effects of climate change, they are ultimately prepared to adapt to any changes that occur as a result of the rising temperatures.

“Change happens,” Graham said. “It is all taken into account.”

That is not to say that they don’t care about the effects of human-induced climate change on the environment.


Aboriginal Australians have been tending the land for thousands of years with varied practices including strategic burnings. Photo credit: Marina Kameny

According to Graham, the aboriginal people see their purpose as taking care of the land for their children. Instead of viewing land as something to be taken and exploited, they see themselves as part of it, firmly rooted in their sense of “place.” They are not opposed to change and development, but instead try to encourage good use of the land, instead of exploitation for profit.

I found many of the things Graham talked about extremely relatable and interesting, and, next week, when we travel to Carnarvon Gorge, a sacred place for many aboriginal people, I hope to learn more about these native peoples’ relationship with the environment.

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