Where the clouds stand: Australian Aboriginal relationships to water, place, and the marine environment in Blue Mud Bay, Northern Territory

Barber, Marcus (2005) Where the clouds stand: Australian Aboriginal relationships to water, place, and the marine environment in Blue Mud Bay, Northern Territory. PhD thesis, Australian National University.

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View at Publisher Website: http://hdl.handle.net/1885/9708


This thesis explores the relationships between people, water, and places in the everyday life of the Yolngu people of Yilpara in northeast Arnhem Land. In the Yolngu world, a sophisticated understanding of the fluid and dynamic relationships between fresh and saltwater is given a greater priority than the division of the coast into land and sea. These waters are continually moving and mixing, both underground and on the surface, across an area that stretches from several kilometres inland to the deep sea, and they combine with clouds, rain, tides, and seasonal patterns in a coastal water cycle. Yolngu people use their understanding of water flows as one basis for generating systems of coastal ownership, whilst water also provides a source of rich and complex metaphors in wider social life.

Describing this coastal water cycle provides the basis for a critique of the way European topographic maps represent coastal space, and also for a critique of common formulations of customary marine tenure (CMT). However as a methodological tool, I use maps to provide a detailed analysis of people's connections to place and as part of a wider examination of how places are generated and sustained. In this way the thesis contributes to anthropology, marine studies, and indigenous studies as well as touching on some issues of coastal geography. The approach I adopt has a phenomenological emphasis, since it enables me to show how Yolngu concepts arise out of and articulate with their experience of living in their environment and of using knowledge in context. This perspective contributes fresh ethnographic insights to some ongoing contemporary debates about people and place.

The paired tropes of flow and movement are used as a gloss throughout the work, as each chapter takes a different domain of human life at Yilpara and explores how water, place, and human movement are manifested in it. Such domains include subsistence hunting and fishing, group and gender distinctions in presence on the country, food sharing, memories of residence and travel, personal names, spirits and Dreaming figures, patterns of coastal ownership, and interactions with professional fishermen. Together, they provide an account of the different ways that people relate to water, place and country in contemporary everyday life. ‘Where the Clouds Stand’ is predominantly an ethnographically driven work from one locality, but within that approach, it also explores broader considerations of phenomenology, anthropological inquiry, and human life more generally.

Item ID: 1702
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Blue Mud Bay, Northern Territory, Aborigines, Indigenous, resource use, relationships, environment, marine resources
Additional Information:

This thesis is openly accessible from the link to Australian National University's institutional repository above.

Date Deposited: 08 Oct 2007
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1601 Anthropology > 160104 Social and Cultural Anthropology @ 80%
20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2002 Cultural Studies > 200201 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Studies @ 20%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9503 Heritage > 950302 Conserving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage @ 30%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society @ 30%
94 LAW, POLITICS AND COMMUNITY SERVICES > 9401 Community Service (excl. Work) > 940102 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Development and Welfare @ 40%
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