The astronomy and songline connections of the Saltwater Aboriginal peoples of the New South Wales coast

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Copyright: Fuller, Robert
Australian Aboriginal peoples, who arrived in what is now the Australian continent approximately 65,000 years ago, are now accepted as the modern peoples with the longest continuous culture on Earth. Their culture, which includes observational astronomy, has a strong connection to the night sky, which is represented in Aboriginal stories and traditional knowledge. The Aboriginal belief in ‘Country’, their connection to the land they have lived upon, extends to the songlines that crisscross Australia, and these songlines may be a means to encode memory of stories and resource management. Recent evidence points to the remarkable accuracy in such stories describing sea level rise from over 7000 years ago. In this study I examined the stories and knowledge of the Aboriginal peoples of the New South Wales coast (‘Saltwater’ peoples) through a historical archival study of available literature, and through ethnographic fieldwork with knowledge holders from over 20 communities. The resulting database included more than 200 literature and 300 ethnographic items, including stories, vocabulary and cultural knowledge. I analysed the data using a number of anthropological theoretical approaches, including a thematic analysis resulting in a ‘thick description’, and in a structuralist approach to create ‘mythemes’ which were subsequently analysed using a phylogenetic technique to determine connections between cultural stories and their possible transmission along songlines. Included in the study is a review of the history of the arrival of Australian Aboriginal peoples to Australia and what is known about their settling of the NSW coast. I further studied the history of Western knowledge of songlines and defined them for the purpose of this study, then described many local, and several long-distance songlines encountered in the area of the study. In this study, I have used a multi-disciplinary approach including anthropology, cultural astronomy, and the Western sciences of astronomy, archaeology and geography to describe the culture of the Aboriginal peoples of the area of this study. The results have shown a strong connection in culture up and down the NSW coast, and suggested connections which may point to the transmission of stories along the songlines described.
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Fuller, Robert
Robinson, Daniel
Hamacher, Duane
Bolt, Reuben
Muecke, Stephen
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PhD Doctorate
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