Women Within Traditional Aussie Culture

Spirit C covers

I’m working on a novel at the moment as I do in our travels and one of the best thing I find about travelling my country are the experiences you have, the knowledge and the memories you gain which all become part of the story within my writing. The book I am working on presently is the third book in the Spirit Children Series and having very much enjoyed the process of the storyline in previous books, this third novel offers a number of enjoyable challenges as the characters follow in the wake of our own travels. The story is that of an ancient Lore and its survival in a contemporary world.

The books of the series are each independent stories even though The Dreaming Series and the Spirit Children series are a composite tale of adventure and trial. The books can however be read independently as they are each, individual tales about different Aboriginal Shaman, their experiences, the varied paths of their lives as well as their love’s. They are told from within the framework of an ancient Lore and how this impacts on life’s choices.


I wrote these tales to bring to the reader a basic awareness of this ancient Australian Lore drawn from a culture now largely dispersed, lost or buried in the Killing Times of the Australian colonial history. I draw my knowledge from a lifetime of interest and studies in the living and customs of the ‘old people’, those traditional Aboriginal Australians whose ways have now passed from our experience. My knowledge comes from anthropological works, from news reports down through the last 200 years, all gathered from the era of colonization in the Australian continent. It comes from the stories and legends lived, as told by many. Australians are not commonly taught these things about our history.

http-::kids.britannica.com:In Australia now there are near 700,000 people of 22 million Aussies who identify as indigenous Australians. The vast majority of Aboriginal Aussies live in NSW with Qld coming in a close second. Half of this indigenous population live on the east coast of Aus’, as does the greater number of Aussies. The greatest population of Aboriginal Australians are of cross-cultural in heritage, though they often prefer to be identified as Aboriginal. Many purely of European descent now also identify themselves as ‘native’ to the land, their families having lived within Australia for several generations.

Under Aboriginal traditional Lore, generations rarely go beyond the third count, ie.. Great Grandparents, as the culture had no written record and their legend and Lore extend from this point into the Dreamtime. These legends are a timeless account of stories, morals and lessons told under the umbrella of Lore. It is also a Lore whose tenets and beliefs can extend right across the continent, between language groups and tribes along Dreaming trails and Songlines. It is this as well as language grouping that binds the tribal nations, as otherwise they could be considered to be independent of each other.

Rainbow SerpentAt the time of colonization it is estimated that there was anything from between 350,000 to 1 million indigenous, native Aussies across the vast continent who were comprised of hundreds of different, individual tribes, many with their own language or dialect. This is about the same estimate in numbers that there are today and it has taken over two hundred years for the population to recover from colonization.

The Killing Times decimated the original ancient traditional tribes with by far the largest number of deaths being from disease. Social ‘warring’ for territory and resources largely involved the tribal killings between the mobs, with the majority of murders committed between the Native Police Force who were armed and led by the whitefella against other tribes of their race.

Why Warriors DieThere are some notorious accounts of wars, civil murderers and slaughters to be found in on both cultural sides our history though predominantly it was the natives who were massacred unilaterally, these being mostly women and children as well as the warriors.

If you were however to consider also the indiscriminate murder and mistreatment of the convicts during the ‘convict period’, which was of some 70 colonial years in our early nationhood, it is clear to see that the abuses are founded within a class conscious society and a legal system that was supportive of miss-treatment and of the land grab by the Squatocracy of the day. It is the imperial nature of government that should be held to account as they supported and largely were the Squatocracy sector of early Australian society.

The larger sector of early Australian Society were sympathetic towards the welfare of the tribal people and it was legal dictate from this imperial system that concealed most of the abuses on the frontier. These abuses, including murder, rape, enslavement and mistreatment, I believe, are not commonly based in the racial differences as is often touted, but in societal differences as the convicts also experienced many of these abuses. The abuses, to the shame of our Education system, are also largely ignored by the formal accounts of our history as is taught to our children.

What isn’t understood is that it was also the cultural influences that often formed the basis for many of the conflicts between the whitefella and blackfellas. In a small part this was what I try to bring to mind in the first series, the Dreaming Series.

In the second series I wanted to make these cultural differences more apparent, particularly from the point of view of women. While it was women who bore the greatest brunt of abuse in our history this fact is little acknowledged both in our convict history and the history of the tribes.

My third novel of the Spirit Children series, Fire Mountain, which I am currently working on, is about a woman, Kirri who is from an ancient culture, one hidden in Australian tribal legend and fantasy. Unveiling and presenting a representation of this ancient culture to the reader is my challenge and while there are remnant of the traditional Australian Aboriginal culture still surviving today in pockets, much and most of these traditions have been lost.

Aboriginal womenTraditionally women in Aboriginal Lore were considered less than human and with very little, or no spiritual presence. Although, as though in contradiction of this widespread social status, the position of the woman can also be found within the core of this ancient Lore and its tenet. It is a conflict, one that muddies the waters of understanding, with even the legends of the Lore often placing women in a pivotal position.

This lack of acknowledgment is compounded by the reality that most western anthropologists were male and born of a patriarchal society, which largely left them ignorant of the role of women in much of their research.

Life for the traditional tribal people was often a constant struggle, which was one of the reasons the tribal Aboriginal people gravitated towards society and settlements where life was seen as more accommodating. This natural attrition and blending of cultures however led to the sure passing of their ancient Lore and traditions. Within the tribe, men and women had traditional roles and as life itself was seen as a spiritual existence, rather than a physical one, they little understood the physical context of European settlement.

What we would now consider as murder in many instances was seen through tribal eyes as merely punishment or the requirement for survival as they largely viewed life from a spiritual point of view. While the penal system of punishment, which the tribal people observed, often left them appalled at its brutality.

Tribal women were a commodity and a responsibility that men could often ill afford to support solely for their own use. Therefor they would use their women for advantage, this being a traditional view. Their cultural constraints and responsibilities to others were bound by strict traditional Lore and it was within this lore permissible to trade their women. Women were often ill used by both whitefella’s and blackfella’s, as well as yellowfella’s equally, as can be better understood in a past article, To Own a Woman. Although the popular consensus is that it was only commonly the whitefella who abused and ill-used native women and/or women in general. In cultural practice the native woman was often better treated by the whitefella than she would have been under tribal considerations.

convict womenThe European male in Australian colonial society also was accustomed to the widespread use and abuse of women, particularly convict women and this too translated into their relationships with native women. Conflicts born of these arrangements for native women, often made by men of both cultures arose between all creeds of men, regardless of colour or race. These conflicts can be found rooted in the differences of understanding within cultural practice. ‘Husbands’ … read sexual partners; for the native women were not commonly a singular event in her life. They were drawn from a ‘grouping’ of men who under the Lore, she could have conference with if she chose, or if it was so arranged by her ‘men’. That men from other cultures had no position within tribal Lore commonly exempted them from the rigid rules of this Lore.

Notorious also was infanticide, usually practiced with cannibalism, this particularly amongst the desert tribes. This practice is also touched on in the upcoming novel ‘Fire Mountain’, due for release in 2016. In dealing with babies born with lighter skin, a condition often associated with the spiritual nature of their Lore, infanticide was a common event in those first years of cross-cultural contact. Young babies were not considered to have a spiritual presence until they smiled or acknowledged their world. If they were disposed of soon after birth, it was believed that they would be returned to a mother at a more opportune time in the future.

The disposal of native wives or women was little better in practice, being that they were viewed as an often expendable commodity that belonged to a man, as were convict women commonly viewed. This was a fairly universal outlook within the Aboriginal tribes and the colonial society.

The role of woman within the tribe was most often subservient, they were considered the property or were owned by their men and traded openly. It was a position, which was accepted and little understood by those born outside the tribal custom. This view lead to many abuses as it still does today even in modern society, where women of some cultures or creeds are still openly traded in marriage and vice.

Dealing with these practices, and in trying to include these customs within the context of a contemporary and fictional storyline is a particular challenge. The first novel of the Dreaming Series, Shadow Dreaming, addresses this complexity in the relationship with Taipan and his young wife or child bride, Jenna.

Tales of the Featherfoot The theme of the ownership of women is continued in its complexity and clashes in the following books. In the last book, Caverns of the Dreamtime, there is a subtle shift. Tom is the primary narrator in the opening of the first chapter of the first book of the series as he introduces you to his world. Tom is also the primary character of the fourth book. Here he is a young and emerging Kadaitcha and as his Lore and world open up to him, he too must deal with the complexities and responsibilities of the women in his life as well as abide by the demands of his chosen path in life.

Breaking the storyline into another series was an easy choice. With the shift of focus now looking more at practical experience of life under this ancient Lore, a new beginning was needed as we delved more into the history to be found in legend. The new series is primarily that of the Children born of the Dreaming, The Spirit Children.

Front Cover LEIn the first book, Lands Edge, you once more meet Jeremy who was a young boy introduced in the first of the Dreaming Series. He has now grown and as a youth faces many of the challenges young men face. His journey is that of a Shaman and I wrote this book for my own Grandsons, to speak to them about something in their heritage as Australians.

Through OE coverI couldn’t resist including in the story line a warning that what a young adult will see is not always the full story, primarily from lack of experience. As such the second book, ‘Through Other Eyes’ evolved. It is an adult view and an adult experience of what are essentially the same set of circumstance which you are drawn through in the first book and the truth is much more complex in many ways, than that which Jeremy sees.

Tom is the narrator of the second book and while you meet Kirri in ‘Lands Edge’ her story is told in the upcoming book 3, Fire Mountain. Kirri is an unknown quality, a woman of the inland. Her culture and world are very much more in the traditional mould. A culture, which Tom comes to realize he knows little of, even though it is the foundation of his own.

The upcoming novel Fire Mountain, and indeed the books of the Spirit Children Series are more involved in the complexities of the ‘old peoples’ Lore, that reminiscent of the ancient Australian Aboriginal tribes. The stories can only but be an interpretation of this Lore but these stories open up a view of a world long past and yet still dwelling amongst us in other forms.

I hope you enjoy the journey into this ancient culture, the oldest culture on earth surviving today in a contemporary world.

Travel well

Spirit C covers

4 thoughts on “Women Within Traditional Aussie Culture

    • Hi there George, thank you for your comment. You most certainly are native the country you are born too. Only in Australia have we given this a different connotation and it is ludicrous to say otherwise. Race can no longer be defined by your skin shade in a Global community, it is about the culture one grows up in and to be proudly Australian is something I refuse to appologize for. After near a quarter of a millennia of cross cultural blending Australia can no longer be defined by skin colour and being Australian is surely a cultural outlook. It is a way of life and a love for our country and our freedom as originally stated on the first day/time the people celebrated Australia Day back in 1788. Something all Aussies should be able to identify with, this is what it is to be an Australian Native to our Land.

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