First Nations

Excellence in Scholarship and Learning


Aboriginal Dreaming Paths and Trading Routes

The Colonisation of the Australian Economic Landscape

In the series
First Nations and the Colonial Encounter

Dr. Dale Kerwin is Aboriginal Research Fellow at Griffith University. His academic career has been driven by the need for a proper conversation between the colonisers’ history and the first Australians’ history. He began his journey to university through correspondence courses, whilst at the same time being taught by his Elders to engage with non-Aboriginal people with a view to continuing that conversation for the benefit of both communities.

The dreaming paths of Aboriginal nations across Australia formed major ceremonial routes along which goods and knowledge flowed. These became the trade routes that criss-crossed Australia and transported religion and cultural values. This book highlights the valuable contribution Aboriginal people made in assisting European explorers, surveyors and stockmen to open the country for colonisation, and explores the interface between Aboriginal possession of the Australian continent and European colonisation and appropriation. Instead of positing a radical disjunction between cultural competencies, Dale Kerwin considers how European colonisation of Australia appropriated Aboriginal competence in terms of the landscape: by tapping into culinary and medicinal knowledge, water and resource knowledge, hunting, food collecting and path-finding. As a consequence of this assistance, Aboriginal dreaming paths and trading routes also became the routes and roads of colonisers. Indeed, the European colonisation of Australia owes much of its success to the deliberate process of Aboriginal land management practices.

Dale Kerwin provides a social science context for the broader study of Aboriginal trading routes by providing an historic interpretation of the Aboriginal/European contact period. His book scrutinises arguments about nomadic and primitive societies, as well as Romantic views of culture and affluence. These circumstances and outcomes are juxtaposed with evidence that indicates that Aboriginal societies are substantially sedentary and highly developed, capable of functional differentiation and foresight – attributes previously only granted to the European settlers. The hunter-gatherer image of Aboriginal society is rejected by providing evidence of crop cultivation and land management, as well as social arrangements that made best use of a hostile environment. This book is essential reading for all those who seek to have a better knowledge of Australia and its first people: it inscribes Aboriginal people firmly in the body of Australian history.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-338-6
Hardback Price: £65.00 / $89.95
Release Date: November 2010
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-529-8
Paperback Price: £25.00 / $37.95
Release Date: February 2012
Page Extent / Format: 220 pp. / 246 x 171 mm
Illustrated: Maps and photographs


List of Illustrations and Maps
Series Editor’s Preface, by David Cahill
Author’s Preface

Chapter One
Common Sense and Common Nonsense

The continent of Australia
The European imagination: the land and people of Australia
An affluent society or just hunter-gathers?
Aboriginal people as beings
An Aboriginal perspective

Chapter 2
Coming of the Aliens

Eora People and the first convict settlers
Galgalla or smallpox
A wilderness

Chapter 3
Only the Learned Can Read

The social game
Bula (friend)
Antiquity in Australia
Population density
To whom the land belongs to

Chapter 4
Maps, Travel and Trade as a Cultural Process

Astronomy and Astrology
Way-finding devices
Message sticks
Shell middens
Bora grounds
Travel technology
Roads and trading routes
The Pituri Road
White fella knowledge of pituri
Associated Dreaming tracks related to the trade of pituri
Trade goods
Fur cloaks
Market places/ trade centres
Trading paths

Chapter 5
To Travel Is To Learn

South-east Queensland
South-west Queensland corner: Mooraberrie (the Channel Country)
The nomads and their penetration of the Aboriginal landscape
Ludwig Leichhardt
Thomas Mitchell highway to Carpentaria
Edmund Kennedy
The Gregory brothers
The Jardine brothers
W.O. Hodgkinson
Stockmen and introduced beasts

6 Misrepresentation of the Grand Narrative – ‘Walk Softly on the Landscape’


The greatest challenge in writing the history of First Nations peoples is that of discerning the views and meanings that indigenous people attached to their colonial experiences, to distinguish the insider viewpoint from the interpretations of those outside the indigenous culture – the ‘emic’ from the ‘etic’, in the formulation of linguist Frederick Pike. In this regard, the best intentions of scholars to delineate the indigenous meanings and interpretations have often resulted in indigenous cultures being portrayed as the ‘Other’ (coined by Edward Said), often with the subtext that indigenous peoples are merely victims of colonialism or the post-colonial state. The range of responses of First Nations peoples included, then as now, many creative options as they came to perceive European cultures and colonialisms as fountainheads of opportunities to enhance the welfare of their nations and communities. Dale Kerwin’s path-breaking, ‘emic’ study explicitly eschews this ‘othering’ of Australian Aboriginal societies. His book identifies a pan-Aboriginal culture while acknowledging the sheer variety of its cultures and languages, and provides a welcome focus on their relationship to the Australian environment. The dreaming paths of the nations were not only ceremonial pathways but trade routes that criss-crossed the continent and along which goods and knowledge flowed. This study, rejecting as it does the hunter-gatherer image of Aboriginal Australia, represents a fresh appreciation not only of their nations but also inscribes them, to a greater extent than hitherto, into the very body of Australian history.
From the Preface by First Nations Series Editor, David Cahill, University of New South Wales

Kerwin (education, Griffith Univ., Australia) provides a valuable insider’s account of Aboriginal history and engagement with Australian colonialism, with a core focus on historic land use patterns and cultural mapping and travel practices. The author sets out an effective (if somewhat polemical and occasionally overstated) argument emphasizing the need to rethink Aboriginal history in more nuanced terms than those (stereo)typically associated with classic anthropological and historical accounts of nomadic peoples and their “primitive level” of cultural, economic, and political development. The evidence compiled includes archival, ethnographic, and testimonial sources, as well as interviews with Aboriginal interlocutors. Part of Kerwin's argument involves recasting Aboriginal society as sedentary and “developed,” thus correspondingly worthy of the sorts of rights accruing to nations. This is an important argument, though for specialists and readers who wish to compare this case with other contexts of indigenous activism globally, a key tension between local difference and the hegemony of Western models of politics is unaddressed. Ronald Niezen’s The Origins of Indigenism (CH, Jun’03, 40-5869) could profitably be read together with this piece to offer critical insight into the complicated relationship between global rights regimes and indigenous peoples. Highly recommended.

The aboriginal cultures of Australia has many secrets that were lost in ruthless colonization. Aboriginal Dreaming Paths and Trading Routes: The Colonisation of the Australian Economic Landscape explores the culture of the original cultures of Australia, often wrongfully written off as a savage hunter-gatherer society. Dale Kerwin presents evidence of an advanced culture that knew the land they called their own and used it to provide for their people. "Aboriginal Dreaming Paths and Trading Routes" is a scholarly study of aboriginal Australian history and culture, very much recommended reading.
The Midwest Book Review

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