Elders help uncover Pilbara past
■ While many city slickers wonder how we live in the Pilbara in the modern age, one UWA PhD candidate is in the region researching how people lived here prior to European settlement.
Andrew Cooper has been in the Pilbara for the past few months gaining insight and assistance from the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation into mobility and landscape use by indigenous people during the late Holocene period.
“When I began this project I came to realise that there was actually very little written about things like the seasonal changes in the Pilbara,” he said.
“I began by asking the elders about how the seasons worked in Yindjibarndi culture.
“They told me that there are two seasons in Yindjibarndi language — Muhlu and Garrwarn (cold time and hot time), with the hot time generally lasting from about September through to late April.”
This insight into Aboriginal seasons was of particular interest to Mr Cooper.
“Seasons in Aboriginal Australia are defined by the cycles and rhythms of the natural world and everything is interconnected,” he said.
“For example the flowering of the Gura (Caustic bush) in early Garrwarn (about late August early September) coincides with the eagles beginning to nest.
“When the flowers turn white, the eagle’s eggs will be hatching and then when the flowers go yellow the young eagles will be fledging. Finally when the seed pods appear the young eagles will be ready to fly.”
During his time Mr Cooper said elders had given him a better understanding into the “long and arduous process” behind making some of their hunting and gathering tools which contributed to their high value as objects.
“I have also been documenting the ways that people in the past managed the country through the use of fire and other conservation measures, such as avoiding some areas to give the country time to reinvigorate,” he said. “There were also many laws that people had to follow with regards to what could and couldn’t be eaten and when.
“It has been an amazing experience for me and I am so grateful to the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation and all of the elders and people that I have had such a privilege of working with.”
Mr Cooper said it was through the work of organisations like YAC and Juluwarlu Aboriginal Corporation that culture would continue to stay strong into the future.
UWA PhD candidate Andrew Cooper with some of the artefacts Yindjibarndi elders taught him how to make.