Lardil properties of place: An ethnological study in man-environment relations

Memmott, Paul (1980). Lardil properties of place: An ethnological study in man-environment relations PhD Thesis, School of Geography, Planning and Architecture, The University of Queensland. doi:10.14264/uql.2014.1

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Author Memmott, Paul
Thesis Title Lardil properties of place: An ethnological study in man-environment relations
School, Centre or Institute School of Geography, Planning and Architecture
Institution The University of Queensland
DOI 10.14264/uql.2014.1
Publication date 1980
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Supervisor -
Total pages 566
Language eng
Subjects 379902 Aboriginal Studies
Formatted abstract
This study commences with a discussion on the nature of 'place' making reference to the limited scientific literature on the subject (Chapter 1). An initial model of place is established, being the association of a piece of environment with human behaviour, concepts and artifacts, as well as involving such properties as boundary definitions, rules controlling access and time of use, systems of naming and classification, and psychological complexes of memories and emotional attachments. This model is used throughout the thesis to identify and analyse the place constructs of the Lardil people, a tribe of Australian Aborigines inhabiting Mornington Island and some other islands of the North Wellesley group in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria.

After examining the methods of data collection used in the research (Chapter 2), the physical environment of Mornington Island is briefly described - climate, geomorphology, soils and plants (Chapter 3). A land systems model is constructed to which is correlated patterns of the people-environment relations of the traditional hunter-gatherer life (at c.1910). Ethnic models of environmental knowledge that have been elicited from Aboriginal informants include geography, social organisation and land tenure, seasonal movement and resource exploitation, construction of shelters, and use of places such as camps, graves, sacred sites, resource places, dancing and initiation grounds (Chapter 4).

The Lardil cosmology and cosmogony is outlined in Chapter 5. Here, certain properties of place are shown to form part of a set of mental constructs that were the basis of a sacred philosophy concerning Aboriginal man and his relation to the world. The Lardil call this philosophy 'the law'. Amongst other things, the law provides an explanation of the origin of Aboriginal man and his landscape. It also explains how the natural environment is inhabited by invisible animate beings whose actions are causally interrelated with those of humans. It demonstrates the necessity for the Lardil people to observe certain behavioural rules whilst using their environment in order to maintain an overall harmony between themselves and its invisible inhabitants.

The next Chapter contains an historical dissertation on the culture contact between the Aborigines and people of Asian and European origin. It traces the contact period from prior to the arrival of the first missionaries (1914) up until 1975 (Chapter 6). A model of cultural change is constructed to assist in understanding the changing uses of place during this period. This model is then used in Chapter 7 to explain the origin of the places that were used by the Mornington Island people in 1975. This chapter deals largely with the mission settlement in which the majority of people today live as a concentrated population with access to Western housing and community services. The continuity of traditional man-environment systems over 60 years is examined, as well as the introduction of new systems by the missionaries, e.g. new social institutions, physical structures, economic resources, behaviour controls, local travel patterns. An account of contemporary travel to settlements, towns and cities on the mainland brings the ethnography to a close.

The conclusion (Chapter 8) deals with the elaboration of the initial model of place based on the ethnographic evidence of the previous chapters. The model is examined with the focus on cross-cultural differences. Aboriginality at place is distinguished from acculturated Western attributes. The role of place in the maintenance of cultural identity is discussed and finally, Lardil places are shown to be capable of being described using a structuralist type analysis.

Keyword Human beings -- Effect of environment on
Nature -- Effect of human beings on
Lardil (Australian people)
Additional Notes The author has given permission for this thesis to be made open access.

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