Introduction: All Kinds of Things from Country
This is a volume about Yanyuwa ways of understanding the environment they, along with all the species mentioned, call home. Yanyuwa country is 970km southeast of Darwin, on the shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria. It incorporates the tidal reaches of the McArthur and Wearyan Rivers and the Sir Edward Pellew Islands (Figure 1).
Confronted by an object that is tall, with a woody trunk, roots and green leaves, most people from a Western European background would classify the object as a plant, more precisely a tree. Features such as salt encrusted leaves, distinctive fruits and above-ground roots alert us to the fact that it is a mangrove tree. With further examination and some scientific taxonomic knowledge we may be able to assign the mangrove to an exact genus and species such as Avicennia marina, the grey mangrove.
Classifying in this way, an observer relies on the apparent differences in the structure and form, or morphology, of nature. This is similar to scientific methods of classification, such as the Linnaean system, which groups organisms according to morphological and evolutionary similarities.
Yanyuwa people's classification of the environment immediately challenges this seemingly logical methodology, reminding us that there are other ways of seeing and other ways of understanding the natural world. For example:
Ma-mangaji ma-ngatha ma-jamurimuri ma-wurrama ma-mangaji ma-warnjarrngu kulu nganu li-Wuyaliya janinyamba-wundarrbanji likilinganji- kirlakangku.
That tree, the grey mangrove, is my most senior paternal ancestor, and we people of the Wuyaliya clan name ourselves as those people who are kin to the grey mangrove (Annie Isaac Karrakayn, Bradley Field Diary 1988). ...................................