Luscious book on Aboriginal Journey Ways

Even the arrival date (of Noongars in southwest WA) is still 35 to 40 thousand years before Homer, before Stonehenge was built, or scribes began to write the Old Testament.

Noel Nannup OAM and Francesca Robertson,
Aboriginal Journey Ways: How ancient trails shaped our roads.

Main Roads Department and Edith Cowan University, 2022

Reviewed by Ted Witham

It is no accident that contemporary roads often trace the paths of the ancient trails used by the Aboriginal people of this State for trade and ceremony. The topography of the land often dictates the best route to travel whether on foot or in modern vehicles.

This captivating coffee-table book explores the State from the Kimberley to the Eucla, from Gaambera country in the far north to Noongar country in the south-west and tells the story of the roads and trails of WA.

The details of these journey ways are depicted in clear maps, but what makes the book stand out for me is the lavish illustrations of Aboriginal art and glorious photos from many parts.

Stories from every time in our 60,000-year history are told: ancient stories, alongside the recollections of Indigenous folk and summaries of more Western knowledge are included.

It’s intriguing and humbling to learn that it took five to ten thousand years after first settlement for the First Peoples to spread from the north to the south-west. Even that arrival date is still 35 to 40 thousand years before Homer, before Stonehenge was built, or scribes began to write the Old Testament. These time-periods are truly astonishing.

I grew up in tiny Tambellup, a Great Southern town on the borders between Koreng and Minang Country. Of course I checked to see whether Tambellup was represented in the volume..  There are vivid descriptions of Tambellup and recollections of Elders from there – so I am well satisfied! I am interested to know that Aunty Gabrielle Hanson derives the town’s name from the tamar wallaby. I have heard other versions that say the town was named after the Nyoongar word for ‘thunder’. (Though that’s unlikely: the usual Noongar word for ‘thunder’ is ‘malkar’.)

Noongar knowledge-keeper Uncle Noel Nannup OAM and social work academic Associate Professor Francesca Robertson have collaborated on this and three earlier books (published by Batchelor Press) sharing their research of how people have moved around this State for tens of thousands of years.

I recall the research of Uncle Len Collard showing that about 50% of place names in WA are Aboriginal names. We have done better than other parts of Australia in remembering the names of this ancient country. But this current book brings to mind many more place names and how the places were connected one with another.

Indigenous people speak of their efforts in bringing language and culture back to life after nearly 200 years of colonisation in WA. Aboriginal Journey Ways revives even more of this Country for all of us – Indigenous and wajelah.

I am so enjoying the quality of the photos and artwork in this book that I wish I did not have to return it to the library! If you can find it in a library, it is a book I highly commend. 

Author: Ted Witham

Husband and father, Grandfather.Franciscan, writer and Anglican priest.

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