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A Literature Review of Water

#Map 4: A Literature Review of Water

The author would like to acknowledge with thanks the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, Office of Environment and Heritage who have approved the use of these photos taken at the site by the author for the purposes of this website.

People tell me the cave at Mt Gundabooka is a teaching place where the Old People taught them about all of the different water places linked to the Narran Lake.

What is the relationship, I wonder, between the act of reading and writing a ‘literature review’ of water, and the flows of cultural knowledge of water in an oral, place-based culture?

How can we know water differently?


The road between Cobar and Bourke stretches out endlessly, vast blue sky in front and behind. On each side of the bitumen intense red earth where the ground has been disturbed by graders. Against the red, yellow flowering bushes, shoulder-high, move in a light breeze.

The National Parks signs are a map for our learning and tell us that the route we follow has been walked for thousands and thousands of years.

The track begins in shiny grasses waving silky feathers in the breeze. Walking between mulgas casuarinas and big round rocks, neat little metal signs with a curved rainbow serpent mark the way.

It winds through stones and bushes, with distant blue hills between the trees, until we reach a creek gully.

No water but piles on piles of massive red-brown rocks tumbling down the creek bed.

Climb up the steep bank, weaving in and out of huge boulders, finally arrive at a long low rock shelter hidden among the boulders.

Curtains of fluted and ruffled rock surfaces lead in towards a deep internal space. Outside this inner core, layers and layers of rock surfaces face in all directions.

I am soon drawn into a world of dancing figures shining in light reflected from white ochre on rock.

On every layer and surface of rock there are groups of human and animal figures, all dancing.

Only one is in deep red ochre, a clever man with a boomerang in one hand and his other arm, very long and extended, ends in an emu foot.

On another surface, in a row of dancing male figures and an emu, a single female figure gives birth.

The feet on the white emu figures are all pointing down, the pose of the father emu sitting on the nest, the time for ceremony, for dancing.

Further in, the pattern of the fish traps, with a white ochre cod swimming towards them.

As eyes get used to the dim light, deep inside a lower surface, a group of figures shine white on a background of red ochre underneath the white shape of the Narran Lake. All the special water places are mapped here on these rock surfaces.

Walking out I think about how knowledge of country, and of water, is passed on in stories told by older family members, in the signs and symbols read in the landscape, and from the landforms of country itself. A literature review of water, in this sense, is a (re)view of country.

This material is an accompaniment to Water in a Dry Land: Place Learning Through Art and Story.