Australian Aborigine Flint Knapping

by Dick Baugh (December 11, 1999)



"I Belong to This Country"

It began with a single motor plane ride to an Aboriginal community in the northeastern corner of Western Australia to an Aboriginal University class. Biddie said "I belong to this country." Interesting contrast to white/European outlook "This land belongs to me!" "Old Fellah! You come with us girls. We're going to show you some bush tucker. How does it feel to be treated like a child? Don't leave camp without one of us.

As part of Marcia's and my visit to Australia I enrolled in an "Aboriginal Bush University" hosted by the Ngarinyan tribe of northern Western Australia. After a 1 hour ride in a small single engine plane we landed in the Kimberly district of Western Australia. The land consisted of rolling hills, mostly small trees with fire blackened trunks. Here the Aboriginals practice 'firestick farming'. Annually they burn off all the grass and underbrush. This encourages the growth of plants which game animals like. It also means there are NEVER any big destructive fires. This is savannah land and in early September it is the end of the 'dry', the six month period of absolutely no rain. This will be followed by the 'wet', six months of almost constant rainfall.

During this adventure we (two Australians of European decent, myself and two Aboriginal elders (Paddy N. and Paddy W.) took off early in the morning in a Landcruiser to find an old campsite that Paddy N. remembered from long ago. I was almost immediately disoriented. To my eyes this land is literally featureless. All the trees look the same. There are no trails or roads. The first instructions the Aboriginals gave us was "Don't leave camp without one of us to accompany you." "Yeah, yeah," I thought to myself. I'm an outdoor survival expert. Don't treat me like a child. After a few hours of roaming even our Aboriginal guides admit they are lost. I was living every primitive living skills aficionado's dream: Getting lost in the Australian outback with two Aboriginal elders. There was plenty of water and earlier Jeff, the Landcruiser driver had bagged two bush turkeys. We parked the Landcruiser at the bottom of a hill with the intention of climbing to the top to look for landmarks.

A little way from the top I realized that this was no ordinary hill. On the ground there were unusual looking tooth-shaped quartz crystallites. Most of them were about an inch long but a few were maybe 5 times larger. Also strewn on the ground were spalls of reddish chert. This is/was an Aboriginal knapping site where stone tools and weapons were fashioned. I picked up one of the larger spalls and asked Paddy N. if he knew how to make stone spear points. "Oh yes, but I really don't have the proper tools here." He then proceeded to knap out a small spear point using only an ill-shaped chunk of granite as a hammerstone. He used all the techniques one would see at a contemporary American knap-in: abrading and removal of small flakes to prepare a striking platform, shifting of the margin closer to the surface from which the flake is to be removed and profound apologies because he didn't have a piece of wire with which to do the final pressure flaking.

After this little diversion we got out the contour map and looked around. Paddy N. said "We're right here." and he pointed to a spot on the map. Not to be outdone, Jeff pulled out his GPS receiver, turned it on and set it on a flat rock. Five minutes later the GPS receiver confirmed Paddy's navigation skills. "Of course I know where I am. I'm an Aborigine."

On the way back to camp we stopped at a river to refresh ourselves. Jeff said that all the water you find in this part of the Kimberlys is good to drink without need for purification.

Yes, we did find our way back to camp.

People ask me where the spear point is that Paddy made. I don't know. I didn't take anything away from that hill except photos. Those spalls and crystallites belonged on that hill the same way that Paddy N. and Paddy W. belonged there.


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