The Sacred Places of the Women of
by Jani Roberts c96
Uluru, known also by whites as
'Ayer's Rock, is a vast monolith that dominates the desert plains at
the centre of Australia. Today bush-loads of tourists flood to marvel
at how it dramatically changes color at sunset - but my own
experience of it was quite different....
The Aboriginal women escorting me
chanted greetings to the spirits of the caves and waterholes as we
wound along a footpath at the foot of the high smooth cliffs of Uluru
in Australia's heartlands. "See that cave", one woman grinned.
"Doesn't it remind you of the vulva?"
The storekeeper behind the dust
covered shelves in the local Aboriginal owned store told me I would
be welcome when I said I had come to meet the local Aborigines. He
took me from the store across a patch of scrub to where the
Aboriginal senior men were sitting in the shade of a tree. "Jan, this
is the Chairman." he said introducting me to an old man sitting cross
legged in the sand. "He will look after you." The Storekeeper knew no
better. As a male he saw the males of the Aboriginal community as the
proper people for me to meet.
I sat nearby and answered a few
brief courteous questions from the chairman. Then he told me: "The
women want you"and pointed across to another tree some 40 yards away.
In its shade a group of women were sitting.
They made space and warmly
welcomed me as if I were expected. We talked, eyes sparkling. Then
one said. "We have something to show you." They invited me to climb
with them into the back of a truck parked nearby. We drove together
towards the long brooding red-grey cliffed monolith that dominated
They took me first to a small
fenced off area at the base of the rock. Standing well clear of it
they explained that this was an area sacred to Aboriginal men. They
then took me away from the male area along the side of the great rock
to some nearby caves. These they told me gladly were sacred to women
and for women alone. No Aboriginal male would dream to come near for
the whole area was reserved to women under the strictest of
Aboriginal laws. But I saw the women's sanctury was protected by no
fence, no warning like to those that had protected the male sites.
Tourists could freely enter and were doing so. I saw white men camera
in hand ignorantly exploring the most sacred female places. The women
explained to me that as men are allowed to tell men about the
location of their sacred places, Aboriginal men had been able to tell
white male government officers and to persuade them to grant
protection.But the women had not had this opportunity. They had not
been able to tell a female government officer because our society had
not thought to send them a woman officer. So they wanted me to tell
the world that the women of Uluru wanted equal
The rest of that day I spent with
the women in their sacred places. I saw deep permanent waterholes
shaded by trees beneath the cliffs, a precious resource in the
desert. I felt as if I were with the ancient tribe of Israel learning
of their Garden of Eden sacred story as the Aboriginal Elders told me
their equally age old account of divine creation.
The most privileged moment came
when I was taken into the birthing cave and was shown how the women
sat to give birth. I was instructed how to sit as the woman laughed
with the pleasure of the telling.
It was a day of magic. I learnt
how the women and men of the Central Australian tribes have two
Sacred codes of Law, one for men and one for women. Both are of equal
status. They would sit in separate parliaments to make decisions.
Only when an elder had grey hair was she or he allowed to know some
of the secrets of the other.
Some days later an Aboriginal man
took me in his utility truck past the phallic shaped smoothly eroded
bare rock hills of the Olgas, a range to the west of Uluru. As we
passed he directed me to avert my eyes. The other women with me put
up a hand to shield their eyes. These hills are sacred to
The same traditions are not shared
by all the Aboriginal nations of Australia. Australian Aborigines
once formed over 200 nations, with different languages and customs.
Some of the nations of the South East had councils in which men and
women sat side by side making joint decisions.
This caused great confusion and
some mirth when the communities formed the first national Federation
of Land Councils. When they had their first meeting in Alice Springs,
the men of the centre were shocked when the women of the south
refused to hold separate meetings. After much debate it was decided
that men and women at the Federation of Land Council meetings should
meet together. This did not stop some men sneaking off to try to hold
separate discussions - nor did it stop patrols of southern women
going out to bring these men back into the common
But the women of the south east
still have separate sacred places. One day on the coast of Victoria a
group of Aboriginal women told me to wait until the men had gone on
ahead. Then they quietly told me of the existence of an ancient
women's sacred place nearby. They showed me a beautiful place. I
asked did they want it fenced off as had the women at Uluru. They
said no, too many whiites live in the south.. If it were fenced off
local white men would vandelise any signs put up and desecrate
But in the centre, the women won
their battle. Other women and I told of the message that we had been
given. Today at Uluru most of the women's area around the base of the
rock is fenced off - an area much larger than the men's sacred area.
Tourists still climb the rock totally unaware of the sacred lands
that lie below and despite Aboriginal protests at this desecration.
Uluru has been returned to Aboriginal ownership - but only on
condition that the Aboriginal community within 5 minutes of the title
being handed back immediately gave it back to the Australian nation
as a tourist park.
But for me it makes Australia very
special, how many nations have at its heart a woman's sacred place
enshrining the story of creation? If only White Australia realized
quite how special a people's land they live on.
End ©96 Janine
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