This thesis explores the performance of people–place relationships on the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail, an ancestral dreaming track in north-western Australia. In 1987 Goolarabooloo Indigenous elder Paddy Roe established the cross-cultural walking of the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail with the vision of uniting Indigenous and non-Indigenous people so that ultimately, they would protect and look after the country together. The thesis uses three questions to guide the examination of people-place relationships on the Trail: ‘What relationships are being performed on the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail?’, ‘What work are stories doing in the performance of these relationships?’ and ‘What do these relationships tell us about the ontologies being performed on the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail?’
A methodology of ‘working together’ Indigenous and Western knowledge systems directs the response to the thesis questions and incorporates the approaches of storytelling and Actor-Network Theory. Stories told by Goolarabooloo people and walkers of the Trail, in addition to my own ethnographic stories, form the data upon which this thesis is based.
By following the human and non-human actors on the Trail, both during the annual walking of the Trail and during a time of external threat, this thesis finds that ‘country’ (in the Indigenous sense) and stories are powerful actors that do important work on the Trail, especially in establishing and maintaining connections between people and place. Living country, a distinct entity that is familiar to Goolarabooloo people, is becoming visible to and experienced by walkers of the Trail. This thesis also finds that relationships performed on the Trail are enactments of a relational ontology of ‘being with’, whereby people and country are drawn into co-productive acts, including mutual recognition, reciprocity of care and communicative engagement.
Stories told by Goolarabooloo people and walkers of the Trail clearly show that ‘being with’ country transcends cultural boundaries. This finding is not only significant in terms of Paddy Roe’s vision, but also offers a powerful insight into how non-Indigenous Australians can come to know and participate in mutually beneficial relationships with country. This broader realisation of country, by more than just Indigenous peoples, offers a pathway to reconciliation between non- Indigenous people and the land, and between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, which is critical to supporting people’s sacred connections with place.