Aboriginal Use of Rocks and Minerals


In Central Australia, there were three kinds of ochre used in the main. They were yellow ochre, white ochre – or white pipe clay – and red ochre. One of the most widely used ochres was red ochre, which was extensively used on the body. And in some particular mines in Central Australia, the ochre has a mica component, and when it’s placed on the body, particularly on the face, it gives off quite a shiny look. And that’s still used today in ceremonies, and is traded all around Central Australia and beyond.

Here’s an example of an object that utilises both stone and ochre. It’s a stone knife; it was collected over 100 years ago by Baldwin Spencer in Tennant Creek. And as you can see, the blade is made out of a quartzite, and the handle part is painted with red ochre, white pipe clay and charcoal. This was used for cutting up meat, but primarily used for ceremonial purposes, for cutting the body or in ritualised fighting.

These stone implements are rather unique, they’re called Kimberley points and in pre-contact times they were used for cutting the body, for decorative purposes, or in some cases in initiation ceremonies. Now in post-contact times, when people came in contact with glass bottles, electrical insulators, plates, they switched from stone and started using glass, and they’re still made today in the Kimberleys.

Aboriginal people in Central Australia also used stone to process foods. They get a very very fine seed, they place it in the lower part of the grinding stone, they get the top grinding stone and they grind it for maybe 20 minutes. Then they get a fine flour, mix the flour with water, and once it’s mixed with water they create a fine paste and that’d be baked on the fire for half an hour or so; and they get these small, thick pancake-type sort of cakes. And they could be taken on travels for a couple of days or eaten straight away.

The woomera is a very interesting tool. Of course it was primarily used for throwing spears; the spear was held by a peg at the back of the spear-thrower and then launched at the kangaroo. But it was also used as a cutting implement, both for cutting meat and for chiselling wood. And in the handle of the woomera there was a piece of quartzite that was glued into the handle using spinifex resin.

The woomera is a fantastic example of the way in which Aboriginal people used the available resources, both stone and wood, in a very, very efficient way to survive in what is perhaps the most arid part of Australia. With one of these, a man could survive and feed his family.

About this Video

Phillip Batty, Museum Victoria, describes Aboriginal people’s use of rocks and minerals in Central Australia.
Length: 03:00