Arapiles histories


A great history of climbing at Arapiles

Roots Rock Arapiles from Telluric Films on Vimeo.


What’s in a name?

Arapiles is 141.8347° East of Greenwich and 36.7522° South of the Equator, as originally determined with chronometer and sextant by a skillful surveyor on a day exactly 24 years after the battle of Slamanca in Spain.

The surveyor was Major Mitchell, knighted for his surveying prowess by a monarch who lived not that far from Greenwich.

He passed by Djurite mapping rivers East of the Great Divide: assessing the prospects in the open fire-managed landscape — designed for grazing animals and easy movement through country, in harmony with time and culture. Easy and profitable to transpose sheep into this environment. Australia Felix he called it.

He will have seen the landscape with soil, water and vegetation well managed and so un-compacted that his deep bullock cart tracks where followed by “land rush” occupiers years later. They bought their hard-footed animals, rapacious farming and agricultural machinery. A bullock cart wouldn’t make a dint now.

Arapile Major and Arapile Minor was the field of the battle in Spain, one of many with the British, Portuguese and Spanish fighting the French under Napoleon: that naughty man who would spread revolution though-out the world, displacing the Monarchy… with, well, himself.

It was one of those charming, brightly uniformed wars: pre-industrial with no machine guns and barb wire. The two armies marching in parallel either side of a river before the battle.

Thomas was there, distinguishing himself with his surveying and mapping: “yes, yes I’ll be there for the flanking movement as soon as I’ve got this drawing done…”

He knew he was working with more deadly instruments.

Djurite Balug people might have seen Tom coming from the high places that give you an overview of what was going on around your country, ancient patterns of life disrupted by a bullock cart and ghosts on big strange animals, the scale of them not seen since the mega-fauna.

Our Tom planted the Union Jack right into the Djurite Balug nation in an act of colonial entitlement with a stroke of a pen: mapping, naming measuring how far from Greenwich
Arapiles is.

Djurite was the title before it got the Arapiles one, then legal titles, fences, English law and all.

Knowledge is woven into the life and places here. Names Geo-locate, stories integrate these with resource data and moral frameworks. Culture, a very old one.

The locals asked explorers like Tom “why come to this place if you had food and water and family at home?”

The original place name is a small fragment of the long culture there, surviving even those deadly instruments the chronometer, sextant and pen.

This place name is important and the people from this area are known by it. Perhaps their fame as stone-tool makers spread through the vast and complex web of ritual gift giving: a bit like Sheffield knives Tom might have had with him.

So there’s a useful bit of information in this place name Djurite — could be a brand for good axes and flints. I can only imagine what other information might be embedded in it. Stories involving creation figures who’s shenanigans have been the moral framework and discussion point for generations, and definitely danced.

Explorers generally refused to corroboree (bodily exchange stories beyond language barriers), even the first fleet sailors could only manage a lame hornpipe when invited.

Stories not only Geo-locate you in space and time but locate you in the telling (these languages shift and are relative to the place it is spoken) fun stories and kind of like a library.

For the uninitiated these stories seem banal but according to Jampijinpa it is a “university out there — our libraries exist within the country. They are embedded in our land archives, and in our people.”

A neat way to keep your information — it can’t get burned down by the barbarians… well, we gave it a good shot

Initiation must be a commitment to maintain the stories, names, and the land they are woven through. A commitment not likely for us lot wondering about the world in search of the next opportunity.

My children ask me about things in the bush but I have no idea. In relation to the critical information embedded in the landscape I’m like a child myself. I have no stories, no information, no names.

Our keystone story from country is this: ”These remarkable persistent ideas about the origins of settler society image an alienating terrifying hostile and dangerous land as the obstacle a settler must fight […] Bourke and Wills are the ideal examples of the ways in which heroic defeat at the face of this opponent creates a history and mythology of victim-hood that ironically secures settler claim to cultural legitimacy by marginalising the actual victims of colonisation namely aboriginal people”.  Leigh Boucher from “Alfred Howitt and the erasure of Aboriginal history” in The Aboriginal  Story of Burke and Wills, 2013.

Dot paintings from Central Australia show accurate aerial views of landscape, perhaps a grid of interconnected stories that locate you in space within a moral framework and sustainable resource use. This is good information to weave into your culture and place.

We have our Latin names for things. This is not naming in a way that gives information but withholds it — wedge tailed eagle is Aquila Audax. Where as the story of Bunjil from my region is a watchful creator spirit and has a framework of stories and relationships spanning all time and connects people to their land and community.

With a stroke of Tom’s pen Djurite becomes Arapiles, occupiers move in and their descendants forget the old stories (if they learnt them) or purposefully forget the stories of violent dispossession.

Us climbers come and I think tap into fragments of that previous whole knowledge — still re-naming this place but intimately knowing an appreciating it — especially thankful for the jug holds after sketchy moves. I think we have an inkling of another bodily knowing that incorporates place and experience.

Shame about the other 40 000+ years of knowing we lost after Major Tom passed through.

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