Land: A Generation Point for Existence

By Clint McGoldrick, 3 July 2020
Image: SBourges/Shutterstock.


The starting point for Aboriginal Spirituality is creation. Creation narratives describe a period of intense creativity that contains the blueprint for all life: there was a period of dark, featureless matter from which the first ancestral beings emerged. The first Ancestral Spirits took shape and appearance of humans and animals, who moved across the landscapes creating the entire natural world.

After this period, the ancestral spirits remained in the land and co-existed with the first people whom they brought into being: they assumed the identity of numinous, totemic spirits. With the spirits being responsible for the shaping of creation and animation of all life, the first people inherited the maintenance of creation: the creative spirits are the true landowners, and humans are the trustees, responsible to the creative spirits for the stewardship of the land.

Law subsequently created a reminder of how to care for creation and that people were in a relationship with all species, land features and sacred sites. A partnership between the land and its people nurtured a spiritual attuneness of one to another – “…a corporate organic whole, at least as animate, sentient, intelligent and self-conscious as any of its organic parts.” [1]

Life imbued creation, where Dreaming (originating from eternity) became the continual obligation of maintaining moral order. Spiritual Dreaming can be considered a logos, an ‘every when’, a connection to land existing through the laws developed at the time of creation.

Physical Dreaming is the day to day living that requires Aboriginal people to be custodians who are responsible for relationships with all species and sacred sites, to preserve this essence of Law. A subsistent, nomadic lifestyle allowed Aboriginal people to remain accountable to the ecological world which accepted “…indigenous intrusion and use of that ecology only on sound practices of interaction with the spirit of the land, manifested in strict rules or respect and tradition.” [2]

An oligarchy ensured that Aboriginal people and groups gave responsibility for different parts and features of the land, where a law of averages ensured different people cared for the whole land.

Ritual brings the spiritual and physical Dreaming of Aboriginal people together: it was a potent reminder of important cosmogenic, cosmological, and temporal truths.

Aboriginal lifestyle incorporated sacramental actions and initiations, lore, which allowed the passing of sacred Law through each subsequent generation. The poetic languages of song, ceremony and story gave Aboriginal people voices that transcended from the underworld, allowing the spiritual existence on the other side to reflect the material existence on this side, creating an interpenetrating connectedness.

The land is the generation point of existence: living itself is the maintenance of creation and the ancestral spirits. Living itself is a religion.

Clint McGoldrick is a descendent from the Worimi people of Forster, NSW. He is a teacher within Edmund Rice Education Australia, a ACU Masters Theology Graduate, and a Deacon Candidate for the Archdiocese of Brisbane.

This article formed part of the resource booklet from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council to commemorate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday on 5 July 2020.

More resources to commemorate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday can be found by visiting

Republished with permission from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council.


[1] Stockton, Eugene, and Catholic Commission for Justice Peace. This Land, Our Mother. CCJP Occasional Papers (Catholics in Coalition for Justice and Peace) No. 9. Surry Hills [N.S.W.]: CCJP, 1986.

[2] Everett, Kristina. Impossible realities: The (re) emergence of Aboriginal culture in the city. Saarbrücken: Lambert Academic Publishing, 2011


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