Murlawarni: A Deep History of the Pilbara Told Using Myth as Primary Data

Australia, like Europe, has a well-developed mythography; however, except for a “universal” comparison between Australian and Greek myth in early twentieth century “stadial” histories, no comparative mythology exists in Australia equivalent to that developed for the Indo-European culture zone. Since myth – as well as other parts of the oral tradition like song and language – is the only non-material artefact of pre-contact Australia and necessarily expresses Aboriginal knowledge of the past, this disciplinary lacuna has resulted in the almost total exclusion of Aboriginal historical testimony from narratives of Australian deep time. This presentation sets out the first ever delineated method for Australian comparative mythology, developed for my PhD thesis: a deep history of the Pilbara region of north-west Western Australia using myth as primary data. In it, the new comparative mythology problematises and coordinates to the two forms of western deep history existing since the Enlightenment, the “stadial” and “scientific”, via the challenge posed to them by Ngaardangarli’s (Pilbara Aboriginal people’s) own testimony about that same past, embedded within interdisciplinary interrogation of the myths’ distribution as an outcome of past historical processes irrespective of the testimony they contain. This arrangement thus expresses (some parts of) Ngaardangarli historical testimony as it occurs in myth, while situating these myths in discrete points of past “scientific” time in the context of significant natural and social events of Pilbara prehistory. If time permits, execution of method is demonstrated via a case study involving the creation of wooden tools and weapons by birds and animals in the Ngurranyujunggamu, the "time when the world was soft".

Neil Brougham is a PhD candidate in the ANU Research Centre for Deep History, established by Professor Ann McGrath in 2016. His motivation for writing a deep history of the Pilbara was several years spent on country as a park ranger including engagement with Yindjibarndi and Ngarluma people.

Date & time

Wed 17 May 2023, 4.15–5.30pm


RSSS Lectorial 1, Ground Floor (Level 1), RSSS Building, ANU, 146 Ellery Crescent, Acton, ACT 2601, and Online


Neil Brougham


School of History


Filip Slaveski


Updated:  15 May 2023/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications