Two Stories, Two Families: An Intercultural Dialogue

Peggy Sanday with Daisy Kungah, Speiler Sturt and his wifePeggy Sanday with Daisy Kungah, Speiler Sturt and his wife

When I first visited the Wolfe Creek Crater in 1999, I found my father’s story of the crater’s meteoritic origin posted alongside the local Aboriginal version of its creation. The Aboriginal account went as follows:

The crater is known to the local Djaru Tribe as Kandimalal. Their mythology speaks of two rainbow snakes, whose sinuous paths across the desert formed the nearby Sturt Creek and Wolfe Creek. The crater represents the place where one of the snakes emerged from the ground.

Resolving to find out more about local Aboriginal cosmology, I began interviewing Aboriginal elders in the nearby town of Halls Creek. These elders informed me that only the “traditional owners” (also known as “custodians”) of the crater could speak to me about the crater’s creation. The custodians are the living descendants of the ancestors who roamed the territory around the crater. Upon meeting several owner-custodians and hearing their stories, I was able to commission paintings of the ancestral crater stories.

As their trust in me grew, the elders of one of the custodial families took me on trips through their ancestral homeland, explaining how the crater was part of a large network of family campsites and ceremonial meeting places. At the end of one of these trips, back at the crater itself, the senior member of this family, Speiler Sturt, spoke of my family and his as “two families.”

I understood Speiler to mean that my family had made its mark on the history of the land – my father for telling the scientific story of the crater’s origin, and, me for bringing the Aboriginal story to the world.

I found a satisfying circularity mirroring the form of the crater in retracing my father’s footprints in the Australian bush to bring the Aboriginal crater narratives and art work into the loop of Western knowledge. Most satisfying, perhaps, was my discovery that the custodians of the crater still honor the Rainbow Serpent.

Next: The Artists

Go back to the start of the exhibition: Track of the Rainbow Serpent