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Modelling past Aboriginal hunter-gatherer socio-economic and territorial organisation in Western Australia's lower south-west.


Past Aboriginal hunter-gatherer adaptation is modelled in Western Australia's `lower South-west' -- an informally named archaeological study area incorporating coastal and immediate hinterland districts from the Swan Region southward to Cape Leeuwin and then eastward to King George Sound. The modelling is principally based on Stanner's concepts of estate ownership and interpenetrative ranges, and is developed regionally through review of ethnohistoric records describing the mobile systems of land usage practiced by Nyungar-speaking groups in this most south-westerly part of the South-western cultural bloc. These records show that the ecological and demographic viability of these contiguously distributed open systems was sustained through reciprocal arrangements between families, local descent groups and bands, at times interacting in larger groupings provisionally termed `middle-tier' socio-economic units. Five ethnologically recorded `tribal' or `dialect' group territories reaching across the study area provide the biogeographical and topographical framework for this systemic model, framed within parameters of spatial, demographic and social behaviour formulated for the European Palaeolithic. The regional record of archaeological sites classifiable as congregative or dispersive supports the territorial and socio-economic modelling. Site complexes in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Region and the Swan Region reflect adaptive systems existing through a broad span of Late Quaternary time.


This paper presents an archaeological model of past Aboriginal hunter-gatherer socio-economic and territorial organisation in the south-western corner of Western Australia. The study area is termed the `lower Southwest', an informal term for the coastal districts and forested, immediate hinterland running from the Swan Region southward along the Indian Ocean coast to Cape Leeuwin, and then eastward along the Southern Ocean coast to King George Sound (Figure 1). The work derives from a doctoral dissertation (Dortch 2000) that used ethnohistoric records describing the life-style of the region's Nyungar-speaking hunter-gatherer population as a primary source of inference in modelling the succession of regionally-oriented, mobile, foraging systems presumably reflected in the region's mainly prehistoric archaeological record. This investigative approach draws on earlier archaeological studies in the study area whose interpretations of prehistoric adaptation are largely based on inferences drawn from the regional ethnohistoric record, (Anderson 1984; Ferguson 1985; 1987; Gibbs 1987; Hallam 1975; 1977; 1986a; 1986b; 1989).


Socio-economic and territorial modelling

Integral to the modelling of past hunter-gatherer societies as mobile, open systems is group socio-economic interaction within structured territorial arrangements. The regional modelling outlined here is principally based on Stanner's well-known model of Australian Aboriginal hunter-gather territorial and socio-economic organisation. In that model, recognised living spaces (`domains') overlap mosaics of owned estates, as made possible through reciprocal land-use dispositions between estate-owning local descent groups (Stanner 1965). The socioeconomic and territorial arrangements of Nyungar-speaking hunter-gatherers in Western Australia's lower South-west, recorded in the regional ethnohistoric literature, offer clear parallels with the above model, as do those of numerous other Australian groups, as shown in ethnohistoric accounts (e.g. Lourandos 1977) and ethnographic studies (e.g. Picketing 1994). These inter-regionally shared arrangements are summed up in an archaeological study reviewing socio-demography and territorial arrangements in tropical Queensland.
   `... land was owned (inherited) by clans (descent groups) and used by less
   formally composed `bands' (local groups) of related people and their allies
   who were often drawn from various clans (Hiatt 1962; Stanner 1965; Sutton
   and Rigsby 1982). Both these groups were smaller in size than the
   `dialectal tribe'. The politics of land ownership, and its inheritance and
   control (including that of its natural resources) were mediated by and
   competed for by clan elders. Their ends were achieved by a manipulation of
   marriage arrangements, knowledge, ritual, exchange, inter-group ceremonial
   events and access to territory and resources ...' (David and Lourandos
   1998: 196).

Of particular significance in this archaeological appraisal of regional hunter-gatherer adaptation is the dynamic interplay between subsistence and other economic activities on the one hand, and socio-political and territorial organisation on the other (Bender 1978; Lourandos 1977:215-218; 1988; Morwood 1987:339). The interconnectedness of economic and socio-political parameters of past mobile foraging systems is clearly shown in ethnohistoric records from the lower Southwest study area.

In Australia and elsewhere, hunter-gatherer societies functioned as open systems dynamically linked through exchange of energy and materials with similar societies, as well as with the larger systems of the natural world. This view is in line with the concept of cultural ecology -- definable as the processes by which human societies [open systems] adapt to their social and physical environments and are in turn moulded by this adaptation (Steward 1955). Accepting the above definitions, it should be borne in mind that former open systems are not in the strict sense identifiable in the archaeological record. Lourandos realistically sums this up in the following:
   ... concepts such as `system' are not easy to apply ..., for individual
   societies are composites of a large number of interrelated, overlapping and
   conflicting parts; these include linguistic and political, as well as
   social networks, all at varying hierarchical levels. The concept of
   `tribe', as for example applied to Aboriginal Australia [see below], has
   always been problematical for just this reason. (Lourandos 1988:150)

The understanding here is that open systems avowedly did exist during the past, however inseparably they were interrelated, and no matter how far they may have fallen below the limits of archaeological detection and explanation.

Archaeological inference and ethnological records

Caution is required when inferring prehistoric behaviour from ethnological records, since the material remains of prehistoric societies do not necessarily reflect the same activities or modes of behaviour observed ethnologically (including ethnographic field data and ethnohistoric documents). This means that only select inferences can be drawn from the behavioural modes observed in ethnological accounts of hunter-gatherer societies as a means of explaining those connoted by the prehistoric record. The incompleteness of prehistoric evidence as a record of past societies moreover restricts the practical use of ethnographic or ethnohistoric data as sources in archaeological explanation. Because of these limiting factors, these data are never indicators of prehistoric behavioural patterns, but only sources of inference from which these patterns may be evaluated and modelled (cf. McBryde 1979:144; White and O'Connell 1982:20-22; Wobst 1978).

The term `ethnohistory' refers here specifically to Aboriginal activities in the study area and the more general region of South-western Australia, as recorded in European eyewitness accounts, or taken down first-hand from informants' statements. The very earliest and most convincing accounts are based on completely independent observations. For example, among the most detailed of these accounts are ones compiled at King George Sound by two British observers, Isaac Scott Nind, a navy surgeon, and Collett Barker, an army captain. These officers' successive postings to the sound did not overlap, and neither had access to the other's records, or it would appear ever corresponded with or met each other. Their combined documentation is based on almost daily observation of Aboriginal life in that locality through most of the months during the period December 1826-March 1831. These descriptions concur in all essentials, even though Nind's comprehensive study is presented in a formal paper (Nind 1831), and Barker's at times detailed record consists of diary entries, often hastily written and almost indecipherable (Barker n.d. [Mulvaney and Green 1992]). Even these two accounts may contain some elements of bias, since each relies in part on the comments of a single Aboriginal man, Mokare, one of the owners of the estate where the British settlement was located. An additional, potential source of bias is that Barker and several other early British observers in south-western Australia had had considerable previous dealings with Aboriginal hunter-gatherers elsewhere on the continent, and this could at times have led to predisposed thinking on the part of recorders.

The South-western ethnological record

The cultural bloc and its territorial divisions

The lower South-west study area is in the heart of a clearly defined cultural bloc, i.e. the living space of an indigenous population with a: `... particular life [style] associated with particular natural habitats ....' (Peterson 1976b:68) whose material and symbolic characteristics are `... based on shared aspects of material culture, language, kinship and ritual.' (Smith 1993:85). At the time of colonisation, the more general region of South-western Australia was solely occupied by a distinct population belonging to the Nyungar-speaking or South-western cultural bloc (Figure 2; Berndt 1979b; Tindale 1940; 1974. Here the terms `Nyungar' and `Nyoongar' refer to the South-western language and the region's indigenous culture and population, respectively.). In his synthesis of the territorial distribution of the Nyungar-speaking Southwestern population at the time of European settlement, Tindale designated some 13 `tribal' or `dialect' group territories within this cultural bloc (Tindale 1974:142-143, tribal catalogue, maps). These territories are mainly based on ethnohistoric documents, though are supported by Tindale's own and earlier ethnographic data, notably that of Bates (e.g. Bates 1923; n.d. [White 1985]. Cf. Hassell 1936; Paterson 1896; Roth [Austin] 1902).


For most of the `tribal' or `dialect' group territories in the northern and eastern parts of the South-western cultural bloc there is very little information relating to basic modes of hunter-gatherer territorial and socio-economic organisation. In pointing out that all of the territories within this cultural bloc are based on data from `old sources', Berndt implies that the historic authenticity of several if not most is questionable (Berndt 1979b:81-82). As discussed later, this is not the case with at least two and probably all of the `tribal' or `dialect' group territories distributed across the study area.

The cultural bloc's homogeneity is not lessened by its inland boundaries being culturally definable as `areas of intergradation', as set out for Australian cultural blocs generally (e.g. Peterson 1976a:6). In this case, Nyungar-speaking groups residing in the bloc's more inland districts (essentially, the territories bordering the `circumcision line' in Figure 2) adopted some of the ritual practices (including of course male initiatory circumcision) of other groups to north and east. The latter groups spoke other languages, practiced other rites and laws, and belonged to the `Western Desert cultural bloc' (Berndt 1979a; 1979b; Douglas 1976; Gould 1991; Tindale 1974:78, 142-143, 246,254, 261).

The South-western and the Western Desert cultural blocs are respectively associated with distinctive biogeographical regions (Beard 1981:Figure 8; 1990; cf. Thackway and Cresswell 1995). The former bloc is mainly confined to the South-west Botanical Province, with reliable winter rainfall (moderate to dry Mediterranean climate) and featuring heath, wetland, tall forest, woodland, and mallee (shrubland). The latter is mainly located in the Eremean Botanical Province; the extreme south-westerly part of this vast province has semi-desert Mediterranean climate merging into desert climate, with low, open woodland and scrub vegetation. A transitional zone between these two botanical provinces largely coincides with those territories in the South-western cultural bloc labelled Balardong, Njakinjaki and Wudjari.

Nyungar language and Nyoongar social organisation

In an observation dating from the first years of European settlement in the region, George Fletcher Moore states that the Nyoongar or indigenous population of Western Australia's South-west spoke a single language.
   For 150 miles north of Perth [Swan Region], to perhaps an equal distance
   east from King George's Sound -- say for six hundred miles of coast and one
   hundred miles inland -- natives have been conversed with, and the language
   is radically the same, and spoken with less difference of dialect than
   prevails in England. (Moore 1841:429; Cf. Grey 1841 [vol. 2]:210).

This incidence of the same language throughout the South-western cultural bloc suggests fluidity of group and individual contact and movement, and may reflect a high degree of social and economic interactions between different sub-groups. Moore's Nyungar vocabulary, compiled in the late 1830s, includes a statement clearly indicating that the Nyoongar regarded themselves as a separate culture and people from their neighbours to north and east: `Yung --ar ... People. The name by which they designate themselves.' (Moore 1978b [1884b]:84. Cf. Bindon and Chadwick 1992; Douglas 1976:5; McConvell 1996:126).

In Berndt's view the 13 `tribal' territories in Figure 2 should be seen as: '... dialectal units of a common South-West language ...' within the South-western cultural bloc (1979b:82). Even this is far from clear. In his regional linguistic survey of Nyungar-speakers, Douglas doubts whether each of the territories discussed above was associated with a specific Nyungar dialect (Douglas 1976). A later survey of this language's dialects (Thieberger 1993) bases itself on these territories, exactly as published by Tindale (1940; 1974), without questioning any of the latter's ethnological data. Another recent study ignores Tindale's 13 territories, and suggests that only three dialects were spoken in the region (Dench 1994).

Nor is labelling these divisions `tribal territories' very satisfactory, since their constituent populations all spoke the same language, and none apparently had formal political structures, intra-regionally unique cultural traits or well-defined, impermeable boundaries (cf. Berndt 1959:81-83; 1976:134-135). Howard notes that there are no heuristic or theoretical grounds to support the `tribe' concept in South-western Australia, and states:
   Rather than speaking of Aboriginal tribes in the Southwest or treating the
   inhabitants of the entire area as a single tribal group it is best to view
   them as belonging to hierarchically arranged social groups and ethnic
   categories. Thus, beyond the band level (the primary foraging unit) there
   were social units composed of several bands [that] shared particular
   socio-cultural practices and beliefs, interacted socially in various ways
   and shared a sense of common identity. Beyond this level there were
   progressively vague and more general ethnic categories with increasingly
   weak degrees of social integration. ... (Howard 1979:90-91).

The terms `tribe' and `dialect' group are not seen then as appropriate labels for the different territorially oriented populations in this cultural bloc, but are nominally retained in the arguments presented later in the paper.

Berndt quotes the early ethnographer and journalist Daisy Bates in stating that in south-western Australia kinship and residential arrangements and totemic affiliations were as follows.
   The pattern described by Bates (1923) suggests local patrilineal descent
   groups centring on totemic sites, with mythic connections and correlated
   with specific stretches of country. Thus, a person belonged to the moiety
   and totemic clan of his (or her) mother, but also to the local descent
   group of his (or her) father. (Berndt 1979b:82-83; cf. Hassell

These rules of descent, inheritance and custodianship gave persons rights of access to country belonging respectively to each parent, a point of obvious significance in a mobile foraging economy. Berndt continues:
   ... South-West Aborigines were deeply attached to their country through
   mytho-ritual ties. As in other parts of Aboriginal Australia, the local
   descent group was concerned with religious matters, while the
   socio-economic unit (a mixed-membership group) moved over limited stretches
   of territory, hunting and food-collecting. Communication was kept open
   between members of different territories or districts ... (1979b: 84).

Critical to the cultural ecological model presented in this paper is communication and reciprocity between groups at levels ranging from families to multi-band amalgamations.

Nyoongar population distribution and size at the time of European settlement

There seem to be no reliable demographic data for Aboriginal populations in any part of the lower Southwest during the first decade or two of the historic period. This is despite some detailed population figures for the Swan Region and New Norcia 100 km to the north (Armstrong 1836; Salvado 1851:cf. Hallam 1977), and for King George Sound (Green 1989; Mulvaney and Green 1992:Appendix III.3).

The following statement by George Grey, one of the early British chroniclers in the South-west, indicates the manifest uncertainties underlying most estimates for the densities, distribution or size of the south-western Aboriginal population in the first decade and a half of colonial settlement.
   ... although I have done my utmost to draw up tables which might even
   convey an approximate result, I have found the number of inhabitants to a
   square mile to vary so much, from district to district, from season to
   season -- and to depend upon so great a variety of local circumstances,
   that I am unable to give any computation which I believe would even nearly
   approach the truth; and as I feel no confidence in the results which I have
   obtained, after a great deal of labour, I cannot be expected to attach much
   importance to those which, to my own knowledge, have, in several instances,
   been arrived at by others from mere guess work. (Grey 1841 [vol. 2]:246).

Grey's statement implies a flexible occupational/demographic pattern that is in keeping with the mobile, foraging way of life documented in the ethnohistoric record, and modelled in this paper.

Economic activities recorded in regional ethnohistoric documents

Early nineteenth century ethnohistoric records (summarised in Meagher 1973; 1974; Cf. Meagher and Ride 1979; Bird 1985:128-141, Appendix 1; Smith 1993:98-111) show that the lower South-west population had a mobile foraging economy. In equal measure this economy was based on the exploitation of terrestrial and aquatic food resources (including wetlands, lacustrine, riverine/estuarine and inshore marine waters). These subsistence activities periodically required coordinated effort within arrangements of land usage; reciprocal agreements gave families and larger groups (bands) rights of access to the resources found on the lands of their kin and allies. Regular firing, used in vegetation management and animal drives, was a significant controlling device (Hallam 1975; 1985). Annual movements were largely determined by the availability of key items in the seasonally or periodically shifting suites of food resources (Anon. [Collie] 1834:335; Backhouse 1843:542; Barker n.d.:26. 1. 1830; 1. 8. 1830 [Mulvaney and Green 1992:252; 321]; Bates n.d. [White 1985:48,251]; Bunbury 1930:74-77, 79; Chauncey 1878:26; Grey 1841 [vol. 2]:262; Hammond 1933:26, 46-47; Ilberry 1927:25; Moore 1978a [1884a]:214,324,407; Neill 1845:426; Nind 1831:28, 36; Ogle 1839:62; Paterson 1896:289).

The lower South-west's ethnohistoric record and its archaeological significance

The traditional life of the Nyungar-speaking Aboriginal population living in Western Australia's lower South-west during the early nineteenth century is recorded in what is seen here as Australia's most comprehensive regional body of ethnohistoric literature. Following the lead of others (Anderson 1984; Ferguson 1985; 1987; Gibbs 1987; Hallam 1975; 1977; 1986a), I am attempting in this paper to show that this literature provides enough information for modelling the adaptive systems presumably reflected in the archaeological record of the lower South-west study area.

South-western `tribal' or `dialect' groups modelled as `middle-tier' socio-economic units

The ethnohistoric evidence cited above shows that the Nyungar-speaking population of South-western Australia was divided into what Peterson in his summary of Australian hunter-gatherer territorial arrangements calls: `... two principal levels of grouping: the local group population or band, and the regional or culture area population.' (Peterson 1976b:51). Very much less well defined here, as elsewhere, are the levels of population groupings intermediate between those of local descent groups and bands, and the cultural bloc itself.

Peterson goes on to say:
   Between these two falls a third level composed of congeries of bands united
   in part by linguistic ties, in part by topography, and in part by
   historical and political links. As a consequence of the last element the
   boundaries to this intermediate level of grouping tend to be less permanent
   and clear than the other two. (1976b:51).

As noted earlier, the lower South-western hunter-gatherer population was distributed across the landscape in contiguous, mobile open systems (e.g. Anon. [Collie] 1834; Armstrong 1836; Backhouse 1843; Barker n.d. [Mulvaney and Green 1992]; Browne 1856; Clark 1842; Grey 1841 [vol. 2]; Lyon 1833; Moore 1835; 1841; Nind 1831; Ogle 1839; Paterson 1896). The ecological and demographic viability of these systems' constituent populations entirely depended on socio-economic and other interactions between families, local descent groups and bands. These dynamically inter-woven reciprocal transactions essentially were exogamous marriages, exchange of goods and initiates, jointly observed ritual observances, celebrations, law making, martial alliances and land-use dispositions giving access to sources of food and other materials. They were mainly enacted or arranged when these small groupings were periodically coalesced within `congeries of bands'. This being the case, multi-band groupings are the appropriate level within the hierarchy of population deployments for projecting a systemic model of socio-economic and territorial organisation. Intermediate in size and hierarchical level between the local descent group or band and the population of the cultural bloc itself, such multi-band amalgamations are fully equivalent to Tindale's `tribes' or `dialect' groups. Yet given the earlier noted problems regionally with these two terms, and because of the practical impossibility of identifying tribes or languages in the prehistoric record (cf. Lourandos 1988:150), I am provisionally calling these intermediate-level, multi-band groupings `middle-tier' socio-economic units. These population units' constituent territories provide the essential biogeographical and topographical framework for mobile, foraging systems operable only through high levels of inter-group reciprocity and cooperation. Of particular significance to these systems was regulated permeability of owned estates, actuated by periodic congregation and dispersal of foraging families and bands through overlapping ranges.

The purely demographic significance of these `middle-tier' units is comparable to Birdsell's postulated basic demographic unit `... whose optimum numbers in a state of equilibrium approximate 500 persons of both sexes, so arranged by ages as to represent a stable population in time.' (Birdsell 1973:337). Here only very approximate population sizes are assumed. It suffices that resident populations pertaining to each of these units and to the whole of the South-western cultural bloc were numerous enough to ensure demographic continuity. For the purposes of archaeological modelling, the territories of these hypothetical `middle-tier' groupings are framed on the five ethnologically recorded `tribal' or `dialect' group territories reaching across the study area; for convenience they are called `land units' (Table 1). Modelled as the living spaces of `middle-tier' socio-economic units, the five land units are defined in terms of their ranges of exploitable habitats or biogeographical zones of greatest productivity. Given large size and plentiful food and other resources, each territory was productive enough to have supported successive small populations of mobile, foraging groups that would have had a clear understanding of the distribution and the seasonal or periodic availability of food resources within their homelands (Meagher 1974:Table 2).

Ethnohistoric records show that two territories within the study area were occupied by historically traceable Nyoongar populations clearly functioning as socio-economically interacting amalgamated bands with a sense of territorial and ethnic identity, and thus definable as `middle-tier' socio-economic units. These are the Minang and Whadjuk territories, respectively situated at King George Sound and in the Swan Region. The Pibelmen, Wardandi and Pindjarup territories were almost certainly also the homelands of similarly definable populations, though comparable information is lacking. Aboriginal recognition of groupings equivalent to `middle-tier' socio-economic units is clearly implied in the King George Sound ethnohistoric record. Several entries in Barker's diary (January 1830 through February 1831) refer to outlying Nyungar-speaking groups with whom the King George Sound residents sometimes intermarried, though regarded as separate from themselves (e.g. Barker n.d. 9.5. 1830 [Mulvaney and Green 1992:291-292]. Cf. Anon [Collie] 1834:335; Browne 1856:254-257; Nind 1831:43-44. Similar comments relate to the Swan Region (e.g. Armstrong 1836; Moore 1835; 1841; 1978b [1884b]:76).

Not borne out in the lower South-western ethnohistoric record, or from local tradition, is the nature of the boundary zones between the territories (land units) occupied by `middle-tier' populations. Only two of these boundaries are biogeographical transitional zones or features. These exceptions are the lower Blackwood River separating the Wardandi and Pibelmen territories, and the Stirling Range dividing the Minang territory centred on King George Sound from that of the group to its north. The lack of information on these inter-territorial boundaries' socio-political or economic significance again reveals the fragmentary nature of most of the ethnological evidence relating to the `tribal' or `dialect' group territories in the South-western cultural bloc.

Linking `middle-tier' socio-economic units with the Stanner model

As noted in the introduction, rules and practices of exogamous marriage, land tenure, patrilineal/matrilineal inheritance, access rights and patrilocality, as well as the periodic dispersal and congregation of local groups at King George Sound present many significant parallels to the Stanner model of Aboriginal hunter-gatherer cultural ecology. These records (notably Anon. [Collie] 1834; Barker n.d. [Mulvaney and Green 1992]; Nind 1831. Cf. Le Souef 1980; 1993; Ferguson 1985; 1987; Dortch 2000:Table 5.1) show that the ranges of several local descent groups overlapped within this central part of the Minang territory, as well as with other groups' ranges in neighbouring districts. First-hand observations of the hunter-gatherer population in the Swan Region (Armstrong 1836; Backhouse 1843; Grey 1841 [vol. 2]:232; Moore 1841. Cf. Hallam 1975; 1977) similarly indicate local descent groups with overlapping ranges.

These ethnohistoric records of local group adaptive behaviour are very much in keeping with the following comment:
   The conception which most nearly accommodates the facts of regions known to
   me is that of `spaced estates with overlapping ranges' and, thus,
   `partially interpenetrative domains and life-spaces.' (Stanner 1965:12).

Explicit in this adaptive structuring is that families, local descent groups and bands were normally dispersed but aggregated in response to a number of social and physical needs that were ecologically and demographically essential in the functioning of these mobile, foraging systems.

Illustrating the territorial model

Figure 3 schematically depicts the territory of a `middle-tier' socio-economic or population unit within the study area. The image is depicted at a given point in time within the past few centuries or millennia. The dashed bold face lines in the figure indicate the outer boundaries of this territory, which provisionally and very approximately corresponds with a `tribal' or `dialect' group territory as designated by Tindale (Table 1). Outside these boundaries are the territories of similar, neighbouring units. Individual estates are demarcated within this territory by fine dashed lines. The small arrows crossing these lines denote interpenetrative ranges crossing estate boundaries. Range (or `domain') extents within this territory are left undetermined, but presumably include a dozen or more contiguous estates through which bands, families and individuals moved. Interpenetrative ranges are also shown crossing boundaries between the territory of this `middle-tier' socio-economic unit and those of its neighbours. Estates are smaller in the coastal areas, with their relatively rich food resources and diverse habitats, and larger in the forested hinterland with its poorer, less diverse food resources and large tracts of undifferentiated landscape.


For the purpose of simplification, the number of estates shown is perhaps half the number that could be expected in the territory of a `middle-tier' socio-economic unit. Also for the sake of simplicity, only estuary inlets are shown: rivers, wetlands and lakes, dune fields, escarpments and other topographical features that certainly would have influenced the positioning of estate boundaries and band foraging ranges are left out. This territorial configuration is depicted during the Late Holocene when the sea coast is at much its present-day position.

Figure 3 indicates a definite pattern of land use, and the hierarchical character of the `middle-tier' socio-economic unit, with its constituent, spaced local descent group estates. Totemic associations, mythic site custodianship and the ownership of particular resource-rich habitats (e.g. wetlands) ensured the long-term territorial integrity of local descent groups. In contrast, bands and, more particularly, the larger `middle-tier' socio-economic units -- consisting of many bands and the territories serving as their living spaces -- are seen as having been characterised as much by transience and fluidity as stability.

The image in Figure 3 is framed within a time-period of at most a year or two. Far more complex would be a composite chart schematically depicting at one-decade intervals through the course of two centuries the superimposed configurations of local descent group estates. This second image would also show the shifting boundaries of a succession of neighbouring `middle-tier' socioeconomic units that had existed more or less transiently within this locality, along with lines of band movement within and between these territories. The greater complexity of this other chart would result from ecological and demographic changes, in part caused by shifts in climatic and environmental conditions. These changes would be particularly marked had this period been marked by `regionalisation' processes in which ` groups segment or fission into smaller social groups.' (McNiven 1999:157). Despite many ephemera, the con figurations in this schematised chart showing superimposed territorial boundaries and lines of movement at 20 one-decade intervals through 200 years should still show many similarities to those in Figure 3.

Another composite chart for the same locality showing superimposed territorial configurations as well as lines of band movement within and beyond the boundaries of successive `middle-tier' socio-economic units depicted in four-century intervals over ten thousand years looks very different, particularly since successive biogeographical and topographical features are included (Figure 4). Over the very long time span shown in this composite figure, glacio-eustatic sea level rise and other climatic and environmental developments have brought numerous changes to coastal environments. These are manifested in the gain and loss of vegetative associations or, more generally, shifts in their positioning and extent (for example, as recently shown for the Swan Region in a Late Quaternary pollen study: Pickett 1997). Natural developments of this magnitude (supplemented by human firing of landscapes) can be assumed to have led to continuous though patterned shifts in human adaptive strategies, ongoing with continued demographic and socio-political processes. The lines of foraging bands' movements in this map of superimposed configurations covering ten millennia would be further complicated because hunter-gatherer adaptive responses to transient changes in vegetative associations (Colinvaux 1987) would themselves have had a transitory character (J. Dortch 2000:326).


From an archaeological perspective, the sum result of all these inter-related phenomena through time is defined largely in terms of shifting occupation patterns and exploitative ranges. Depicted schematically in a composite figure based on 25 superimposed images spaced over four-century intervals, the succession of estates and `middletier' territorial boundaries and foraging bands' lines of exploitative movements through their overlapping ranges appear as myriad configurations. Yet still detectable in the multiple imagery across the expanse of time denoted are portions of long-established territorial and ecological boundaries that were aligned along fixed topographical features, such as ranges, escarpments and river gorges. Other extant features are vegetative associations persisting on particular soil types. These enduring natural features are shown as diverging or partly superimposed bold lines and dark and light smudges and spots. The indiscernible, present-day seacoast in this composite image is parallel with its long axis, and situated somewhere in its lowermost third. The continuation of linear and other configurations across the formerly emergent shelf implies that the mosaic of natural features, as well as the territorial patterns and lines of movements of foraging groups here had been much the same as further inland.

The superimposed images in Figure 4 evoke the intricacies resulting from the unabated dynamic interplay of environmental, climatic and cultural processes through time. Focussing on one aspect of this complex history, i.e. the patterning representing successive band movements within and between `middle-tier' socio-economic unit territories, one sees that what is relatively simple viewed at a given point in time (Figure 3) not unexpectedly becomes through the course of millennia incalculably intricate. Thus through time, the territorial boundary lines and lines of band movements fall increasingly below the possible limits of archaeological reconstruction. Even so, movements oriented toward particularly important and persisting resources (or enduring physical features holding special attractions of other kinds) might remain more or less constant and thus identifiable in separate composite images of this locality depicted at different time-intervals transgressing ten millennia.

The socio-economic and territorial model and its archaeological applicability

The ecological and demographic viability of successive hunter-gatherer populations in the lower South-west required that they were organised in groupings larger than the land-owning, local descent group, or the land-using, `mixed-membership' band. The subsistence strategies, marital and kinship dispositions, and socio-political and territorial organisation of these larger, composite populations termed `middle-tier' socio-economic units provided the essential mechanisms ensuring ecological viability and demographic continuance. At the same time, `middle-tier' multi-band groupings are seen here as having been transient, shifting in size and configuration, with parts of their territorial boundaries probably not always well defined. Doubtless in many instances the wider affiliations of local descent groups and bands occupying boundary zones were not firmly established (cf. Howard 1979:90-91).

On several key points the ethnohistoric records from King George Sound and the Swan Region concur with Stanner's model of local descent group and band reciprocity within arrangements of owned estates and interpenetrative foraging ranges. Modelling based on this concurrence in recorded observations is critical in the archaeological interpretation of band socio-economic interaction and territoriality in the study area during the late prehistoric period (for argument's sake the past two millennia). During this period the region's physical conditions seem to have been similar in many, perhaps most respects to those of the modern era (Dodson and Lu 2000; Newsome and Pickett 1993; Pickett 1997). Human adaptive responses to these conditions in the relatively recent prehistoric past may well have resembled that recorded during the early nineteenth century in the two above districts and elsewhere in the study area.

Figure 4 serves as a reminder that in terms of archaeological reconstruction of human adaptive systems through time, Figure 3 is no more than a model. Yet in the contexts of this particular regional study, it is a model firmly based on regional and in many cases locality-specific ethnohistoric data. Compared with many kinds of archaeological reconstructions, for example, that of European Palaeolithic societies, the modelling provided here by the regional ethnohistoric literature -- and taking into account the wealth of ethnological data for other Australian hunter-gatherer societies -- might be seen as invaluable.


Later records of territorial organisation in the South-west

The modelling of lower South-western territorial organisation given in the foregoing section differs greatly from two records -- the one ethnohistoric by Hammond, the other ethnographic by Bates -- based on observations and inquiries made a half-century or more after the onset of European settlement. These very late ethnological accounts state that the Nyoongar people in coastal districts throughout the more general region of south-western Australia formed a single tribe or nation. Hammond's record is based on his long association with Nyoongar people, though this began no earlier than the 1870s, some 40 years after traditional societies and land-use arrangements were first disrupted by European settlement (Hammond 1933:16-22). In her summary of her ethnographic inquiries during the period 1899-1911, Bates states that the whole of the lower South-west as defined here belonged to the `Bibbulmun [i.e. Nyungar-speaking] Nation' (Bates n.d. [White 1985:36, 46-55]). At the same time, she admits that interaction between very widely separated groups may have been possible only because European settlement created new conditions regionally.
   There was also free intercourse between the Minung (Eastern) Bibbulmun
   [Southern Ocean coast] and the Western Bibbulmun [Swan Coastal Plain], ...
   Whether this was due to the facilities afforded by white settlement, and
   the greater ease with which long journeys could be accomplished under white
   protection, cannot now be definitely ascertained. (Bates n.d. [White

In contrast to the above statements, there is virtually nothing in the earliest ethnohistoric accounts of traditional practices suggesting that the constituent populations of the five lower South-west territories functioned as a single, socio-economic unit. The strongest evidence for interaction between widely separated groups is Moore's earlier noted comment on the great homogeneity of language across the lower South-west. Although not otherwise indicating long-range group interaction, early accounts from King George Sound do record long journeys made by individuals and small parties (e.g. Barker n.d. 7-8.6.1830 [Mulvaney and Green 1992:301-304]; Clark 1841). These journeys' purposes are mostly unclear, though they at times had ritual objectives, with men and also women travelling apparently long distances to attend ceremonies (e.g. Barker n.d. 23, 26.1. 1830; 13.10. 1830 [Mulvaney and Green 1992:250, 252, 341]). Another comment refers to a male initiate from the `Wills people', northern neighbours of the King George Sound people, taking up residence at the sound, and to other initiates travelling to distant groups (Barker n.d. 22.11.1830 [Mulvaney and Green 1992:358-359]).

One statement on group movements and occupation patterns in the Swan Region during the mid-1830s is explicit in stating that groups broadly comparable to the `middle-tier' population units proposed here did not move over great distances.
   A whole tribe does not, as a custom, migrate beyond its own district; but
   sometimes [may pay] a visit of a few weeks to a neighbouring tribe, but
   this is always on a previous invitation, which is sometimes sent to its
   neighbours by a tribe that has had extraordinary good luck in hunting, or
   has had a whale cast on its coast. There is good reason to believe that
   few, if any, of the Swan men have been further from the Swan 80 or 90
   miles, unless with settlers. They move about in their own districts
   according to the seasons and the consequent variety of food. (Armstrong

Armstrong's observation closely agrees with the King George Sound ethnohistoric record indicating that band ranges encompassed no more than a given number of adjoining estates, all apparently within a 60 km radius of the sound (see summaries in Ferguson 1987; Le Souef 1993. This is the approximate distance from the sound to the Stirling Range, noted earlier as the northern border of the Minang territory.).

Systemic modelling from the European Palaeolithic

The regional approach here owes much to Gamble's modelling of the European Palaeolithic (Gamble 1986), which is explicit in defining the parameters of regional archaeological records, and in determining the functional significance that given sites had within adaptive systems. His study is particularly convincing in outlining the ways :in which hunter-gatherer socio-economic arrangements and territorial organisation may be modelled as open systems.

Gamble partly formulates his approach in terms of Stanner's Australian model, the assumption being that factors defining and controlling ethnologically recorded hunter-gatherer adaptation are common if not universal features of hunter-gatherer societies. On this basis, it is useful to examine the present paper's model of reciprocally interacting bands operating as `middle-tier' socioeconomic units in terms of spatial, demographic and social factors that Gamble explicates in his 1986 monograph. These factors are readily identifiable in many ethnohistoric accounts from the lower South-west (Table 2: column 2), and to a degree are reflected in the regional prehistoric record (Table 2: column 3).

Fundamental to Gamble's argument that the configuration of any regional record derives from these three interconnected factors within hunter-gatherer adaptive behaviour are the assumptions that past populations generally must have been demographically and ecologically viable. Firstly, this is reflected in their spatial organisation, in which foraging mobility and the exchange of marriage partners, goods and information were essential, as was inter-territorial access (Gamble 1986:60-61). These spatial arrangements are clearly implied in the ethnohistoric records from King George Sound and the Swan Region.

The functional significance of the `middle-tier' socioeconomic units defined here is as much aligned with the concept of demographic behaviour:
   Since no local group can be autonomous when it comes to finding mates and
   ensuring reproductive success, networks will exist linking local
   populations together through exogamous marriage rules. (Gamble 1986:61).

In the lower South-west ethnohistoric record these networks are also based on trade, male initiate exchange, socio-political associations and on multi-group totemic commemorations and other shared ritual observances (notably Barker n.d. 22.11.1830 [Mulvaney and Green 1992:358-359]). Exogamous marriages in particular enabled a fluidity in the movements and occupation patterns of families and individuals, as is borne out in numerous Australian ethnological records. For example, there are the Garawa ethnographic examples from the Northern Territory (Picketing 1994), and the many ethnohistoric observations in the study area here.

Lastly, Gamble's explanation of `social behaviour' is basic to the `middle-tier' socio-economic units modelled here (my emphasis):
   ... regional systems will consist of an intricate social geography with
   patterns of shifting alliance as social formations are reproduced. The
   alliance network is therefore a concept that is socially and spatially
   larger than any local or regional group engaged in environmental and
   adaptive strategies. (Gamble 1986:61-62).

Social behaviour is strongly attested in lower Southwest ethnohistoric records, in which alliance networks reached across and well beyond the overlapping band ranges, this being true despite evidence from King George Sound testifying to the fragility and impermanence of these networks. This is shown by the militant intrusions of the `Wills people' to the north, with whom King George Sound groups sometimes intermarried and exchanged male initiates. Barker's diary for the year 1830 and the first two months of 1831 includes a half-dozen observations relating to these repeated armed incursions -- with sometimes highly disruptive effects on the King George Sound community (e.g. Barker n.d.: 14.4.1830 [Mulvaney and Green 1992:281]).

The `middle-tier' socio-economic units modelled in this regional study are thus framed within the parameters of the spatial (or territorial), demographic and social elements of adaptive behaviour formulated by Gamble (1986) for the European Palaeolithic. With their regional focus and implications for mobility, exogamous marriage rules and socio-political and economic associations, these three parameters of group behaviour are enmeshed within the adaptive strategies of foraging populations, so enabling the continuance of hunter-gatherer societies.

Duration of former adaptive systems

So far I have argued that the hierarchically structured `middle tier' socio-economic units were more or less transient, due to demographic and other cultural factors, and to shifts in climatic and environmental conditions. These interconnected factors are assumed to have repeatedly caused changes of varying magnitudes in very small, territorially differentiated populations (Peterson 1976a:8-9; cf. Hiscock 1999; Rowland 1999). Yet in being functionally effective these population units seemingly would have maintained enough territorial and socio-economic coherence and demographic stability to ensure their existence through periods of unknown duration, though presumably running through several or many human generations. With regard to similar `middle-tier' units termed `alliance networks', Bailey comments:
   ... among ... hunter-gatherers, alliance networks ... [evince] ... an
   institutionalised network of social relationships over very wide areas
   which allows the rapid redistribution of personnel over the landscape in
   response to local resource fluctuations. The time depth of the social
   process embodied in these institutions is unclear. But since they can
   involve relationships of delayed reciprocity between individuals scattered
   over very large areas, who may come into contact only infrequently, the
   time depth must presumably extend over at least several generations.
   (Bailey 1983:181-182).

Bailey concludes:
   Systems of alliance and social storage, with their dependence on delayed
   reciprocity, are evidence of a future orientation [that] has both immediate
   practical consequences for day-to-day activity and longer-range consequence
   in terms of demographic patterns and environmental adaptation. (Bailey

Ethnographic accounts indicate many significant similarities in territorial arrangements and adaptive strategies among regional groups in widely separated parts of Australia (e.g. Berndt 1979a; Gould 1991; Hiatt 1962; Peterson and Long 1986; Sutton and Rigsby 1982). Since these shared adaptive patterns probably evolved through several if not many millennia, a reasonable assumption is that archaeological records dating to the past two to three thousand years reflect modes of land-use regionally that were functionally comparable to those recorded ethnologically. If so, these records can be used in modelling the dynamism of earlier mobile, foraging systems. This modelling seems warranted despite innumerable, cultural changes intricately and dynamically linked with concurrent shifts in physical conditions. Through passage of time, enormous differences would have arisen in groups' territorial configurations, demographic parameters, land tenure rules and subsistence strategies, not to mention changes in marital arrangements, socio-political dispositions and ritual practices. Yet common to all of these varying open systems and adaptive modes would have been interaction (reciprocity) at the level of families and larger groupings both within and between the permeable boundaries of organisational and territorial deployments more or less corresponding to the earlier defined `middle-tier' socio-economic units. The case for these `middle-tier' units having been functionally significant very much rests on their crucial role in serving as reproductive networks -- exogamous marital arrangements being at the heart of the ecological and demographic modelling presented here. The schematised map of the territory of a hypothetical `middle-tier' socio-economic unit in Figure 3 reflects then the demographic and spatial geometry broadly corresponding with the hexagonal lattice or honeycomb model of mating networks originally postulated by Birdsell (1958; Cf. Gamble 1986:50-51; Wobst 1974).

Archaeological evidence for past mobile, foraging systems

The past existence of regionally-oriented, mobile, foraging systems may be inferred from sites, artefacts and other kinds of archaeological evidence whose contemporaneousness and functional interconnectedness are determinable. Strong evidence for such systems would be expected to include a wide range of demonstrably similar kinds of artifacts and other kinds of inter-relatable cultural materials consistently occurring in abundance in contemporaneous sites. Other contemporaneous evidence for successfully adapted or at least sustained systems could be burial grounds/human skeletal remains implying demographic and nutritional patterns (e.g. Pardoe 1995), or material remains of purely symbolic activities, such as ornaments and ritual objects, stone arrangements and rock art (e.g. David and Lourandos 1998). The most convincing regional records featuring the residue of archaeologically identifiable societies are, of course, based on the most diverse, most abundant and most closely dated, inter-relatable material evidence. Excellent examples are from regions in eastern Australia, including:

-- late Holocene regional records from Cape York and the east coast of Queensland (e.g. David and Chant 1995; David and Lourandos 1998; McNiven 1999; Morwood 1987; Rowland 1999);

-- middle to Late Holocene records from south-eastern South Australia and south-western Victoria (summarised in Lourandos 1997:211-227; 229-235; cf. Pardoe 1995);

-- fishery sites in semi-arid western New South Wales, dating back more than thirty thousand years (notably Balme 1995), as well as Holocene fishing sites and shell middens along that state's Pacific Ocean coast, recently reviewed by Attenbrow (1999).

As for the lower South-west study area, material evidence reflecting former mobile foraging systems is on present findings mainly limited to two classes of sites -- congregative and dispersive. The selected sites/site complexes in Table 3 constitute evidence for the periodic congregation and dispersal of families, local descent groups and bands -- noted earlier as one of the parameters of regional hunter-gatherer adaptation. These two site categories are in keeping with notions of group mobility, dispersal and amalgamation through reciprocal agreements on land access and usage. Not surprisingly, given the limitations of the prehistoric record, this interpretation of archaeological site significance within former societies is inferred entirely from the evidence for adaptive strategies supplied in the regional ethnohistoric literature, and from ethnological records of hunter-gatherer adaptation generally.

Large, repeatedly re-used and maintained congregative sites (Table 3A) suggest the functional significance as well as the time-transgressive nature of the residential, territorial and socio-economic units into which regional populations were organised. The sites that are most convincing as having been established and maintained as seasonal or annual venues for amalgamated groups are stone tidal weir complexes on the Southern Ocean coast. Parallel significance is given to the regularly maintained and seasonally attended wooden weir at Barragup, located on the Serpentine River, a short distance upstream from Peel Inlet on the Indian Ocean coast.

Throughout the study area, only two of these fishing sites -- the Oyster Harbour complex (King George Sound) and the Barragup weir (Peel Inlet) -- are recorded in use during the historic period. Ethnohistoric accounts describing the seasonal usage of the Barragup weir (Hammond 1933; Paterson 1896; cf. Bates n.d. [White 1985:251]) and local Nyoongar tradition attest to this having been a venue where large numbers of people from many different groups met seasonally or periodically. These multi-group meetings were the venues for numerous important socio-economic, political, ceremonial and other transactions. As Gibbs (1987) has shown, the records from this site alone are enough to show the fundamental importance of ethnohistoric (or other ethnological) data as sources of inference in archaeological appraisal of past societies.

A similar degree of importance almost certainly attaches to the Oyster Harbour stone weir complex, though the only description of them in use is from Barker's diary. His reference states that during the night of 29th December 1830 an unknown number of people were asleep near the weirs while two men, Tulicatwale and Tatanine, attended to the fishing (Barker n.d.:29-30.12.1830 [Mulvaney and Green 1992:376]). Barker indicates in several other comments that this upper end of Oyster Harbour (where it is entered by two streams, the King and the Kalgan) was a venue for congregations (e.g. Barker n.d.:23.1.1830 [Mulvaney and Green 1992:250]).

The other indicators of group congregations are extensive and prolific stone artifact scatters interpreted as open-air camps occupied for probably short periods of time by relatively large groups. These sites are recorded in most of the study area's coastal districts, and range in age from Late Pleistocene to Late Holocene. An exception is Katelysia Rock Shelter, located at the entrance of Wilson Inlet. This Late Holocene site is classifiable as congregative, since on the Southern Ocean coast large-scale spear fishing traditionally took place at the mouths of estuaries (notably Hassell 1976:197-198).

Large, open-air, congregative sites, with the most abundant artifact assemblages recorded in the study area, are situated in the more favoured parts of the Swan Region, about 10-30 km inland from the open coast. Most open-air, congregative sites in the study are Late Holocene in age, implied in a few instances by radiocarbon dates, and in many more cases suggested by the presence of geometric microliths (White and O'Connell 1982:117-125). In contrast, the congregative sites recorded in dune blow-outs in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Region and at Dunsborough, near Cape Naturaliste at the southern end of the Swan Coastal Plain, are mainly dated from the Late Pleistocene to the Early Holocene. As discussed next, these sites provide another line of evidence evincing human movements.

Long-range movement of stone suitable for tool-making is indicative of both group dispersal and inter-group congregation and interaction. Tools and debitage made of various stone types (mainly chert, silcrete, dolerite and quartz: Glover 1975; 1984) and often transported over considerable distances from presumed sources are recorded from occupation sites across the study area. The most impressive example regionally of a stone type widely distributed from its place of origin is Eocene fossiliferous (bryozoan) chert. From Late Pleistocene times until the Middle Holocene, this distinctive chert was transported from as yet unidentified quarries presumably located on the outer, now submerged parts of the continental shelf, particularly along the Indian Ocean littoral. From there the stone was distributed to districts throughout the western parts of the study area. Well-dated, abundant and mainly excavated evidence for this comes from a half-dozen Late Pleistocene to Middle Holocene sites in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Region. Of these sites, Devil's Lair and Tunnel Cave are classed as dispersive, whereas the large open-air sites/site complexes featuring hundreds of Eocene chert and quartz artifacts (Arumvale, Ellen Brook, Quininup Brook and Dunsborough) are congregative.

The dispersive sites recorded in the study area are mostly isolated finds or sparse scatters of stone artifacts (Table 3B). For example, Eocene chert flakes and other isolated finds are recorded in the study area's few offshore islands. Although there is evidence suggesting a surprisingly great age for two of these finds on Rottnest Island (Hesp et al. 1999), this offshore island record is chiefly important here as indicating wide-spread human movements on the formerly emergent continental shelf. This is also true of the ten mostly chert artifact assemblages collected on five islands in the Archipelago of the Recherche, though these relatively prolific assemblages make the sites more definable as congregative than dispersive. (Dortch and Morse 1984. These islands are 450 km east of King George Sound, and outside the study area though still in the South-western cultural bloc.).

The very earliest, reliably dated regional evidence for stone transport in the study area is from Devil's Lair, where a chip (artifact) made of a very uncommon form of opaline chert is from a mixture of layers 33-34. The overlying layer 32 is now dated by optically stimulated luminescence assay (OSL) to 47 000 yr bp (DL19); an accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon date (ABOX SC) gives the same age for layer 33 (ANUA-11512: Turney et al. 2001). This artifact -- the sole specimen of its rock type known from Devil's Lair -- is thought to derive from an amygdale (mineral-filled cavity) in the Bunbury Basalt, an Early Cretaceous formation outcropping no closer than 25-100 km from the site (Glover 1979. Dortch [1979b] describes a handful of other, mainly calcrete flaked artifacts in this lowermost part of this site's cultural sequence.).

In several cases it can be argued with some conviction that complexes of broadly contemporaneous sites recorded in given districts were integral components within adaptive systems in train at one or another time during the past. The above noted Late Pleistocene to Middle Holocene sites from the Leeuwin -- Naturaliste Region probably were at times occupied contemporaneously and thus may constitute a succession of adaptive systems spanning some 20 millennia. On present findings, the records from this region and the Swan Region most nearly allow the reconstruction of systemic adaptation in given districts during particular times in the lower South-west.

Summing up, the archaeological record of congregative and dispersive sites supports the territorial and socioeconomic modelling presented here, as does the evidence for complexes of broadly contemporaneous sites within at least two districts being functional components within former mobile, open systems. The dearth of other kinds of evidence substantiating this model can be explained by several factors. Firstly, the study area lacks many kinds of diagnostic information, not least a large sample of diverse food remains and other evidence for subsistence in archaeological context and reflecting foraging patterns across a wide range of environmental settings. Secondly, is the record's distributional unevenness, with evidence almost entirely lacking for numerous, mostly hinterland districts (cf. Anderson 1984; Dortch 2000; J. Dortch 2000; Pearce 1982). Thirdly, the regional record mostly lacks closely relatable bodies of material evidence, such as regionally specific sets of rock art motifs or distinctly patterned records of burials, evincing discrete open systems and offering insight into their characters.

The provisional view here is that the lower Southwest's archaeological record represents a succession of hierarchically structured and interconnected land-use systems, though, representing this convincingly is prevented by much that is missing in this record. Far too many sites and features are undated, or only broadly dated within a few millennia. For example, the south coast tidal weir complexes (congregative sites) may have first come into use not long after the estuaries formed during the early Middle Holocene. This use may have ended three to four thousand years later when significant tidal exchange in most of these estuaries ceased due to entrance bar formation, the exception being Oyster Harbour, which has a rocky, permanently open entrance.

South-western ethnological evidence for regionalisation processes (as earlier defined) having taken place in this region is seen in the distribution of Nyungar-speaking populations in at least a dozen territories spread across the cultural bloc. This linguistic and demographic proliferation across such a large area is evidence that these processes were under way several millennia in the past (McConvell 1996:126-127).

The study area's far from prolific or uniformly distributed record of radiometrically dated sites (J. Dortch 2000:Table 4.1) shows that indigenous societies were present here throughout the Holocene, as well as through nearly all millennia from 10 000 to 30 000 yr bp. In accounting for this record, one might argue that it reflects among other things a succession of open systems with reproductive networks large enough and with sufficient flexibility (Cf. Birdsell 1968; Davidson 1990; Dortch and Smith 2001; Smith 1993) to have avoided significant permutations. This record now reaches back ca 47,000 years, taking into account the two oldest dates from the Devil's Lair cultural sequence noted above. Other factors helping explain the record's relatively prolonged continuance are the resilience generally of hunter-gatherer adaptive systems, and the Late Quaternary record of apparently stable physical conditions persisting in this region of classic Mediterranean climate (notably Pickett 1997; cf. summary reviews: Dortch and Smith 2001; J. Dortch 2000).


This study has emphasised the pivotal role of inter-group reciprocity in the subsistence strategies, social arrangements and territorial organisation of indigenous hunter-gatherer populations. The ethnohistoric evidence indicating this reciprocity is crucial in portraying the cultural dynamism represented by the material record of the recent past, and in modelling the likely character of mobile, foraging systems during more remote times. The territorial and socio-economic modelling presented in this paper is defined by the interconnectedness of spatial, demographic and social linkages between amalgamations of inter-marrying families, local descent groups and bands functioning as `middle-tier' socio-economic units, themselves interacting with similarly functioning, neighbouring units.

In the light of evidence available regionally, these former arrangements of group reciprocity within mobile, foraging systems have no explicitly identifiable archaeological manifestation. The model's archaeological indicators -- such as they are -- may be seen in the presence of weir complexes and other congregative sites that periodically were probably the venues for transactions carded out by large, temporarily coalesced groups. Long-term group interaction is probably also evinced in the record of long-range movement of stone for tool making. Dispersive sites reflect the equally essential mobile aspect of far-ranging, foraging economies. The Swan Region's Middle to Late Holocene site record and the much more time-transgressive, multi-site record from the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Region can be readily interpreted as reflecting former open systems in their respective districts. Lastly, the Nyungar linguistic record and the ethnologically recorded Nyoongar territorial distribution are both seen as evidence for fissioning/regionalisation broadly reaching through time and space.

Functional equivalents to `middle tier' population/territorial units as defined here presumably have persisted in the lower South-west study area through many millennia, though probably with continuing demographic shifts within territories whose boundaries were permeable and transient. A major stipulation might be that this model is useful only for as long as physical conditions in the lower South-west were similar to those today. Yet even with climate and environment very different from that of the modern era, a level of grouping more or less corresponding to these `middle-tier' units would still have been crucial in providing demographic and ecological viability. Supporting this argument are ethnological records indicating the existence of similar `middle-tier' population units (`congeries of bands') among foraging populations occupying a wide range of diverse environments across Australia (Peterson 1976a; 1976b).

Succinctly summarised in the following are the temporal and spatial dimensions, hierarchical structure and territorial arrangements defining open, mobile systems, whether cultural, ecological or astronomical.
   Observe how system into system runs,
   What other planets circle other suns.

(Alexander Pope, An essay on man, Epistle 1, lines 25-26 [1733]).
Table 1. Biogeographical and topographical framework for hypothetical
`middle-tier' socio-economic units in the lower South-west study area,
based on Tindale's `tribal' or `dialect' group territories covering the
region (Figure 2). In each of these five land-units the `hinterland'
zone comprises forest, woodland, wetland, lakes and streams. Each
territory features long reaches of high-energy marine littoral,
including open beaches, rocky shores and cliffs. The Wardandi territory
features three distinct biogeographical zones (a.-c.).

Tribal name     Coastal boundaries; area in [km.sup.2]
of land unit

Minang          Mount Many Peaks to Broke Inlet;
                ca 12 000.

Pibelmen        Broke Inlet to Blackwood River;

Wardandi        Blackwood River to Leschenault Inlet;

Pindjarup       Leschenault Inlet to Peel Inlet;

Whadjuk         Peel Inlet to north of Swan Region;

Tribal name     Exploitable coastal habitats and features (including in
of land unit    each case heath, woodland and open forest)

Minang          Extensive inshore marine waters, large estuaries,
                rivers, streams, lakes, extensive wetlands.

Pibelmen        Limited inshore marine waters, two large and many small
                estuaries, many rivers and streams, lakes, extensive

Wardandi        a. lower Blackwood valley, one large estuary, streams,
                b. Leeuwin-Naturaliste Region: limited inshore marine
                waters, very small estuaries, small streams, limited
                c. Geographe Bay: sheltered, inshore marine waters,
                large estuaries, many rivers, streams, lakes, extensive

Pindjarup       Brackish lagoons, large estuaries, rivers, streams,
                widespread lakes and wetlands.

Whadjuk         Sheltered inshore marine waters, large estuaries,
                rivers, streams, widespread lakes and wetlands.
Table 2. Lower South-western ethnohistoric and archaeological evidence
interpreted as reflecting spatial, demographic nd social adaptive
behaviour (Gamble 1986:40).

Adaptive       Ethnohistoric evidence (selected references)

Spatial        Periodic movements, congregation/dispersal of
               groups (Barker n.d.:31.5.1830 [Mulvaney and Green
               1992:299]; Nind 1831:35-36, 40, 44); bartering
               networks (Barker n.d.:22.11.1830 [Mulvaney and
               Green 1992:358]; Roth [Austin] 1902).

Demographic    Patrilocal descent groups (Barker n.d. 10.5.1830,
               13.1.1831 [Mulvaney and Green 1992:292, 383];
               Nind 1831:44). Group alliances, e.g. betrothals
               (many references in Barker n.d. [Mulvaney and
               Green 1992]; Nind 1831) and initiate exchange
               (Barker n.d. 22.11.1830 [Mulvaney and Green
               1992:358-359; Nind 1831:39).

Social         Ritual or festive gatherings, inter-group alliances,
               etc. (many references in Barker n.d. (Mulvaney and
               Green 1992). Inter-group reciprocity in game drives,
               estuarine group fishing (many references in Barker
               n.d. [Mulvaney and Green 1992]; Grey 1841
               [vol. 2]:272; Hammond 1933).

Adaptive       Archaeological evidence

Spatial        Congregative and dispersive sites (as
               discussed later in the paper); long range
               stone procurement (Glover
               1979; 1984; Glover and Lee 1984;
               Glover et al. 1978; 1993).

Demographic    Congregative sites; estuarine stone and
               wooden weir complexes (Dix and Meagher
               1976; Dortch 1997b; 1999; Gibbs 1987).
               Approximate contemporaneity of stone
               artifact assemblages suggested by presence
               of distinctive tool types, notably microlithic
               assemblages (Dortch and Gardner 1976;
               Hallam 1987).

Social         As above.
Table 3. Archaeological sites and site complexes suggesting periodic
congregation (A) and dispersal (B) of individuals, families, local
descent groups and bands in the lower South-west study area
(Figures 1, 2). Locality abbreviations as follows:

KGS -- King George Sound; SCP -- Scott Coastal Plain;
OH -- Oyster Harbour; LNR -- Leeuwin Naturaliste Region;
WI -- Wilson Inlet; GB -- Geographe Bay; BI -- Broke Inlet;
PI -- Peel Inlet; PN -- Point d'Entrecasteaux, Northcliffe;
SR -- Swan Region.

Site/site complex                     Archaeological references

A. Congregative sites/site complexes.

Kalgan Hall and environs, Oyster      Dix and Meagher 1976; Dortch
Harbour stone weir complex:           1997b; 1999; 2000; Ferguson 1985;
KGS/OH.                               1987

Other stone weir complexes of the     Dix and Meagher 1976; Dortch
Southern Ocean coast: notably WI,     1997b; 1999; 2000.

Katelysia Rock Shelter and mouth      Barkla 1997; Dortch 1999; Dortch
of WI.                                et al. 1984.

Prolific/large-scale stone            Dortch 1985; 2000; Dortch and
artifact scatters, Windy Harbour,     Gardner 1976.
Malimup Beach: PN.

Submerged site complex Lake           Dortch 1997a; 2000; Dortch et al.
Jasper, prolific artifact scatter     1990; Dortch and Godfrey 1990;
Black Point: SCP.                     Dortch and Dortch (J):
                                      field notes.

Prolific stone artifact scatters      Bindon and Dortch 1982; Dortch
in deflated dunes, Arumvale, Ellen    and McArthur 1985; Ferguson 1981.
Brook, Quininup Brook: LNR.

Open-air site complex,                Dortch and Dortch 1997; Ferguson
Dunsborough: GB.                      1980

Barragup fish weir site and other     Dortch 1997b; 1999; 2000; Gibbs
wooden weir sites on the Murray       1987
and Serpentine Rivers, Goegrup
Lakes: PI.

Prolific/large-scale artifact         Hallam 1972; 1975; 1977; 1986b;
scatters near lakes and wetlands,     1987; Pearce 1978; Pearce and
notably Walyunga, Upper Swan: SR;     Barbetti 1981; Schwede 1990.

B. Dispersive sites and archaeological evidence for group movement

Numerous solo stone artifact finds    Anderson 1984; Dortch 1977; 2000;
and small scatters of stone           Dortch and Dortch 1997; Dortch
artifacts (all districts,             and Gardner 1976; Ferguson 1985;
including forested hinterland).       Hallam 1972; 1975; 1987; Lilley
                                      1993; Pearce 1982.

Sites featuring assemblages and       Clarke and Dortch 1977; Dortch
isolated specimens of Eocene chert    1977; 1979a; 1984; 2000:Appendix
and other stone types probably        6; J. Dortch 1996; 2000; Glover
transported long distances from       1979; 1984; Glover and Lee 1984;
their places of origin (all           Glover et al. 1978; 1993; Pearce
districts, notably SR, GB, LNR,       and Barbetti 1981.
SCP, PN, BI. Cf. references to
offshore island finds.).

Scatters of marine mollusc shells     Dortch 1985; Dortch et al. 1984;
and artifacts: Swan Coastal Plain     J. Dortch 1996; 2000; Lilley
north of SR, LNR, PN, Southern        1993; Smith 1993; 1999.
Ocean coastal localities east of

Isolated stone artifact finds on      Dortch 1991; 2000; Dortch and
offshore islands. Southern ocean      Hesp 1994; Dortch and Morse 1984;
coast: near BI and PN; Indian         Hesp et al. 1999.
Ocean coast: SR.

Occupational sequences from           Balme et al. 1978; Baynes et al.
Devil's Lair, Tunnel Cave,            1975; Dortch 1979a; 1979b; 1984;
Witchcliffe Rock Shelter, Rainbow     Dortch and Dortch 1996; 1997; J.
Cave: LNR.                            Dortch 1994; 1996; 2000; Lilley
                                      1993; Turney et al. 2001.


I sincerely thank my principal thesis supervisor, Jane Balme, and Sandra Bowdler, from the Centre of Archaeology, Anthropology Department, University of Western Australia, for their intermittent, though unstinting advice and commentary. Many thanks as well to Joe Dortch -- former doctoral scholar in the above department -- for his tremendous support. I also express my great appreciation to Moya Smith and Mance Lofgren in the Anthropology Department, Western Australian Museum for their advice on many aspects of South-western cultural history. Lastly, I sincerely thank three academic referees for their most helpful comments on the version of the present paper appearing in my dissertation. I had presented an earlier draft of that version at the 1999 annual conference of the Australian Archaeological Association held in Mandurah, Western Australia.


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Author:Dortch, Charles E.
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Date:Apr 1, 2002
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