Aboriginal Gathering Space – Terrazzo 2011 Orange Health Service NSW

Workshops with the Aboriginal community resulted in the design of eleven animal totems representing some of the language groups from the region. Original designs were developed by John Maunder. The pavers were created through community workshops and they are placed in the Aboriginal Gathering Space located in the grounds of the new general hospital.

This space is provided in recognition of the specific needs of the Aboriginal community. It provides a space in which Aboriginal Families and others can gather when a loved one is a patient of the Orange Health Service. Many Aboriginal People find the clinical environment of a hospital distressing and constrictive. In providing a space such as this it offers people an opportunity to come together in close proximity to their loved one in an environment which allows them to feel more comfortable.

Totems in Aboriginal Society

Social totems have an emphasis on the social dimension; totem affiliation depends on membership in a particular social unit defining a person’s totemic relationship to everyone in that social unit. Social totemism is usually matrilineal descent and relates to the ordering of things like marriage and sexual relations. There are sanctions against marrying a person from the same totem, the rule of totemic exogamy (the custom of marrying outside the tribe, family, clan, or other social unit) being supported by stories from the Dreamtime. A [person may not be allowed to kill or eat the totem animal, because it is of a same flesh as that person. It can be considered an older brother or sister, or even a guardian, of the person in question. The closeness of the association is demonstrated by the use of the term ‘my meat or flesh’.

In ritual totemism or cult totemism, the totem is not regarded as ‘flesh’ or ‘meat’, so there are no prohibitions on killing or eating it. Matrilineal cult totemism was observed in Cape York, but in most cases it was patrilineal. Totem exogamy is not considered important. In some groups it may actually be preferred by a man, to have a wife of the same totem as him. There are sacred sites in the territories of all the tribes that are connected with beings from the Dreamtime. These can be waterholes, rocks, hills, trees, or caves in which there are paintings in ochre or blood. A number of fully initiated men are responsible for the care of the sacred site. The birth or conception totems of these men give them the right to this position. These men are responsible for the myth and ritual connected with the site, leading or performing the rites associated with the site.

Totems are not always exogamous; when social totemism, not cult totemism, is involved they are more likely to be exogamous. In cult totemism, and to a lesser extent in other forms, even when a man identifies with a totem he can still eat it casually without sacramental intent.

Nearly every Aboriginal society there had some form of food taboos, and many of them are not connected with totemism. A person’s relationship with the totem should not be viewed in isolation. A totem represents a wider range of associations, a person and his/her totem share what can be called a sacred quality because their relationship is part of a broader relationship with the totemic ancestral beings of the Dreamtime. The totems serves as a link between the human world and that of the dreamtime, so that the person is, in a sense,one with the ancestral beings. The totem also symbolises the concept that these Dreamtime beings are sometimes reincarnated through human beings.

The animals depicted within the Gathering Space represent some of the animals considered as their Totem by many Aboriginal individuals so can be considered their ‘meat or flesh’ or as in social context representing the Totem for their mob.

Donna Stanley 2011