The Technologies

Traditional Knowledge

There are four technologies explored in Burarra Gathering, Making Fire, Fishtraps, Navigating by the Stars and Tracking.

Making Fire

The Activity: Help Wala Wala find a suitable rubbing stick so he can make a fire the traditional Burarra way.

Background Information: The rubbing stick is made from straight branches with hard, dry, light wood.

This stick is thin and long, about 40 cm (16 in) in length. The outer layer of bark is removed and the stick is smoothed with a knife. The base stick is wider and flat so that it sits firmly on the ground. A hole is made in the middle of the base stick so that the end of the rubbing stick just fits in. A little dent is made on one side of this hole. Fire makers usually keep good fire sticks so that they don't have to prepare new ones each time they want to light a fire.

To make fire, you have to rub fast and push down hard at the same time.

If the speed and push on the stick is right, you will soon get smoke. When a glowing ember forms, you tip this onto dry grass to start the fire. If the firesticks are made from good wood, it can take only a few minutes to start a fire. Of course, this method of fire making takes a lot of energy. Today the Burarra people often use matches or lighters to start a fire, but people sometimes still make fire the traditional way.

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The Activity: Set up a fishtrap in a billabong.

Background Information: During the wet season, the creeks and billabongs fill with water and the fish swim upstream. This is the time to set the fishtraps. Fishtraps are woven from sedge grass or jungle vine. The trap is placed in shallow water, with a fence of sticks and grass built across the creek. The only hole in the fence leads into the mouth of the fishtrap. A woven funnel sitting inside the mouth guides fish into the trap, but prevents them from swimming out again.

Today, the Burarra people use other ways to catch fish too, including traditional ways like spearing, and non-traditional ways (cast nets, fishing lines).

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The Activity: You are out in a boat when it gets dark. Steer the boat for Wala Wala and follow the stars.

Background Information: The Burarra people can navigate without using maps. Instead, they use landmarks and features. At night it is too dark to see landmarks so instead the Burarra people use the stars to navigate. The position of the stars in the sky changes at different times during the night and at different times of the year. The Burarra people recognise the pattern of stars at different times, and use these to guide them. To travel in a particular direction at night, they must find a star in that part of the sky and then follow that star. This way they know that they are traveling in the right direction.

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The Activity: You will be shown how to identify some animal tracks, and then you can find some yourself.

Background Information: Tracking animal footprints in the sand or dirt is an important part of hunting for the Burarra people. When an animal walks over soft sand or dirt, they leave behind marks, or tracks, in the sand. Tracks for each animal have a distinct pattern. As well as identifying an animal, the Burarra people can use these tracks to find out other information about the animal, such as:

  • the size of the animal
  • how fast the animal was traveling
  • fresh tracks or old tracks
  • whether the animal was young or old, healthy or injured.

Knowing this information, the hunters can then decide whether to follow the tracks. If the animal left the tracks a few days ago, then it is probably not close by. An injured or old animal is easier to hunt because it moves more slowly.

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The Burarra Gathering online exhibition teacher resources: