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For other uses, see Walkabout (disambiguation).

Walkabout refers to a Rite of passage during which male Australian Aboriginals would undergo a journey during adolescence and live in the wilderness for a period as long as six months to make the transition into manhood as a deeply spiritual awakening.[1] This transtionary period typically takes place between the ages of 10 to 16.[2] In this practice, they would trace the paths, or "song lines",[3] that their ancestors took before them, and imitate their heroic deeds. Merriam-Webster identifies the noun as a 1908 coinage referring to "a short period of wandering bush life engaged in by an Australian Aborigine as an occasional interruption of regular work", with the only mention of "spiritual journey" coming in a usage example from a latter-day travel writer.Temporal mobility, as Walkabout has come to be known, alters the entirety of one’s life.[4] One of the purposes of going on walkabout was a form of sacred travel; a method of fulfilling obligations to ancestors or in an attempt to connect with traditional land.[4]

What Is Walkabout?[edit]

A young man on Walkabout, providing for himself as he makes the spiritual journey into manhood.

The term ‘walkabout’ is commonly used to characterize Indigenous people as highly mobile over the short-term, and such movement is regularly constructed as problematic for mainstream institutions such as health care and housing programs. In the case of Indigenous Australia, life-cycle stages, such as traditional rites of passage, seem to influence the motivations for movement more than the frequency of movement.

Common educational literature obtained through research clearly identified a peak in temporary mobility amongst young adults. This is the period of life when many Indigenous youth are exploring and contesting their identities in relation to the state and their cultural context to their traditional ties. The peak of mobility in young adults in Australia is tied to the traditional rite of passage of walkabout, for young adulthood is the time in which aboriginal youth would be taking walkabout to make the transition into adulthood.[5]

But to non-aboriginal employers who did not fully understand the abrupt leaving and returning as a valid reason for missing work. The reasons for leaving may be more mundane than originally thought: workers who wanted or needed to attend a ceremony or visit relatives did not accept employers' control over such matters.[4]

Walkabout in Mainstream Australian Society[edit]

Indigenous temporary mobility practices remain poorly understood within mainstream Australian society. They are often explained away as simply the product of a nomadic predisposition to wander aimlessly.[6] A general lack in understanding of Walkabout, or temporal mobility, on the direction, purpose, length of the trip, those that participate, and the activities that take place on the trip has grown substantially over time, creating some friction between aboriginal Australian residents participating in Walkabout and those that are not. Walkabout takes place with the intent of the boy taking the journey to becoming a man, in addition to enlightenment, healing and a spiritual awakening of those on the walkabout.[7]

This lack of understanding and the friction led to the term "walkabout" being used in a derogatory manner and being used to explain unplanned and unexplainable trips in the Outback. Those that participate in walkabout, typically aboriginals from the Outback areas, have been labelled as transients, nomads, or drifters.[4] These movements are often mystifying for the general public of non-aboriginal Australian’s because they appear unplanned and unpredictable in duration. The mystifying nature of walkabout and temporary mobility in the indigenous has led to the negative connotation of their travels. Walkabout can be used to imply a kind of aimless and erratic wandering off into the unknown to those that do not fully understand its true meaning in the aboriginal spirituality and faith.

The native title law in Australia states that aboriginal Australians have rights and interests to their land stemming from their traditional values, laws, and customs. This title protects indigenous Australians by law for acting in ways that support their native traditions and customs, even though they may go against the current laws in place. In the absence of a documented continuous ceremonial cycle and evidence of a spirituality substantially consistent with that expressed in the ethno- historic literature, these practices became a vital element in discussing the links between past and present cultural practice that constitute the term "continuity" in Native Title law.[6] Having the ability to describe the modern expressions of traditional aboriginal laws and customs, referred to as "continuity," is imminent to proving the existence of Native Title in the federal court.[6]

Currently, any form of government statistical measures are not able to provide any detailed indication of the frequency, volume, or direction of Indigenous temporary mobility.[5] They are unable to provide any sort of consistent statistics for the frequency in which the indigenous aboriginals travel make any previous statistics out of date. Although mobility has been a central feature of Indigenous lived experience for thousands of years, non-Indigenous attempts to understand and conceptualize it through time have been unsuccessful as well as being few and far between.[4]

Aboriginal endosociality has been considered to be partly a product of the same racism that gave rise to the myth of walkabout as a derogatory term but it is also a product of the distinctive indigenous culture its emphasis on the relational constitution of the person and the importance of place in the constitution of personal identity. Together these factors continue to underwrite frequent mobility in the Aboriginal domain in Australia.[6]

Walkabout Land Association[edit]

Australian Outback

The time in a teenage Indigenous boy’s life who goes through customary aboriginal law to make the transition into manhood occurs at a younger age than the rites of passage that young men in Western societies typically make their transition into adulthood.

Aboriginal Australians make up the majority of the population in the Outback up to 90% in some areas.[4] The Outback covers more than three quarters of Australia’s landmass. Indigenous temporary mobility’s that are characterized by familial and cultural obligations and conflicts. They are intentionally confined within Australian territories of ancestral belonging, typically in the Outback. These periods of mobility are typically ceremonial. These periods of mobility are unrelated to and often unseen by mainstream Australia not of aboriginal, indigenous beliefs. They often reflect and show disinterest in, or alienation from, the state.

The physical geography of the Australian Outback has fundamentally shaped Indigenous socio-spatial organization, and thus mobility practices, for the lack of population density in these areas and the uncharted aura of these areas, it is not uncommon that the Outback is the typical home to walkabout for aboriginals have ancestral ties to the land.[6] For Indigenous people in Central Australia, mobility was embedded in cultural practice as people’s ceremonial journeys—Walkabout-- followed dreaming tracks that linked sacred sites. These sites were often water sources or resource-rich places becoming important economically as well as spiritually.

The spiritual attachment of aboriginals to the land of the Outback was a strong, unbreakable force that rooted social groups within their traditional territories.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Walkabout and other Rites of Passage by Fran Parker". My Passion Is Books Blog. Retrieved 2015-11-21. 
  2. ^ "initiation-ceremonies". www.indigenousaustralia.info. Retrieved 2015-11-21. 
  3. ^ "Walkabout: Following Songlines Beyond the Western Frame". WilderUtopia.com (in en-US). Retrieved 2015-11-21. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Taylor, A. (2015). "Walkabout tourism: The Indigenous tourism market for Outback Australia" (PDF). Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management. doi:10.1016/j.jhtm.2015.04.002. Retrieved 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c Prout, S. (2008). "On the move? Indigenous temporary mobility practices in Australia" (PDF). Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research. Retrieved 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c d e "Project MUSE - Laws, Customs, and Practices in Australian Native Title" (PDF). muse.jhu.edu. Retrieved 2015-11-21. 
  7. ^ "The "Walking Toward Manhood" Rite of Passage -". The Good Men Project (in en-US). //plus.google.com/113235993018413637838. Retrieved 2015-11-21.