Custodians: Arrernte People of Alice Springs (Mparntwe)

I find myself turning from British History to the traditional stewards of Australia. When you see indigenous people you can see how different we are in custom and the way we think. I find myself curious about them and a desire to understand more of their way. I feel I don’t know them at all and when the mind has lived with the land for 40,000 years the language becomes one of nature rather than a learned socio-economic system that is so removed from natural impulses. When a people feel the land, convey knowledge of the land through oral tradition and live with it as it provides the direct source of life, this changes perceptions and creates a different seeing or perhaps dreaming. Sometimes we cannot understand another people but we can appreciate the differences and perhaps become illuminated through this. I am open to learning.

The Arrernte people (pronounced [ˈəraɳɖa][1]), known in English as the Aranda or Arunta, are those Indigenous Australians who are the original custodians of Arrernte lands in the central area of Australia around Mparntwe or Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. The Arrernte tribe has lived there for more than 20,000 years.[2] Some Arrernte people live in other areas a distance from their homeland, and may even live in Sydney, Melbourne or overseas.

Their ancestors spoke one or more of a group of related languages or dialects.

Groups and country

The Arrernte comprise people who identify with different parts of their “country”. The respective groups are the ones below:

* Central Arrernte refers to people from the township of Alice Springs only.
* Eastern Arrernte refers to people from the Arrernte lands east of Alice Springs.
* Western Arrernte refers to people from the Arrernte lands west of Alice Springs, out to Mutitjulu and King’s Canyon.

Arrernte refers to all groups combined, or alternatively to the people from the few Arrernte lands north of Alice Springs.


The Arrernte Council is the representative and administrative body for the Arrernte lands. It is part of the Central Land Council.

The Arrernte Council of Central Australia Aboriginal Corporation trading as Arrernte Workforce Solutions is an Australian Aborigine council for the Arrernte, Eastern Arrernte, Central Arrernte and Western Arrernte people of Central Australia. Their offices are located in Alice Springs, Northern Territory. The town of Alice Springs is on Arrernte land, and hence there has been an agreement between native title holders the Lhere Artepe Aboroginal Corporation and the Alice Springs Town Council to share this land.

The significance of country for Arrernte people is portrayed in the many dreamings, spiritual tracks and ceremonial places that hold traditional links between Arrernte people and their land. Country is a part of cultural heritage, a part of social interaction and cohesion, and a part of the spirituality of being Arrernte.

The Arrernte Nation extends in all directions surrounding the township of Alice Springs. It is the traditional country of the Eastern, Western, and Southern Arrernte family groups living in the Central Australia region.

Traditionally the Arrernte Nation lived in localised family groups in given areas of country. Each group is identified by their country and language, and is traditionally responsible for its social and cultural management and maintenance. Most Arrernte people lived in closely knit smaller groups, which enabled them to follow their family and cultural practices in a manner consistent with their social and traditional structures. All Arrernte people are linked by a skin system, which forms the basis for social and cultural interaction between and among the individual groups.

The historical development of the township of Alice Springs has had a destructive effect on Arrernte families as it created problems of alienation, inequality and the cultural disintegration of customs when the traditional occupants were forced to move from their country. This can be seen by the conflicts that occurred when many displaced families had to inter mingle with larger Arrernte and other Aboriginal groups in a different country, which caused them to make substantial changes to their way of living. Development of the township of Alice Springs has led to the loss of socio – cultural and spiritual characteristics as well as dispossessing Arrernte people of an economic base which is needed in modern times to achieve self sufficiency and self determination. However there still remains a strong sense of identity and belonging as family, and also as a tribal group amongst Arrernte people who live in either town or bush environments.

Mohandas Gandhi

“Only as high as I reach can I grow, only as far as I seek can I go, only as deep as I look can I see, only as much as I dream can I be.”