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The Lake Eyre Basin ‘Aboriginal Way’ Map

​​​Map information

The ‘Aboriginal Way’ Map identifies and promotes the significance of Aboriginal culture in the Basin through the following features displayed on the Map.

  • Water places and waterways
  • Trade routes
  • Language groups
  • Stories and Songlines
  • Aboriginal managed lands
  • Roads and populated places
  • Portrait gallery
  • Illustrative images

Water places and waterways

Blue swirl graphics represent the different types of water sources, such as waterholes, rock holes, Great Artesian Basin and non-Great Artesian Basin springs, wells, soaks, swamps, flood outs and lakes.

Water places and waterways are essential for Aboriginal people to survive and thrive in the dry Basin landscape. Over many thousands of years Aboriginal people have learnt the location of natural water sources throughout the Basin.

Trade routes

Footprints on the map show the communication network and movement of Aboriginal people over thousands of years. These tracks were also used for the trading of material goods, which included ritual and ceremony as part of the trading system.

The waterways and water places layers when shown with the trade routes layer provides a picture of how Aboriginal people were able to travel long distances across arid landscapes using knowledge of reliable water sources.

Language groups

Seventy-one Aboriginal language groups have been identified on the Map, and show the social and human diversity of Aboriginal society.

The language names in large yellow writing are not tribal areas or native title but languages of Aboriginal people today. No language boundaries are shown on the map as Aboriginal society is not divided in this way, Aboriginal people interact regularly with their neighbours and with others further afield.

In addition to the central map layer, ‘water’ words from seventeen different Aboriginal languages feature in the outer part of the Map.

Story and Songlines

Story and Songlines (or Dreaming tracks) are the enduring oral literature of the Lake Eyre Basin. They are about knowledge, meaning, law, values and history for all elements of Aboriginal life.

The landscape is full of stories from the journeys of the ancestral creators forming intimate bonds between people and country. Story and Songlines are spiritual guides in people’s lives and create strong ritual links between Aboriginal Groups. As part of their identity everyone in the Basin has a special attachment to their own Song-line.

Among the thousands that criss-cross the Basin, the ‘Aboriginal Way’ Map shows just a few of the large connecting stories spanning multiple language areas across hundreds of kilometres.

The Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre story included in this layer is well known and publicly documented in academic literature, reference books and in some cases, on interpretive signs at key tourist sites.

It is significant element in this layer and is featured in the bottom left corner of the Map. The story is well publicised in various South Australian National Parks tourist publications. Several senior Arabana people were involved in the negotiations about its inclusion. This is only one story of how Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre was formed (which is referenced at the bottom of the text box).

Aboriginal managed lands

Collective areas of land are identified on the ‘Aboriginal Way’ Map where Aboriginal people are actively involved in decisions about the management of land.

This includes:

  • Aboriginal Land Trust Lands
  • Aboriginal-owned pastoral stations
  • Indigenous Protected Areas
  • Joint-managed/co-managed National Parks and Reserves.

Roads and populated places

The network of major roads and tracks that define people’s movement throughout the basin today are closely aligned with the traditional patterns of movement by Aboriginal people.

The populated placesshown on the central map reflect the places where Aboriginal people now reside in the Basin, from towns like Mparntwe (Alice Springs) to family outstations on Aboriginal Land Trusts. This does not include small, seasonally-used family outstations.

Where known, Aboriginal names for towns and communities have been used with the English name located underneath.

Portrait gallery

The portrait gallery was created to convey a strong message to readers that Aboriginal people continue to live, work, raise families and contribute to the vibrant regional communities and culture in the Lake Eyre Basin.

Many people have, over time, been involved in gathering photographs for this project. Aboriginal people have proactively participated in this process and have expressed pride in their image, or images of their family members, appearing on the Map.

Illustrative images

The collection of 53 informational images on the ‘Aboriginal Way’ Map captures elements of the histories, cultures, places, experiences and caring for country practices of Aboriginal people during the periods of pre settlement and contemporary times.


The 9 Vignettes on the poster contain expressive words from Aboriginal people of the Basin about connection to country, vibrant and resilient cultures, sharing of traditional knowledge, cycles of life, and, importantly, the responsibility of looking after water and land.

Data sources

To find out more about the data​ sources​ used in the development of the ‘Aboriginal Way’ Map, visit the Data Sources​ webpage.


We would like to thank the Aboriginal communities of Queensland, South Australia, Northern Territory and New South Wales for providing their contributions to the map and sharing their knowledge.

The map is distributed and managed by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.