The Kangaroo is one of the most iconic animals in Australia, this is for good reason; they hold incredible cultural importance for many First Nations people. They have always been vital to Indigenous peoples way of life as both an important source of food and as part of cultural rituals and Dreamtime stories.
Image by John Torcasio
Many Indigenous people hold the Kangaroo as a totem, one such group is the Arrernte people of Central Australia who are specifically connected to the Red Kangaroo, which they call Kere aherre. In their Dreamtime stories, the Arrernte peoples totemic spirit is Ara. They believe that Ara made two Dreamtime journeys, a daytime and a nighttime journey. In the daytime journey, Ara visited 14 different sacred sites in the MacDonnell Ranges. In the nighttime, Ara travelled further going underground across the desert to sacred sites further to the north. The totemic sites became sacred and a place of refuge for Kere aherre, no hunting is permitted in and around these sacred sites. Incredibly this Dreamtime story reflects Arrernte peoples intimate knowledge of the Kangaroos adaptations to the harsh desert climate. As talked about in an article “The Eco-Mythology of Red Kangaroos” by A. E. Newsome, an ecological study of Red Kangaroos in the MacDonnell Ranges showed that at least 10 out of the 14 sacred Ara sites were actually important sites where kangaroos sought refuge during droughts. It is the people's job to protect their totem the Kere aherre, this is why the Dreamtime spirit Ara created these sites.
This is just one of many stories. The Palawa peoples from Flinders Island, Tasmania also hold the Kangaroo as totem and the name Kangaroo actually comes from the Guugu Yimithirr people of far north Queensland. All across Australia, these incredible animals feature as an important part Indigenous culture.