The Devils Marbles: an Ancient Aboriginal Meeting Point

Balancing boulders at Devils Marbles
Balancing boulders at Devils Marbles | © pen_ash / Pixabay
Photo of Hayley Simpson
Writer29 June 2018

Located in the Northern Territory, the Devils Marbles are a sacred site for the local Aboriginal people. Keep reading to learn more about their history and unique formation.

Naming the Devils Marbles

The Devils Marbles are located within the Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve, 105 kilometres (65 miles) south of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. This name was established in 2011, to reflect that the site is jointly managed by both Parks and Wildlife Service of the Northern Territory rangers and the traditional Aboriginal owners. Karlu Karlu is a local Aboriginal term that translates to round boulders. The term Devils Marbles came from John Ross, a Scottish-Australian explorer who led a team surveying the area for the Overland Telegraph Line in 1870. He said: “This is the devil’s country; he’s even emptied his bag of marbles around the place.”

Devils Marbles | © Murray Foubister / Flickr

A sacred Aboriginal site

The large boulders are culturally and spiritually significant to the land’s traditional Aboriginal owners, both men and women. This includes the Alyawarre, Kaytetye, Warumungu and Warlpiri people. Nearly the entire reserve was registered as a sacred site in 1982, under the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority. It’s said that many traditional Dreamtime stories are set at Karlu Karlu, although only a few stories have been shared with visitors.

Exploring the Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve | © / Flickr

One traditional story that has been told refers to how the Devils Marbles were made. ‘Arrange’ was an ancient ancestor who made a hair belt, which is a traditional accessory only worn by initiated Aboriginal men. When he twirled the hair to make the belt, clusters were dropped on the ground, which became the boulders. He also spat on the ground, which formed the reserve’s central boulders. Arrange then returned home to his hill, Ayleparrarntenhe where he still resides today.

The Devils Marbles

The large granite boulders that constitute the Devils Marbles are found predominantly on the reserve’s western side. They’re often used as a symbol for both the Northern Territory and outback Australia. They’re located in a shallow desert valley and range in size from 50 centimetres to six metres across. Some balance precariously on top of one another, while others have been split neatly in half by natural forces. The rounded effect is due to weathering and erosion over millions of years. There’s walkways to follow with signposts regarding how the Devils Marbles were formed.

Balancing boulders at Devils Marbles | © pen_ash / Pixabay

The Devils Marbles look particularly beautiful when the morning and evening sun turn the boulders a deep red colour. There’s a simple campground for people who want to stay overnight as well. Although they’re located in a remote part of the Northern Territory, approximately 150,000 people visit the Devils Marbles annually.

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