Deakin University

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First Law

posted on 2019-01-01, 00:00 authored by Tyson YunkaportaTyson Yunkaporta
First Law might bring to mind a compass or clock, with a stick pointing north from the centre of a circle of clay. It is neither of those things, but it is about the nature of time and space in an Indigenous worldview. The stick is a boondi made from mulga wood, although in my clan we would call it a yuk puuyngk, or law stick. I thought it was an appropriate medium for exploring the different laws of time and space for First and Second Peoples. I studied the first and second laws of thermodynamics and yarned with elders and physicists about these things, then stored that knowledge on my inner maps of the Great Dividing Range, which is the body of the Rainbow Serpent. It divides nothing, by the way, but connects systems along a massive song line. Parallel is the Great Barrier Reef, another serpent in carpet snake form, which is a barrier to nothing, by the way, but another infinitely connective story. Indigenous knowledge is kept in such song lines, so that’s where I stored that data, which I also carved into the club as a mnemonic to help me remember it. Around the head of the club I etched an image of the Ouroboros to represent Second Peoples’ law and the second law of thermodynamics. This symbol of the snake eating its tail is like a curse from my point of view. It has been mistakenly used for millennia to represent infinity, even though that poor snake cannot last, can only eat itself. But the three-dimensional nature of the club gives this two dimensional image an additional layer of meaning, a truth that is revealed when you roll the stick across clay. An image appears of an endless procession of snakes, head to tail, representing the First Peoples’ Law and the first law of thermodynamics. In the first law of thermodynamics, matter is neither created nor destroyed – it only changes and moves between systems. In the second law of thermodynamics, entropy or decay increases in a complex system as it inevitably breaks down, giving rise to what physicists call “the arrow of time” – but only in a closed system. Perhaps the desire to create closed systems and keep time going in a straight line is the reason for Second Peoples’ obsession with creating fences and walls, borders, great divides and great barriers. In reality we do not inhabit closed systems, so why choose the second law of thermodynamics to create your model of time?



Mr Kitly Gallery

Place of publication

Melbourne, Vic.

Start date


Material type

art original



Research statement

No research statement provided.

Publication classification

JO1 Original Creative Works – Visual Art Work


NTRO Minor


Wood carving and relief print on terracotta, demonstrates the different phsysics of time in Indigenous and non-Indigenous realities


Hannah Presley

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