I wrote yesterday about the book You Call It Desert - We Used to Live There, written byPat Lowe with Jimmy Pike. It's about what is now known as The Great Sandy Desert, in inland Australia.
The people who lived in this place needed to know where they were going, because a mistake in heading for a waterhole could have fatal consequences. The authors say:
...the six directional names: East, West, North, South, Up and Down are in constant use, not only in reference to travel but also in discussions of the relative positions of people and objects over even the smallest spaces and distances... A language reflects the preoccupations of its speakers, and Walmajarri has not one but a dozen or more words to refer to each of the cardinal compass points. Such a variety of terms enables a speaker to convey with great economy the precise locations of an event, place or object. So, by using different terms derived from the root word kurlirla (south) a user of Walmajarri can tell a listener whether the subject being discussed is to the far or near south, in or out of sight, approaching from the south, due south, or simply to the south of the speaker and perhaps lying or travelling, like a river or a bird, from east to west.
This last meaning reminds me of the way Europeans name winds. I always feel a bit confused about whether a west wind, for instance, comes from the west, or is heading to the west - until a burning north wind blows into Melbourne and I remember it's coming from the hotter north.