Dreamtime

December 12, 2017

 

Immerse yourself in the spirit
of our land, hear our stories
and appreciate our culture.
Aboriginal Australians have developed
and are bound by highly complex
belief systems that interconnects the
land, spirituality, law, social life and
care of the environment. The terms
Dreamtime, Dreaming and Songlines
are regularly used and interchanged to
describe these important elements of
Aboriginal cultures.
The Dreamtime is the period of creation
when the world was a featureless void
where ancestral spirits in human and
other life forms emerged from the earth
and the sky creating all living things and
the landscape we see today.
Creation beliefs and customary practices
vary greatly across Australia, however
they are all based on the journeys of
ancestral beings and events which took
place during the creation time.

These creation (Dreaming) stories
take many forms and include graphic
descriptions of landforms, cataclysmic
events, features in the celestial sky and
distinguishing characteristics of plants
and animals. For example the distinctive
domes of Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) tell many
tales of the Mingarri (rodent mice) and
their interaction with various creation
ancestors. The River Murray’s sinuous
path is carved in the Dreamtime by
Ponde (the giant cod) pursued to his
death at the Lower Lakes by Ngurrunderi,
mighty hunter and creator spirit of the
Ngarrindjerri nation in southern Australia.
In the night sky the Peleides represent the

seven sisters whose dreaming path criss-
crossed much of Australia and is shared by

many different cultural groups. The Milky
Way is the river of the sky where, after the
rainbow serpent has swallowed the sun,
people fish for stingrays and turtles with
the stars as their campfires.
Though usually connected to the
creation period when ancestral

beings named and shaped the land,
Dreamtime and Dreaming also refer
to living stories describing creation
forces that are constantly present.
These stories are not ‘dreams’,’ myths’
or ‘legends’. They direct social systems
and form the basis for Aboriginal
law and care of the environment. All
Aboriginal people are connected to
the Dreamtime through their totemic
creation ancestors, whose stories are
passed on through ritual ceremonies,
dance, song and art, and by following
the ancestral paths that are the living
practice of a person’s Dreaming.
Ceremony incorporating dance, art
and song is an important part of both
individual and family obligations to
practice their culture. Many of the
Dreaming stories are presented as
elaborate song cycles (Songlines) that
relate to a specific place, group and
individual. They provide a map recording
details of the landscape and express the
relationship between the land, sea and
the people. The stories and songlines
encompass law, culture and spirituality to
ensure the continuity of all things living.
Today many Aboriginal communities
are wanting to explain their heritage
and show visitors around their country.
Firsthand knowledge gained in this way
may help you to understand Aboriginal
Australia, as a living legacy of spiritual
knowledge shared through rituals,
dance, stories and journeys touching on
aspects of the Dreamtime.

Indigenous AUSTRALIA
Dreamtime

“ All Aboriginal people have a common belief in the creation or
Dreaming, which is a time when the ancestral beings travelled across
the country creating the natural world and making laws and customs
for Aboriginal people to live by. The Dreaming ancestors take the
form of humans, animals or natural features in the landscape.”
Dr Irene Watson, Tanganekald & Meintangk woman,
Lonely Planet Aboriginal Australia & Torres Strait Islands, Sydney, 2001

Key Dreamtime Facts
> Aboriginal people are considered to
represent the world’s most ancient
continuous culture.
> The origin of the term ‘Dreamtime’
goes back to the anthropologist
Baldwin Spencer who noted the
Arrernte word altyerre means both
‘time of creation’ and ‘dream’ so he
coined Dreamtime as the English
translation. (Macquarie Atlas of
Indigenous Australia, Sydney, 2005)
> Torres Strait Islanders do not use the
terms Dreamtime or Dreaming. They
also have creation stories and beliefs
based on the deeds and teachings of
ancestral heroes.
> Songlines are often seen as a mystery
to outsiders yet to Aboriginal people the
concepts and ideas are perfectly clear.
> Most information about specific
details of Songlines and Dreaming
tracks are not for public dissemination
and are part of the secret, sacred lore
of Aboriginal cultures.
> Unlike our law, Aboriginal law does
not change; their laws were made in
the Dreamtime and are an ongoing
part of peoples Dreaming, so
Aboriginal people cannot change it.
> The spiritual interconnectedness of all
living things is very powerful for our
Indigenous communities
> The Australian continent is criss
–crossed with the tracks of the
Dreamtime ancestors and they form
the basis of a major dimension of
the land tenure system for most
Aboriginal people.

“ My people believe that our ancestors were responsible for the
creation of our country and it was they who handed down to us our
rules for living... We have ceremonies to look after the well being and
products of our land. These things penetrate our culture.”

Tiwi Elder, NTTC Experience Aboriginal
Culture in Australia’s Northern Territory, 1997
“ Dreamtime ancestors made the Songlines as part of the creation
story – we still use these today.” Bill Harney,
Wardaman Elder, 2009
“ The ancestor is responsible for the law and country, a responsibility
which is carried by the traditional owner of the song today.
The owner of the song is responsible for the country and particular
sacred places, and when the song travels over these sacred places it is
sung by the traditional owner of song or country.”

Dr Irene Watson,
Tanganekald & Meintangk woman,
Lonely Planet Aboriginal Australia & Torres Strait Islands,
Sydney, 2001
“ Kaltjiti artist sing country, dance country and paint the song of
their lands. The epic song cycles of the Western Desert peoples have
resounded for thousands of years across these sand dunes of central
Australia, echoed back from the orange rock faces of the granite
hills and eddied around the deep blue rock holes where precious
water hides from the scorching sun. The creation ancestors first sang
these songs at the dawn of time. These giant beings strode the land
changing their shape from human to beast or plant, to water, earth
or wind. The landscape still holds their resting forms in rounded hills,
the fury of their flight was caught in twisted bloodwood trees and
their flesh – know transformed – wraps the marble gums as dappled
bark. Songs sung down the generations have kept the land alive and
spirit of her people strong.”

Dr Diana James, Author,
Painting the Song
Kaltjiti artists of the sand dune country, 2009

Uniquely Australian
> Hear the creation story of the Snakes on the Kuniya Sunset
Tour. Hear first-hand of the cultural significance of Uluru
(Ayers Rock) by taking part in an Anangu Tour. All tours are
led by local Aboriginal people. They share their culture,
explaining how they see the landscape of Uluru, and their
Tjukurpa or Dreamtime.
> Learn about the fascinating culture and history of the
Adnyamathanha, people of the Flinders Ranges in outback
South Australia. Join Hayden Bromley from Bookabee Tours,
as he takes you on a journey through his country. Hear
Aboriginal creation stories, visit significant sites, and see
ancient paintings and engravings.
> Discover Dreamtime Quinkans in Cape York’s Laura region,
famous for its rock art featuring giant Dreamtime spirits
known as Quinkans. Visit the Quinkan Regional Centre and
discover more about the region’s many Aboriginal rock art
sites, only a handful of which are accessible to tourists.
> Watch the Tjapukai Dancers of the tropical rainforest provide
Dreamtime insights in tropical north Queensland. Presenting
a theatrical interpretation of Aboriginal culture from the
beginning in to the future, Tjapukai’s version of world history
conveys the vast timeframes of Aboriginal experience. Hi-tech
visual effects, including lasers, are used alongside electrifying
dance routines to recreate their Dreamtime story.
> Follow the Aboriginal Songline stories of Anangu Creation
ancestors. Take up an opportunity to gain an insight into the
law and culture of the Anangu people – with Desert Tracks in
the Pitjantjatjara Lands south west of Alice Springs.
> Experience an Aboriginal perspective of country with
Blue Mountains Walkabout. Join a guided tour following
a song line that takes you off-track through secluded Blue
Mountains wilderness to experience hidden places of
wonder. View ancient art, ceremonial sites, and artefacts and
hear dreaming stories that give you a timeless connection to
this ancient land.
> Appreciate the cultural diversity of the Torres Strait Islands
with a visit to the Gab Titui Cultural Centre on Thursday
Island. Visitors are warmly welcomed and are invited to take
part in a journey through time, from the past to the present,
and into the future showing culture through artefacts,
artwork, song, dance and stories.
> Take part in the Garma Festival with the Yolgnu people.
It is one of Australia’s most cherished Aboriginal cultural
events held in August each year. The many diverse clan
groups of East Arnhem Land gather to celebrate over 50,000
years of cultural tradition and share Aboriginal knowledge
and culture. The festival is designed to encourage the
practice, preservation and maintenance of traditional dance
(bunggul), song (manikay), art and ceremony on the Yolngu
lands at Gulkula in Northeast Arnhem Land.

“ As Aboriginal people, we always take our culture
with us. When we travel to the city to show our
paintings we always dance and sing inma. Our
culture and art is not separate, it is all one. We
are artists, dancers and singers of the Tjukurpa,
this means dreaming our traditional Law for a
long time.” Inawinytji Williamson,
Pitjantjatjara woman, 2003
“ We custodians of this place are really happy
for you to come and look around our country.
Look around and learn so that you can know
something about Aboriginal people and
understand that Aboriginal culture is strong and
really important.”

Tony Tjamiwa, Uluru elder,
NTTC Experience Aboriginal Culture in
Australia’s Northern Territory, 1997
“ In most, if not all areas, songs are the central
repository of crucial forms of knowledge about the
Dreaming and about country. For example, the
travels of Dreaming ancestor may be recounted in
long song series, in which each short song relates
to a particular place, the whole sequence forming a
sung map of the ancestors journey.”

Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia,
Canberra 1994

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