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