Aboriginal Australians have developed and are bound by highly complex belief systems that interconnect 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.
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.
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.
"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.
Dreamtime ancestors made the Songlines as part of the creation story – we still use these today."
Tiwi Elder, NTTC Experience Aboriginal Culture in Australia’s Northern Territory, 1997
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.
"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."
Bill Harney, Wardaman Elder, 2009
"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
"Today many Aboriginal communities are wanting to explain their heritage and show visitors around their country.
Firsthand knowledge gained in this way may help to understand Aboriginal Australia, as a living legacy of spiritual knowledge shared through rituals, dance, stories and journeys touching on aspects of the Dreamtime.
"Dr Irene Watson, Tanganekald & Meintangk woman, Lonely Planet Aboriginal Australia & Torres Strait Islands, Sydney, 2001
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