The western world has a tradition of written history. It is detailed and extensive and dates back some thousands of years. The first peoples of Australia have an oral tradition, which is perhaps less detailed and extensive, but is focused on what is most important, and it dates back some 65,000+ years.
The western world’s description of this oral tradition, is of “songlines” and “the dreaming”. Sadly, for all of the 20th century, and to a certain extent, still today, it is so misunderstood as to be called “Walkabout”: a derogatory term to imply that first peoples are lazy and will just walk away from work and vanish for a long period.
Far too complex for me to explain, I am quoting “What is the Connection Between the Dreamtime and Songlines?”. Japingka Aboriginal Art Gallery. 26 October 2017. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
“The Dreaming, or the Dreamtime, has been described as “a sacred narrative of Creation that is seen as a continuous process that links traditional Aboriginal people to their origins”. Ancestors are believed to play a large role in the establishment of sacred sites as they traversed the continent long ago. Animals were created in the Dreaming, and also played a part in creation of the lands and heavenly bodies. Songlines connect places and Creation events, and the ceremonies associated with those places. Oral history about places and the journeys are carried in song cycles, and each Aboriginal person has obligations to their birthplace. The songs become the basis of the ceremonies that are enacted in those specific places along the Songlines.”
The Dreaming stories, told in word, song, dance and art are a road map, a history and a bible. They are the laws of “country”, the glue that has perpetuated social cohesion and allowed first peoples culture to survive invasion.
A 65,000 year old dreaming story, describes the first people to come onto this continent.
Barnumbirr, the creator-spirit, guided the first humans, the two Djanggawul sisters and their brother, to “Sahul”.
Barnambirr and the Djanggawuls lived on Baralku, the island of the dead. Barnumbirr rises every day into the sky as Venus and one day, after crossing the coastline, Barnumbirr flew across the land from East to West, creating a songline which named and created the animals, plants, and natural features of the land. He brought the two sisters and brother to people the land.
As they travelled in country, the older of the Dianggawul sisters gave birth to a child and her blood flowed into a water hole. Galeru emerged from the water hole and ate the sisters, however when bitten by an ant, it regurgitated the sisters. The Serpent was then able to speak in the sisters’ voices and taught sacred ritual to the people of that land.
These first people were the Yolngu of north-eastern Arnhem Land. Just as the people of coastal Sydney were called Eora by the early Europeans, both mean “people”.
“Barnumbirr in Yolngu culture. She is often associated with death, and is said to guide the spirits of the dead to their spirit-world. Barnumbirr was a creator spirit who left her island of Baralku to lead the first humans to Australia. After crossing the coast of Australia, she continued flying across the land, describing the land below her in great detail, naming and creating the animals and places. As she flew westwards across the land, she named waterholes, rivers, and mountains in considerable detail, including defining the territory of clans, and the areas where people had fishing rights. Her song therefore not only forms a basis of Yolngu law, but describes a navigable route across the land. The path that she followed is now known as a ‘songline,’ or navigational route, across the Top End of Australia, so that her song is effectively an oral map.”