Dreamtime stories of the top end

As we have been moving around in the National Parks of the Northern Territory (known as the top end) I have noticed quite a few Dreamtime Stories on boards. I am a collector of Dreamtime Stories; I have a few stories of the Noongar people of Perth and am endlessly fascinated.

The Dreamtime is the basis of Aboriginal religion and culture, dating back about 70,000 years – that’s a long time to keep a culture alive, and is a series of stories about how things came to be, how people and animals were created and how the Creator intended for humans to behave in their world – the social mores.

The stories are ways of sharing history that is thousands of years old and is a means of passing on knowledge and values down the generations. According to Aboriginal history, the Dreamtime is the period in which life was created, Dreaming is the word that explains it – the stories and beliefs behind creation of everything, including the land, the animals and the people. If you look at Aboriginal Art you will see that much of it depicts Dreaming.

I have done a Dreamtime expedition with an Aboriginal elder which explained how a large rock formation we have in Western Australia (Bluff Knoll) came into being. The stories are often violent and usually include a moral. Examples are: why is a rock where it is, why is the rock shaped the way it is, why does a creek run through the landscape, why do kangaroos have tails, why the moon waxes and wanes, etc. Although the stories can be fierce, they provide lessons on how to treat animals, who a person should marry, how to show respect, and so forth; the cultural rules and obligations Aboriginal people are expected to live by and the penalties for disobedience.

Many of the stories are passed on through art, singing and dance. This poster explains how they learn to draw their designs.

Australian Aboriginal people highlighted global warming years before it became a political hot potato. They use the Dreaming to explain the constantly evolving events such as flood, fire, storms, plagues and the good and bad things that happen to people.

With all that in mind, I thought I’d share a couple of the stories we read on our travels. See if you can find the parallels with your own belief system.

Crocodiles have long been a scary spectre!

This story is shown in the rock art, but it was a bit hard to make out.

I showed this image in my post on the rock art of Ubirr, but thought it could do with a second airing. This kind of warning shows up in all sorts of places.

In my post on the rock art of Ubirr I also mentioned the Women Only site. I thought it would be fun to show what some of their men (and women) think about it. Please note the respect with which they treat it.

We also visited Katherine Gorge, which is south east of Darwin and sits in the Nitmiluk National Park. The owners of the land are the Jawoyn people.

There are thirteen natural gorges, which have falls, rapids and spectacular views. We didn’t have enough time to explore it fully; next time we will stay at Katherine.

The Katherine River flows from Kakadu National Park – I forgot to mention that this is where Crocodile Dundee was set – and have carved an amazing route through the landscape, and Dreamtime Stories have evolved along with it. Nitmiluk is the Jawoyn name for Katherine Gorge. It is pronounced Nit-me-look, and literally means Cicada Place. These boards tell the story. I somehow lost the first board, but you get the picture.

I love that they have the bit about not taking more fish than they need!

Bula – The Creator, Nagorrko – Spiritual Being from the North and Bolung – The Rainbow Serpent, all play integral roles in tribal life. Bolung, who is believed to be able to control life itself, is said to inhabit the depths of the second of the Katherine Gorges, watching over the world above. Able to control the forces of nature Bolung can take the form of lightning or appear in the monsoonal floods. While other Jawoyn Dreamtime figures can be evoked and called upon for assistance Bolung must never be spoken to , simply left alone to maintain the balance of life. There is a wonderful website maintained by the Jawoyn people which gives a great deal more detail. I would urge you to read it, if you have an interest in learning more about this fascinating culture.

As I write this I am watching the news about a Parliamentary inquiry into the blasting of a sacred Aboriginal site, Juukan Gorge, in Western Australia, by a mining multinational company, who destroyed thousands of years of culture to extract $135m worth of iron ore. What price culture? This makes me feel really ill. I don’t believe for a second that they didn’t know or understand what they were doing. There has been a recommendation that they rehabilitate the site. I’ve decided I’m not going to wade into the legal and ethical implications of all this, but will be watching the fall out with interest.

Thank you for reading to the end!


6 thoughts on “Dreamtime stories of the top end

  1. Wonderful post. I checked out the website and really enjoyed it. The encroachment and destruction of a sacred site reaffirms my belief that greed is the root of most evil. I’m disheartened and disgusted and , really, how can anything make up for what they did?

  2. Thanks for sharing Sue – I love Catherine Gorge and the stories and sites – there is an amazing amount of energy, especially if you just sit by yourself and just listen to the birds and think about the stories you have shared. xxx

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