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Indigenous Culture: Dreamtime Stories

Dreamtime and Creation stories exist to teach people how to look after the land, its creatures and their custodians. But to truly appreciate their significance, we first must understand what is meant by the Dreamtime and the Dreaming.

Walbunga and Ngarigo
Walbunga and Ngarigo woman and visual artist Cheryl Davison’s painting of The Two Sisters in the Dreamtime story. Painting by Cheryl Davison

According to Indigenous beliefs, the Dreamtime is the period when creation spirits or ancestral beings walked with humans and shaped the world. And depending on the local beliefs and stories, the creator could come from the sky, the land or the sea.

Creation ancestors laid down the foundations of all life, including what people had to do to maintain their part of this interdependence. This is Indigenous lore. The lore ensures each person knows his or her connectedness and responsibilities to family, to Country and for their ongoing relationship with the ancestor spirits.

The spirits created every natural formation of the land, including valleys, rivers and mountain ranges. These stories describe the shaping and developing of the world as people know and experience it, through the activities of the powerful spirits. When the spirits were happy with their creation, they would often join themselves to the feature they created, laying down and becoming a part of the physical landscape. It’s these places which form some of our most sacred sites.

Aboriginal people don’t believe they inherit the land from ancestors, instead they borrow it from their children’s future. They are custodians of the land, charged with its stewardship for the sake of their children and their children’s children.

Moruya River
The Moruya River where this version of the Creation Story comes from

The Dreamtime

The Dreamtime was the beginning of all knowledge when the lore of existence was formed. These lores must be observed for survival. Tribal boundaries were determined. Totems for groups of tribes, individual tribes and family groups were decided.

It is forbidden to eat or harm a totem or its environment. In fact, Aboriginal people feel a responsibility to ensure the totem and its environment remain intact, healthy and thriving. This guarantees all species of animals are protected somewhere in

Australia, ensuring none become endangered or extinct. Aboriginal people did not have a written language.

Lore is passed down the generations through ceremony, storytelling, song, dance and art. The ancestors established the ways in which all things should live in harmony and are interconnected to maintain order and sustainability.

Aboriginal people
Aboriginal people never had a written language, this is The Two Sisters Dreamtime story using Aboriginal symbolic art and interpretation.

The Dreaming

The Dreaming is a western term used to describe Aboriginal spirituality. There are no words in the English language that can adequately describe the true meaning of ‘the Dreamtime’ or ‘the Dreaming’ exactly as it is experienced by Aboriginal people. Indeed, many Aboriginal people are even offended by the term and will use their own words in their own language.

The Dreaming is the continuation of the Dreamtime; it reminds us of the ancestral spirits who created the land and waterways and remained as living forces in the natural features of the landscape. Dreaming is past, present and future and holds the lore, incorporating important knowledge, values, beliefs and understandings. It is the basis of our spiritual identity and is expressed through continuity, interconnectedness, belonging and observance of cultural beliefs and practices.


Creation story

THERE ARE OFTEN MANY VERSIONS OF THE SAME STORY, BUT THIS IS THE NEW SOUTH WALES TOWN OF MORUYA’S VERSION.

TOONKOO AND NGAADI

In the Dreamtime, Daramalun (the ancestral being) came from the sky on a star with a young couple. The young man’s name was Toonkoo and the young woman’s name was Ngaadi.

When they came to this beautiful land, it was the beginning of all creation. When Ngaadi laughed the wind blew and thunder sounded and this was the beginning of all life.

Daramalun said: ‘I give you this land and all that dwells therein,’ and then he left. Toonkoo and Ngaadi looked at each other and looked at the environment around them. They had never felt cold or hunger before, but as the day went on, they began to explore their new world.

Not knowing what to do, they started to bicker, Toonkoo became angry and he picked up a stone and hurled it with some force at a cliff face. On striking the cliff face, the stone caused a piece of rock to break away. Out of curiosity, Toonkoo studied this rock and realised that the force had created a rough tool and, if he chipped away at the broken rock, he could fashion it into a tool with multiple functions.

Ngaadi took an interest in a stringybark tree and, after some trial and error, realised she could turn the bark into rope and then make a bag from the rope she’d made. She watched the kookaburra and the animals and noted their behaviour.

Together, the couple learned to live in their new surroundings. Toonkoo learned to trap animals, to give them their names. Ngaadi learned all about the trees, grasses and flowers, everything that grew and swam, she hunted small game.

Toonkoo hunted big game, however because he was not experienced enough, Daramalun returned to walk with him and showed him how to make the spear and the boomerang.

There came a time when Daramalun had to leave, never to return.

‘To you, my children, I give you the most precious gift,’ he said before leaving. ‘I give you the trees and the rocks and all the creatures that dwell in them, you are to care for them for your children and for your children’s children.’


Dreamtime story

THIS STORY PASSES ON KNOWLEDGE WITHOUT THE LISTENER BEING AWARE. THE COLOURED TEXT TELLS THE STORY’S UNDERLYING LESSONS.

THE TWO SISTERS

The Jerrinja people (identifies the people) from Orient Point near Nowra (identifies their Country) were on their way to a big corroboree (meeting of other tribes for ceremony, trade and marriage) down in Bega (location of gathering). They camped at the big waterhole (location of water source and semi-permanent camp) in Kianga which is exactly halfway (indication of distance).

Two young women in the group were promised in marriage to two older men travelling in the same group (arranged marriage, man my take as many wives as they can support). The ceremony was to take place at the corroboree after initiation was (order of proceedings) completed and before trading commenced.

While the women and children set up camp collecting firewood, water and small game (women’s role) the men formed a hunting party (men’s role) and headed to a well- known waterhole at the foot of the mountains (location of another water source) to hunt big game (location of big game; animals need water too; indication of planning involved to set up camp).

While they were gone, two young men of the Manaro people (identifies people) sneaked into camp and befriended the young women (against traditional lore). They convinced the women to leave with them; the women also had a pet dingo (dingoes were often pets, guard dogs and a source of food when times were lean). Meanwhile, at the foot of the mountains it started to rain, with poor visibility and the animal tracks washed away, the hunters were forced to abandon the hunt (identifies poor hunting conditions), they returned to camp to be told of the women’s flight.

The men formed a war party and pursued the Manaro men, the women and their dog (traditional lore says they must be punished). They caught up with them at Whittaker’s Creek (location identified) and speared the men until they were dead (punishment for breaking the lore); their graves are still there today (buried off their Country as eternal punishment).

The young women and their dog were turned to stone (‘turned to stone’ is a form of punishment, in reality it meant exile from your group, offenders were doomed to follow at a safe distance for fear of being stoned to death); this is to serve as a reminder to people of what happens when you break the lore.

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