Dreamtime stories were central to the belief systems and laws of the six or seven hundred indigenous groups which roamed highly territorial areas of the vast country at the time of British colonisation in the second half of the eighteenth century.
Although without a common language, their belief in the spiritual truths of the aboriginal dreamtime were universal.
The dreamtime was a time, without end or beginning, into which mystical ancestral beings appeared, forming rocky gorges, the sky, stars, trees, rivers and mountains, sometimes then becoming physical manifestations of their spirits.
I was honoured to open the first school, ever, for aboriginal children at Wave Hill, on the banks of the Victoria River in the Northern Territory outback. And what beautiful, delightful and smart children they were!
Wave Hill was the scene of the beginning of the aboriginal land rights movement, when the Gurindji workforce on the cattle station (owned by Lord Vestey from England) famously ‘downed tools’ and walked off, settling at Dagaragu on Wattie Creek, not far from the school, which then was re-named as Kalkaringi.
Famous for leading the ‘walk-off’ was Vincent Lingiari, into whose hand the then Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, years later, symbolically poured a handful of red dusty soil as he acknowledged the aboriginal ownership of the land. Some of that first group of children, full of fun and eager to learn, are now respected 'elders' of the Gurindji management.
This particular hill was not important in the rituals of the Gurindji people, but certain locations, usually gorges, waterholes or other landmarks, were.
For instance, a woman wishing to become pregnant would visit a specific place, where the spirit of her child would be conceived. The bones of deceased persons would be wrapped in bark and tucked safely into crevices of gorges, sacred to the people. Initiation ceremonies would take place at secret, sacred locations.
None of this was any of my business but references and generalities would sometimes be shared by those who had become our friends.
This design, ‘Written in the Rocks’ aims to share my impression of the redness, the unforgiving harshness and timelessness of the character of the dry landscape of central Australia, where rocky outcrops punctuate the flatness of deserts and black soil plains.
Because the people have been part of the landscape for sixty thousand years and have interacted with it in such meaningful ways, their stories are recorded in caves or overhangs through aboriginal rock carvings and drawings.
Go back even further in the history of the world to realise that the seashells that were fossilised and embedded in rock faces or that we picked up on the slopes and at the base of rocky outcrops were once living in an ancient inland sea. Now that’s mind-boggling!
More about aboriginal dreamtime here .