Aboriginal Dreaming and Sacred Sites
Aboriginal Dreaming or Dreamtime, is the ancient lore of Aboriginal creation passed down through generations. Based on the aboriginal teachings of the beginning of time, the Dreamtime tells of an era when the earth was a barren plain and enveloped in darkness.
The Dreamtime are the stories of the beginning, of how mountains and rivers were formed as spirit ancestors emerged from the earth, bringing life and power to the land. The wanderings of the spirit ancestors created the valleys, rocks, lakes and all geological features of the Australian landscape, and were connections between groups and individuals, to the land and animals.
The End of The Dreaming-Aboriginal Dreaming
Over time, the powerful spirit ancestors grew tired, and retreated into their first natural state of eternal sleep. Some of the beings were reclaimed by the earth, others became rocks, watering holes, stars, animals or sacred objects. At each place where the spirits appeared, camped, or retreated back into the earth, they left behind a powerful force. The sacred power of the spirit ancestors was marked at those places – forever making them aboriginal sacred sites.
Sacred Sites and Songlines-Aboriginal Dreaming
As they made their wanderings (walkabouts) across the land, the aboriginals sang songs telling of the Dreamtime. The tracks they made as they went walkabout were known as Dreaming Tracks, or Songlines, were also held sacred and used to map direction across the vast expanse of deserts connecting them to other sacred sites of power.
The sacred sites contained the spirits of the Dreamtime, where the Aboriginals would summon the Kurunba, the spirit power, used to assist the tribe and the surrounding land. To the Aborigines, walkabouts along the songlines were a means of healing and regenerating the Earth spirits, and to experience a memory of their tribe’s unique Dreamtime heritage.
The location of sacred places is learned through rites of tribal initiation and Aboriginal law. This is one reason why the majority of sacred sites are not known by the general public, and usually come to mainstream attention only when these areas become threatened.
One of the most widely known sacred sites is Uluru, the second-largest monolith in the world, located in central Australia, southwest of Alice Springs. In 1873, early European explorer Willaim Gosse named it Ayers Rock, but it was renamed Uluru in 1985 after the Commonwealth Government of Australia returned it to its’ traditional owners, the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara, (also known as the Anangu) people.
Aboriginal law declares that people who remove rocks from Uluru will be cursed by spirits and suffer great adversity and misfortune. It is commonly known around the area that on occasions visitors have taken these rocks, later packaging and posting them back to numerous agencies, to remove the alleged curse.
Ancient Sites, Modern World
Concentrated European settlement over particular land areas have devastated the traditional Aboriginal way of life, and because of this sites signifying the Aboriginal people’s past existence in the landscape have acquired a special significance. There are many sites the Aboriginal people are now eager to protect, including sites of initiation (religious sites), art sites, rock formations, old campsites and industrial sites such as stone or ochre quarries. Of particular importance is the preservation of burial sites and/or skeletal remains.
Sites inhabited by the Aborigines post-European settlement, known as contact sites are also significant.
Contact sites include Aboriginal missions set up by clergy in the 19th century to “Christianize” the local Aborigines, as well as reserves and sites of European conflict and massacres.
The cultural significance of particular sites has long been recognized and is now part of Australian State and Territory heritage acts. The States and Territories have command over land and heritage affairs, and maintain several registers of the sacred sites of the Aboriginal people, the oldest continuing culture in the world.