Aboriginal Culture in Australia , otherwise known as the Aboriginal Dreamtime, is something in the vicinity of 40,000 years old. It is a rich and complex culture and brought about by an intimate knowledge of the environment. There are four links to the Dreamtime: Mythology, Initiation, Ceremonies and Sacred Sites.
The majority of mythology is based on what Aboriginal people believed were true historical acts done by their ancestors. It provides an explanation of the origin of natural phenonema, objects, species, institutions and customs. It can also reveal things that are happening or are about to happen. Mythology does not cover everything.
Aboriginal Dreamtime stories (or Dreamings) are stories that have been passed down orally or with non-permanent materials that belong to the mythology of the Dreamtime for Aboriginal people. Generally speaking an aboriginal's language, skin name and country they belong to are heavily dependent on their father's particulars. So for the majority, the father's country is now their country also. There are several different countries (not to be confused with communities) in the greater Utopia area. Some include Ilkawerne, Alhalkere, Atnangkere, Ahalpere and sister countries Arnkawenyerr, Ngkwarlerlanem, Atnwengerrp and Irrwelty Arawerr. Dreamtime stories are said to belong to each country. There are many stories, some major and some minor. Some are connected with other countries where different parts of the story belong to different countries - a beginning or an end perhaps... The Dreaming or Mythological stories don't cover everything but usually those things that affect society for good or bad eg: edible species, ceremonial objects such as churinga stones and pearl stones, ochre and bull roarers, the moon, sun, stars, flood, fire, wind, rain, material things such as spears and axes and man's origin, life and death.
Aboriginal artists paint Dreamtime stories that, for many reasons, we may not know or understand anything more than a brief introduction or its title in some cases. The Field and Research team at Mbantua Aboriginal Art Gallery work closely with the Utopia artists year round to gather as much new information relating to Dreamtime stories as they can and how it is represented in the paintings, continuously updating and learning from the Utopia people so that Mbantua Gallery can be their voice in teaching the wider world. Here online you can learn about some of these Dreamtime stories that are more commonly found in Aboriginal art from the Utopia region...
Dreamtime Story 1 - Anwekety
Anwekety is the Anmatyerre (a-mud-ger-a) word for the conkerberry (or conkleberry), a sweet black berry that is favoured by desert aboriginals. They only grow on the plant, (Carissa Lanceolata) for a few weeks of the year. The plant is a tangled, spiny shrub that grows up to 2m high. The orange inner bark from the roots can be soaked in water and the solution can be used as a medicinal wash particularly for skin and eye conditions. The thorns on the bush can be used to cure warts.
This fruit looks very similar to a plum, which is why it is sometimes referred to in English as 'bush plum'. Utopia artists who paint this story usually use dot work to represent the conkerberry.
On the left, Dale Jennings explores the Anwekety Bush in Central Australia. On the right is a painting of the Anwekety by Polly Ngale of Utopia.
Dreamtime Story 2 - Kame
The seed of the atnwelarr (pencil yam) found in Central Australia. The subject of many Utopia paintings. It's Dreamtime story belongs predominantly to Alhalkere country. The pencil yam plant is a trailing herb or creeper with bright green leaves, yellow flowers and long skinny yams (swollen roots). These are an important food source which can be eaten raw or cooked in hot sand and ashes.
In the Dreamtime there are two parts to the Kame story. Two different seeds were born long ago that created two different species of pencil yams, one that belongs predominantly to Alhalkere country and is called Atnwelarr, the other that belongs to Arnurmarra country called Arlatyeye. The Kame story is a very important Dreamtime story for the people of Alhalkere country and ceremonies are performed to ensure its productivity as a food source and life form of the ancestors.
One of the most famous Australian Aboriginal artists is Emily Kame Kngwarreye. Emily's bush name was 'Kame' but later in life she adopted 'Emily' as her first name!
Kame, Pencil Yam Seed, a painting by Jennifer Purvis.
Dreamtime Story 3 - Alpar (Rat-tail Plant)
Alpar is the Anmatyerre word for the rat-tail goosefoot or green crumbweed plant. This small, erect herb is sticky to touch and scented heavily of citrus. The story of the Alpar seed is often the subject of Utopia paintings by the women of Ilkawerne country. In the olden days, the women of Ilkawerne country would collect these seeds, sometimes soak them in water until swollen, cooked in hot coals, then grind them into a powder that was used for making damper bread. This practice is not as habitual now due to ready-made bread, however the story is continually taught to the younger ones and ceremonies are carried out to ensure its productivity.
Alpar by Maggie Bird
Dreamtime Story 4 - Awelye – Women’s Ceremony
Women paint the designs associated with their Dreaming stories onto their chest, breasts, arms and thighs. Powders ground from ochre (clays), charcoal and ash are used as body paint and applied with a flat stick. The women sing the songs of their Dreaming as each one takes her turn to be 'painted-up'.
The importance of Soakages and Waterholes within the Aboriginal Culture
Lack of water is rarely a serious problem in the central Desert. Its occurrence is known and understood only by the people who have been born there and can draw on traditional knowledge about the behavior of soakage and other sources of supply especially under conditions of severe drought. Water soakage is important in Aboriginal mythology. All sources of water are associated with Dreaming stories.
Dreamtime Story 5 - Mountain Devil Lizard – Arnkerrthe
In the Dreamtime this quiet, gentle and unique creature traveled to the north as far as Waramungu country near Tennant Creek. As he traveled, Arnkerrthe formed the wide red sand hills that form part of the desert landscape. The small sac on the back of his neck carried the sacred ochre (clay) for awelye – women’s ceremony.
Gloria Petyarre of the Arnkerrthe (Mountain Devil Lizard).