Sprawled across the Australian continent lies a network of invisible pathways known to the aborigine as ‘Footprints of the Ancestors’. In the West, we know them as ‘Song Lines’ and ‘Dream-Tracks’. They were part of the aboriginal creation myth which spoke of legendary beings who wandered the earth, singing out the name of everything that crossed their path – birds, animals, plants, rocks, waterholes – and so singing the world into existence.
Each tribe had their own songline, passed down to them by their ancestors. It was their responsibility to preserve these sacred chants and follow the laws and traditions contained within. They had a duty to protect their songlines, for an unsung territory eventually became a wasteland. If the songs were forgotten, the land itself would wither and die. By singing a landmarks creation song, the country would come to life and flourish with health and vigor.
A songline also acts as a map and compass. Providing an aboriginal person knew the song, they could always find their way across the country. A man on a “Walkabout” will always travel down one of their Songlines. If he were to stray from his dream-track, he would be trespassing on somebody else’s land. As long as he stuck to the track, he’d always find people who shared his Dreaming, from whom he could expect hospitality.
In theory, the whole of Australia could be read as a musical score (known as a song map). There is hardly a rock or creek in the country that cannot be sung. You can visualize Songlines as a labyrinth of epic stories, turning this way and that, in which every sacred site can be read in terms of its geology, function, and legends associated with it.
Anywhere in the bush you can point to some feature of the landscape and ask an Aboriginal person, “What’s the story there?” or “Who’s that?” The chances are they’ll answer “Kangaroo” or “Budgerigar” or “Jew Lizard”, depending on which Ancestor who walked that way. ‘And the distance between two such sites can be measured as a stretch of a song.
This article was written by Simon E. Davies. Contributor at Ancient-Code.com