Dreaming songlines, or “Yiri,” are the creation myths of the Aboriginal peoples, each tribe responsible for different stories, like the Shark Dreaming, the Kangaroo Dreaming and the Honey Ant Dreaming, tales of spirit beings whose stories shape creation. Tribal law, social order and customs — the very patterns of life — were laid down through the actions of these Dreaming Ancestors before they left this world for the spirit world, or Dreamtime.
In a controversial exhibit at the Museum of South Australia this Spring, visitors were taken on the travels of Ngurunderi, one of the main dreaming ancestors of Southern Australia. Some elders of the Ngintaka Aboriginal tribe protested the opening of this exhibit, saying it gave away sacred and secret information.
The exhibit winds through the lower galleries of the museum, mimicking the topography of the Coorong area of SA, where the Murray River, rich with aquatic life, snakes through bushland. These fertile conditions led to this tribe being more stable than many nomadic Aboriginal tribes. Their ancestor’s travels show the relationships of the people to each other, and to the land, and the lifestyle and tools they used to carve out a living as the first settlers of this vast land.
Ngurunderi’s people, the Ngarrindjeri, dislocated by European settlement from the 1830s, struggled to keep tribal customs and beliefs intact when most were moved into Christian mission camps: when they were recognized as full citizens the tribes moved to several centers including Adelaide and is now one of SA’s largest. The tribe has been contributing artefacts to the museum since 1864.
The museum’s permanent galleries are a fascinating eye into the native culture, with pictures, artefacts and tales woven in the main floor galleries. Stories from each tribe tell of their initial life in Australia, early tools and survival, patterns of migration, and the slavery which they were subjected to when white people colonized the continent. Aboriginal women were kidnapped by whalers and taken to sea; their children populated some of the earliest outposts in uninhabited places like Kangaroo Island making them truly the foundation of this vast land.
If You Go