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The Dreamtime and The Dreaming - Aboriginal Tourism - Indigenous Australia

The Dreamtime

In the period known as Altyerre to the Arrernte, Jukurrpa to the Warlpiri, Tjukurrpa to the Pintupi, Tjukurpa to the Pitjantjatjara, Wapar to the Yankunytjatjara and to non-Aboriginal people as the 'Dreamtime', ancestral beings (usually half-human, half-animal) wandered over the country creating all the features on the landscape and setting up the Law.1

The term 'Dreamtime' also 'Dream Time' is described as the 'time before time' or 'time of creation' according to the Indigenous Australia Aboriginal people. It is a mythological period of time during which the natural world and universe was shaped by the action of mythical beings. Some of the beings took the form of 'totemic' animals or human forms, changing and forming the world around us. It is these mythic beings that are credited with having established social order and its 'laws'. These ancestral beings often lacked strict morals, having all the habits that are good and bad in humans.

Once done...

Some sank into the ground where they stood. Some crawled into caves. Some crept away to their 'Eternal Homes', to the ancestral waterholes that bore them. All of them went 'back in'.2

The 'dreamtime' or 'dreaming' is a term that we use to describe how we perceive the way the indigenous people of Australia see their origins. It is a perception that does not convey the real meaning, as there is no English word that can convey all of the interpretations that is expressed by the different Aboriginal tribes through their individual languages as can be found for example in 'Tjukurpa' or 'Wapar'.

the Dreaming is the essential mythology of aboriginal culture, which underpins the whole of traditional relations between the land and all (not merely humans) who inhabit it.3

Today, the stories of these periods have been passed down in song and dance, some depicted in rock art and represented in the natural features of the landscape, as well as the land forms and the skies above. The story telling has also evolved beyond the rock art and dot painting, with individuals and whole communities producing abstract works that fit well with the modern galleries and museums.

This is as simple as possible description of the Dreamtime, as we Europeans can interpret it. It is a period that includes before, and the act of creation, and the period that leads up to and culminates in human existence.4

'Dreamtime Stories' also referred to as 'Dreamings' are the stories that have been passed down orally or detailed through pictorial expression that belong to the mythology of the 'Dreamtime'. In our modern age, Indigenous people may provide a general interpretation of some of the stories, some expressed through their modern art, although much of the finer detail, for many cultural reasons are not revealed.

The Dreaming

The concept of 'Dreaming' are the stories owned by different tribes and their members that explain the creation of life and all the living things therein. These 'Dreaming stories' are passed down from the elders, stories told by grandmother to children, although Aborigines cannot relate or paint someone else's dreaming or creation story without prior permission of the 'Dreaming owner'.

Among the Central Desert tribes of Australia, the passing of the Dreaming story is for the most part gender related, such as with male tribal ceremonies that the women are forbidden to witness or depict, and vice versa.

Despite the break down of the traditional ways for many Aboriginal, the importance of ownership of the Dreaming is still observe by those who retain their tribal and traditional connections and beliefs.5


It was Silas Roberts, first Chairman of the Northern Land Council, who said:

Aboriginals have a special connection with everything that is natural. Aboriginals see themselves as part of nature. We see all things natural as part of us. All the things on Earth we see as part human. This is told through the ideas of dreaming. By dreaming we mean the belief that long ago, these creatures started human society. These creatures, these great creatures are just as much alive today as they were in the beginning. They are everlasting and will never die. They are always part of the land and nature as we are. Our connection to all things natural is spiritual.6

There are a number of other online resources that go into more details about 'Dreamtime' and 'The Dreaming'. Also check out the number of very good Aboriginal owned and run websites.7


Goanna Dreaming - Daniel (Danny) Goodwin /Jinta Jinta (Pitjantjatjara Tribe)



  Altyerre ( pronounced alti air )
  Jukurrpa ( pronounced joo-kur-pa - with the 'oo' as in put )
  Tjukurpa ( pronounced like Chook-orr-pa )
  Wapar ( pronounced wo p - a rr )
1 Peter Latz, Bushfires & Bushtucker - Aboriginal Plant Use in Central Australia, IAD Press Alice Springs, 2004, ISBN 0 949659 96 7, p. 16
2 Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines, Vintage Classics, 1987, ISBN 0099769913, p. 73
3 Flavia Hodges, Language Planning and Placenaming in Australia. Retrieved July 27, 2012, from, p. 400
4 The eJournal Website: Dreamtime I & II (June 94 - April 95). Retrieved July 1, 2008, from
5 Dreaming (story). Retrieved July 1 2008,
6 Deborah Bird Rose, Nourishing Terrains - Australian Aboriginal Views of Landscape and Wilderness, Australian Heritage Commission, p26, requoted from B. Neidjie, S. Davis & A. Fox, Kakadu Man, Mybrood P/L inc, NSW, p. 13.
7 Australia's Geographical Dimensions, Origins of the Continent: An Aboriginal Perspective 1.3, The Dreaming of the Land. Retrieved July 1, 2008, from
Additional Resources:
  C.W. Peck's Australian Aboriginal Legends. Information pertaining to C.W. Peck's publication of various Aboriginal dreaming stories from south-eastern Australia during the period 1922-33. Also includes a bibliography of published Aboriginal dreaming stories from the time of the arrive of the First Fleet at Sydney in 1788. - Michael Organ
  Australian Aboriginal Dreaming Stories, (Myths and Legends), A Chronological Bibliography of Published Works 1789-1993 - Michael Organ, 28 December 2005
  Gadi mirrabooka: Australian aboriginal tales from the dreaming
By Helen F. McKay, Pauline E. McLeod, Francis Firebrace Jones, June E. Barber
Published by Libraries Unlimited, 2001, ISBN 1563089238, 9781563089237
- Take a journey into the fascinating world of Australia's Aboriginal culture with this unique collection of 33 authentic, unaltered stories brought to you by three Aboriginal storyteller custodians! Gadi Mirrabooka, which means 'below the Southern Cross', introduces wonderful tales from the Dreamtime, the mystical period of Aboriginal beginning.
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