Signposted by song: cultural routes of the Australian desert


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    The 'songlines' of the Western Desert are the tracks of the ancestral beings of the Tjukurpa, Aboriginal creation law, recounted in song and story. This ancient oral mapping tradition covers vast stretches of time and space in the desert regions of Western Australia, Northern Territory and South Australia. Some knowledge of these ancestral cultural routes of the first peoples of Australia has been shared with the wider community as Aboriginal people share stories of their country through art. However, the complexity and beauty of their oral heritage of song and story is not widely appreciated. Traditional song sagas recount the ancestors' exploits and indicate the location of water and food sources essential for survival in these dry lands of Australia. Songlines are living cultural routes, a web of oral knowledge of country that maps places of significance for the Indigenous peoples of this land. Appreciation of songlines as a sophisticated system of interconnecting cultural routes mnemonically signposted in song has the potential to expand the concept of cultural routes and heritage practice in Australian and internationally. This paper describes the genesis of an Australian Research Council (ARC) project: Alive with the Dreaming! Songlines of the Western Desert (hereafter The Songlines Project). Several early positive outcomes of the project are presented as part of an iterative research development process.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)30-42
    JournalHistoric Environment
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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