To Aboriginal people, the Dreamtime represents the beginning of everything we have on earth today. In the beginning, the earth was just a flat, feature-less plain shrouded in darkness. However, supernatural beings lived below the surface of the earth.
Time began when these beings broke through the surface of the earth and became Totemic Ancestors. They were all shapes and sizes, human-like, half human, half plant but all possessing supernatural power. They were not morally ‘pure’. They fought and fornicated and possessed all the qualities we have today like greed, envy and anger. They wandered the earth and created all earthly features – like the water sites, the rocks, the hills, the vegetation, the sky and the stars.
This time of creation is referred to as the “Dreamtime”.
Their work done, these Ancestral beings then either sank beneath the earth or turned into topographical features like the rocks, the trees or sacred objects. Now they sleep, however it is important that they be honoured via dance, song and art. This ensures all the things we depend on will continue to thrive and be available for our survival.
Since the beginning of time, certain individuals bear responsibility for certain aspects of our surroundings. So, for example, we find an elder responsible for the continuance of adequate population of sand goannas. Another may be responsible for the health of the Spinifex grass, or rain, fire and the stars above. Tribute must be paid and the Ancestral being must know about it. Often, this involves waking the Ancestor by loud singing or poking the surface of the earth with sticks to wake the Ancestor momentarily.
The Dreamtime stories are up to and possibly even exceeding 53,000 years old, and have been handed down through the generations virtually unchanged for all those years.
Traditional Aboriginal art is therefore not just dabbing of paint on canvas. In the past, the paintings were done on the sand, on rocks and cave-walls, on themselves and on their implements and weapons. Now, they have transferred their wonderful art to canvas and linen and other materials using quality modern paints.