A common characteristic of Aboriginal groups is their similar belief
systems which are called the Dreaming. The Dreaming may be thought
of as a religious system but this does not always convey its true
merits. However in a way it is accurate, as Aboriginal people received
a sense of enlightenment through visions and dreams. They do not
like words such as "mythology", "legends" or "fables" being used
to describe the Dreaming.
The Dreaming is equivalent to other religions around the world.
Various Aboriginal groups all have different names for the Dreaming.
The Adnyamathanha called their Dreaming stories 'Nguthuna'. Dreaming
stories and characters vary among Aboriginal groups. Although they
may share many of the same beliefs, the messages and the characters
in the stories are different.
The Dreaming and the Individual
Conception Identity Everyone in Aboriginal society
has a special link to the Dreaming, which is made as soon as they
Totemic Identity After a baby is conceived, it is
believed that the life in each baby is activated by a spirit which
enters the mother's body. A person's totem is associated with the
place where the mother first became aware of the unborn child. Each
landscape has its own Dreaming so it is clear to the Aboriginal
people to which Dreaming the child belongs. Children are taught
all the ceremonies and stories associated with their particular
totem and later as elders they perform these ceremonies. Individuals
may associate themselves with a place, plant, animal species or
with an event. The Dreaming stories teach moral values relating
to three main aspects of life: the land, the spiritual world and
rules for living. The laws that form the foundation of Aboriginal
society are recorded in the Dreaming which is passed from generation
The Dreaming and the Land
" You've got to go out and talk to people about the Adnyamathanha
culture. If people are going to respect the sites, they've got to
learn about them. There's mythology right across the Flinders Ranges.
People look at it as beauty and wildflowers, Andnyamathanha people
see the beauty and the flowers, and beyond that because we see the
stories of how we have survived. It's like a book to us, telling
the stories of our creators. If those mountains were taken away,
there would be no stories for our children. The [Dreamtime] snakes
in Wilpena Pound- St Mary's Peak is the female snake looking up;
Akaroos Rock on the eastside is the male snake looking down. Where
white man came and found coal at Leigh Creek- that's the remains
of the fire that Yulu the kingfisher man lit. The land is my mother
because a mother is the closest person in our life. That's why the
Flinders Ranges is like our mother."(Cliff Coulthard, in Mattingley,C.,
In traditional society, Aboriginal people learned about their environment
first hand and were soon able to identify the characteristics of
animals, plants, sources of food and water, useful materials and
the weather. The stories provided them with a map of their environment
and information such as trade routes and resources. The information
about the land allowed them to travel successfully around the Australian
landscape. Lack of this knowledge was the main reason why many early
Europeans and explorers died when they first came to Australia.
From a young age Aboriginal people are introduced to the spiritual
world through the Dreaming stories. These are important lessons
which make up their identity. The individual's relationship with
the land is a very complex, spiritual relationship as they are always
conscious of the Dreaming ancestors who created the geographical
The Aboriginal people travelled the same routes through the lands
that their ancestors once used. These are called Dreaming trails
and many of their sacred sites are situated along these tracks which
they visit frequently. By communicating with their ancestors, individuals
are able to renew their strength. Aboriginal people regard the earth
with much respect, just as they would regard a mother. Each person
in the community is responsible for caring for each sacred site.
This involves ensuring the land's health by performing the appropriate
ceremonies and rituals. By caring for the land they are protecting
the ancestors and thus the Dreaming continues. It is these sacred
places in particular, that Aboriginal people have fought to protect
since European settlement. This struggle continues today.
The Dreaming stories are told to every generation. They have been
passed down for thousands of years and we hope they will continue
to be retold. They are powerful tools for educating people and are
often combined with storytelling, art, music and dance. Many of
the stories are sacred and cannot be told to non-Aboriginal people.
These stories are often told at initiation ceremonies which are
Many Adnyamathanha Dreaming stories assume that the audience has
previous knowledge or is Aboriginal. This is because many aspects
of the stories are not obvious and many people on first hearing
these stories, may not be able to grasp their full meaning. When
the first Europeans heard the Dreaming stories they did not understand
their importance in Aboriginal society. The stories that are reproduced
today are often only basic versions of the original Dreaming stories
which were long and complex.
The teachings of the Dreaming stories come under three main headings
and they are: rules for living, teachings on the natural environment
and teachings on the spiritual world.
Some Adnyamathanha Dreaming stories are as follows:
The Eagle and the Crow (Urrakurli, Wakarla and
Wildu), teaches responsibility within the kinship, the effects of
jealousy and revenge, and laws regarding marriage.
Urrakurli, Wakarla and Wildu: An Adnyamathana Dreaming Story, as
told by Cliff Coulthard in Education Department of South Australia,
1988 A: 25-26.
This story is about respecting your elders and was passed on to
me by the Adnyamathanha elders.
"There is a mountain just out of Nepabunna and the mountain is
shaped like an eagle squatting with its wings flopping onto the
ground, and beside it there's a cave and the environment around
the cave is all dark. Of course at one time there was a magpie,
which we call Urrakurli, a crow, Wakarla, and an eagle called Wildu.
The magpie and the crow at that time had totally white feathers.
They used to be able to live up in the mountain with the eagle and
they used to share the laughter and share the sad times. They would
share their food until one day the magpie and the crow didn't come.
After a couple of days the eagle went down to see where his nephew
and niece were. They were playing around.
The eagle said, 'Why didn't you come up and see your uncle?'
And the nephew and the niece got cheeky and said, 'We don't have
to come and see you.' They got very cheeky to the eagle. Because
the magpie and the crow were young birds, they flew away getting
cheekier and the eagle was very disappointed and very upset and
went back onto the mountain and sat up there until three days went
by. Then the eagle called a party and all the birds- the kookaburra,
the kingfisher and all the tiny parrots came to this particular
cave and they all started dancing and having a great time.
Of course the magpie and the crow came along. They forgot after
three days that they were cheeky with their uncle, the eagle. Like
young children always forget nowadays, they go out and do certain
things and they get cheeky and then they remember that they have
to go home. So the magpie and the crow walked in but the uncle,
the wise bird, didn't forget.
As they were in the cave he said, 'Now I will punish them. They've
broken the law.'
So he went out in front of the cave and got dry brush down and
set it alight. He was going to burn all the birds to punish the
magpie and the crow and of course the fire started blazing. The
kookaburra said, 'There's a big fire.' So the kookaburra, the kingfisher
and all the young parrots all went out, but the magpie was halfway
in the cave and he got half burned so magpies are now black and
The crow was right at the back of the cave and he got completely
burnt and turned black. As they came out and sat in front of the
cave they looked up and saw the eagle.
They said, 'Remember three days ago when we got cheeky to the eagle?
Now he has punished us.' So today whenever you see an eagle fly
high in the sky and a magpie and a crow behind, they're up there
and they are trying to say,'Look, we can't really get to the eagle
because the eagle's got bigger wings and can fly higher.'
But the magpie and the crow in this story were trying to get up
there to say, 'Look, I'm sorry uncle, we did wrong. You caused our
colour to change and we're stuck with it for the rest of our lives.'
The mountain and the cave have been important to our people for
thousands of years and for all who pass there. Remember the story
of the magpie, the crow and the eagle."
(Education Department of South Australia 1988: 25-26)
We Came From the Land teaches how areas around the Flinders
Ranges were created and the origins of opal.
This is a Wirangu story from near Ceduna on the west coast of South
Australia as told by M. Miller and W.J. Miller.
A long long time ago, a huge meteorite hurtled towards the earth
from the northward sky, and smashed into the ground near Eucla.
Because it was so big, a dent appeared in the crust of the earth
and the meteorite bounced high into the air and out into the Great
Australian Bight where it landed with an enormous sizzling splash.
It was hot from its trip through space so it gave off a great deal
of steam and gas as it sank through the waves. But this was no ordinary
meteorite. It fact, it was the spirit Tjugud. In the deep water
near by, the spirit woman Tjuguda lay asleep. All the noise around
her woke her up and she was very angry. She bellowed and the elements
roared with her. The wind blew, the rain pelted from the sky and
the dust swirled.
From the joining of the two spirits, the Tjugud and Tjuguda, a
man was born, but he was no ordinary man, he was of enormous proportions.
He rose from the deep water of the Bight to swim through the maze
of limestone caves which run through the earth and into the sea.
Then, he emerged from the ground through the cave of the Nullabor.
This was the birth of the Wirangu man, a coastal dweller. Wirangu
walked towards the east, taking huge steps in keeping with the stature
of the man. Each time he stepped, the ground shook and a dent appeared
in the earth. These would later fill with water and are the rock
holes which can still be seen today. You can clearly trace the journey
of this man.
When he reached Coober Pedy, he was very hungry so he found some
food and then lit a fire. The fire he built was so fierce it burned
with an enormous amount of heat. A lot of water from the body of
the man dropped into the ground and was captured by the stones which
held a lot of water anyway. The beautiful colours from the raging
fire went down into these stones, changing the water into a magnificent
display of color. This is the colour of the opal and can be found
in the stones still.
(Education Department of South Australia 1992: 32-33)
How the Moon Got In the Sky teaches lessons on
greed, food taboos and marriage.
Ngarmarna had two nephews. They were sick of him telling them they
couldn't eat the meat they caught. One day when they were walking
with him among a gum creek, the two boys said: "Ngarmarna! There
are a lot of big witchetties in this tree here. Get some out for
'Okay, okay, Yakarla-apa,' he said. 'I'll get them.' Ngarmarna made
some steps in the tree so that he could climb up from the ground.
Then the climbed along the branch of the gum tree, pulling out witchetties
as he went. Then the two boys were down below, eating the grubs
as he threw them down. Every time they sucked one, they drew air,
then they blew it out of their mouth. This made the gum tree grow
"Foo!" Ngarmarna was working his way up the gum tree gradually.
"What are you two fellows up to?"
"Nothing, nothing. We are just drinking the juice of the witchetties."
Again and again they blew. "Foo!"
Truly, by now the sky was on top of the branch of the gum tree!
The two boys called out to him: "The sky, Ngarmarna- it's touching
that high branch!" All he could reply was: "Nimba vapardla warnda."
( this probably means "nimba vapardla warndaku", that is, " look
how my head is up here," as he was so giddy from being so high up.)
"Ngarmarna! Try to touch the sky!" They stood there watching him
after they said these words. As they made the gm tree grow, he climbed
higher and higher. Vira Vurlka reached out and touched the sky,
and as soon as he did, the two boys pulled the gum tree down until
it was quite small. As for their old Ngarmarna, he wandered around
the sky really angry. The pair shouted to him: "Uncle! You must
climb up and shine! Then you must gradually die and become smaller.
After that you will become a new moon."
"Nimba vapardla warnda," he answered from far away.
Vira climbed up and up, very angry.
"Climb up and shine, and then come down."
"Nimba varpardla warnda" was the only answer he gave, from far,
far away. That's the full moon as he climbs up. After that, the
nephews took Ngamarna's wives for themselves.
Story told by Wally Coulthard, transcribed with Molly Wilton in
Tunbridge 1988, pp70-72.
Notes on the story.
Ngamarna: the men's maternal uncle
Yakarla-apa: young nephews
Vira Vurlka: the old man moon.
(Education Department of South Australia 1992:77)
Mother's Helper teaches the importance of family.
A mother and her young son were travelling from one waterhole to
the next, when the mother became so sick she could no longer gather
any food. The boy, who was kind-hearted and very fond of his mother,
made a new camp for her, much cosier and more weatherproof than
the first. He helped her into the new camp and lit a fire at the
front to keep her warm. Then he quickly cooked some lizards which
the two of them had already gathered.
Making his mother as comfortable as he could, the little fellow
went out to gather more food. He was very lucky and caught snakes,
lizards and gekkos- more than enough for both his mother and himself,
which he carried as he started to go back towards the camp. To the
boy's horror, when he reached the top of the hill close to his mother's
camp, he saw that the camp was on fire. Dropping all the meat he
caught, he ran as fast as he could, hoping to save his mother. But
it was no good. Before he got there, his mother was dead.
The boy made a small camp not far from his dead mother's camp and
mourned for a while. After that he went back to his people and told
them what had happened.
Story recorded by C.P. Mountford, quoted in Tunbridge, 1988 p73(Education
Department of South Australia 1992: 81)
The Seven Sisters tells of the hibernation pattern
of reptiles and the constellations in the sky.
"You know the seven sisters, once they come up, they travel around
that way (around the horizon). We call them "artunyi". What you
call the saucepan, that comes up a long time after the sisters come
up and they (the men forming the saucepan) go straight over to the
top of the sky. They reckon that somewhere in the middle of the
sky, there's a sacred area and the women had to go around but the
men go straight across, but they all meet up at the end and go down
the same side. When the seven sisters go around, old sleepy lizard
goes up higher into the hills to get out of the wet or rain, or
whatever. The sisters go to sleep through the winter and when they
come up, the snakes comes down lower and lower and when they come
around about halfway in the sky, he's down the bottom of this hill
and that's where they get him. They reckon it gets warmer and warmer
as they come down. In the winter they only come up early in the
Lynch Ryan, Port Augusta 1989 (Education Department of South Australia
The Euro and the Kangaroo tells how the Northern
Flinders Ranges were created, the differences between the euro and
the kangaroo and lessons on morals such as greed.
This is an important dreaming story because it tells how the northern
Flinders were created. It also accounts for the difference between
the euro and the kangaroo, whilst telling people of the difference
areas inhabited by the euro and the kangaroos, the food they eat
and warning of the dangers of greediness. (This story was told by
Elise Jackson and Annie Coulthard and transcribed by Dorothy Tunbridge
with Gertie Johnson in Education Department of South Australia,
Once upon a time the whole country was flat. There were no hills
at all. There was a buck kangaroo called Urdlu and a buck euro called
Mandya who both lived at Puthadamathanha. These two used to travel
around together in the same country. One of their favourite foods
was the wild pear root. In fact, it was they who gave it its name
Urdlu the kangaroo and Mandya the euro dug for tucker in separate
holes. Urdlu found a lot of tucker, but Mandya found only a little.
Urldu, however, wouldn't tell Mandya where this hole was. Poor Mandya
was getting thinner and thinner and Urdlu was getting fatter and
fatter. In the end Mandya came to Urdlu and asked: "Give me some
of your mai. I'm hungry. Come on Vurlka, give me some mai." (mai
Urdlu said to Mandya: " There's some mai in that bag there. You
can take that."
As he ate it, Mandya said: "This is really good tucker! Where did
you get it?"
Urdlu said with a wave of his arm: "Oh, I found it over there."
The pair of them went to sleep. In the morning Urdlu got up and
went to look for water. While he went around looking here and there
for water to drink, Mandya got up and went to find the hole where
Urdlu got his tucker. He picked up Urdlu's tracks and followed them.
He went along steadily down the track made by the kangaroo, until
he came to his hole. He dug out a big heap of tucker from it. He
was so pleased he stayed there digging and eating with out looking
Urdlu came back from having a drink. "Now where on earth has the
old fellow got to? I know he's gone to my hole!"
He took off after Mandya. He tracked him. His fresh tracks were
there all the way down to the hole. He could see where Mandya had
dug up the dirt as he went along. He sure had dug up the dirt!
When Urdlu arrived at the hole Mandya was so busy digging he didn't
even see Urdlu coming. Mandya was digging like mad.
Urdlu called out: "Why did you come to my hole?" Mandya said he
was starving and Urldu was mean not to tell him where there was
tucker. He just went on eating. Now this made Urdlu very angry,
so the pair of them were soon having a big fight over the tucker.
Mandya pulled out Urdlu's arms and all. He stretched his arms, he
stretched his fingers, he stretched legs. They got very long.
Then Urdlu pressed Mandya's fingers and his legs; he pressed his
back; his chest; he trashed him. Then they separated. The wounded
Mandya went off to Vadaardlanha to camp. While he was lying there
trying to go to sleep, his hips started to hurt. In fact, he had
a sore. He reached down and took out a little stone from the sore.
He blew on it and in a flash hills came up from the plains. Indeed,
several ranges of hills came up. The more Mandya blew, the more
hills kept coming up.
Meanwhile Urdlu headed down toward Varaarta (Baratta). He moved
that big flat along as he went. He was lying there along the flat
when he looked back and saw the hills coming down the plains. He
said: "Hey! What's the old fellow up to? If he keeps that up I won't
have anywhere to live!" So, with a big sweep of his tail Urdlu pushed
the ranges back to where they are now. You can see where this happened,
up there north of Vardna-wartathinha. That big flat never gets any
grass on it.
It's called Urdlurunha-vitana. That means 'kangaroo's flat'.)
Urdlu then made Munda (Lake Frome) so he would have a permanent
supply of water, but Mandya was so jealous about this and put salt
in it. Right to the present day kangaroos cannot drink from this
lake because of the salt. Mandya was up there in the hills behind
From there he looked back and said: " Look at the way the old fellow
moved that big plain along!"
And as Mandya looked back he turned into a spirit. He is called
the thudupinha, and you can see him sitting up there today. Below
him the ground is red where his wounds bled after his big fight
with Urdlu. This place in called Mandya Arti (which means 'Mandya's
Notes to the Story
Puthadamathanha: a water hole on the western side of Lake Frome,
north- east of Balcanoona National Park.
Vurlka: old fellow or old man.
Vadaardlanha: now known as Paralana Hot Springs, about 60km west
Vardna-wartathinha: Prism Hill.
Education Department of South Australia 1992: 52)