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Arts & Culture

Australia’s Culture and the Dreamtime

Any travel to Australia will likely include experiences with Aboriginal customs, and the people are happy to share their stories, their art, and their songs. It is a unique, life-affirming perspective.

The Dreamtime is an important part of Australia’s Aboriginal culture. It holds their spiritual beliefs about present existence, their relationship to the land, and creation. The Dreamtime, or the Dreaming, is not a straight line, so sometimes non-Indigenous people have a hard time wrapping their heads around the concept.

Native Australian People believe the Dreamtime was before time. The land and the people were created by Spirits, as were the rivers, blessed water holes (billabongs), the form and substance of the land, hills, rocks, plants, and animals. The Spirits gave each tribe its land, their totems, and their Dreaming. They also taught people which foods are good to eat, rituals of initiation, and ceremonies that should occur after death so the spirit can travel peacefully to the spirit-place.

Here is where it can get confusing: The Dreaming, or Dreamtime, represents the concept of Everywhen, world-dawn, ancestral now, unfixed in time, and ancestral past; it dates back some 40,000 – 60, 000 years. Aboriginal people understood the Dreamtime as a beginning that never ended, and it exists on a continuum of the past, present, and the future.

These Ancestor Spirits created sacred sites as they made the land. Their traveling trails are called songlines, and some of them extend across Australia through different tribes and languages.

Dreaming, or Dreamtime, provides rules for living a good, ethical life. Its’ daily reality lays the foundation for a fully integrated life, and includes relationships between people, animals, plants, features of the land, the knowledge of how natural relationships came to be, and how to maintain the health of all these in ceremonies and everyday living.

Some Dreamings say that the creators continue to live in secret places. Other Dreamings tell stories of those ancestor-creators who lived in the tribe’s territory inside crevices, trees, and waterholes. Still others went into the sky and became stars, wind, rain, thunder, and lightning. It is also believed that many creators still watch over the People. Rainbow Serpent is one of the most powerful forms of the creator.

Before birth, each person is a spirit-child who lives in the Dreaming. It is only brought to life when it is born. This spirit is thought to enter the fetus around the fifth month of pregnancy, when the mother feels the baby move. The child is considered to be a special guardian of the place they were born, and they are taught the songlines of that particular place.

Dreaming stories vary throughout Australia. The meaning and significance of each place and its creatures is The Dreaming. The story of how the sun was made is different in New South Wales than it is in Western Australia, and yet both are true. As it is around the world, Aboriginal stories explore many themes, topics, tales of sacred places, power, the importance of land, people, animals, plants, and customs.

For instance, in Perth, it’s believed that a serpent-being wandered over the land, creating rivers, streams, waterholes, and lakes; Swan River is very important in this part of Australia. The people of Arnhemland, for which Kakadu National Park is named, believe that the extraordinary sandstone there was created in Dreamtime when the crocodile-man was burned during a ceremony and jumped into the water.

Art is important to Aboriginal people’s spiritual life. It is traditional to represent the Dreaming stories and its symbols; the first symbols were cave and rock art. Today the same symbols are used, but the style is dot paintings with modern paints. Potent symbols include concentric circles, lines that represent underground waterways, humans and animals, lizards, snakes, and tracks.


The People say they have been in Australia since time began, and they came directly out of the Dreamtime of their creative ancestors. Their culture is focused on recording the origins of life and on keeping the earth as it was that first day. The Dreamtime may be difficult for us to fully grasp, but it is the essence of their existence as a people, fully alive on this earth.

If traveling to Australia is a dream of yours, please let us know. We are happy to make it come true.