Australian Aboriginal Songlines

Recently there was a show on ABC television called Stargazing, an incredibly interesting show on watching and learning about the night sky. It explained what stars we see in the southern sky, what galaxies, constellations and more. However something I gained from watching that I wasn’t expecting, was learning a little about Aboriginal songlines.

The Australian aboriginal culture fascinates me and it’s something I’m always interested in learning more about. I love hearing the explanations in their dreaming stories for how mountains, rivers and other landscapes of this country were formed. Songlines were something I hadn’t heard about before but they essentially form the basis of Aboriginal culture in Australia and connect language groups throughout the country. They are the passing on of local country knowledge through song and art and are a way of mapping country that teaches travellers about features of the land, such as specific landmarks, sacred places, ceremonial places and where to find waterholes.

The night sky comes into the story because aboriginal people used the stars as a memory aid, using the star map at night they could find ‘way points’ during journeys and these would signify which direction to go, where to stop to find waterholes and where to turn and head in a different direction. They wouldn’t necessarily use them as navigation aids, as they would travel during the day, but the stars would be a way of checking (like a GPS today) that they were heading in the right direction. Passing on the teaching of songlines occurs through song and art and is a cultural network that connects all of Aboriginal Australia together.

Many of the tracks taken by aboriginal people following these star maps where later used by drovers and eventually became roads and even highways in some cases, in the outback of Australia. This came about because they were the easiest and most obvious way to traverse the terrain and were already well worn tracks. Today in some places star maps can be overlaid on road maps in Australia and there is a matching overlap.

I find this an amazing fact to ponder as you look at the night sky and take those dirt roads throughout Australia. Songlines are also something that can be looked for, represented in Aboriginal art. Learning a little about what else is represented in Aboriginal art is fascinating too. Sometimes animal prints are an obvious sign but there are also waterholes, hills, bush tucker and now for me, songlines to look for which connect the different places. So much to see once you really start looking in depth.

This is a very rich culture and one that I hope to keep finding more about especially through travel.

Here’s to always learning.


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