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16 June 2018


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That's how Dreamtime stories work in Australia Garry. The stories (or myths) are passed on as 'songs'.

Ted Strehlow's majestic "Songs of Central Australia" is a fine example. He grew up at Hermannsburg (his father was a Lutheran missionary) and he spoke Aranda fluently.

You might also recall Bruce Chatwin's "Songlines", which popularised the concept.

Luise Hercus, who recently died, recorded the songs of the Arabana, Dieri Wonkanguru and other groups in the Lake Eyre Basin.

If you knew the songs for a particular area you could navigate the country, even if you hadn't been there before by going to the places mentioned in the songs.

I was able to do this with Yunkunytjatjara and Antakarinya people even in the mid-seventies. Sadly, most of the present generation have lost the songs.

Presumably the Aboriginal people brought this concept with them as they migrated from New Guinea so it would not be a surprise to see it still extant up there.

Perhaps many of the early stories were passed in the form of a “chanted saga”. It was easier to remember a poetic chanted saga and pass it on to the next generation. In the Highlands where previously there was no written media, this is how ancestral stories were passed on until recent times. A former University of Goroka professor, Michael Mel, had studied and written about this matter.

Yes, I agree that the story telling began a long time ago Trish. It's the impact of that story telling that became apparent in population growth 70,000 or so years ago. I should have explained it better.

When the first humans arrived in Australia they must have been story tellers. Our whole continent is riven with their stories.

Interestingly Harari says the Agricultural Revolution of about 10,000 years ago was a disaster that has put the planet on the path to destruction.

Wouldn't argue with this, Phil, except to say that stories must have begun way before 70,000 years ago (as argued in my history of storytelling).

But this is a welcome article because the importance of story-making for individuals, families and societies cannot be overstated. Finding and sharing the right story for climate change may be the only way we survive.

Thanks Phil. Humans however aren't the only animals to pass on ideas. It's the ability to pass on abstract ideas that can't be practically explained that is the real difference.

Anyone who has kept animals knows how they can interact with their own species or have a symbiotic relationship with other species.

For example, some of my cattle were able to convey their quite complex thoughts by non verbal body language. No, I haven't been dreaming.

Humans however were able to develop verbal language that broke through the practical barriers and enabled imaginative ideas to be transferred between our species. Maybe that first happened through cave art or adult toys and then subsequently developed?

The BBC series 'Walking with Cave Men' explained that it took the conceptualizing of ideas to first become available before imagination could conceive of a joke.

But like the invention of controlled fire, imagination can be a useful asset or a bad enemy. Like any weapon, it depends on the user.

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