When you study Aboriginal Dreamtime stories, you often come across a reference to the most precious of all commodities — water. It's hardly surprising, given that many indigenous tribes lived in the Outback or desert areas where water is at a premium. Its presence is essential to survival. As Dreaming stories form the bedrock of Aboriginal culture, you can expect several Dreamtime stories about water. But where do they originate, and what do they really mean?
Water is at the centre of life
The Aboriginals give thanks for all their water sources, be they freshwater springs, underground passages, billabongs (a leftover pool of water or a river branch) and soakages. They ensure that all of these bodies of water are well maintained wherever possible, so they can access a fresh supply as needed. To keep these essential sources alive, the Aboriginal people would conduct ceremonies near each waterhole, especially before the traditional rainy season, to ensure that the rains come and regenerate both the waterholes and the surrounding plants. This will help ensure that people and animals have enough food for the upcoming months.
Tribes develop Water Dreaming stories
Different tribes have their own way of Water Dreaming. One such tribe is the Warlpiri, and they live in the Tanami desert (near the Northern Territory/Western Australia border). This tribe focuses on the Ngapa Jukurrpa Water Dreaming story.In this story, two men were responsible for singing to attract the rain and, in so doing, created a giant storm. This storm became even bigger when it mixed with a separate storm from another area, and the tempest began to travel across the country. Legend has it that a brown falcon joined the storm and helped to carry it back to the west, where the cloud eventually burst and formed an enormous lake. The tribe believes this same legend is why hundreds of bush ducks go to the same site whenever it rains.
Variations on a theme
Another of these Aboriginal stories about water tells of two old blind women who were sitting in their area that was eventually covered by a giant lake. As the storms approached and the two women strained to look at the sky, tears formed in their eyes, precipitating the deluge. The legend says that you can still see their spirit as two eucalyptus trees (red gums) growing by the side of the lake.
The meaning of Dreaming tracks
Aboriginal Dreaming stories are often associated with individual "tracks". These tracks are recognised by each tribe and lead to specific locations in any given area. Along these tracks, Dream stories may occur, which is the case for the Water Dreamingstory associated with the "Pamapardu Jukurrpa" or Termite Dreaming.In this story, the Dreaming travels north from Mikanji, and a brown falcon eventually picks it up. The story says that this bird ties the water to its head using a hair string and then ventures to Puyurru. Here, it flies beneath a tree, at which point the water falls from its head and creates a significant soakage.
Water Dreaming in arts
Water Dreaming artworks are plentiful. They often depict the waterholes through a mass of interconnecting lines, which outline the flow and movement of this resource. The artist may use colours of differing intensities to show where the water is in relation to the surface of the land or to indicate that it may be deep below ground.
The origins of Aboriginal Dreaming
Aboriginal Dreaming (or Dreamtime) refers to a time long in the past when ancestral spirits roamed the land. They were responsible for creating life and would often populate some special geographic formations that would give rise to the legend. The Aboriginals use the concept of Dreaming to define the relationship with people, places, animals and everything else. They imbue these Dreaming stories with the spirit of the ancestors, and the spirit must live on in the stories so the Aboriginals can continue to hand them down through the generations.Dreaming further explains how the universe was formed and how nature and humanity must live side by side. It helps to shape the very structure of life for the Aboriginal people. Doing this underscores the relationship between the peoples, their land and resources.
Water Dreaming through the ages
As these Dreaming stories are so fundamental, the Aboriginal people do everything they can to pass on the knowledge, values and traditions to future generations. They do this by telling stories, singing and dancing, painting their bodies for various ceremonies and creating fantastic works of art. So the "Dreaming" is not simply a memory or a celebration of a time long ago but is something they immerse themselves in up until today.They also deeply believe that ancestral spirits are still among them. While they originally came to Earth in human form and moved throughout the land, they then transformed into rocks, trees, watering holes and other natural formations. As they did so, they helped to create sacred places with special meaning to Aboriginal culture. This is why there are so many ceremonies at or around the sacred places. They give Aboriginal families and individuals the opportunity to identify with specific Dreamtime stories.
Storytellers continue the tradition
To ensure that these traditions pass on to every generation, the elders from each tribe will choose storytellers, whose duty it is to hand the stories along. Often, these storytellers will be young people who can build a strong sense of identity as they continue this tradition.
Water Dreaming artwork at Wentworth Galleries
You will find an extensive collection of Water Dreaming and other Aboriginal artwork at Wentworth Galleries. We've made it our goal to celebrate the Aboriginal people's culture by displaying some of this outstanding artwork. As we do, we hope to share these marvellous stories with the broader world.Our art gallery houses some excellent examples of Water Dreaming artwork, and we invite you to choose one for your collection. Alternatively, you may want to rent a painting for a limited time.
Own an inspiring Water Dreaming painting today
Every one of the Water Dreaming paintings has been created by a truly talented artist and is ready for you to buy at Wentworth Galleries. Still, we understand that you may be uncertain and want to see if the art looks good in your home or office. In this case, we'll offer you a free trial and a two-year exchange guarantee. If you live in the Sydney area, we will include complimentary delivery and hanging when you purchase an item from our gallery. If you’re outside these areas, we can ship anywhere around the world and will insure each package so you are covered for damage and loss.Should you need some additional information, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.