Memories of the Dreamtime in modern Australia

Monday 11th April 2016 

Glen writes…..

Yesterday we travelled from the glitz of the Gold Coast (south of Brisbane) to the more sedate and spacious Sunshine Coast (north of Brisbane) to spend a few days in a small seaside town (under 10,000 population) called Coolum Beach.

One thing I notice, the further North we travel from Sydney, the more unfamiliar the place names become as English place names (Newcastle, Liverpool, Paddington) give way to town names that draw on Aboriginal heritage (Coolum, Mudjima, Maroochydore). And if you care to look beneath these names, you can begin to learn more about Aboriginal culture and “The Dreaming”.

Maybe there is something serendipitous about the fact we’re travelling around Australia in a “Dreamtime”. Our Dreamtime is a Kiwi model of RV/Motorhome, built on a Ford transit van by a company called Kea (an New Zealand bird that loves to damage people’s vehicles by chewing the rubbery parts around the windows).

In Australia the word “Dreamtime” has special meaning. The Dreaming (or Dreamtime) are the English words most commonly used to describe the creation stories of Aboriginal people.

According to the Australian government website:

“Dreaming stories pass on important knowledge, cultural values and belief systems to later generations. Through song, dance, painting and storytelling which express the dreaming stories, Aborigines have maintained a link with the Dreaming from ancient times to today, creating a rich cultural heritage.

“Aborigines have the longest continuous cultural history of any group of people on Earth. Estimates date this history between 50,000 and 65,000 years. Before European settlement of Australia, there were around 600 different Aboriginal nations, based on language groups.”

There are so many different Aboriginal nations and Dreamtime stories that at first they can seem impenetrable and meaningless to the modern Western mind. And yet bit by bit, as I encounter different Dreamtime stories in different parts of the country I am slowly becoming aware of the ancient wisdom they hold and how they connect people to the land, the stars, the environment and the spirit of the traditional owners of this land (past, present and future).

The Australian Museum website says:

“The Dreaming has different meanings for different Aboriginal people. It is a complex network of knowledge, faith and practices that derive from stories of creation, and it dominates all spiritual and physical aspects of Aboriginal life. The Dreaming sets out the structures of society, the rules for social behaviour and the ceremonies performed in order to maintain the life of the land.

“The Dreaming did not end with the arrival of Europeans but simply entered a new phase. It is a powerful living force that must be maintained and cared for.”

At their most basic level, the Dreamtime stories pass on information about the world around us. We are now in Coolum Beach for example, which takes its name from Coolum Mountain.

The name Coolum comes from the the local Undumbi word gulum or guloom which means “blunt” or “headless”, a reference to the flat-topped Mount Coolum. The Mount is the Sunshine Coast’s Uluru (Ayers’ Rock) and sometimes wrongly claimed by locals to be the world’s second largest rock, after Uluru.

The Dreamtime story of Coolum has several different versions.

According to one Queensland Government source:

“The most commonly referenced version begins with two children Marutchi and Coolum, who grew up together and were to be married. However Ninderry, an older rival from within the clan, planned to steal the beautiful young woman, Marutchi from Coolum. Ninderry, jealous of Marutchi and Coolum’s love, cut off Coolum’s head which rolled into the sea. Coolum’s head became Mudjimba Island and his body Mt Coolum. Angry with Ninderry, the spirits turned him into a menacing and evil-faced mountain, while, full of grief, Marutchi fled inland to the Blackall Range . Her tears flowed down the mountain to form the Maroochy River. The name Maroochy means swan . Some versions of the Maroochy legend end with Marutchi turning into a black swan, which are commonly seen on the river”

Here’s another version of the story, demonstrating how oral tradition is subject to embellishment and variation over time:

Long ago in the Dreamtime, the time-before-time when the world of Australia’s Aborigines was created, a beautiful dark maiden named Maroochy was loved by Coolum, a handsome young warrior.

But another warrior, Ninderry, wanted Maroochy for himself and tried to steal her away. Coolum challenged him, and they fought. The two men attacked each other with such ferocity that the earth trembled and the ocean roared, the birds took flight and the koalas hid in fear, until at last, Ninderry, with a mighty blow of his club, killed the brave Coolum.

The watching gods were so moved by Coolum’s love and courage, that they turned his fallen body into a mighty stone mountain, as a monument to his bravery. The grief-stricken Maroochy fled high into the hills and wept so copiously that her tears formed the Maroochy River.

Those tears will flow forever, while the majestic monolith of Coolum stands against the sun, gazing down on the river and out to sea, remembering the beautiful maiden he loved.

I am hoping to make time to climb Mount Coolum with Jakkie while we are here, though one website claims “there’s an old Aboriginal legend that says a couple that climbs Coolum together breaks up because of an ancient curse”!

There are so many aspects of travelling around the country together for a year that could  stretch our relationships to breaking point, it would be a great shame to be split up by an ancient curse this early in our adventure!

However as its the same source that claims (wrongly) that Mount Coolum is the world’s second largest rock, I’ll take that with a pinch of salt. When connecting to The Dreaming you sometimes have to trust your intuition and make the distinction between ancient wisdom, embellished stories and outright myth.

FOOTNOTE: I wrote this post after connecting to the sunrise (pictured), trees, rocks and birdlife around Coolum Beach and then went to McDonalds to connect to wifi and upload it. Make of that what you will. 

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