Question: In what sea that disappeared did an Aboriginal creator spirit leave tracks that couldn’t be followed?
Answer: Simpsons Gap, Australia
The West MacDonnell mountain ranges of Central Australia came into being after seismic upheaval that buckled and folded the landscape again and again over millions of years. The 400-mile chain was always dramatic, its peaks rising from the inland sea that covered the region. But as the sea drained away and the landscape evolved, the effects of time and erosion carved out 200 gorges, ramping up the beauty even more. Most stunning was Simpsons Gap, which stood for out being the last permanent waterhole, the truest remnant of the missing sea, and home to frogs, fish, birds, and bats.
For the Arrernte aboriginal people, this oasis was magical and figured heavily in their Dreamtime beliefs and creation stories. (See below.) Known to them as Rungutjirpa, the rocky gap was the setting for Dreaming stories of the first eagle, goanna lizard, and, most prominent, the rock wallaby. Wakulyarri, the ancestor to all the rock wallabies, was known for only traveling at night; by day, he hid in the rocks and caves, and hunters could not find him. Aboriginal paintings portray his journeys with paw prints and a long line, depicting him dragging his tail. The tail track was a giveaway that he had passed by, a maddening clue for hunters who followed the marks but never found him.
Today, visitors to the gap may catch a glimpse of Wakulyarri’s descendants, the black-flanked rock wallaby. Only 18 inches tall, the shy creatures don’t entirely disappear by day, but they do prefer to linger in the shadowy nooks and blend in with the rock landscape. As hunters seeking Wakulyarri discovered, today’s wallabies often appear as a flicker of motion seen out of the corner of your eye, only to seemingly vanish. The most endangered of Australia’s mammals, their numbers have dwindled across the nation, but remain constant here. Perhaps they do best at Simpson’s Gap because for them, in Arrernte lore, it is their ancestral home.
9 Facts About Dreamtime
- Aboriginal people refer to creation as The Dreaming, which yielded their way of life and provided their laws.
- In Dreamtime, the creator spirit beings emerged out of eternity and broke through the earth to become the ancestors.
- The spirit beings fanned out across the landscape creating all the trees, grass, water, people, and animals, and deeming certain locations sacred.
- Their journeys can be tracked by songlines, which are like sung maps that contains references to natural landmarks.
- Some of the ancestors became rocks and hills, sacred sites that only the initiated could see, but their presence was not contained to the sites.
- Before you are born, a spirit being (usually related to where you are from) enters you, and when you are born, you are considered a guardian of the Dreaming of that spirit.
- Some consider themselves caretakers of multiple Dreamings, as their human ancestors may have been from different regions, and family lines are considered united.
- Dreaming also means that humans and animals are all part of the same ancestry and thus must respect each other, even as one depends on the other for sustenance.
- The Dreaming continues to be passed on and kept alive in song, artwork, and storytelling that is now considered a key part of Australia’s cultural heritage.
Discover the land of Dreamtime and more when you join us for A South Pacific Odyssey: Australia, the Outback & New Zealand.