Dreaming stories are at the heart of the cultural knowledge and practices of Australian First Nations peoples. In Aboriginal belief systems, the Dreaming is the time in which the earth received its present form and in which the patterns and cycles of life and nature as we know them were initiated. Dreaming existed before the life of the individual begins and continues to exist when the life of the individual ends.
Starting in the late 1900s, some of these stories were retold by European Australians in children’s books, providing a new way of sharing this knowledge with a wider audience. There has been a shift – mainly since the 1960s – that has seen First Nations peoples taking the lead in producing books about Dreaming stories and today many are published in Australian Indigenous languages.
This is a reproduction of painting as used in the book titled Tjarany Roughtail: The Dreaming of the Roughtail Lizard and Other Stories Told by the Kukatja, by Gracie Greene, Joe Tramacchi and Lucille Gill.
It features a large brown lizard on a background of ochre and yellow dots and circles, with three small people shown seated on the ground.
1. Invite Elders, or representatives, of the traditional owners of your area to speak with students about the stories, customs, and culture of the area’s first peoples. Local Indigenous councils and organisations should be able to help you make contact with people who are willing and able to make a visit to your school for this purpose. Before the visit, discuss with students appropriate behaviour and ways to show respect to your visitor(s). Ask your students to welcome them to your school and thank them for coming.
2. In small groups, have students relay a Dreaming story orally. Other groups could then be tasked with translating the spoken story into written text and illustrations similar to those found in a children’s book. Use some publications from your school library as examples.
Discuss with the class the similarities and differences between sharing stories in these two modes. What skills and techniques are important to be an effective oral storyteller, writer and illustrator?
Where are these stories from? After looking at stories from your own area, start a big collaborative wall map for the other Dreaming stories you hear, read and watch in class. Use the map to identify the community each story belongs to and locate it geographically.