A world-first in scale, story and complexity, the exhibition showcases the ancient creation saga across three Australian deserts.
15 Sep 2017 - 12:59 PM  UPDATED 15 Sep 2017 - 12:59 PM

After seven years in the making, one of Australia's most ambitious exhibitions is about to open. 

'Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters' captures the ancient creation story of the Seven Sisters as they traverse the sky from Roebourne in Western Australia, through more than 500,000 square kilometres to the remote Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunyjatjara (APY) Lands further east. 

Inawinytji Williamson, a Senior law woman and custodian of the songline at Kuli, says the Tjukurpa, or dreaming, is very important. 

"We hold it strongly and teach it to the generations that come after us," she says. 

The Seven Sisters songlines tell the story of a journey made by a group of female Ancestral beings who are pursued by a powerful, mythological, shape-shifting figure, a man called Wati Nyiru or Yurlu. 

The creation story travels through many people's country like the Martu, Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunyjatjara lands. 

"[Seven Sisters] is not just one songline, they travelled all around Australia. And even other people overseas know the Seven Sisters story in their own way, so it's a special story," says Ngalangka Nola Taylor, a Senior law woman from Martu country. 

An Anangu initiative, Elders said they were compelled to track the songlines and preserve the knowledge for future generations.

Anawari Inpiti Mitchell, a Senior law woman from Kuru Ala, says the Tjukurpa teaches the young ones. 

"Our children and grandchildren, our daughters, they can learn from us or from the family. That's the story for them to get learned, look and they might like it and good for them to learn for the future," she says. 

The show is described as a world-first in scale and complexity, showcasing hundreds of paintings and photographs, objects, song, dance and multimedia to narrate the story. 

It also features the world’s highest resolution travelling DomeLab under which visitors can be immersed in images of rock art, animated art works and the transit of the Orion constellation and the Pleiades star cluster. It allows the audience to be transported to the Seven Sister sites, following the trail of the stunning art and installations, effectively 'walking' the songline.  

It comes after lengthy on-country tracking and community collaborations with the National Museum to be able to track the songlines and tell the story. 

National Museum director, Dr Mathew Trinca, says he is honoured to have the exhibition in Canberra. 

"I hope every Australian takes note of this work, there's never been a time when we needed this story-telling more than in the nation now," he said. 

“I am immensely proud of Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters which is the culmination of more than five years of collaboration between Indigenous communities and the National Museum - nothing of this scale has been attempted before.”

Lead Indigenous curator, Margo Neale, says the elders were proud to see their hard work come to fruition. 

"They came yesterday and they have hardly been out of here, they sit under the dome and they weep and they sing. They go to various paintings and touch them, they're totally engaged," she said. 

Ms Neale says Songlines goes much deeper than the typical exhibition.

“Songlines are a cross cultural term, a passport to the deep knowledge embedded in the land which we now all share. They are our foundational stories about the creation of this continent and critical to the sense of belonging for all Australians.” 

Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters is open at the National Museum of Australia until February 2018. 

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