I am a proud Walbunja Yuin woman from the South Coast of NSW who has been privileged to grow up within my traditional homelands and the boundaries of the Dharawal Nation in the Illawarra.
From the age of nine, I listened with great interest to my Elders, especially when they shared stories of our creation known as ‘Our Dreaming’.
These stories are not just those you find in a bookshop but the source of Aboriginal spirituality, the source of my spirituality. Although in recent times some Aboriginal people might subscribe to different faiths, many of them still believe in the spirituality of Aboriginal culture, formed on the back of our dreaming stories.
Our Dreaming is the link between our physical world and our spiritual world. The lessons are embedded within the legends of our past, handed down from generation to generation by our Elders.
It is our cultural connection to country – our spirituality. Guluga is a sacred place our Mother, the starting point that continues to keeps us connected to the creator.
Gulaga Mountain (or Mount Gulaga, located on the far south coast of NSW)is one of the most significant places to Aboriginal people of the Yuin Nation. Within its landscape, it shows us the physical aspects of our creation story from the Dreaming. Lead by Elders along a pathway framed with trees and rocks, it helps to teach us our story of creation and the connection to our dreaming stories.
In 1991, I visited Gulaga Mountain: the memory of that day it still remains within me, just as the dreaming is etched in the rocks on the mountainside. It is our cultural connection to country – our spirituality. Guluga is a sacred place our Mother, the starting point that continues to keeps us connected to the creator.
How it all began
Back in the early years Dharamah, our creator being created Earth, all nature and the heavens. He also created Ngardi (woman) first because women are the givers of life. He then created Tunku (man), he gave them two gifts trees and rocks. He told them that these two gifts are all that you need to survive. Ngardi and Tunku would learn the roles of trees and rocks before they could receive other gifts.
Then Ngardi and Tunku learnt from father time that trees could be used to build shelters. They could be used for food and medicines. They could make hunting instruments such spears and catching nets. And amongst all the things they learnt, they were taught that trees could help light fires and fires could assist in rejuvenating and replenishing to maintain life.
They also learnt the many uses of rocks such as containing fire - they helped collect and move water, made bush ovens, saunas, traps, bush shelters, axes and spear heads, and were equally important in rejuvenating and replenishing the land. The lessons that Ngardi and Tunku would learn would become sacred and would be cemented in the foundations of our landscapes and become a central part of our lore shared from generation-to-generation through our stories, songs and dances.
The tears would flow like the rivers created in the stories, their expressions were like sun rays sharing warmth and could turn to anger resembling that mid -summer thunderstorm.
When you go onto Guluga Mountain you can feel the spiritual presence of Dharama Ngardi and Tunku. As you follow the cultural landscape through the teaching rocks and the dreaming story you begin to learn that this is not just a mountain with beautiful views that surrounds her, it is cultural connection to a prehistoric history told through the trees and the rocks.
You understand the spirituality when you see rainbow serpent rock (creator of the waterways), and feel strength of creation when you visit other significant rock formations that keep our connection with local custodians, to country and other Aboriginal people. You see and feel the spirituality and connection written in the landscape, this keeps us connected to country and an understanding how we are connected physically and spiritually to the land and to each other.
Handing down stories
Our Elders play a special role handing down these dreaming stories.
Elders’ expressions are filled with excitement, and for some it seemed like they channelled our ancestors, as they retold stories of our past.
The tears would flow like the rivers created in the stories, their expressions were like sun rays sharing warmth and could turn to anger resembling that mid -summer thunderstorm. Loud cries of laughter echoed like a kookaburra in a gum tree, or the children, playing as they created the land formations of our world.
We listened and learnt of our creation, how our laws were made and how our morals were developed. Morals such as respect responsibility and reciprocity taught to us by our Elders learned from the dreaming.
Our Aboriginal spirituality is a link from the past to the present a shared pathway that helps us to understand more about where we come from and who we are as people. Like the creation story it teaches us to respect and encompass all that we have been given and seek and respect their uses.
Our spirituality teaches us that even a negative has a positive, if you only have the patience to explore.
Author's note: I wish to acknowledge and pay respect to my Elders past, present and the future, especially those who shared our stories and gave permission for me to share with others our younger generations.
Shaun Micallef's Stairway to Heaven airs on SBS on Wednesdays at 8.30pm from 18 January 2017. Watch all the episodes online after they air on SBS On Demand.