A brief overview
(Provided as a general introduction only - should you wish to find out more, please refer to our links section).
We, all people of on earth, live in a world of the physical, spiritual, and human, but these paradigms are far more steeped and recognized in Aboriginal culture then they are for many non-indigenous Australians.
An element of this can be seen in how land is viewed in these cultures', the land is not something that can be owned, traded, or exploited for profit. The land has a spiritual definition. "We don't have boundaries like fences, as farmers do. We have spiritual connections" (anon)
To indigenous Australians, all living creatures are dynamically and intricately linked and have all arisen from great ancestral spirits. Dreamtime can be viewed as the Creation and the perpetuation of the significance of these events, adherence to spirituality, forming of customs and the lineage of cultural beliefs down through the generations is The Dreaming; much of which is done through dance, song, mime and art.
As with most religions in the world whereby different 'accents' are placed on core beliefs, the Dreaming of Indigenous Australia also varies from group to group and region to region as it pertains to the 'country' of the respective people. While the continuum of the various Dreaming maybe different, they all derive from an analogous and interpretive Dreamtime; in a similar way that many non-indigenous religions vary but can be linked back to some core analogous and interpretive form of Creation.
While forming the relationships within the living world, the Ancestral Spirits travelled across the land and through certain events formed the physical land; mountains, hills, rivers, streams, trees etc. When the land was created, the Ancestral Beings formed into elements they had created. The hills, the animals, the flora, the stars etc, and they remain within those elements of the world thus creating the spiritual connection to the world.
How these Spiritual Beings formed the world after Dreamtime is the basis of the many sacred stories which get passed down through the ages and it is this that forms the Dreaming.
These stories are not just passed down by anyone within a nation, but by special custodians appointed by elders, who are responsible for maintaining the cultural continuum for future generations. The reference to custodians is pertinent as the stories of Dreaming belong to the nation, not the person, and it is the responsibility of the custodian to pass the stories on thereby maintaining perpetuating The Dreaming with strict cultural adherence.
As much of this is an oral story, and the detrimental cultural influences of Europeans (i.e.; Disease, massacres, westernising, and the banning of language and storytelling), a lot of the Dreaming has been lost; especially in many parts of South Eastern Australia; potentially resulting in the irreversible death of rich and diverse cultures.
Fortunately, through cultural pride and strength, enough has been retained and there are efforts to perpetuate these irreplaceable traditions via today's custodians. This maintains the links with the past, placing them in context for today's Dreaming and instilling cultural pride in communities, especially the young; for they are tomorrow's custodians of these very precious and unique ancient cultures.
This sanctity of custodianship in addition to sacred and secret stories may seem to non-indigenous people as curious, but it is because of this that it is passed through time in the correct way and with its original and intended context and while non-indigenous people may not comprehend the secrecy of men's business or women's business, it must be accepted and respected as in the same way as any cultural or religious diversity and not dismissed because of ignorance.
To hear some storytelling, from a custodian, please refer to http://www.dreamtime.net.au/dreaming/storylist.htm