Australia Dreaming

Australia Dreaming

6 Mondays, , 10 a.m.-Noon
February 1-8, February 22-March 14, 2016

Nawarla Gabarnmang

     Jawoyn Elder Margaret Katherine at newly discovered Nawarla Gabarnmang Rock Shelter, Arnhem Land

 “There’s a lot of spiritual issues on this land and they are alive.”
Wilfred Hicks, Won-Goo-Tt-Oo Elder

Australia is home to the oldest living cultures in the world. At least 60,000 years ago, long before human beings reached Europe or the Americas, people arrived in Australia from the Indonesian archipelago. In time they spread across this vast continent adapting to and in turn modifying its diverse environments to ensure the food and other resources they needed. Over millennia they survived droughts, ice ages, changing sea levels, and inhospitable environments. The resilient, successful, enduring cultures they created and maintained throughout the continent are distinguished by profound, intimate, and sacred interrelationships with place, rich artistic and ceremonial life, and skilled land management practices.

The spiritual life of indigenous Australians centers on the Dreaming, a meta-temporal time  beyond living memory when supernatural ancestral beings emerged from and moved across the unformed landscape, their actions creating the features of the natural world.  Encoded in the stories of their travels are the social, moral, and ecological laws that humans are to live by. These ancestral beings continue to be a powerful spiritual source today, for the Dreaming incorporates the past, present, and future into a complete and present reality. Through the spiritual dimension of the Dreaminghuman society maintains a harmonious equilibrium with the universe.

An intricate web of Dreamings extends across the continent of Australia. Some relate to a particular place or region and to those who live there, others span vast distances and connect those whose lands they cover. The all-pervasive powers of the ancestral beings of the Dreamings are present in the land and in all living beings. They are activated by ceremony and art to nurture and guide generation after generation of human descendants.  Art is a means of access to the Dreaming and in turn a product of this spiritual dimension.

In this course we will look deep into the past with the help of a magical four-part documentary, First Footprints (Contact Films, Australian Broadcasting Company, 2013). This film joins together the world’s oldest oral histories with the latest science, often as new archaeological discoveries are being made. The result is a fresh, moving glimpse into a continuity of knowledge that exists nowhere else in the world and the profound significance of these recent discoveries to indigenous Australians living today.

In the last two sessions we will look at the strikingly innovative work of recent and current indigenous Australian artists as they express the values of their culture to the wider world in which they live. Whether using an inherited encoded visual language or reimagining what has been lost, indigenous art throughout Australia continues to be a powerful, dynamic expression of identity, time, and place.


tonesGulumbu Yunupingu, Garak,(the Universe),2008; Ganyu (Stars), 2009; Ganyu (Stars), 2009, natural ochres on bark, The Alcaston Gallery, Victoria

“We all must work together – and the stars show us that we are all the same underneath. We can all look at these stars whichever sky we are looking at.” Gulumbu Yunupingu (1943-2012), Yolngu, Arnhem Land


February 1      First Footprints: Super Nomads. Discovery and Dispersal (60,000 – 30,000 years ago)

February 2     First Footprints: The Great Drought, The Last Ice Age (30,000 – 15,000 years ago)

February 15    No Class (URock closed)

February 22    First Footprints: The Great Flood, Global Warming Floods the Continent (18,000 – 5,000 years ago)

February 29  First Footprints: The Biggest Estate, Sustainably Transforming an Entire Continent (9,000 years ago – 1788)

 March 7      Dreamings move into the “Outside” World, From Ritual to the Gallery Wall (19th – 20th centuries)

March 14       Backwards into the Future, Contemporary Art (Late 20th – 21st centuries)



Links to internet sites specific to works discussed in each session will be posted.


Cane, Scott, First Footprints: The Epic Story of the First Australians, Sydney, Melbourne,

Auckland, London: Allen and Unwin, 2013.

Caruana, Wally, Aboriginal Art, 3rd Edition, London: Thames and Hudson, 2012.

Morphy, Howard, Aboriginal Art, London: Phaidon Press, 2003.