The Elders are Custodians of a living history, Traditional knowledge of the origin and function of things, and stories and skills that derive from centuries of experience in the area. “This body of cultural knowledge is known as “Bugarigaara,” the Dreaming. It is perpetuated within the Song Cycle” which recounts the creative journeys of the ancestral beings who made the land and its people.
The Song Cycle is an oral heritage map. Its songs contain codes of behaviour fundamental to sustaining the balance and well-being of the land and its people. “The people talk about the Song Men being given the songs by the Country itself.
The Song Cycle is made up of Law Grounds and seasonal camping places, along a connected route between water places. These grounds and sites promote abundance – for humans, turtles, birds, fish and animals.
The layout of the land is encoded in the songs. A person who knows the songs can travel through the country and stay in a sustaining relationship with it. This preserved memory of the lay of the land, and its history, has been sung for centuries at ceremony time, even by lawmen in distant places who have never made the physical journey along the song line.
The Song Cycle on the coast of the Dampier Peninsula has its birthplace north of One Arm Point, from whence it travels to the south of La Grange, the exit place where that creative process finished. Its sites connect, in a continuous linear system ranging between 50 and 100kms in width, from west in the ocean to east on the land. This greater Song Cycle looks after and protects other (east-heading) creation Songlines that move from the west through Uluru and across to the east coast – Sunrise country.
Minyirr jukun (Dampier Peninsula) is one of the beginning birth places for the journey of “Naji’ beings who, it is believed, came from the ocean of space and travelled across the country, gradually summoning up landforms, people, animals – the whole spectrum of creation and the system to preserve it, – through first singing out the sound vibration of names, around which their forms gathered. (Aboriginal people do not believe their forebears migrated from elsewhere, but came from this land itself; the people, the land and all its forms simultaneously stemming from the same life-giving force and sharing the same essential energy vibration.)
Within this Country, one of the creator beings is spoken of as “Marella,” whose ancient footprints and other feather traces remain in the reef that stretches between Minyirr (Broome) and Dugul (Flat Rock, north of Walmadan.) The emu form of Marella persists in the shape of the black abyss of the Milky Way, in the night sky. Sites where three-toed prints occur correlate with the course of Marella’s journey, as narrated in the Song Cycle. The archaeologists, however, speak of a dinosaur, an upright walking lizard.
Law-Grounds are generally located close to significant vegetation, the “mamara” (‘spirit trees’) that have particular ceremonial functions.
“Murrurru” are rock formations that have strong spiritual value. They are mainly dangerous places that need to be respected and avoided – not public places, due to their power.
The following extract derives from a greater piece written by Jeanné Browne, in collaboration with Frans Hooglandt and Goolarabooloo Law Boss, Joseph Roe, and is included in the publication, ‘Kimberley at the Crossroads’, compiled by Murray Wilcox QC, for Save the Kimberley, 2010.
The seasonal camping places are generally governed by water presence, food sources and insect presence throughout the year.
A “Jila” offers permanent, “living” water: Each “buru,” or territory, has its “Yunguru,” the spirit that resides in the water places, who is “familiar with the smell” of his people. Traditional people from one place tend to be reluctant to move into another people’s area, unless accompanied by its countrymen, who can introduce them and facilitate their safe passing.
Singing the Country is part of an ongoing relationship. Country must be sung regularly to revive and replenish it. It must also be cool burnt seasonally, to make easier travel and green shoots to feed traditionally hunted animals. Water holes must be kept open.
Within the Dampier Peninsula, the Song Cycle system unites all the west coast saltwater people: the Jawi, Bardi, Nyulnyul, Nimanburru, Warrwa, Jabirr Jabbirr, Ngumbarl, Jukun, Yawuru and Karajarri. The boundaries of their territories (‘burus,’) and associated languages and Law, were established in Bugarigaara, at the beginning of time.
The responsibility for maintaining the Song Cycle is shared by the Law Bosses of all these clans. Collectively, they look after the whole Song Cycle, working together. If one area is destroyed, the whole is affected. However the Law Bosses for each buru have primary responsibility for it.
Other Bosses cannot override or speak for another’s buru, unless that buru’s Law Bosses jeopardise the greater Song Cycle system.