Australia Arts and Culture: Literature

Aboriginal Song & Narrative. Aboriginal oral traditions are loosely and misleadingly described as 'myths and legends'. Their single uniting factor is the Dreamtime, when the totemic ancestors formed the landscape, fashioned the laws and created the people who would inherit the land.

Translated and printed in English, these renderings of the Dreamtime often lose much of their intended impact. Gone are the sounds of sticks, dijeridu and the rhythm of the dancers which accompanies each poetic line; alone, the words fail to fuse past and present, and the spirits and forces to which the lines refer lose much of their animation.

At the turn of the century, Catherine Langloh Parker was collecting Aboriginal legends and using her outback experience to interpret them sincerely but synthetically. She compiled Australian Legendary Tales; Folklore of the Noon-gah-burrahs (1902).

Professor Ted Strehlow was one of the first methodical translators, and his Aranda Traditions (1947) and Songs of Central Australia (1971) are important works. More recently, many Dreamtime stories have appeared in translation, illustrated and published by Aboriginal artists.