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Songlines audio journey

Ursula Yovich, Alison Page and Duncan Smith, 15 September 2017

[Exhibition entrance]

BIG SISTER: This is an epic tale of pursuit across the land, that forms the land.

The pursuer is an Ancestral shape-shifter who transforms into multiple guises to trick the Seven Sisters he attempts to possess. Sometimes he appears as desirable bush foods: a fig tree, a quandong tree. At other times, he appears as the wind, a snake or a male body part.

It is a saga of mythological dimensions and meanings. I’m the big sister.

SISTERS: We’re the Seven Sisters.

LITTLE SISTER: Listen up, we’ve got a story to tell …

BIG SISTER: About being chased across country by a lustful man, a sorcerer really. We ran, camped and hid and we left our story in the land – in the rocks and hills, the caves and waterholes. So, our running away became a journey and our journey became a story. And that story became songlines, our Dreamings, our creation law. We want to teach you mob so it’s kept strong for all Australians.

SISTERS: So come with us.

BIG SISTER: Okay? When we go inside, through the light and sound space, you’ll see a mob sitting down. That’s us, the Seven Sisters, so we’ll meet you there, eh?

[Seven Sisters tjanpi figures]

BIG SISTER: Right, you with us? Here, we are yarning up. Telling our stories.

WATI NYIRU: Wati Nyiru, Yurla.

BIG SISTER: Look there, that man sitting alone watching. That’s Wati Nyiru or Yurla. Can’t shake ’im. Everywhere we go he turns up. Just over there, wearing a headband. Sitting apart, but still too close for comfort.

WATI NYIRU: Watching, watching, waiting.

LITTLE SISTER: Trouble is, sometimes we don’t even know when he’s around ’cause he’s a sorcerer, a shape-shifter and turns into food and trees and things. Acts like a human but really, he’s an ancestral being.

BIG SISTER: Very tricky. Like fellas everywhere, he’s looking for a wife. There’s something not right about this one. And I gotta take care of the younger sisters, I gotta protect them.

I teach them our culture and ways of the bush – diggin’ for water, collecting fruits, huntin’ and schoolin’ them about men and women. And I warn them big time about going to that lustful man, because he can hurt them, really bad.

WATI NYIRU: I’m listening.

LITTLE SISTER: Maybe he’s wrong skin, wrong kinship. He’s too close up now, so we gotta make tracks.

BIG SISTER: And if you follow us, you’ll find the stories we left in the land. So, turn around and head over to those two paintings just opposite, on the far side. One looks like a map of Australia. We’ll catch you there.

[Songline map]

LITTLE SISTER: This one is a map – whitefella map of Australia – which artist Josephine Mick has used to show our endless journey across the whole country, where our stories have travelled.

BIG SISTER: From Roebourne, in Martu country, our paths go through Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara lands. As we travel we change our language and imprint our presence in the land. See the Tjukurpa, all the Dreaming tracks actually spread over the whole country. Also to the north and south. Not just where we go. Other mobs to the east have Seven Sisters stories too.

LITTLE SISTER: There’s special stories everywhere and parts of the story are only for local mobs, some only for the men and some only for the women. We tell you ‘open’ story.

BIG SISTER: This tall painting with all the waterholes – it’s a map as well. It’s where we ‘Minyipuru’, Seven Sisters, travel in Martu country. It shows lots of waterholes that join up the journey.

LITTLE SISTER: So songlines are like survival lines.

BIG SISTER: And look, that red stripe, that’s now called the Canning Stock Route – could be whitefella Dreaming, but it follows our waterways, eh? It’s the first songline in our story. We stop here and there, evading that trickster Yurla and where we stop, those are waterholes now.

LITTLE SISTER: Some say Yurla made them …

BIG SISTER: With a part of himself …

LITTLE SISTER: Plunging it into the ground …

BIG SISTER: And maybe he did.

LITTLE SISTER: Some say us women made the waterholes with our digging sticks.

BIG SISTER: And maybe that’s what really happened. That’s the way some stories are, eh? Different here and there. Further along this way you can see three paintings in a row – they are places we stopped, we turned into boulders, you see.

But first it’s now a good time for you to go in that room over there, on the right, learn lots about desert knowledge: burning, hunting grounds and how we manage and read our country. We’ll tell you more then. See ya soon, no worries.

[Martu country]

BIG SISTER: We’ve come a long way from Roebourne. These three places painted here are part of the first Martu songline, the Pangkal songline. You can walk along it as we talk it. The three Chapman sisters who painted these places say, ‘This country is us. We need to share it. We need to teach’.

LITTLE SISTER: All the way that Yurla follows us.

BIG SISTER: This first painting is Pangkal rock hole. Important place where we stop and camp. It’s shaped like the curved part of a woman, cradled there in the middle.

LITTLE SISTER: Only a woman’s place, this place. We dancing, dancing, dancing, ceremony every night. We fall asleep early-fella time. Sleep all us lot.

YURLA: Hey, there they are. I’m watching, watching.

BIG SISTER: We’re so tired, we turn into rocks, hiding from Yurla. New sisters are born, also in the next paintings. We dance, and dance new life. Rebirth. Some rocks keep sleeping, a deep stony sleep.

LITTLE SISTER: The rocks, many rocks, big mob of sisters, can be found in that country now in that big round painting too.

BIG SISTER: Some rocks are marked with carvings made by us sisters, some patterned like we paint on our breasts for inma, dancing. See us there?

LITTLE SISTER: And Yurla comes chasing us, he leaves his mark too, piercing the rock hole!

BIG SISTER: The night is silent. Nothing stirs. Nothing except Yurla. He’s rampant. He comes creeping and prodding among the rocks, trying to find us. He wants us. He’s been watching. He wants to take this one, that one. He wants to take us all. Greedy man.

SISTERS: He tries to get a hold of us.

BIG SISTER: But I go one way …

LITTLE SISTER: I another …

BIG SISTER: I go this way …

LITTLE SISTER: She goes that. Come on sisters, fly!

SISTERS: Fly sister, fly, up high, up high.

BIG SISTER: He can see but can’t catch …

LITTLE SISTER: Can’t touch, eh?

BIG SISTER: Tempt him.

LITTLE SISTER: The more he sees …

BIG SISTER: The more he wants.

LITTLE SISTER: But doesn’t get.

BIG SISTER: That’s right.

LITTLE SISTER: Serves him right. He’s danger one.

BIG SISTER: We fly on and on over to that other songline. Some of us land at the next big part of our journey in a place called Parnngurr. Over there behind us right over that way, places of the second Martu songline. We’ll be landing there when you arrive.

[Parnngurr]

BIG SISTER: This is Parnngurr rock hole. This is not our place to camp. We fly behind this rock hole.

LITTLE SISTER: Woo hoo, rough landing that one, sister.

BIG SISTER: Camp on a hill and look down.

LITTLE SISTER: We are still sitting down in that place today. You can see us sitting on that hill as rocks.

BIG SISTER: Our story holds all time together – Ancestor time through future time. Country stays and stories keep on spreading through it. Not very long ago – not deep time – on the day the American president got shot in Dallas, Texas, only on that day, other sisters from here got chased up that hill. Not by Yurla. But by a whitefella. They took them away, long long way, to Jigalong mission. The year was 1963.

LITTLE SISTER: Big mob taken to Jigalong mission. Lots of relatives there.

BIG SISTER: That also happened here.

YURLA: Which way have you all gone?

BIG SISTER: Yurla chases us along the Canning Stock Route, for about five hundred ‘ks’ [kilometres]. There’s some adventures we can tell you while we walk along this songline past seven place paintings to a special one at the end of the line.

LITTLE SISTER: Part of him, like a snake, comes underground along a creek bed.

BIG SISTER: Yes, that snake grows and grows, and moves by itself. Comes up out of the ground, to surprise us sleeping.

LITTLE SISTER: We jump up real quick, eh?

BIG SISTER: While Yurla follows us on land.

YURLA: I still haven’t caught you yet.

BIG SISTER: Reaches the next waterhole first. Sitting …

LITTLE SISTER: Staring at us.

SISTERS: Run! Look! Run! Quick! Fly! Fly from that one!

YURLA: Finished. They’ve gone.

[Minyipuru]

BIG SISTER: And when we come down – at Kalypa …

LITTLE SISTER: The fighting place. That’s a big Seven Sisters story! Minyipuru story.

BIG SISTER: Oh no, not more men!

LITTLE SISTER: Many fellas waiting for us. Wanting wives.

BIG SISTER: These fellas are different though. Maybe we are first women they see.

LITTLE SISTER: Hey, they are the first human men we see.

YURLA: We want you for our wives. Stay with me, only stay with me.

LITTLE SISTER: We didn’t come for you.

BIG SISTER: We are our own selves!

LITTLE SISTER: We hit them and hit them and hit them until they fall down there and everywhere.

BIG SISTER: We give them a hiding. And we fly right out of there.

LITTLE SISTER: But still Yurla is close on our tail.

BIG SISTER: We fly, we run. This way and that. The two earth-coloured paintings near the end of the line, the ochre colours – the yellow, orange and red – are more places we camp. Kunawarritji and Nyipil sites. In this area, hills are made by people, all squeezed out of the soft earth and we sisters become the desert oaks you can see. Still we move on.

LITTLE SISTER: At last we come to our final place on this line, Pangkapini.

BIG SISTER: Next one. That’s a big story too.

[Pangkapini]

LITTLE SISTER: We see him before he sees us.

BIG SISTER: He’s sleeping flat out, with his belly on the ground, but when he wakes up, quick as a whip, he grabs one of us.

YURLA: Gotcha.

BIG SISTER: Takes her off …

LITTLE SISTER: So we trick him.

BIG SISTER: That clever one, maybe not so clever.

LITTLE SISTER: Hey, Yurla. If you collect wood for us …

BIG SISTER: We’ll stay with you, eh?

LITTLE SISTER: But we tease him …

SISTERS: Come and get us …

BIG SISTER: And he begins to sing a man’s song, a love song, and runs off to collect wood, very happy, his heart beating fast.

BIG SISTER: Quick, fly up just out of Yurla’s reach.

SISTERS: Come and get us. Come and get us.

YURLA: Where are they? I can’t find their tracks.

BIG SISTER: We float above him, in a long line in mid-air.

LITTLE SISTER: He’s looking, looking down below.

BIG SISTER: At last, he turns his face up …

LITTLE SISTER: And we pee on him.

BIG SISTER: And he can’t see anything. He can’t see us but he can hear us. He gets a ladder for himself – janga we call it – and each time he climbs up …

LITTLE SISTER: We push that fella down, ladder and all.

BIG SISTER: He gets tired, falls down. He crawls a long way and sleeps.

LITTLE SISTER: He been trying and trying. Poor old fella, he had a rough time.

BIG SISTER: And that’s what happened at Pangkapini. And this story is written in the country now, in the rock holes, the hills and dunes. And us sisters keep going eastwards, out of Martu country. So, turn around with us and look, we’ll join up over there. Standing up, arms up, trees and women in one.

[APY Lands]

BIG SISTER: Here we are together again, this time in the east, the APY Lands – Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara peoples lands. So now we’re called Kungkarangkalpa. New name, with different stories, because we’re on different country.

LITTLE SISTER: But it’s the same chase.

BIG SISTER: In this country our stories are of trees and caves and underground waterways. Stories coming out of the land.

LITTLE SISTER: From inside out.

BIG SISTER: The sorcerer’s now called Wati Nyiru. We have to watch out. He might be coming in the sky. Watch out to see if he comes up underground. He might be in that grass over there, or those rocks. He changes into trees too. If he can do that, so can we – we are the trees here.

LITTLE SISTER: Yeah, he tries to trick us. Turn himself into a quandong tree full of juicy red fruit that we desire the most.

BIG SISTER: What is that man doing? See him hiding behind tree in that picture.

LITTLE SISTER: Maybe he wants us to eat his fruit.

BIG SISTER: But he doesn’t catch us that way. No.

LITTLE SISTER: No.

BIG SISTER: Never.

LITTLE SISTER: Never

BIG SISTER: Won’t.

LITTLE SISTER: Won’t.

BIG SISTER: Maybe.

LITTLE SISTER: Maybe.

BIG SISTER: Could.

LITTLE SISTER: Could make you sick with love that naughty fella, from his magic singing.

BIG SISTER: Could make us all sick with that black magic. Keep looking over your shoulder, be careful, stay together!

[Walinynga (Cave Hill)]

WATI NYIRU: Why don’t the sisters like me? Why do they run away from me? What’s that footprint? Seven toes, five, three. Can’t be my footprint. No! It is my footprint. Oh no, I must be a bad man. That’s why they run away from me. I am a sorcerer!

BIG SISTER: Stop at the entrance to the dome and meet Stanley Douglas, the traditional owner, who will tell you the story. The power of the Tjukurpa is alive in there.

LITTLE SISTER: Where those rock paintings come alive.

BIG SISTER: Like a virtual return to country. Plenty to see. We’ll wait for you over there at the Wati Nyiru room. But don’t take too long or he might get us.

WATI NYIRU: All those women. Which way did they go?

[Kunkarangkalpa]

WATI NYIRU: Which way did they go?

BIG SISTER: Here we are at the beginning of the APY songline. Journey with us all the way from Irawa Bore to Mulga Park. Many camps in this one. See here, bottom left, those river red gums at Irawa Bore.

LITTLE SISTER: That’s us.

BIG SISTER: Right near us, a big quandong tree.

LITTLE SISTER: That’s the shape-shifter.

BIG SISTER: Here we’re sitting down camping at Wallara and Wati Nyiru’s close by.

LITTLE SISTER: With his spears.

BIG SISTER: Past the lake, that’s Iarka claypan and there we are, having a much-needed sleep.

LITTLE SISTER: Our footprints, whole lot of them, show how we keep on the move, get away from that man, time after time.

BIG SISTER: See him, sneaking upside down?

BIG SISTER: You can keep walking along this songline and see things close up. The next one painting is Witapula and the saltpans of Iarka where we camp, ya know? But first, here’s Witapula.

LITTLE SISTER: Cunning one – Wati Nyiru – that man everywhere!

WATI NYIRU: Watching, watching, waiting.

BIG SISTER: We splashing and singing in that waterhole. But, oh no, he’s after us again, trying to take us. Come on! Go underneath that water! We go down, down under the ground. Glide along in the stream below there. We’re travelling the ancient waterways. Good kapi, clean water, here.

If you know this story you’ll know how to find water too. Like we do – find underground water in this dry country.

LITTLE SISTER: It’s survival.

BIG SISTER: Okay. All here?

LITTLE SISTER: Number Three Bore near Mulga Park.

BIG SISTER: You can’t miss it. Down the bottom, white circles and round them spreading out in a pattern like brown water. Above, big blue Witapula and that’s got a white pattern all around.

BIG SISTER: Before we leave this last dry country here, we stopped at Kuli. At Kuli, Nyiru is crawling on hands and knees trying to smell where we’ve been. But we gone already.

LITTLE SISTER: So he doesn’t catch us that way.

BIG SISTER: Nor that way.

LITTLE SISTER: No way, yet!

[Shape-shifting room]

LITTLE SISTER: Can you see that shape-shifter one?

BIG SISTER: Could be trying to trick us again. There’s all kinds of bush tucker in here.

LITTLE SISTER: Could be Nyiru there, or there.

BIG SISTER: On that pot, or that one.

LITTLE SISTER: Is it him?

BIG SISTER: Yes, over there. He’s the big one, stands alone.

BIG SISTER: But there’s a special reason for these bush tucker pots. Elders at Ernabella were worried that young ones didn’t know about plants and animals so they made pots to teach how the Seven Sister story holds knowledge, ceremony, ways of surviving. About bush medicine, bush food and where to find water.

LITTLE SISTER: This is good one, eh?

BIG SISTER: A name is so much more than a name. A key to knowledge and that’s what’s shared here. That story’s written on the pots. Seven pots for Seven Sisters, Kungkarangkalpa, is how we know this place. One pot, kapi

LITTLE SISTER: Water.

BIG SISTER: Another ili

LITTLE SISTER: Fig tree.

BIG SISTER: Other tjala

LITTLE SISTER: Honey ants.

BIG SISTER: Maku

LITTLE SISTER: Witchetty grubs.

BIG SISTER: That’s easy pot to find!

LITTLE SISTER: Wayanu

BIG SISTER: Quandong.

LITTLE SISTER: Kampurarpa

BIG SISTER: Bush tomatoes

LITTLE SISTER: Inma

SISTERS: Ceremony.

BIG SISTER: History and Tjukurpa, culture and language, all the same.

LITTLE SISTER: Oh oh! Did you see that, sister? Big fella pot moving?

BIG SISTER: Maybe a trick of light. But anyway, we outta here.

LITTLE SISTER: I’m ahead of you.

BIG SISTER: Got to travel across to a different part of the story where elders Jennifer [Nginyaka] Mitchell, Anawari [Inpiti] Mitchell and Lalla West will invite us into their country.

[Kura Ala songline]

LITTLE SISTER: We travel country to country.

BIG SISTER: Here, we’re in Ngaanyatjarra Lands in the west – long, long way from Pitjantjatjara lands. This country stretches wide, with steep rock faces and deep red ravines. We are going to take you on two Tjukurrpa songlines. This southern one is the Kuru Ala line.

LITTLE SISTER: This big drama now.

BIG SISTER: Tjukurrpa pulkana – a strong story.

LITTLE SISTER: This place got everything. Healing place.

BIG SISTER: Minyma ngurra pulakalai – special place.

LITTLE SISTER: But we’ll only tell a little bit, we can’t say more.

BIG SISTER: We stop at this waterhole. Here at Tjukaltjara we’re happy, laughing. This is a lovely camping place to rest for a while. A break from running.

LITTLE SISTER: But no! That cheeky man, still around.

BIG SISTER: He camps close by but we don’t see him until he scratches in the dirt and makes kumpu.

LITTLE SISTER: See, he’s having a pee.

BIG SISTER: He sees us!

WATI NYIRU: There they are.

BIG SISTER: He wants to get closer.

LITTLE SISTER: Maybe he wants you.

WATI NYIRU: There she is, the older sister. Make me feel happy, on the inside.

LITTLE SISTER: I’m frightened. Run as fast as you can. Quick. In here, follow me.

WATI NYIRU: Gone. Where? Why? Always leaving me.

BIG SISTER: On the left there, that ridge is where the two lines meet. We go a long way underground from there.

LITTLE SISTER: And that’s how we come to Kuru Ala.

[Kuru Ala]

BIG SISTER: All this area, these paintings are Kuru Ala. Big story this one.

LITTLE SISTER: That man’s presence so strong here. This painting so strong.

BIG SISTER: See him lurking in that corner …

LITTLE SISTER: In his wiltja

BIG SISTER: His windbreak, the white arc.

LITTLE SISTER: With his spears and his fire.

BIG SISTER: The rock face. The big eyes.

LITTLE SISTER: There in the middle, him too, that brown one. And those watchful eyes.

BIG SISTER: We sisters – many of us sitting all along the bottom here. He is always looking my way now.

WATI NYIRU: Waiting my chance.

LITTLE SISTER: We’re all tired, hungry.

BIG SISTER: I go looking to find mayi – food for my younger sisters. He comes after me. He gets me.

LITTLE SISTER: We wait a long time, long time.

BIG SISTER: And then they come looking. They find me.

LITTLE SISTER: Oh no, our poor big sister, he hurt her. Carry her to a safe place. Heal her.

SISTERS: Hold her, hunt for her, feed her, find fruit and other food for her, hunt for her, feed her, heal her, hold her.

LITTLE SISTER: See, we dance inma to heal her. Leaving lines in the sand. There in front of where we sit, ya know, white shapes, along the bottom there?

SISTERS: And she gets better. We all talk and laugh and dance ceremony together again to hold the story. We look after each other. We are sisters, we are family.

BIG SISTER: There’s still more to tell about this place. See that painting on the ground? That’s painted on country by the bosses of this story at Kuru Ala. It’s full of all the things we’ve been telling you and more.

LITTLE SISTER: Let’s go.

[Ground painting]

WOMEN SINGING: Piti kanyintjara wangkangu, Pirti kanyintjarra nyiirritjiritjiri wangkangu, Ngaa-nyankulanya kanyi kanyinu.

LITTLE SISTER: What is this strange feeling?

BIG SISTER: We are close to that rock face of that scary fella with the watchful eyes at Kuru Ala. Looming. Sitting, watching. That rock face is right above the place where this painting was made. Those eyes are as circles in this painting. Look here on the ground.

LITTLE SISTER: He is watching us, getting happy on the inside, again.

LITTLE SISTER: He lets his long-fella one, his kuniya (carpet snake) loose.

BIG SISTER: It comes slithering down and breaks through the rocks. There’s a crack there now. But we think it is a snake, good meat. Can you see it? Maybe three of them snakes in this big picture. One there, one there, see him there in the corner? And that corner too.

LITTLE SISTER: Snakey, snakey!

BIG SISTER: Look, our kuka, our meat, went inside that hole.

LITTLE SISTER: Good tucker. Come on we dig out the kuka.

BIG SISTER: As we dig we make two rock holes, now permanent water sources.

LITTLE SISTER: I got it, I caught that snake.

BIG SISTER: Hold onto it and pull it out.

LITTLE SISTER: Wait! This thing is funny.

BIG SISTER: It wriggles and wriggles, we all must hold it tight. It is a snake but it doesn’t feel right. We carry it out and we throw it away into the western sun. Kuka ngaanampa – our meat. And we dance and dance. And we sing.

WOMEN SINGING: Kuniya, kuniya mirara wananu.

LITTLE SISTER: We are all looking at the kuniya taking off.

BIG SISTER: That kuniya. He flies into the sky, towards the setting sun shimmering like a rainbow, as he heads towards Kulyuru where we follow him.

WOMEN SINGING: Ilirrmilyingka tjarrparra ngarangu.

LITTLE SISTER: From amongst the lemon grass.

WOMEN SINGING: Panaparlunala mirrarra wanangu.

LITTLE SISTER: Watching that man taking off.

[Kulyuru]

WOMEN SINGING: Kangkuru wan Yurla pini pinirra mirala.

LITTLE SISTER: Big sister, let’s stand on your shoulders and watch.

WOMEN SINGING: Nyarrata nyawa pilanaranu.

LITTLE SISTER: Look over there, something is shining.

BIG SISTER: Could be that snake fella. Now we are at Kulyuru, there on the right hand part of this painted place. Wati Nyiru’s footprints lead to where he’s sitting down in front. But where’s the kuniya, that carpet snake?

LITTLE SISTER: Let’s ask that man’s aunty, she lives here. Ask her where he went.

BIG SISTER: Look there, look there. He’s in the kaltuka, the anthill.

LITTLE SISTER: Pink one circled at the bottom centre.

BIG SISTER: But he just slides out and we chase that shimmering one on to Minyma Ngampi …

LITTLE SISTER: Which means ‘women dancing’ hopping dance.

BIG SISTER: Those big, dark footprints?

LITTLE SISTER: And up top there, that long fella snake!

BIG SISTER: That’s Minyma Ngampi site. And those white markings. You’ve seen those before, how we paint our breasts for inma. So, we dancing, dancing.

LITTLE SISTER: Digging, digging. We make a really big hole. It is like a crater now.

BIG SISTER: I poke my wana (digging stick) down after it. But the stick only goes half way, so my sister join our sticks together until we feel the snake, but out it shoots.

LITTLE SISTER: I saw it – over there!

BIG SISTER: And we’re after it again. And that man Nyiru is after us again. Come with us to that painted place over there, on the next wall where we fly again.

[Flying Sisters]

BIG SISTER: All those blue circles, that’s where we are digging and there’s Nyiru, those two ‘u’ shapes on either side. Still watching us with his spears and woomera.

LITTLE SISTER: Hey! I caught that snake fella.

SISTERS: We kill him, stripy one, cook him, in that ground oven in the middle, eat him.

LITTLE SISTER: Urgh! Funny taste.

BIG SISTER: Get very sick.

LITTLE SISTER: Makes us vomit …

BIG SISTER: That cooked kuniya.

LITTLE SISTER: Three days we stagger around leaving our white prints everywhere in the red earth.

BIG SISTER: And when we feel better we all stand together, lift up into the air, arms above our heads and fly.

LITTLE SISTER: Sucked up in the sky, our feet together, they’re flying near and above you and sung back to life by the Tjanpi Weavers, singing the ancient song.

WOMEN SINGING: Watalpitala yawilintjira pakarnu.

LITTLE SISTER: We are all catching the wind ready to fly.

WOMEN SINGING: Nganala-ngku kilipiringu.

LITTLE SISTER: At that place we became stars.

BIG SISTER: Come with us. Now we’re leaving the southern Ngaanytjarra songline to join up with the northern songline told in those paintings all along that wall around the corner.

[Wararn songline]

BIG SISTER: We been travelling ten places here all the way from Kunnamurra to Wanarn and further still.

YURLA: Lovely ladies. Eldest one ’specially. But she too smart.

LITTLE SISTER: Kunnamurra.

BIG SISTER: Marlu, the sacred kangaroo songline. And, the Seven Sisters songline. Yurla tells us:

YURLA: Don’t go that way, don’t cross that path of Marlu, our kangaroo Ancestor.

LITTLE SISTER: So we don’t.

BIG SISTER: We make camp …

LITTLE SISTER: Clear a site for dancing …

BIG SISTER: Make tracks …

LITTLE SISTER: Make plenty rock holes with our digging sticks.

BIG SISTER: Out on country you can see …

LITTLE SISTER: Many fella rock holes, this place.

BIG SISTER: Fly away, stopping at many places along the way. We arrive outside Wanarn at Kunangurra.

LITTLE SISTER: Come with us to another place along here.

BIG SISTER: Yellow and black and purple one. It shows where we pull up next.

[Kunangurra]

BIG SISTER: This place is near Wanarn, here.

LITTLE SISTER: Kunangurra.

BIG SISTER: Good place.

LITTLE SISTER: Waterhole.

BIG SISTER: Could stay long time …

LITTLE SISTER: But it can’t be.

BIG SISTER: Same old, same old fella we fly from. It shows where we build our wiltja, shelter, now a cave. That man sees our smoke from our fire and finds us.

YURLA: Ah-ha!

BIG SISTER: He is lurking. He has pukurti – his hair curled up in a knot on top of his head, in that photo there.

LITTLE SISTER: Hides magic tools in there.

YURLA: To make that eldest one love me, elpintji, make all those ones love me.

LITTLE SISTER: Sister, that fella after you!

BIG SISTER: Yeah, singing out, telling me I’m the loveliest.

YURLA: I make my move.

BIG SISTER: Blocking the cave entrance, plunging his digging stick into the side to catch us that way. There’s a big hole in that cave wall now.

LITTLE SISTER: Can’t trap us.

BIG SISTER: Can’t catch us. We keep moving.

LITTLE SISTER: Follow us to the other painted places all along here, all our story. On the way we’ve got more adventures. Come.

BIG SISTER: Scary fella. Keep in our tracks and have a look at that real tall one, all alone. It has whole mob of Wanarn stories, all the sites. Keep up with us now.

LITTLE SISTER: All the way to Wanarn Hill, he’s on our tail.

BIG SISTER: We must have water.

LITTLE SISTER: See yirl yirl – wasps – collecting mud.

BIG SISTER: That’s a sign, there’s water there!

LITTLE SISTER: We dig the soak.

BIG SISTER: Water comes clean …

LITTLE SISTER: So we can drink …

BIG SISTER: And rest.

LITTLE SISTER: But not for long. Guess why?

BIG SISTER: Hiding, dodging, running, flying. He’s here, there, everywhere. We must move on and this move takes us to over to the middle painting on that far wall. See it? We’re gonna fly, so we’ll meet you there.

[Tjantu Paltju Pungkutja]

LITTLE SISTER: This good one eh? We sit down here. Have some tucker.

BIG SISTER: Before we dance, we sit and prepare food. [At] Tjantu Paltju Pungkutja, that’s yellow fruit we collect. We smash those berries to a paste, get rid of the sour taste. See us with those berries up top right here.

LITTLE SISTER: Belly still rumbling.

BIG SISTER: Follow our tracks, white ones, as we go on and on across the dunes. Stop by this wira – desert oak – soaking up its cool shade.

YURLA: Wherever they are, I’m watching, waiting. They sit under me, in my shade. I’ve lured them closer, but …

LITTLE SISTER: Hey wait!

BIG SISTER: Over here! Look what I got!

LITTLE SISTER: A little mouse.

BIG SISTER: Let’s sit. We eat, we laugh and sing and dance. We’re standing up there, dancing. Then the journey goes on past Warakurna to the north and still further.

[Last songs]

BIG SISTER: In this space your tracking of the Seven Sisters songlines must end. But the Seven Sisters story itself never ends. Their story continues in country, and above in the Pleiades and Orion, coming to life every night, animating country. This is the end of your journey through the Songlines exhibition.

LITTLE SISTER: It is also the end of life’s journey for these custodians of the Seven Sisters – who left their final marks here – as they journey from the terrestrial to the Ancestral realm of the Seven Sisters Tjurkurrpa.

Gone are the grand gestures, the monumental paintings of an epic saga, the full-bodied colour, the detail, energy and passion of the pursuit of love, lust, comedy and fear. What remains is the potency of the essence of the Tjukurrpa, the Dreaming.

BIG SISTER: What remains is the knowledge embodied in the landscape and passed on to the next generations to carry forward through their stories and their art. These paintings can grip our soul with only the slightest of marks on the canvas, with only a gesture of the infinite knowledge they represent.

SISTERS: They whisper the Tjukurrpa.

Date published: 30 November 2017