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07 NOVEMBER 2014

Songlines: How Indigenous Australians Use Music to Mark Geography

"There are many different methods of pre–literate navigation that have been documented around the world. One of the most unique, a fusion of navigation and oral mythological storytelling, originated among the indigenous peoples of Australia, who navigated their way across the land using paths called songlines or dreaming tracks. In Aboriginal mythology, a songline is a myth based around localised 'creator–beings' during the Dreaming, the indigenous Australian embodiment of the creation of the Earth. Each songline explains the route followed by the creator–being during the course of the myth. The path of each creator–being is marked in sung lyrics. One navigates across the land by repeating the words of the song or re–enacting the story through dance, which in the course of telling the story also describe the location of various landmarks on the landscape (e.g. rock formations, watering holes, rivers, trees). In some cases, the paths of the creator–beings are said to be evident from their marks on the land (petrosomatoglyphs), such as large depressions in the land which are said to be their footprints (parallels can certainly be seen in some North American First Nation creation stories).

Songlines often came in sequences, much like a symphony or album today. By singing a song cycle in the appropriate order could navigate vast distances, often travelling through the deserts of Australia's interior (a fact which amazed early anthropologists who were stunned by Aborigines that frequently walked across hundreds of kilometres of desert picking out tiny features along the way without error). Each group had its own set of songlines that were passed from generation to generation so that future generations would know how to navigate when in neighbouring tribes' territories. The extensive system of songlines in Australia varied in length from a few kilometres to hundreds of kilometres in length crossing through lands of many different Indigenous peoples. Since a songline can span the lands of several different language groups, different parts of some songlines were in different languages corresponding to the region the songline was navigating through at the time, and thus could only be fully understood by a person speaking all of the languages in the song."

(The Basement Geographer, 21 October 2010)

Fig.1 "What are song lines?" Colin Jones, lecturer in Aboriginal History, talks about his culture, his history and his art. Queensland Rural Medical Education.



Aboriginal mythologyancestral beings • ancestral heroes • animist belief systemAustralia • Colin Jones • creation narrative • creation spirits • Creator Beingscultural memory • cultural webs of memory • dreaming (spirituality) • dreaming tracks • earth motherFirst AustraliansFirst Nations • genii loci • geographical point • Indigenous Australians • kin-grouping system • kinship • landmarkslandscapelocationmappingmarkers • mythological storytelling • navigation systemnavigational methodsoral historiesorientationorigin myth • paths • petrosomatoglyph • place • point-to-point • pre-literate navigation • pre-literate societiessequences and spatial practisessmooth space • song cycle • songlinesspatial literacyspatial narrativespiritualitysymbolic placeterritorytimeless timetopology • totemic ancestors • voice map • watering holewayfinding


Simon Perkins
27 MARCH 2011

Wisdom of the Masses' perception of the web, can in some cases promote content perceived to be useless over content perceived as useful

"According to the 'long tail' principle, ICT innovations in content creation and distribution such as virtual inventories, Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) and other types of video on demand, music self–publishing in social networking sites and digital printing challenge old rationales that justified the adoption of mass–market models for the production and publication of cultural goods. These technologies dissolve the spatial and physical constraints which limited the range of creative content goods available in the market and open the gates for a flood of new (and old) media. In doing so they have created a new problem, of a navigational nature: in principle, diversity enables access to content goods better suited to a customer's preferences, but it also makes finding them more difficult (194).

The main reason for the success of Google's search services has been its ability to address Internet users' need for relevant resources, by adopting a scalable algorithm that establishes a webpage's rank according to its reputation. However, its user interface is still too rigid and makes it difficult, for example, to fully specify the type of content a user is looking for. Additionally, this technique, based on a 'Wisdom of the Masses' perception of the web, can in some cases promote content perceived to be useless over content perceived as useful, and be tampered with through search optimisation techniques such as link farming (195)."

(Juan Mateos–Garcia, Aldo Geuna and W. Edward Steinmueller, 2008, p.85)

194: In a context where information is abundant, attention becomes the scarce resource (Simon, H. A. 1971, 'Designing Organizations for an Information–Rich World', in Martin Greenberger, Computers, Communication, and the Public Interest, Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Pres).

195: i.e. exchanging reciprocal links with web sites in order to increase search engine optimization, as search engines often rank sites according to, among other things, the quantity of sites that link to them.

Fig.1 Perry Ogden (2003). 'Bono with Louis Le Brocquy'.

2). Fabienne Abadie, Ioannis Maghiros, and Corina Pascu (editors) 2008 'The Future Evolution of the Creative Content Industries: Three Discussion Papers', Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, EUR 23633 EN – 2008



2007 • consumer demand • content creationcontent distributioncreative content • creative content sector • creative goods • cultural goods • cultural spacesdigital printingdiscoverabilitydiscussion paper • dominant business models • EPIS06 • ETEPS • Europe • European Perspectives on the Information Society • European Techno-Economic Policy Support • evolutionevolution of ICTGoogle IncICTinnovation • Institute for Prospective Technological Studies • Internet Protocol Television • IPTS • IPTV • Joint Research Centre • JRC • link farming • long tail • mass production • mass-market models • metadata • music self-publishing • navigationnavigation systemnetworkold mediapolicy makerspolicy makingpopular votepopularity rankingproductionpublicationrecommendationrepositoryreputation • scalable algorithm • searchsearch engine optimisationsearch servicesocial networking • strategic intelligence • The Institute for Prospective Technological Studies • video on demandvirtual inventories • webpage rank • wisdom of the masses


Simon Perkins

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