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Video clip synopsis – Various clan groups extending across the land were linked by networks of songs containing aspects of cultural heritage, mythology and identity.
Year of production - 2008
Duration - 1min 44sec
Tags - aborigines, Australian landscape, beliefs, communities, continuity, identity, Indigenous Australia, indigenous cultures, land, maps, mythology, oral history, symbols and symbolism, terra nullius, The Dreaming, see all tags

play Warning - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers should exercise caution when watching this program as it may contain images of deceased persons.

The Songlines

How to Download the Video Clip

To download a free copy of this Video Clip choose from the options below. These require the free Quicktime Player.

download clip icon Premium MP4 songlines_pr.mp4 (12.8MB).

ipod icon Broadband MP4 songlines_bb.mp4 (6.0MB), suitable for iPods and computer downloads.

Additional help.

About the Video Clip


The Songlines is a video clip from the documentary series and website First Australians produced in 2008 by Blackfella Films for SBS Television. First Australians chronicles the birth of contemporary Australia as never told before, from the perspective of its first people. First Australians explores what unfolds when the oldest living culture in the world is overrun by the world’s greatest empire.

Curriculum Focus


Students will:

  • discuss and reflect upon the historical and contemporary relevance of indigenous Australian culture as expressed through an awareness of songlines.
  • discuss and individually write an analytical commentary of the video media presentation as it applies to songlines.
  • work collaboratively to carry out further research and to apply their learning to constructing a media display.
  • plan and create a written or oral presentation, applying an awareness of what has been learnt to an imagined scenario, expressed from a consistent viewpoint.

Background Information


The Songlines should be viewed in conjunction with other First Australians video clips, offering an insight into the life and culture of indigenous Australians before the arrival of European settlers in the late 18th century.

This video clip describes how various clan groups extending across the land were linked by networks of songs containing aspects of cultural heritage, mythology and identity. Video clips The Rainbow Serpent, European Observers and Trade Routes help to complement and broaden our awareness of this powerful yet fragile concept of an “invisible” pathway of interconnected cultural laws, customs and history that bonded Aboriginal peoples and nations from one part of the continent to another.

The ‘songlines’ were as important to the daily existence of indigenous Australians as the ceremonial trade routes and the stories that described the Australian landscape. The fragility of the relationship between these elements refers to the threat placed on them by the arrival of the European settlers and the consequent threat of destruction of the ancient ways of life.

For their part, the settlers believed the land to be terra nullius, empty of human culture and civilisation. The land was fenced into European-style farms and towns were built. In the late 19th century and into the 20th century, cultural interconnections and communication across the land were further placed under threat of extinction. Indigenous peoples were moved into state-organised settlements, and were not allowed to travel without permission, as citizens, from one place to another.

Under these circumstances a civilisation can wither. These state-based laws of control over the indigenous population threatened the existence of its cultural traditions and were repealed after the 1967 Referendum. It is only in recent decades that the long-term damage has been realised.

Classroom Activities

  1. From the video clip on The Songlines discuss in class then write responses to the following:
    1. What is a songline? Explain how it can be interpreted as a network or a ‘dreaming track’ across the Australian landscape.
    2. In what way are songlines also a non-visual form of land map (in contrast to, for example, a visual road map)?
    3. Why were some songline tracks broken and lost? What might be the long-term effect of this on an indigenous community?
  2. Discuss in class then write a short commentary about how the video clip visually represents the concept and extent of songlines. Also comment on the way the physical geographical locations change from shot to shot to form a consistent pattern of movement that is connected to the information from the narration voice-over.
  3. Working in pairs or small groups, devise and construct on poster display paper, or in a web page or desktop publishing document, the concept of a songline. Carrying out further research you may wish to apply your display to your own region or locality.
  4. Either individually or in pairs plan and write a short fiction story, or deliver orally a poem or song to an audience, examining the effect on a community of an event such as the re-routing and damming of a river, the mining for natural minerals, the clearing of land for European-style farming, or the construction of a long, straight bitumen roadway, or a rail line. The presentation should be narrated from an indigenous viewpoint.

Further Resources


Go to First Australians
Go to: Digital Songlines website
Go to: Max Stuart, Arrernte/Luritja Nation