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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, culture, identity, Indigenous Australia, indigenous cultures, land, maps, mythology, oral history, symbols and symbolism, 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

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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 a video media presentation of a history subject, and formulate workable alternatives suitable to other kinds of media.
  • work collaboratively to carry out further research and to apply their learning to constructing a media display.
  • extrapolate researched information to plan and construct an argued position based on historical precedent, relevant to contemporary society.

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 whether the video clip adequately represents, in visual form, the concept and extent of songlines. What modifications or alternatives to this form of presentation would you make if you were writing about the prehistory of songlines for a book or magazine, and why?
  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, or to the paths led by particular mythic beings from The Dreaming as they travelled across areas of Australia, creating geographical formations as they went, which may still be observed in the landscape today.
  4. Carry out research then discuss in class whether, from an historical perspective, a songline handed down through the generations to indigenous peoples in a particular region or locality constitutes a “document” of legal land ownership. Is it possible for this to co-exist with current Australian laws and regulations governing land ownership, based on historical European concepts of land ownership? After discussion, consider then write your own argued position, providing evidence and examples where possible.

Further Resources


Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines, Picador, London, 1987

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