In our new release historical adventure WHITE SPIRIT (A novel based on a true story), set in 19th Century Australia, escaped Irish convict John Graham finds sanctuary with the Kabi, a primitive tribe of Aborigines who have never seen a white man. During his time with the clan members, John marvels at their uncanny ability to navigate the landscape by following the mysterious Songlines – tracks left by their spirit ancestors from the Dreaming.
We refer to the Songlines in the following excerpts from White Spirit. To set the scene, John Graham finds himself in the company of Mamba, a fetching young widow who believes him to be Moilow, her deceased husband who has returned to her in the form of a white spirit. They and the other clan members are relocating to new hunting grounds…
Mamba was currently singing to herself – something John had observed her do often, especially whilst walking. He found the melody enchanting, captivating even, and though he could understand little of what she sang about, it nevertheless strangely resonated with him. For reasons he couldn’t explain, it made him feel at one with nature.
“What do you sing about, Mamba?” he enquired, speaking slowly so that she would get the gist of what he was asking.
The young woman smiled patiently and then rolled her eyes in mock exasperation – as if to say this was something John should know. “Why you ask…such thing…Moilow?” she asked in pigeon English. “Surely remember…the Songlines.”
John just shrugged. He had heard her and others often talk about something they called the Songlines, but still he didn’t know what they were.
When Mamba saw that her man looked genuinely bemused, she reverted to her native tongue. “You know we sing to the land and its sacred landmarks because it is alive,” she said. “Our ancestors have told us it is so, remember? The Songlines allow us to follow the paths left by our spirit ancestors from the Dreamtime.” She paused to assess whether John understood.
The Irishman had heard Mirritji speak of the Dreamtime. He understood it no more than he did the Songlines, but he knew better than to dismiss it as twaddle, so he nodded to indicate he was following her so far.
Encouraged, Mamba continued, “By following the…Dreaming Tracks…we walk in footprints of those…who went before us…and so we journey safely…and never get lost.”
That bit John did understand. He had long observed the Kabi never seemed to lose their way, not even when venturing into foreign territories never before visited. He’d learned that for their initiation, the clan’s boys went bush, as they called it, armed only with a spear and often trekking hundreds of miles into the interior – an age-old ritual which, if they survived, formally ushered them into manhood. On occasion, they didn’t return. Not because they’d become lost, he’d been assured, but because some other catastrophe had befallen them. More often than not, that catastrophe was a failure to find food or water, or falling foul of enemies of the Kabi. Whatever the reason, the end result was usually death…
And later, during another trek to yet another campsite…
John noticed Mamba’s eyes were now fixed on a craggy, bush-covered hill to their left, and she began singing louder and with more feeling. He remembered seeing the hill once before – this time last year to be precise – and he recalled Mamba had told him it was the place where her father had died. He could see tears now rolled down her face, and he wanted to comfort her, but he resisted because he had learned she didn’t appreciate being distracted at such times.
Since Mamba had first told him about the Songlines, John had imagined more than once he could hear them singing back to him. It only happened when he was alone, and then only very occasionally. Once, quite recently, it had seemed so real he’d mentioned it to Mirritji. John had half expected the elder to laugh at him, but Mirritji had assured him it was the Songlines he’d heard. He remembered advising the old man that he couldn’t understand the words of the song. Mirritji had smiled and said, “The language of the Songlines is in the rhythm of the song, not the words, Moilow. The rhythm is an echo of the sky and of the land below. Listening to it, or singing it, guarantees you always have a path to follow.”
“I can make no sense of the sound I hear,” John had complained.
“You must clear your mind and listen harder, Moilow,” Mirritji had patiently advised. “The Songlines guided you back to us. They will guide you again.”
The next time John thought he heard the Songlines, he took the elder’s advice and listened harder, but still he could make no sense of the sound. Yet he found it comforting.
WHITE SPIRIT (A novel based on a true story) is exclusive to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/White-Spirit-novel-based-story-ebook/dp/B01LWIRH9J/
As a footnote, it seems very likely the Aborigines’ oneness with the Songlines endures to this day. Their tracking abilities are second-to-none, and their ability to survive in the harsh Outback of Australia defies explanation.