The attachment is the whale constellation which features in the myths.
To the Australian Aboriginals, whose traditional homelands encompass the coastal regions of the Australian continent, the powerful and boisterous whale is a beloved ancestor, shaper of the landscape, and immortal being of that timeless, instructive and never-ending epoch of creation and earthly transformation widely known as the Dreamtime or Dreaming. To the coastal tribes the whale is the all powerful Rainbow Serpent and is closely associated with the Rainbow Serpent/Snake of the inland. The whale is, as is the serpent elsewhere in the world, associated with fire, earth energy, wind, water, the sun, moon and the symbol that links all of these elements - the rainbow.
In most coastal tribal stories the whale, after arriving from his ancestral home in the Milky Way, causes the seas to rise, brings other creatures with him, and travels into a sea cave home moving inland to emerge via blowholes, caves and waterholes into the sunlight of the inland. To the 'People of the whale', blowholes, caves and waterholes were sacred because they were the aperture through which the whale ancestor made his first appearance on earth. These places were also sacred because the whale's presence continues to animate them, to pulsate from them in ways that challenge the human imagination and that permeate the natural world.
During the course of the whales land sculpting journey on and under the earth's Dreamtime surface, the whale left in its wake a sacred, eternal living essence. Rock formations, (both natural and man-made), trees, waterholes, and other features that dot the local terrain, mark these ancestral Dreamtime passages, record the dramas, and entomb many of its principal characters, as if in sleep. At the same time, these sacred places are centres of natures reproductive powers.
The whales story is a reflection of the whale 'totem' peoples Dreamtime origins, religious duties, and of the primal, cyclic, life-perpetuating processes of the natural world. On at least one level the Whale embodies the essence of nature's life force and fertility, in particular the fertility of the waters. Consequently the items used to harvest the produce of the sea; spears, nets, baskets, and stone fish traps, are associated with and are sacred aspects of the whale mythology.
The whale clans knowledge that the local terrain is a sacred map of the whale's ancestral journey gives them an extraordinary sense of participation in the workings of local ecosystems. The initiated members of the clans could communicate directly through ritual and 'prayer', with the forces of nature. Radiating out from the sacred whale dreaming places along the Dreamtime trails of the ancestral whale are indelible geographic points, where the aboriginals understanding of the Creation Time connection between the land and nature's mysterious regenerative powers allows them to work in harmony with the forces of fertility at these locations.
During the whales treks across the landscape, he left a trail of words and musical notes as well as indelible physical footprints, permanently etching the whales story in the earth. Generations later, by devoutly singing the appropriate sacred song, a totemic clansman could reliably navigate for days along these great Dreamtime tracks. In the process, the land would be rejuvenated, memories of totemic ancestors would be rekindled, and reunions with faraway kinsmen would take place along the ancient Dreamtime trails of stone, story and song. In one sense the whole of Australia could be read as a musical score of songlines. The songlines could, in a sense, be visualized as a serpent, writhing this way and that, in which every 'episode' was readable in terms of geology and natural phenomena.
Beyond lending a sense of spirituality and cosmic order within the aboriginal world, these ancient beliefs convey genuine ecological insights into the working of nature. Stories of the Dreamtime travels of the whale reveal a sophisticated grasp of whale ecology. Maps of the whales journeys, breathing life and form into the landscape as he went, correspond with uncanny precision to maps of the preferred habitats of the whale that have recently been painstakingly assembled by detailed aerial and ground based scientific study.
Traditional aboriginal beliefs about the sacred sites of the Whale Dreaming represent a remarkable fusion of ecological and spiritual knowledge. They encode genuine ecological truths about the population dynamics and location data, with sacred places corresponding to prime whale breeding habitat and with places where whales 'like to linger'. In fact, one of the Mirning tribes names for the Southern Right Whale, Numbadda, means "to hang around wanting something", reflecting this species tendency to favour particular locations to mate, give birth and rear calves or just linger close to shore. At the same time, unlike sterile scientific findings, they contain a moral code mandating irrevocable human responsibility to honour and nurture the precious, life-sustaining whale populations and nature in general.
The following stories exemplify the special place these sacred whales had in aboriginal culture. Some of the stories have only recently been documented and have never appeared in print prior to this publication. Variations of these whale stories are to be found all around Australia, with the following versions being made available by the Mirning and Ngarrindjeri tribal councils for publication.