Follow the Song Lines
The Gulf of Carpentaria is etched with song lines. They weave across the rust-red earth and skate along the deep
cerulean sea, uniting the clans dispersed along its shores. All the way from Groote Eylandt to Bickerton Island to
the East Arnhem mainland they go, tracing the route taken by creation ancestors as they sang their dreaming
across the land.
“There are so many stories down here,” says anthropologist Hugh Bland. “Maybe one day it’ll have World Heritage listing.” We’re gathered around an unfurled map close to Leske Pools on Groote Eylandt’s southwest side. Traditional owners Jonathan Nunggumajbarr and Ronald Wurrawilya run their fingers across the ridges and valleys of their homeland, picking out familiar landmarks, such as the townships of Angurugu, Alyangula and Umbakumba, where Englishman Fred Gray traded trepangs (sea cucumbers) in the 1930s, and where Qantas flying boats would stop to refuel during World War II; the islands scattered like crumbs about the archipelago; the beaches of South Point that stretch long and empty into the gulf.
Bland points to two legends stamped upon the map: a squat caterpillar dreaming and, close by, a more elongated snake dreaming. The snake could hear the caterpillar murmuring, Bland says. He knew that theirs was a poison relationship, and so he stopped dead in his tracks.