Stories in Culture

The words “stories” or “Dreamtime” cannot fully convey the importance of cultural understanding. These words are short-hand. They’re abbreviations.

What has been called “Dreamtime” carries information about history, tribal boundaries, spirituality, food, shelter, relationships, survival, creation, continuation, connections and much more.

People still maintain the complex systems of knowledge that have existed for millennia. This knowledge is alive in the land and in people themselves.

Painting is just one of the ways to communicate culture. Story, song, dance, art, country, kinship, language: all of these help communicate cultural understanding and continue its survival. Ever adapting, now technology communicates culture as well.


“A lot of our paintings are about stories. We are sharing those paintings so you can look at our culture, but you can only know a story if you are connected to it, if you have the right to know it through your kinship and the country your family belongs to. In our art, you can see that the stories are still here. They have survived, like us. We haven’t forgotten them.”

Patricia Perrurle Ansell Dodds (Arrernte-Anmatyerre woman, teacher and artist) in conversation


“When the old people called our Altyerrenge Stories “Dreamtimes” to the first alherntere mape they probably said it in a way that the warlperle [white people] could understand it. … we didn’t realise that by putting it like that, “in the Dreamtime, that’s how it happened”, that warlperles would see our Traditional Stories as just like their own fairy stories that begin “once upon a time”. But they’re not like that. …

It’s not a dream, like a fairytale dream, it’s a Traditional Story, that is in us. … Altyerrenge doesn’t mean the olden days, it means always was, and nowadays as well. …

But when our people say “Altyerre ante Arrwekelenye Mapele-arle”, itne ileme nhenge layake, that means the First People. That’s what they mean. Those First People, part of them’s in the Land itself, here now, not just in the olden time. But only people there can arerle [see properly]. Apmereke artweye mapele ware alhengke-arerlte aneme. Only the people belonging to that Land can recognise them there. …

Arrwekelenye yanhe rarle alpeke rarle.
Alpeke-arle rarle ayeye angkweye-arle
alpeke-arle rarle yanhe re akwete aneme.

It was back;
it went back a long time ago;
it’s still today.
People hear it and see it.”

Used with permission of Margaret Kemarre Turner OAM, from her book compiled by Barry McDonald with additional translations by Veronica Perrurle Dobson. Iwenhe Tyerrtye – what it means to be an Aboriginal person. IAD Press, 2010. Pp. 46-48


“All those stories were told and kept for us. To be able to hand it over to the younger ones. I got it all up here. I learned it all from my Grandmother and Grandfather, when I was this high. But I still got it all up here. From way back then. I’m over 70 now, and white on top. But I still remember it.”

Peter Peltharre Wallace “Coco”, Eastern and Central Arrernte man, in conversation

Jessie Peterson, Barkly Arts
Jessie Peterson, Barkly Arts
Medicine Space Hero