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NMA’s Songlines in New Delhi &

Murtaza Ali Khan, Walking Through a Songline Highlights Australia’s Indigenous Heritage, The Sunday Guardian, 30 June 2024

National Museum of Australia director Katherine McMahon.

LThe immersive multimedia installation ‘Walking Through a Songline’ in New Delhi, organized by the Australian High Commission and KNMA, showcases Australia’s First Nations culture through digital technology, fostering cultural exchange and appreciation between Australia and India.

The ancient and timeless stories of Australia’s First Nations people have come alive in New Delhi with the immersive multimedia installation ‘Walking Through a Songline’ (WTAS). This captivating digital experience, organized by the Australian High Commission in India in collaboration with the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), offers a unique insight into the rich cultural heritage of the world’s oldest continuous culture. Based on a segment of the National Museum of Australia’s acclaimed exhibition ‘Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters,’ the WTAS promises to be an unforgettable journey through the spiritual, ecological, and historical knowledge of Australia’s Indigenous peoples.**

‘Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters’ is a groundbreaking exhibition that has been celebrated globally for its powerful portrayal of the Seven Sisters Dreaming tracks. Developed in 2017, this Aboriginal-led exhibition features works by over 100 artists and takes visitors on an epic journey across Australia, following the pathways of the Ancestral beings. The exhibition combines traditional art, Indigenous voices, and innovative multimedia to create a deeply immersive experience.

‘Walking Through a Songline,’ an extension of this larger exhibition, leverages digital technology to transport visitors to places of ancient significance. As National Museum of Australia director Katherine McMahon explains, “Walking through a Songline transports visitors to places of ancient significance that give privileged insights into how important knowledge was held onto and transferred by First Nations peoples of Australia.”

The arrival of the WTAS in New Delhi is a significant cultural event, highlighting the deep connections between Australia and India. Australia’s High Commissioner to India, Philip Green, emphasizes the importance of this cultural exchange: “Australia has the unique privilege of being home to the world’s oldest continuous culture and it is an honour to bring ‘Walking Through a Songline’ to Delhi in collaboration with the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. This exhibition will allow audiences to experience the ancient stories of our rich Indigenous culture and history through innovative technology. I am proud that through art, we can bring our First Nations stories and knowledge to the people of India.”

Following its opening on May 26, the WTAS has been captivating the audiences in New Delhi. It will continue to be on display till July 10 at KNMA Saket. The exhibition will then travel to Bengaluru, continuing its journey of cultural exchange and mutual understanding. The WTAS debuted in Mumbai in April 2024.

At the heart of the WTAS exhibition are the Songlines, also known as Dreaming tracks. These are pathways of knowledge that map the routes and activities of Ancestral beings as they traveled across Australia. Songlines crisscross the land, creating a network of stories that link geographical features with cultural and historical narratives. “Songlines are a vehicle for naming and locating significant sites like the location of water holes and food and for providing protocols of behavior – and passing on this information to the next generation,” says McMahon.

Songlines are not just historical records; they are living narratives that continue to play a crucial role in the cultural and spiritual life of Indigenous Australians. They encapsulate complex knowledge systems that encompass spirituality, ecology, economics, and social behavior. By experiencing the WTAS, visitors are given the opportunity to ‘walk’ the Songlines and gain a deeper understanding of their significance.

The ‘Walking Through a Songline’ exhibition is just one of the many initiatives by the National Museum of Australia to promote cultural education and understanding. As the country’s pre-eminent social history museum, the National Museum of Australia is dedicated to telling Australia’s national story, which includes over 65,000 years of First Nations history. “The National Museum explores Australia’s history and culture incorporating some 65,000 years of First Nations history and the stories of everyone who came after,” explains McMahon.

The National Museum of Australia’s commitment to cultural education is reflected in its diverse range of programs and exhibitions. These include the Great Southern Land gallery, which explores human interaction with the environment, and the Encounters Fellowships Program, which supports the professional development of emerging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural practitioners. Internationally, the National Museum of Australia’s ‘Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters’ exhibition continues to tour Europe, sharing the rich cultural heritage of Australia’s Indigenous peoples with a global audience.

Preserving and presenting the rich and diverse heritage of Australia poses unique challenges. The National Museum of Australia strives to balance the demands of preserving historical artifacts with the need to create engaging and contemporary exhibitions. “The Australian story is complex and unique, incorporating some 65,000 years of First Nations history and the stories of everyone who followed. Reflecting the breadth of this history is a challenge for all institutions charged with presenting and preserving Australia’s story. It is a challenge that both humbles and energizes us as we explore the many facets of our nation’s history,” opines McMahon.

Under McMahon’s leadership, the National Museum of Australia has undertaken several major projects that reflect this balance. These include the acquisition of the Trevor Kennedy Collection, one of the largest and most significant privately owned holdings of Australian decorative arts and historical objects, and the development of the new Discovery Centre for young visitors.

The WTAS exhibition is a testament to the power of cultural exchange in building deep and lasting connections between nations. “When nations share their culture, they learn about the experiences of people elsewhere, they open their minds and their hearts to the lives of others. It is a powerful act of friendship that can sustain deep relationships and connections over time,” avers McMahon.

As the exhibition makes its way through India, it not only showcases the rich cultural heritage of Australia’s First Nations people but also fosters a greater understanding and appreciation of this heritage among Indian audiences. Through innovative technology and immersive storytelling, ‘Walking Through a Songline’ offers a unique opportunity to experience the ancient narratives that have shaped Australia’s history and continue to influence its present.

‘Walking Through a Songline’ is more than just an exhibition; it is a celebration of the rich and diverse cultural heritage of Australia’s Indigenous peoples. By bringing this unique digital experience to India, the Australian High Commission and the National Museum of Australia are not only sharing their culture but also strengthening the bonds of friendship and mutual understanding between Australia and India. As audiences in New Delhi prepare to embark on this extraordinary journey, they will gain a deeper appreciation of the ancient stories and timeless wisdom of Australia’s First Nations people.