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Songlines: The power and promise (Margo Neale & Lynne Kelly, Thames & Hudson)

The first in a series of six books introducing Indigenous knowledges, Songlines: The power and promise explains the use of mnemonics, or memory systems, in Aboriginal culture. Songlines archive knowledge in the landscape and are often associated with major ancestral beings, animals, natural elements or even contemporary events. For example, a landslide of red rocks may tell of a bloody ancestral battle. In this way, Songlines, with their additional use of art and song, are a form of writing. Deep forms of knowledge are written into Country and passed on from one generation to the next. We know this system is powerful because of its longevity, with stories maintained over tens of thousands of years. Ensuring the accuracy of information relies on a system of checks and balances: stories, songs and answers are owned, and ownership is not granted to a person until they clearly understand what they have been taught. In an oral culture, information is strongly protected. With its use of personal story, history, art and even neuroscience, Songlines generously invites the reader to expand their consciousness with memory practices that are older than the Western Bible. It is an instructive and enjoyable primer that will appeal to the scholar and lay reader alike.

Chris Saliba is a co-owner of North Melbourne Books and a freelance reviewer.


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