Songlines of the HERE+NOW

Tanya Houghton


Australia; Australian Capital Territory, Australia; South Australia, Australia

Songlines; Ancient Aboriginal maps passed on through song, story or dance.

When sung these songs describe landmarks lining the route of a journey. These

songlines allow the traveller to navigate their way across vast distances of the

Australian landscape. In doing so, these travellers keep the sacred land alive.

Houghton’s practice focuses on the connection between humans and the

landscape, comparisons between the past and present. Immersed in the spaces she works, Houghton gathers stories formed in the landscape and in return

retranslates the stories that those landscapes reveal about us.

Inspired by the mythology surrounding Aboriginal Songlines, Houghton went

walkabout, alone, across Australia to explore the deep-rooted connection

Australia’s inhabitants form to the landscape they call home. Covering a total of

10,500 km, she collected scattered stories and imprinted memories strewn over

the Australian landscape. Gaining a deeper understanding of the Country’s past,

and of the Indigenous’ sacred connection to the land that has been their home for

thousands of years.

Giving no weight to any one persons, physical representations of individuals

encountered were removed, stories shared are represented through the landscape

in which they were created. Houghton takes into account two conflicting

devotions to the landscape; that of the Indigenous and of contemporary

commercialisation of space through land tourism. Despite the tenuous past of the

nation, there is a shared love of the land, both past and present. It is this parallel

that Houghton aims to highlight with in the work.

Songlines of the Here+Now is a homage to the Indigenous peoples of Australia, a

record of a journey, a collection of landscapes and still-lifes, stories and natural

interventions that explore human experience through listening to the language of

the Australian landscape.

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  • Salt and Pepper Mountain -
    Papa Kutjara, known as Salt and Pepper or Two dogs to non-indigenous. They sit nestled in the Kanku; Breakaways Conservations site, aboriginal owned and a registered aboriginal heritage site.

  • The Ruins -
    Australia day is one of the largest public holidays in the Australian summer calendar. The majority of the population spend the holiday camping or with family and friends. Recently there has been country wide protests about the renaming of the date to Invasion day, with the 26th of January marking the day when the first fleet of British ships arrived in Australia in 1788.

  • Mining Fields, Coober Pedy -
    Coober Pedy from the Aboriginal Term "Kupa Pity" - White man in a hole, is a mining town in the desert of the Northern Territories. Once this expansive area of Australia was under the ocean. The sea minerals left behind have created a rich source of opal gems. In the summer temperatures soar to 50 degrees celsius, meaning the towns people must live in caves called dugouts underground to stay cool.

  • Motor Car Dreaming Plate -
    Crushed cars lay neatly stacked on top of each other in the junk card in Coober Pedy. Once loved by the aboriginal community in the Northern Territories, lay to rest under the scorching desert sun.

  • Songlines -
    Telephone masts line the highways in outback. Symbols of connectivity; an old technology already obsolete to most, contemporary representations of the Aboriginal Songlines, dancing across the landscape.

  • Lake Hart -
    Central Australia was originally covered by deep oceans, today vast pink salt lakes are all that remain of these oceans. Pink lakes as far as the eye can see, stretching across the outback, a stark contrast to the surrounding desert.

  • The Breakaways -
    "The Kanku-Breakaways hold great cultural and spiritual significance to our people, interwoven with its striking natural formations, plants and animals. Many features form part of our stories that weave across the landscape, extending thousands of kilometers"

  • Murryville -
    “We packed up and spent five years travelling around Australia, setting down and finding work wherever we liked. I’m originally from Rockhampton. That Landscape, no matter where you are it’s those sounds you here, right now, wherever you are that blow you away.”

  • Nimbin -
    Nightcap National Park near Nimbin contains many ancient sites of cultural significance, including ceremonial and sacred sites that are still used by local Aboriginal people today. The creeks, plants, animals and landscape of the park feature in the stories, teachings and practices of Aboriginal people that continue to be passed on today.

  • Roadside Grave -
    Scattered along the highways of the Northern Territories crosses and shrines mark the spot of car crash sites and fatalities in the desert. Testament to those that have come before, reminders of the hazards of the long stretches of straight roads.

  • Desert Rain -
    "I work on the railways, I've worked all over, even in Hong Kong, You'll never see anything as beautiful as the desert after it rains, flowers as far as the eye can, ain't nothing as beautiful as that"

  • Kata Tjuta -
    Ayres Rock, Yulara. Ayres rock sits in the middle of the Australian desert, nestled on top of the rock is a large water reservoir, a natural source of precious water in the outback. When the desert rains come, waterfalls flow down the rock, carving out channels to the watering holes below.

  • Lake Eyre -
    Central Australia is home to many pink salt lakes traces of the ocean that covered the land, traces left from ancient times. As the red of the desert fades away, the yellow haze of farming country encroaches on edges of these pink lakes.

  • Desert Honey -
    The Desert Honey flower grows wild in the bush. The men and women knew when the desert turned yellow it would be a good hunting season. They would wash the flowers in water to create a sugar drink that the men would drink before going hunting, allowing them to hunt for longer periods of time.

  • The Deadzone -
    The Deadzone also know as The Dark Point is 1.5km stretch of white sand dunes in Mungo Brush. Once home to Aboriginal settlers, traces of them can still be find on the dunes, grey ashy sand from their fires, broken glass, shells and animal bones, signs they were once there imprinted on the sand.

  • Black Fellah Lake -
    Black Fellah Lake is located in the Myall Lakes National park a place of great importance to the Indigenous people and a popular camping area for many Australians.

  • Myall Lakes -
    Myall Lakes National Park is part of the Country of the Worimi Aboriginal people, who used the area's natural resources, like freshwater lakes, the ocean and native flora and fauna to live a traditional fisher-hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Much evidence of their long connection with this Country can be seen today throughout the middens in the park. Today the area is a popular wild camping area for families.

  • I set off at five in the morning to beat the midday sun. Across the pastel coloured mountains a saw a figure coming towards me, the first person I'd seen for hours. I stopped the car as a man on a bicycle rode past me. We simply smiled at each other as he rode past me into the desert from where I'd come. It was a two hour drive to the next town.