Dreamtime Story: The Seven Sisters

Josephine Mick, Ninuku Arts sourced from National Museum of Australia

The Seven Sisters Dreamtime story is widely known by First Nations Peoples across Australia and is one with many names and variations. Most commonly it is referred to as Kungkarangkalpa and is a significant creation story for Desert People. Throughout all the variations of the story, the theme remains constant. It is a story of a forbidden pursuit and a daring escape, of desire, magic and family bonds.

This dreamtime story is a songline that stretches across Australia. You can read more about Travelling Across Australia Through Indigenous Songlines in our blog post here.

Sourced from Museum Contemporary Art Australia

The Seven Sisters are ancestral beings, they were sky people who descended on the earth and were then pursued by a group of men. For the men it had been the first time they ever laid eyes on women and they were taken by desire. The women had managed to escape by beating them with their digging sticks. They then met an evil spirit man and sorcerer known as “Wati Nyiru” or “Yurlu” who had been following them. Yurlu was so deeply in love with the sisters and wished to take one of the sisters as a wife. However the union was forbidden according to traditional lore as he was not of the correct skin group. In Aboriginal culture skin groups indicate a person's bloodline, with people of the same group considered siblings. Marriage to particular skin groups was forbidden to stop incestual relationships.

Yurlu was persistent and pursued the Seven Sisters across the land. He tried to capture them using his many tricks and shapeshifting. One of the sisters was taken at a site known as Pangkapini however the sisters managed to rescue her. Yurlu then tried to capture five of the sisters again but they all managed to escape. It is said that the seven sisters were followed from Pirilyi to Puyatu (Cave Hill) waterhole where there was a cave that the sisters sought refuge in, camping there for the night. Yurlu however was there spying on the sisters. There is a stone mound at the site today which is believed to be Yurlu spying on the women. The women escaped the cave by using their digging sticks to dig a hole at the back of the cave.

Overcome with desire for the women and using sorcery it has been said that Yurlu sent his phallic to chase after the sisters in the form of a carpet snake. The snake slithered over the rocks and into the waterhole where the sisters found it. Thinking the snake was good for eating the sisters grabbed the snake however, Yurlu was trailing after them waiting to capture them and retrieve his snake. The seven sisters threw the snake away before he could capture them and it flew away into the horizon. In some versions Yurlu’s desire is referred to as the wind that chases them.


The Seven Sisters Flying, Tjanpi Desert Weavers sourced from National Museum Australia

The pursuit spread across the deserts of Australia, crossing the land of the Martu, the Anangu, Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara and Ngaanyatjarra people. The story teaches vital skills and lessons of surviving the land, of changing seasons and talks of creation with the sisters having formed part of the landscape, water holes and springs as they fled from Yurlu. It also teaches us of the bonds of family and relationships. The story ends with the 7 sisters taking refuge in the sky, however the trickster followed them and the pursuit continues today as we watch the Pleiades stars being chased across the night sky by the Orion constellation. 

Sourced from Japingka Aboriginal Art

For more information and to view the Seven Sisters interactive exhibit at the National Museum of Art click here

We at Yarn, acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land and sea. We pay our respect to all Elders, past, present and emerging.