An A-Z spanning history of the Australian Aboriginal people from the earliest legends to the present day.
There are over 300,000 Australian Aborigine people, divided into many clans, language groups and local communities. They are related by kin ties either biological or classificatory. Kinship was and is the tie which binds the communities, not only to each other, but to the stars above and the earth below and the plants, the animals, the very rocks and landscape. To the Aboriginal person, the entire universe is permeated with life - it is a living, breathing, biomass which has separated into families. There are families of stars, of trees and of animals, and these are connected to our human families. Our way of life is spiritual in that there is an interconnectedness, an interrelatedness with all existence, existence extending from the merely physical realms to the spiritual, encapsulated in the term 'the Dreaming'.
The Dreaming is a continuous process of creation which began in the long ago period called the 'Dreamtime', when the physical features of the land were formed by creative beings who were neither human or animal, but had the attributes of both. It was through the actions of these primordial attributes of both. It was through the actions of these primordial ancestors that flora and fauna, including humanity, evolved. It was also from this time and from these ancestors that rites and ceremonies came into being. Sacred places were formed, where certain actions occurred and where the ancestors left part of their energy (djang), which may be actualized in the present through rites and ceremonies to ensure that the species of creation remain abundant.
The ancestors also set in place the often complicated and formal kinship system, to which all the species of creation belong. This order has survived in many Aboriginal communities to this day. It was and is never exclusive, so outsiders may be adopted into the structure and given a place and a family designation which impose obligations as a family member. Thus, before the coming of the British, Indonesian persons who visited the northern shores of Australia were taken into the kinship system. When the British settlers came, those who established friendly relations were also taken into the family groups. It is because of this non-exclusivity that the blood which flows through our veins is a mixture of Malay-Chinese, European and any others who have been taken into our kinship system.
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Aboriginal people believe that they have lived in Australia from the beginning of all things and archaeologists have dated the human occupancy of Australia back many tens of thousands of years to the time when Australia was part of a huge mass of land connected with New guinea and parts of Asia. This has been named Gondwanaland and identified with the ancient legendary continent of Mu. So it may be said that the Aboriginal people's occupancy of this great south land really does extend back to the Dreamtime. The culture and physique of the Australian Aborigines reflect the environment of Australia with its many climates and terrains, the stark beauty of its deserts and the overabundance of its rainforests. An Aboriginal population map of Australia shows the people spread across the land in small bands of hunters and gatherers, moving with the seasons or when necessity demanded and remaining stationary for long periods when food was plentiful. The people can be roughly divided into two groups: sea people, those who relied on the waters and coastline for their sustenance; and land people, those who inhabited areas away from the coasts and lived off the resources of the land. This division is also found in the mythology. Among coastal people there are stories of cultural heroes arriving from across the sea bringing new ways of thought, while among the land people ancestral and cultural heroes come from the land and either return to the land or ascend into the skies. A common trait of such ancestral and cultural heroes is the journeys they undertake, some for incredible distances, and this on foot, or under the earth, or through the air.
Each community clan or family group owned its own estate, large or small depending on the climate and environment. It was believed that their estate had been given to them at the very beginning of time, when the ancestors created the landscape and established the laws and customs which governed family and inter-family relationships. Not only had the land the laws and customs been given to the different families, but also their languages. There were once hundreds of different languages and dialects, and many people were multi-lingual, for each language, having been given to the individual family groups by the ancestors, had to be maintained by their descendants. Marriage laws played a large part in making Aborigines multi-lingual. Marriage was exogamous and women went to live with the family of the groom, who often spoke a different language. There was and still is a reciprocity between different family groups and marriage was important in maintaining, and strengthening this, especially in regard to hunting and food-gathering rights. Reciprocity networks extended across Australia and, although on occasion there were family squabbles, ceremonies such as the Rom and Fire ceremony sought to regulate the peace. Because of the huge size of Australia, however, to speak of a unified Aboriginal race is wrong to say the least. As the land, the climate, the environment varied, so did the various families living on their estates.
History was slow and even for thousands of years, though the coming and going of the ice age from 10,000 years ago must have resulted in as much change to the Aboriginal population as it did to the climate and the environment. In 1788, there occurred an event of momentous importance to all Aboriginal people a party of British soldiers and convicts under the command of Governor Phillip landed in the country of the Eora people. This first landing was followed by others at various places along the coast, and the landings turned into a veritable invasion as Aboriginal family groups found themselves deprived of their land and even shot if they tried to defend their land rights. Bloodshed and turmoil followed, with the Aboriginal population being drastically thinned out, especially along the eastern coastline, where the survivors found themselves strangers in their own land. Missionaries came to 'civilize' us. We were forbidden to speak our own languages and were collected together into reserves and missions. We were massacred and murdered everywhere and the masks of that 200-odd year history are still with us. It is only now that we are seeking self-determination for ourselves and trying to protect and revitalize our languages, culture and way of life against those who still rule us.
Many Aboriginal groups are very conservative in that they believe that laws and customs passed down from the ancestors are the best which can be followed. They are slow to accept change and if they do so, these changes must be accommodated to the belief systems passed down through the ages; what was good for the ancestors was and is good for their descendants. Thus the hunting and gathering way of life persists to this day, especially in northern and central Australia, where the British had little impact. Along the northern coastlines before the coming of the British, the Aboriginal people of Cape York traded with the Melanesian people living in the Torres Strait and New Guinea. The Melanesians planted crops and tended gardens, used bows and arrows and beat on drums. The northern Aboriginal people took the bow and arrow and the drum into their ceremonies by made no other use of them, for the hunting and gathering system worked well. In other places and among other groups, however, this way of life was quickly put an end to when our lands were taken from us.
The invasion by the British resulted in the greatest catastrophe for many Aboriginal groups since the end of the ice age and the rising of the seas. The British, unlike the earlier Malay visitors, were a non-traditional people who came to stay. They disregarded all of the Aboriginal customs and beliefs, took the land and dispossessed the Aboriginal land-owning groups whenever and wherever they wanted. It was a cruel time, a killing time. Diseases were introduced which swept the land and the remnants of our people were herded into reserves. Many died, especially in the southern temperate parts, and the stunned survivors became 'wards of the state' and were given rations of flour, sugar and tea, and allowed to eke out a miserable existence. Christian missionaries came to help us, and decided that our ceremonies, our beliefs, our rites and rituals were the work of the devil. We reeled under the onslaught, though many of us remained true to our ancestors, but it was a time of great change, great calamity, and many of our customs, languages and oral records were lost, or changed when they were written down. It is only now that we are recovering from those killing times.
Still, in our collective lives, the last 300 years is but a brief spell, a wink of an eye, and whereas the British and other invaders live from day to day, from year to year, we live from epoch to epoch. Our rich oral historical tradition reaches back to the ice age and even beyond to when the giant marsupials roamed Australia. Not only this, but our culture is considered to be one of the oldest in the world, with some of our rock art being accepted as the first known examples of human art. We still paint, we still dance, we still tell our stories, we still sing our songs, and some of our beliefs and stories are recorded in this volume. Perhaps our essential belief is that we belong to this land of Australia, that is our mother or father and that we must care for her or him. That it was given to us of old and that no one can take it away. As Bill Neidjie, a traditional owner of Kakadu National Park, declares in his book, Story about Feeling:
Thus many, if not most, of our stories and myths are land-centered, and reflect that interconnectedness with all of existence, that reciprocity between all, that should not be lost. The universe is a biomass and we must tend it, for we are the caretakers, and we are not lost souls, but parts of a whole in which everything is related. So we should not pillage and destroy, but co-operate and tolerate, nurture and care for the whole universe with its myriads of living and breathing things. The continent of Australia is vast and such was the distance, such was the number of Aboriginal family groups, that customs and languages, stories and records, vary from place to place. There are long dialect chains of language and over the links changes occur so much so that a word may reverse its meaning by the time the end of the dialect chain is reached. As for language, so it is for our customs and myths. Long myth song circles and stories travel over the land, ordering and shaping it, naming and renaming things and landmarks. Some of these myths and stories are found in this volume.
In this Web site of Australian Aboriginal mythology, it is difficult not to risk offending some groups in that secret sacred material may have been inadvertently used. An apology is given here if there is any revealing of things that should not be revealed. Care should be taken in using this Web site when Aboriginal people are present and an elder should be asked to check it out. Again, in some Aboriginal communities there is a prohibition in the use of a person's name after death. This prohibition is of varying lengths of time and I have tried to name only deceased persons after the time of mourning has passed. It is a little difficult to keep to this sanction, as it is not a universal customs and, some of our elders and relatives died. This Web site is dedicated to them. The author have sat around the campfire in dry, dusty places and in clearings in rain forests listening to their story-tellers. It is as much their book as it is the author's. "I trust I have kept to a promise I made to tell their stories so that everyone can understand a little of our culture and way of life. I near the end of this introduction with a few words from Bill Neidjie, whom I met some years ago in his country, now called Kakadu National Park:
Please note that the spelling of Aboriginal words varies quite markedly. I have tried to give the variations which are known to me. In regard to the people I have named, in Aboriginal culture, the first name is usually used and I have kept to this practice in my book, though deleting the kin term which usually precedes it."
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Aboriginal and Aborigine The words 'Aboriginal' and 'Aborigine' are used by the invaders to designate the indigenous people of Australia. They are seldom used by indigenous people themselves, who prefer their own words. These often simply mean 'people', such as Koori (south-east Australia) Nyungar (south-west Australia), Nanga (South Australia), Nyungar (south-west Australia), Nanga (South Australia), Wonghi (Western Desert), Yolngu (Arnhem Land), Murri (south Queensland) and Yamadji (Pilbara region of Western Australia). There is no Australia-wide indigenous word for the whole people, so Aboriginal and Aborigine remain in use until such a word can be found and generally accepted.
Adno-artina the gecko lizard See Parazhilna, Red ochre.
Adnyamathanha people The Adnyamathanha people are the traditional owners of the Flinders Range in south Australia. Although much of their traditional culture has been lost, or been changed drastically in response to the British invasion, a tribal revitalization programme centered on Nepabunna Aboriginal School began in 1984. The Adnyamathanha language (Yuru Ngawarla) and culture are being taught and in 1986 young Adnayamathanha people met at the Aboriginal keeping-place, Pichi Richi, in Alice Springs in central Australia, to learn about their Dreaming and associated stories. The Adnyamathanha people are symbolized by the iga, the native orange tree (Capparis mitchellii). It is related by the elders that in the Dreaming the iga tree was a man who came from Yaramangga in Queensland. He gained a wife on his travels and engaged in battle with the mulga trees. Eventually, they settled in the Flinders Range and became the ancestors of the Adnyamathanha people.
Akngwelye See Arrernte landscape of Alice Springs.
Akurra serpent The Akurra serpent deity of the Adnyamathanha people belongs to the great corpus of snake mythology which extends across Australia. The serpent is sometimes known as the rainbow snake or serpent and the Adnyamathanha Akurra serpent is similar to our Nyungar creative ancestor, the Wagyal. Adnyamathanha elders describe it as a huge water snake with a beard mane, scales and very sharp fangs. The Wagyal has been described to the author as being a huge water snake, black in colour, with a hairy neck. In the Flinders Range, as in south-western Australia, the marks of Akurra's passing are found all across the land. As with other serpents, Akurra is associated with the power of the shamans. Only they may go near him with impunity.
As in many other cultures, serpents are associated with water and rain. This association is brought out in the Adnyamathanha story:
Albert, Stephen See Baamba.
Aldebaran Aldebaran a double star in the constellation Taurus, symbolized Gallerick the rose-created cockatoo for the Koori people of Victoria. In their myth he chased the female Pleiades when on Earth and followed them into the sky. Versions of this myth are found all across Australia, with the pursuer and the women identified with different beings.
All-Fathers The All-Fathers, or the Great Father deities, form the basis of mythology in a number of Aboriginal communities and perhaps are a result of the influence of Christianity. They are primordial deities who are said to have come before the ancestors, although often the rainbow snake may be seen as the All-Father (or All-Mother) deity in the sense that all things stem from him or her.
All-Father deities have a number of features in common, for example each sent sons to Earth to carry out designs for humankind, to care for them and to punish evil doers. Some of these All-Father deities are: Biame, widely known throughout south-eastern Australia and his son Daramulun (or Gayandi); Nooralie of the Murray river area and his son Gnawdenoorte; Mungan Ngour of the Kurnai community and his son Tundun.
See also All-Mothers; Creation myths.
Altair For the Koori people of Victoria, Altair, a star in the constellation Aquila, represented Bunjil, Eaglehawk, the moiety ancestor who, it seems, evolved into an All-Father deity under the influence of Christianity. The stars to each side of him were his two wives, the black swans. Among the people of the Murray River, Altair was Totyerguil, the son of Neil-loan (Lyra), and the stars on either side were his two wives. He was killed when his mother-in-law made him fall into a waterhole. His body was recovered by Collenbitjik (the double star in Capricornus), who was his mother's brother.
Altjeringa See Dreamtime.
Ancestral beings Ancestral beings are considered to be those Dreamtime beings who shaped the world and eventually transformed into human beings, the fauna and flora that we find today. They are the great archetypes of existence and can be contacted through dreams and ceremonies. The Great Ancestral Being of the Nyungar people is considered to be the Wagyal, a primordial snake deity who formed everything and who is still with us.
See also All-Fathers; All-Mothers, Bandicoot ancestor; Creation myths; Dreamtime; Djanggawul and his two sisters myth; dogs, Dreamtime; Wandijina; Walbiri creation myth; Walkabout; women ancestral beings.
Animal behaviour Animals behaving in an unusual manner were considered by many Aboriginal communities to be the spirits of the dead or simply spirits who had possessed animal bodies in order to get close to human beings in order to harm them, though there were also friendly spirits who came in the guise of animals to warn humans of danger. These generally took the form of Dreaming (totem or moiety) animals. There are many stories of ghosts in the guise of animals. It was widely believed that shamans could turn into animals, for example Paddy roe, an elder and story-teller of the Broome area of Western Australia, relates the story of the shaman Mirdinan who escaped from prison by turning first into a cat, then an eagle-hawk.
Arcturus Arcturus the brightest star in the constellation Bootes, to the Koori people was Marpean-kurrk, mother of Djuit (Antares) and Weet kurrk (a star in Bootes). Marpean-kurrk was the ancestral being who introduced the larvae of the wood-ant as a food. During August and September, when they were in season for the Kooris, they were out of season for her and she was not visible in the sky. When Arcturus was in the north in the evening, the larvae were coming into season. When the star set with the sun (in the west), the larvae were finished and summer had begun.
Arnhem Land Arnhem Land in the far north of Australia is the home of the Yolngu people. Much of it was once a government reserve for Aboriginal people and, as it was away from the main areas of British influence, the Aboriginal culture there maintained strong links with tradition. Since the Northern Territory Land Rights Act of 1976, much of the reserve has reverted to Aboriginal control.
See also Barama and Laindjung myths; Bark paintings; Black; Bralgu; Death; Dhambidj song series of Arnhem Land; Djanggawul mythology and ceremonies; Djanggawul and his two sisters myth; Duwd moiety; fire; Great Mother; Ground carvings and sculptures; Gunabibi; Hollow log coffin; Honey Luma Luma the giant; Marwai; Mimi spirits; Morning Star song series; Mara; North-eastern Arnhem Land; red ochre; Rom ceremony of Arnhem Land; thunder Man; Wangarr; Yellow ochre; Yiritja; Yotbu Yindi; Yuendumu.
Arrernte landscape of Alice Springs Alice Springs in central Australia in the country of the Mparntwe group of the Arrente people is an example of how the Aboriginal landscape of Australia continues to endure under the buildings of a modern city. Alice Springs is situated on a flat area surrounded by bluffs, two of which are Anzac Hill and Annie Meyer Hill. From the top of Anhzac Hill to the south the Todd river passes through the city area to Ntaripe (Heavitree Gap), while eastwards there is a dip in the Heavitree Range called Anthwerrke (Emnile Gap). This is the sacred djang place where the caterpillar ancestors of Mparntwe originated. It was they who formed the landscape around Alice Springs. There were three species of caterpillar. Yepereny, Ntyarika and Utnerrengatyre, which can still be found, though because of the city enclosing their djang sites, the increase ceremonies to keep up their numbers have been abandoned. The caterpillar ancestors came from Anthwerrke and created the small ridge. Ntyarlkarle Tyaneme, behind the Desert Palms Motel. Unfortunately, this sacred ridge has been desecrated by the municipal authorities and the road, Barrett Drive, has been renamed Broken Promise Drive by the Arrernte people of Mparntwe to remind them of what happens when the sacred gets in the way of progress.
Ntaripe has other sacred sites, including one sacred to the Dog ancestor here called Akngwelye, who formed most of the features of the Mt Gillen range. The dog fought a major battle here before transforming into a boulder embedded in the ground near Akeyulerre (Billy goat Hill). This boulder now sits outside the entrance to a fast food outlet. Within the Olive Pink flora Reserve, towards the south-eastern end of the hill, near Lhere Mparntwe (Todd river), is a sign indicating the location of several Arrernte sacred places. The Arrernte people are striving to protect them in the face of determined opposition from those who wish to exploit the area for tourism. The traditional owner of the area, Thomas Stevens, has written a book about the effects of British colonization on his country called Damaging our Dreaming Land, published by the Yipirinya School Literacy Production Centre in central Australia.
See also Arrernte people.
Arrernte people The Arrernte (Aran da or Arunta) people are a large community speaking a number of dialects whose country is centred about Alice Springs in central Australia. The western Arrernte groups were concentrated in the Hermannsburg Mission, which was founded in 1877 by German missionaries. Although they fostered the use of the Arrernte language, they were against Arrernte spirituality and exorcized the main keeping place of sacred objects (tjuringa) at Manangananga cave, two kilometres north of the mission, in 1928. They conducted a Christian ceremony at this sacred place, which until then was forbidden to all but initiated men. This resulted in the disintegration for some time of Arrernte spirituality. Tjuringa were sold to tourists and sacred songs to anthropologists at a shilling a time. In the mid-1950s, however, there occurred a tribal revitalization movement which saw the resacralization of Manangananga cave. The elders of the Arrernte considered the devastating scurvy epidemic which swept the mission in 1929 to be the result of the earlier sacrilege. By the 1970s the sale of tjuringa and songs was at an end.
See also Arrernte landscape of Alice Springs.
Arta-wararlpanha (Mount Serle) Arta-wararlpanha in the Flinders Range is a sacred place of the Adeyumathanha people. In the Dreamtime it is said that it was created by two snakes. Two rocky points are said to be their heads. Arta-wararlpanha was one of the last areas of the Adnyamathanha people to hold out against the invaders and the ritual masters who led the resistance at the turn of the nineteenth century are buried there.
Aurora Australis The Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights, according to the Kurnai Koori people of Victoria, is a sign of anger from the All-Father Mungan Ngour. A myth explains why. When Mungan Ngour laid down the rules for the initiation of boys into manhood, he placed his son tundun in charge of the secret men's ceremonies. Someone divulged them to the women and Mungan Ngour became angry and a time of great chaos ensured in which people ran amok, killing one another, and the seas rushed in, flooding much of the land. This ended the Dreaming period and after this tundun and his wife became porpoises. The All-Father ascended into the sky, and if his laws and customs are disregarded he shows his anger by lighting up the sky at night.
Australian indigenous mythology Australian indigenous mythology serves many purposes and is land and people based. The mythology is encoded in stories which are handed down and if the stories are detached from the land and people, then the story is being changed to reflect other concerns. The indigenous mythology gives the history of important places. The stories account for the origins of natural phenomena: they relate how natural features of the landscape were created; how species were created; the origins of stars, mountains, rocky outcrops, waterholes and minerals. Mythology accounts for things as they are. The mythological stories are also maps - it is through story, song and sacred objects (tjuringa) that the country of a people or community is mapped and the boundaries kept in mind. Mythology is also a way of passing geographical knowledge from generation to generation, thus where the thumping kangaroo first thumped there is limestone; the goanna is associated with sandy outcrops, the kingfisher with coal; the pigeon with gold; and the crested pigeon with grinding stones. It must be emphasized that often when we we talk of animals, we are also referring back to the Dreaming ancestor from which they evolved and which they still symbolize. It is from such Dreaming ancestors that all the laws and the social organization of particular communities come. It is when this connection is lost that these stories become simple tales - 'How the echidna got its spikes' and so on. The mythology encoded in the stories is much more important than this.
Stories record the boundaries of tribal countries, and when the story or song line stops, that is the boundary. It is not that the travels of the Dreaming ancestors stopped, but that another community has custodianship of the next section of the journey and thus ownership of a particular tract or country. Stories also contain blueprints for special rituals, for rainmaking, saving sick children from death, the customs for widowhood, initiation and so on and so forth. Without the mythological sanction of a story or a corpus of stories and song lines; customs and laws have no legality. When Aboriginal traditional culture is upheld and the stories known by the community, they provide guidelines for living. They focus on social relationships and moral values and their preservation for social well-being: what was done in the Dreaming by the ancestors is to be done now. Mythology also embodies warnings for those who break the rules, gives courage in times of adversity and is a focus of community identity. A particular community has its own corpus of stories and these give social cohesion and identity. When these stories and songs extend beyond the particular community, such as the great myth circles like the Seven Sisters, the Two Men and the Melatji dogs, they unite all those communities having the same dreaming ancestors or cultural heroes. This intertribal or intercommunity identification is stressed at the important ceremonies, such as the man-making ceremonies in which many separate communities participate.
Australites Australites are small stones which have fallen from the sky world and thus have magical healing properties which are utilized by shamans for curing aches and pains such as toothache. It is said that if they are thrown into running water, they will return to their homes, the placed where they were found.
Awabakal people. The Awabakal people owned the area around the town of Newcastle in New South Wales. As with many of the peoples along the eastern seaboard their culture has been drastically modernized, with many of the old traditions changing to accommodate the way of life which came in with the invasion, through tribal revitalization movements keep aspects of the ancient customs alive.
Ayer's Rock See Uluru.
Balayang Balayang bat mythology exists only in fragments and much has been lost. Tot the Kulin people of Victoria Balayang the bat was a brother to the great Bunjil the Eaglehawk, but lived apart from him. Once, Bunjil asked him to come to where he was living, for it was a much better country, but Balayang replied that it was too dry and that Bunjil should come to where he was living. This upset Bunjil, so he sent his two helpers. Djurt-djurt the nankeen kestral and Thara the quad hawk, to Balayang. They set fire to his country and Balayhang and his children were scorched and turned black.
Because of his black colour, Balayang was associated with Crow and thus belonged to the moiety in opposition to Eaglehawk. This is in keeping with another story about Balaying which credits him with creating or finding women - and thus marriage partners - for the Eaglehawk moiety. One day Balayang was amusing himself with thumping the surface of the water and he thumped away until it thickened into mud. Something stirred and he took a bough and probed the mud. Presently he saw four hands, two heads, then two bodies. It was to women. He called one Kunnawarra, Black Swanh, and the other Kururuk, Native companion. He took them to Bunjil, who gave them as wives to the men he had crated.
Bandicoot ancestor The bandicoot ancestor myth is found among the Arrernte community. In the Dreamtime everywhere was darkness, and the bandicoot ancestor, Karoa, was lying in the earth asleep, then from him sprang a tall pole, called a tnatantja. Its bottom rested on his head and its top rose up into the sky. It was a living creature covered with a smooth skin.
Karora began thinking and from his armpits and navel burst forth bundicoots who dug themselves out from the earth just as the first sun spread light across the sky. Karora followed them. He seized two young bandicoots, cooked them and ate them. Satisfied, he laid down to sleep and while he slept from under his armpit emerged a bull-roarer. It took on human form and grew into a young man. Karora awoke and his son danced about his father. It was the very first ceremony. The son hunted for bandicoots and they cooked and ate them. Karora slept and whilst sleeping created two more sons. This went on for some time and he created many more sons. They ate up all the bandicoots which originally came forth from their father and became hungry. They hunted far and wide but could find no game. On the way back, they heard the sound of a bull-roarer. They searched for the man who might be swinging it. Suddenly something darted up from their feet and they called. There goes a sandhill wallaby!' They hurled their tjuringa sticks at it and broke its leg. The sandhill wallaby sang out that he was now lame and was a man like them, not a bandicoot. He then limped away.
The hunters continued on their way and saw their father approaching. He led them back to the waterhole. They sat on the edge of the pool and then from the east came a great flood of honey from the honeysuckle buds and engulfed them. The father remained at the soak, but his sons were swirled away to where sandhill wallaby man they had lamed waited for them. The spot became a great djang place and there the rocks which are the brothers are still grouped around a boulder which is said to be the body of the sandhill wallaby man. At the sacred waterhole where Karora is said to be lying in eternal sleep, those who come to drink from it must carry green boughs which they lay down on the banks before easing their thirst. It is said that Karora is pleased with this and smiles in his sleep.
Barama and Laindjung myths The Barama and Laindjung myths from Arnhem Land are Yiritja moiety myths which are different from the myths of the complementary Duwa moiety in that they are about ancestral spirits who came from the land rather than the sea. In fact the moieties reflect the division of the Arnhem Land people, the Yolngu, into land and sea people. Barama emerged from a waterhole at a place called Guludji near the Koolatong with tresses of freshwater weeds clinging to his arms, carrying special wooden sacred emblems called rangga (similar to tjuringa) which are made form the trunks of saplings and then are decorated. The weeds were not really weeds, but special ceremonial armbands with long feather pendants attached to them. His whole body was covered with watermarks, forming all the patterns and designs which he eventually passed on to the various Yuritja moiety groups, or clans. Barama brought to the Yiritja moiety their sacred objects and designs.
Bardon, Geoff See Papunya.
Bark paintings Putting designs on bark is but a way of passing them on to the next generation. The same designs are used in body painting, on hollow log coffins and in ground sculptures. The designs often have their origin in the sacred and come directly from the cultural heroes. All Aboriginal art that is termed 'traditional' is spiritual in that as the artist works he or she is conscious of the spiritual presence and power of the ancestral being whose story is being told or incidents from whose life are being depicted. The abstract cross-hatched designs which are natural features of many bark paintings are symbolic of a certain area or feature which came from the Great Ancestors themselves. For example Luma Luma the giant, who figures prominently in the Mardayan ceremonies at Oenpelli in Arnhem Laned, cut criss-cross patterns into his flesh, and these are used today in ceremony and also as designs on the bark paintings from this area.
Until recently, the artists used natural red and yellow ochres, white kaolin or pipeclay and black manganese or charcoal. these colours are applied to sheets of bark which have been cured and straightened over a fire. Bark painting was once practised by many Aboriginal groups, but since the invasion the tradition has lapsed in most parts of Australia. Today the most vibrant expression is in Arnhem Land. There are different styles of painting here. The artists of west Arnhem Land, which is centred around Oenpelli, the Liverpool and Alligator rivers, and the Croker and Gouolburn islands, create works which are related to the rock paintings which abound in the area, some fine examples of which may be seen in the cave galleries found in Kakadu National Park. There are two main types of painting, borh of which are figurative. One is the so-called 'X-ray style', in which the ritually significant internal organs of various animal species are depicted. The second style is of spirits such as the stick-like mini spirits.
Central Arnhem Land stretches from east of the Liverpool river and includes the settlements of Maningrida. Ramingining and the island of Milingimbi. Here the paintings are divided into a number of panels, much in the style of a storyboard or comic strip. The most common themes are episodes from the song cycles of the Wawilak sisters and Dhanggawul. North-eastern Arnhem Land includes the area around Yirrkala and a number of islands, including Galiwinku (Ekho Island), and their styles are characterized by tight geometric compositions and crosshatched patterns of great intricacy. The Tiwi people live on Bathurst and Melville Islands off the northwest coast of Darwin and most Tiwi art is concerned with the Pukamani funeral ceremonies, the elaborate and lengthy ceremonies which involve the erection of carved posts similar to totem poles (see Pukamani burial poles). Paintings are usually non-figurative, but sculpture is important here owing to the use of sculpture in the funeral ceremonies. The sculptures are usually of Purukupali, his partner Bima and Tokumbimi the bird, and the accompanying myth relates how death came to the Tiwi. See Curlews; Mundungkala; Pukamani funeral ceremonies.
See also Bark huts and shelters; Ground paintings; Papunya Tula art.
Bark huts and shelters Bark huts and shelters were perhaps the most easily erected dwellings of Aboriginal people. Depending on the environment, dwellings could be either simple constructions of sheets of bark propped up on a framework; substantial stone houses, as in chilly Victoria; sturdy miyas (or miyu miyas), sturdy dwellings constructed of boughs and leaves in an igloo shape, as in Western Australia; or a bark or palm frond but built on a raised platform to escape the floods of the rainy season in tropical Australia.
There is a Dreamtime story from the Wik Munggan people about the bush-nut husband and wife who constructed one of the first, if not the first hut when the rainy season caught them in the open. Mai Maityi (Bush-nut) husband and wife travelled upriver, hunting and gathering as they went along. The stormy season came on them and they quickly began to cut off sheets of tea-tree bark and lay them on the ground. After this, they cut stakes and placed them in the ground in a circle and tied their tops together. After this, they tied them all around and covered the framework with the sheets of bark. They lit a fire inside and took in their food. The rains came, but they were dry and snug inside.
Barra See Monsoon.
Barrier Reef The Barrier Reef, lying off the northern coast of Queensland, is one of the wonders of the world. The Aboriginal people who live along the coast have passed down stories about when the line of the Barrier Reef was the shore line and when the waters arose. In the past a man, Gunya, and his two wives were travelling by canoe. They stopped to fish and caught a fish which was taboo. this resulted in a tidal wave arising and rushing towards them. Gunya had a magic woomera or spear thrower, an instrument which gives the spear added impetus, called Balur and this warned them of the danger. Gynya placed the magic woomera upright in the prow of his canoe and it calmed the seas enough for them to reach the shore. They hurried towards the mountains and the seas followed them. They reached the top of a mountain and Gunya asked his wives to build a fire and heat some large boulders. They rolled the hot stones down at the advancing sea. It stopped there, but never returned to its original home.
Baskets and bags Aborigines' basket are important containers. although they are often called dilly bags, they are more like baskets than bags, in that they are semi-rigid, unlike the string bags which are also made. small baskets are used by men to carry sacred objects and in Aboriginal mythology they are used for such things as the storing of winds or water. Bags were also made from kangaroo skins and were used for storing water. In some stories it is the piercing of a skin bag which results in floods. There is a central Australia myth about two brothers, one who was prudent and made provision for the future by making a kangaroo skin bag and filling it with water, and the other who did not. The prudent brother refused to share his water with the other when a drought came. he left his bag and went off to hunt. The other brother, maddened by thirst, seized the bag greedily and spilt the water. It gushed out across the sand. The prudent brother saw what was happening and rushed back to save what water he could but he was too late. The water continued gushing out and filled the hollows and a depression which became part of the sea. both brothers were drowned in the flood. The birds became alarmed at the spreading flood and attempted to build a dam. They used the roots of a kurrajong tree and this tree became known as the 'water tree'. In times of drought, its roots hold water longer than other trees and can be used as an emergency water supply.
See also Pukamani funeral community.
Bathurst Island See Tiwi people.
Beehive The Beehive constellation was Coomartoorung, the smoke of the fire of Yuree and Wanjel (Castor and Pollus), two hunters who pursued, caught and then cooked Purra the kangaroo (the star Capella). When the Beehive disappeared from the sky, autumn had begun. See also Two Brothers.
Bennett's Brook Bennett's Brook is a stream near Perth, Western Australia, which is sacred to the Wagyal or rainbow snake. It is an important sacred place to many Nyungar people.
See also Bropho, Robert.
In the versions of the myth which are told today, Biame is a true creator-god. he experimented first in creating the animals then used them as models in attempts to create humankind. In the Dreamtime, animals were self-conscious and thus had all the discontents of humankind. Kangaroos became ashamed of their tails; fish felt they were imprisoned in water; birds wanted to be like the kangaroos and insects to be larger than they were. Eventually, Biame gathered all the animals together in a cave, took out all their desires and placed them in his new creature: a human being. Thus the animals lost their longings and desires. Men and women alone found themselves the discontented guardians of creation, under the care of the All-Father, who lives up in the sky world and gazes down upon his creation. The Southern Cross is the visible sign that he watches over humankind and protects us as well as punishing us when we break his laws. Biame created the laws by which humankind are meant to live; he also crEated the first bull-roarer (which when swing represents his voice) and gave the man-making ceremonies to the Aboriginal communities of south-man-making ceremonies to the Aboriginal communities of south-eastern Australia. His chief wife was the All-Mother Birrahgnooloo.
See also All-Fathers, boro circles; Crow; Curlews; Ground carvings and soulptures; Kuringgai Chase National Park; Marmoo; Narroondarie; Rainbow snake; rock engravings; Sleeping giant; Southern Cross; Uniapon, David; Yhi.
Bolung Bolung is another name for the rainbow snake among the people of the Northern Territory. Bolung takes the form of the lightning bolt which heralds the approach of the monsoon rains. he is a creative and live-giving deity and, like many of these serpent deities, inhabits deep pools of water.
Bone pointing The bone pointing ceremony in variations is found all over the continent. It is used to kill a person from a distance. The bone is usually made from the femur of a kangaroo or a human, the most powerful pointer being one from the leg of a former shaman.
The ceremony must be performed by a shaman, usually assisted by a colleague. The bone is pointed in the direction of the intended victim. It is said that a quartz crystal passes from the point and through space into the victim. The connection is made and the soul of the victim is caught and drawn into the bone through the power of the shaman. Then a lump of wax or clay is quickly attached to the point. This lump, energized by a spell, is to stop the soul escaping from the point. when the soul is caught, the bone is buried in emu feathers and native tobacco leaves. it is left in the earth for several months. At the end of this period it is dug up and burnt. As the bone turns, the victim burns along with it, becoming progressively sicker. When the bone is completely consumed, he is dead.
Boro circles The boro circles or grounds are the sacred ceremonial grounds of the Australian Aborigines. In the eastern regions they consist of a larger and smaller circular ground connected by a path. The smaller boro ground is said to represent the Sky-World where Biame has his home. It is forbidden to non-initiates. The larger ground represents the earth and is public. The ceremonies performed there are less secret. Boro circles occur all over Australia and have different names in the different languages. In regard to these circles Bill Neidijie says. This "outside" story. Anyone can listen, Kid, no matter who, but that "inside" story you can't say. If you go in a ring-place, middle of a ring-place, you not supposed to tell im anybody - but, oh, e's nice.'
Bralgu Bralgu is the Island of the Dead according to the Aboriginal people of Arnhem Land. It is said that after three days the newly deceased is moved in a canoe by Nganug, an Aboriginal Charon, across the ocean to the Island of the Dead to be greeted by other departed souls. It is said that every day, shortly before sunset, the souls at Bralgu hold a ceremony in preparation for sending the Morning Star to Arnhem Land. during the day and the greater part of the night, the Morning Star is kept in a dilly bag and guarded by a spirit woman called Malumba. The souls and spirits hold a ceremony during which much dust is kicked up. This brings the twilight and then the night to "Arnhem Land. When the time approaches for the Morning Star to begin to journey, Malumba releases it from her bag. On release, the Morning Star rises up and rests on a tall pandanus palm tree, the Dreaming tree of life and death. From there, it looks over the way it is to go, then rises, hovers over the island and ascends high into the sky. Malumba holds a string to which the star is attached so that it will not run away. When morning comes, Malumba pulls it back and puts it in her bag. See also Thunder Man.
Bropho, Robert Robert Bropho is an important member of the Nyunga people who has led the fight to protect the sacred places of Western Australia. he lives in Lockridge on the outskirts of Perth, close to Bennett's Brook, an important Dreaming place of the Nyungar. He has made films and written books to highlight the injustices of our people and to protect our sacred places.
Buda-buda See Mopaditis.
Bull-roarer A bull-roarer is a shaped and incised oval of wood, to one end of which is fastened a string. It is rapidly swung in the boro around ceremonies (see Boro circles). There are many varieties of bull-roarer and the sacredness of the object varies from area to area. When it is incised with sacred designs it becomes a sacred object known as a tjuringa or inma. In some places it may be seen by everyone; in others, especially in the south east, it may only be seen by the elders or initiated men. In some areas, northern Queensland for example, a larger bull-roarer is considered male and smaller one female. When swung, they are said to be the voices of male and female ancestors, who preside over the sacred ceremonies of initiation. The bull-roarer among the Kooris of south-eastern Australia was first made by Biame and when it is swung it is said to be his voice.
See also Duwoon; Moiya and pakapaka.
Bundjalung nation The Bundjalung people are a large Aboriginal nation, a federation of a number of groups of clans which occupy the land from the Clarence river of northern New South Wales north to the town of Ipswich in southern Queensland. The names of these groups are Aragwal, Banbai, Birbai, Galiabal, Gidabal, Gumbainggeri, Jigara, Jugambal, Jugumbir, Jungai, Minjungbal, Ngacu, Ngamba, Thungutti and Widjabal. Their ancestors are the three brothers, Mamoonh, yar Birrain and Birrung, who are said to have come from the sea. The brothers, along with their grandmother, arrived in a canoe made from the bark of a hoop pine. As they followed the coastline, they found a rich land sparsely populated. They landed at the mouth of the Clarence river and stayed there for a long time, then, leaving their grandmother behind they continued on in their canoe heading up the east coast. At one place they landed and created a spring of fresh water. They stopped along the coast at various places and populated the land. They made the laws for the Bundjalung and also the ceremonies of the boo circle.
Bungle Bungles The bungle Bungles in Western Australia is a toboo area. It covers an area of 700 square kilometres with sheer cliffs, striated walls and deep gullies. The formations were considered to be inhabited by forces inimical to life and so no Aborigines ever went there.
Bunitj See Kakadu National Park; Neidjie; Bill; Seasons.
Bunjil Bunjil the Eaglehawk ancestor is a creator ancestor of immense power and prestige to the Kooris, the modern Aboriginal peoples inhabiting what is now the state of Victoria. In the old days he was a moiety deity, or ancestor, of one half of the Kulin people of cen tral victoria.
Bunjil had two wives and a son, Binbeal, the rainbow, whose wife was the second bow of the rainbow. he is said to be assisted by six wirmums or shamans, who represent the clans of the Eaglehawk moiety. These are Djurt-djurt the nankeen kestrel, Thara the quail hawk, Yukope the parakeet, Dantum the parrot, Tadjeri the brushtail possum and Turnong the glider possum. After Bunjil had made the mountains and rivers, the flora and fauna, and given humankind the laws to live by, he gathered his wives and sons, then asked his moiety opposite. Bellin-Bellin the crow, who had charge of the winds, to open his bags and let out some wind. Bellin-Bellin opened a bag in which he kept his whirlwinds and the resulting cyclone blew great trees into the air, roots and all,. Bunjil called for a stronger wind and Bellin-Bellin obliged Bunjil and his people were whirred aloft to the sky world where he became the star Altair and his two wives, the black swans, the stars on either side. See also Eaglehawk and Crow, Melbourne.
Bunjil Narran See Shamans.
Bunyip The Bunyip, a legendary monster, supposedly of Aboriginal origin, appears to be an instance of mistaken identity. It seems to be the Meendie giant snake of Victoria who lived in the waterhole near bunkara-bunnal, or Puckapunya. The attributes of the Bunyiip are those of the rainbow snake.
Buramedigal See Eora tribe.
Burnum Burnum (1936-) is an elder of the Wurandjeri people of southern New South Wales. He is a story-teller, actor and worker for his people. In 1988 he went to England to claim that country on behalf of all Aboriginal people as compensation for the country on behalf of all Aboriginal people as compensation for the wrongs inflicted on our people by the invaders from that island. he has become well-known for popularizing a dolphin Dreaming ceremony.
Burrup peninsula Burrup peninsula in the Pilbara was owned by the Yaburara people. In the nineteenth century they were completely wiped out in what is called the Flying Foam Massacre. Their land is now cared for by the Ngarluma people.
The peninsula is a natural gallery of figures pecked into the hard rock. There are over 4,000 motifs in the area. One of the most interesting sites shows figures climbing (perhaps away from a flood?) Parraruru (Robert Churnside), now deceased relates a flood story of this region. Pulpul, Cuckoo, was then a man and lived on the peninsula. The sea began rising. He thought what to do about it. It rose and rose, then he said "Down, down." It went down and he became a bird just at that moment.
In another story from the neighbouring Jindjiaprndi people, the seas rose until they flooded the land 30 miles inland before being stopped by Pulpul. It is said that mangroves still grow there.
Byron Bay Byron Bay in northern New South Wales is close to an important woman's fertility site situated at Broken Head. Lorraine Mafi-Williams, an important women story-teller and custodian of culture, lives in the town.
Canis Major The Wotjobaluk Koori people of Victoria believed that the small star between the larger ones on the body of Canis Major was Unurgunite and the two larger ones were his wives. The one furthermost sway was the wife Muyan the moon fell in love with.
Canoes Canoes are said to have come from the ancestors of the Dreamtime, as with all weapons and artefacts.
Canopus The star Canopus, according to some groups of Koori people, was the moeity ancestor Waa (Crow). See also Rober Carol; Sirius; Taboo countries, Tasmanian creation myth.
Centaurus The constellation of Centaurus had various mythological symbolism attached to it by different Koori groups. The two stars in the forelegs of Centaurus were the Two Brothers, the Bram-Bram-Bult. They speared and killed Tjingal the emu, who is represented by the dark space between the forelegs of Centaurus and the Southern Cross. Tjingal was pursuing Bunya the possum, represented by the star at the head of the Southern Cross, when he was speared by the Bram-Bram-Bult. The Kulin community of Kooris believed that the two stars in Centaurus were two of Bunjil's shamans. Djurt-djurt and Thara, possibly the names of two clans of the Eaglehawk moiety. See also Inma boards.
Charcoal See Black.
Cherboug Aboriginal settlement Cherbourg Aboriginal settlement in Queensland is on the boarders of the countries of the Waka Waki and Kabi peoples. It is the place where the Murri poet and story-teller Lionel Fogarty was born. On Barambah Creek, a little upstream of the settlement, is a large rock which juts out into the streams. Lionel tells a story about how a strange man who was looking for his home appeared on the rock one night and called out: 'Booyou-u-u, booyu-u-u, booyubill, booyubiill, booyubill-bill-bill.' The Wake Waka and Kabi people thought he was laughing at them and attyacked him with spears. Two spears struck him then a shaman called out: 'Sue, be a bird, Booyooburra, and then laugh at us from that rock.' The booyooburra man changted into a stone plover, then into a curlew with long legs like spears.
Chi, Jimmy See Bran Nue Dae.
Childbirth Childbirth in the old days was strictly women's business and the subject was taboo to men. during childbirth, a woman lived apart from the main camp with a few womenfolk. No man could approach her camp or speak to her. In this women's myth from the Wik Munggan people, the birthing procedure as laid down in the Dreamtime by the black snake man and his wife the dove is described
Coma Berenices The star group coma Berenices was seen by the Koori people of Victoria as a flock of small birds drinking water which filled the hollow in the fork of a tree.
Creation myths Creation myths are those stories which tell us how the landscape came into being and how animals and plants received their shapes and markings and the importance of these markings. Encoded within the shapes and markings of animals are the traces which go towards sanctioning the laws and customs of particular tribal groups.
For example, one story of the Native Cat and the Black-beaded Python, told by the Worora people in north-western Australia, provides the sanction for the rule that a widow covers herself with ashes during her period of mourning. In the Dreamtime, the Native Cat and his wife, the black-beaded Python, lived alone. The Native Cat became sick and got sores all over his body. The spots the Native Cat has today are where these sores were. Black-headed Python tried to cure him, but eventually he died. she buried him, then went on eastward, alone. She came to a place where a goanna was buried and poked at it. She called the place Marngut, then continued on until she came to a smaller hill, Wunjaragin, or Loose Mountain, as it seemed to be falling apart. She gathered it up in her hand and tried to tie it together with her hair, but it kept on crumbling. Finally, some bull ants came along and helped her to keep it together. Then she went on further.
In the meantime the Blue-tongued Lizard, who had heard her crying when her husband had died, came to his grave and resurrected him. Together they went on to search for Black-headed Python. At last they came up to her, but when the Python saw her husband, she cried out, 'No, go back to your grave. I*'m a widow now. I have cut off all my hair and am bald. I have rubbed charcoal over my face so that people will know that I am a widow. go back to your grave, re-enter it and die.'
Creation time, the See Dreamtime.
Crocodiles There are two types of crocodile in Australia: the freshwater crocodile (Crocodilus johnstoni) and the saltwater crocodile (Crocodilus porosus). The freshwater crocodile inhabits waterholes and freshwater streams in northern Australia and is relatively harmless. The saltwater crocodile is man-eating, dangerous and greatly feared. It inhabits the saltwater estuaries, going out and coming in with the tide after fish. Among the Wik Munggan people of the Cape York peninsula and other peoples of northern Australia, Pikuwa, the saltwater crocodile, is considered wily, sly and a great coward. Not only this, he is also feared as a wife-stealer and a rapist. A Wik Munggan myth shows his character. One day two girls were looking for mud-mussels. They were all alone, picking up the mud-shells, placing them in the ashes of a fire and eating them. They ate all they had and decided to go and get some more. They crawled on their knees, searching out the mud-mussels with their hands and putting them in their dilly bags.
At last they had enough, returned to the fire and cooked them. They decided to keep some for their father and called out for him to bring the canoe. There was a return shout. 'Father, bring the canoe,' they called again, not realizing that it was Pikuwa. Aroused, but having no canoe, he descended into the water feeling his way along the muddy bottom with his hands. He reached the girls and his nose and back came came out from the water. The girls screamed out in alarm.
'Up you get on my back, you two. come along, jump on my back,' he said.
Attracted in spite of themselves, the girls jumped on his back and he carried them across the stream. On the other side, they jumped off and laughed at him, and he flirted with them. Just then their father and mother came to the opposite bank.
Pikuwa went across the stream, showed his back, told the parents to jump on and brought them across. They began eating the mud-mussels, and Pikuwa sank down in the mud and watched them. Then the younger sister found honey in an iron-wood tree and the father hopped a hole in the trunk and collected it. He took as much as he could in his wooden vessel, then decided to return to their camp. The two girls told their parents to go ahead. They kept poking in the tree with a stick and licking up the honey. Pikuwa continued watching them. Then he sank down into the mud in the water, made a hole, dug deeper and deeper and made a passage towards the girls. He found the root of the iron-wood tree and went inside it and up into the hollow trunk from where the girls were getting the honey. They poked in their stick to get more and he called out, 'Hey, I'm a man, you shouldn't poke me like that!'
Alarmed, they ran away. Pikuwa left the tree trunk the same way he had entered. He rose up from the water and looked around. He could not see the girls, but he saw the path they had taken and rushed after them. He heard them calling for their father and he answered. They called again and he told them to hurry up and come. The two girls came to where he was waiting and he raped them. Then he carried them off on his back, stopping on the way to rape them again. Finally, he said that he was going to dig a hole and did so. He came out from it, told the two girls to lie down, and raped them again. He went back to his hole to dig again, stopped and came out and raped them again. He went back to his hole again and the girls decided to block up the entrance. They gathered branches and poked them in. They poked in more and more, then rolled a log against the entrance. 'Now, let's run,' they said, and rushed along the track to their mother and father. They told their parents that they had been raped by Pikuwa, not once but many times.
Meanwhile Pikuwa felt aroused again. He crawled toward the entrance and struck the wood blocking it. Undaunted, he made a smaller passage around the obstruction and came out. He went after the girls and came up to them, but the father was hiding behind a tree. He had plenty of spears and his spear-thrower too. He threw spear after spear and all of them hit Pikuwa. finally, he took up his tomahawk and struck Pikuwa on the forehead again and again. With his knife he but off Pikuwa's head and with their yamsticks the women poked him in the anus, then hacked off his penis and cut it into pieces. Finally, they made a huge fire and cooked him up. 'You can make your djang place here,' they said. 'Katyapikanam auwa (Hit on the Head), for here you, Pikuwa, were hit on the head.' There are other myths detailing Pikuwa's enormous sexual appetites. In the Dreamtime, Kena and Pikuwa were men. Warka, Swamp Turtle, was Kena's wife. Pikuwa and Warka began an illicit love affair and ran off together. Warka, Flying Fox, betrayed their location to Kena. He rushed there and began fighting with Pikuwa. First they wrestled with their hands, then Kena stabbed Pikuwa in the ribs with a spear thrust. Pikuwa picked up a firebrand and hit Kena with it on the back of the neck. His neck became swollen. At last Kena lay there weary and exhausted. Pikuwa left him and went westwards to the sea to get well in the salt water. It is there that he makes his home. See also Jinakupai; Numuwuwari.
Crow (Waa, Wahn( Crow holds a very important place in the mythology of the Australian Aborigines. To many he is a moiety ancestor and those belonging to his moiety are called 'Crow people'. There is an area of Perth that was once the land of the Bibbulmum, who belong to this moiety, and the Crow is still held in respect to this day. Crow often is a trickster character, in sharp contrast to his more sombre moiety counterpart, Bunjil the eaglehawk. A Koori myth from Victoria tells how Crow stole fire from the seven women guardians. In the Dreamtime only these seven women knew the secret of fire and refused to divulge how it was made. Crow decided that he would get their secret. he made friends with the women and found out that they carried fire at the ends of their digging sticks. He also found out that the women were found of termites, but afraid of snakes. He buried a number of snakes in a termite mound, then told the women he had found a large next of termites. They followed him to the spot and broke open the mound. The snakes attacked them and they defended themselves with their digging sticks. This caused fire to fall from the sticks. Quickly, Crow picked up the fire between two pieces of bark and ran away. Now Crow in his turn refused to share fire with anyone. every time someone asked him, he mockingly called out, 'Waa, waa.' He caused so much strife that even he at last lost his temper and threw coals at some of the men who were pestering him for fire. The coals caused a bushfire in which he supposedly was burnt to death, but the eternal trickster came to life and the survivors heard his mocking 'Waa, waa' echoing from a large tree.
The Woiwurong Koori people's elders told a similar myth of how once there were seven young women called the Karatgurk who lived on the Yarra river where Melbourne now stands. They lived on yams which they dug out with their digging sticks, on the end of which they also carried line coals. They kept the fire to themselves. Crow found one of the cooked yams and tasted it. He found it delicious and decided to cook his yams from then on. The women refused to give him fire and so he decided to trick them out of it. He caught and hid a lot of snakes in an ant mound, then called to the girls that he had found a large ant mound and that the ant larvas tasted much better than yams. The women ran to the mound and began digging into it with their sticks. The snakes came hissing out and chased them away, screaming. but then the women turned and began to hit out at the snakes with their digging sticks. They hit so hard that some of the live coals were knocked off. Crow was waiting for this. He pounced on the live coals and hid them in a kangaroo skin bag he had prepared. When the women had killed all the snakes, they came back to look for the coals. They could not find them and decided that Crow had taken them. They chased him, but he flew out of reach and perched on the top of a very high tree.
Bunjil saw what had happened and asked Crow for some of the coals, as he wanted to cook a possum. Crow offered to cook it for him and when he had done so, threw it down to Eaglehawk who saw that it was still smoking. He tried to blow it into flame, but failed. He ate the possum and while he did so, the Koori people gathered around and shouted at Crow to give them fire. The din scared him and at last he flung some live coals at the crowd. Kurol-goru the fire-tailed finch picked up some of the coals and bid them behind his back and that is why these finches have red tails. Eaglehawk's shaman helpers, Djurt-djurt the nankeen kestrel and Thara the quail hawk, grabbed the rest of the coals. Then the coals made a bush fire which burnt Crow black. It also spread over his country and bunjil had to gather all the Kooris to help put it out. He placed some rocks at the head of the Yarra river to stop the fire spreading that way, and they are there to this day. His two helpers were burnt and became two rocks at the foot of the Dandenong Range. The Karatgurk were swept up into the sky where they became the Pleiades, the stars representing their glowing firesticks.
Curlews Among some Aboriginal tribes curlews are the guardians of the dear departed. Their evening cry is a warning of death: it tells people that the bird is on his way to carry the soul of the dead person to the sky world. Oodgeroo of the Noonuccal people tells the story of how curlews were once men belonging to a tribe which stayed close to the earth and never slept by night. They stayed awake to give warning if danger threatened those they loved. The All-Father Biame admired them for this and came to them and offered to reward them. They asked that they be changed into birds and be made guardians of the departed ones. Biami granted them their wish and so now the curlew carries the souls of the departed to the sky world, but first he gives a warning cry on three successive nights, so that the people will not be afraid and will know that the death will be from natural causes.
Curlews' connection to death is also found in the great corpus of myths which govern the Pukamani funeral ceremonies of the Tiwi people of Melville Island. it is told that when the ancestral being Purukupali heard that his won Djinini had died, owing to the misconduct of his wife, Bima, with the moon, Japara, he first attacked Japara, then walked into the sea with his dead son in his arms. His death initiated a great change on the world. Japara became the moon and rose into the sky with the wounds made in the battle with Purukupali visible on his face. Bima became a curlew and roams the forest at night wailing with remorse and sorrow at the loss of her son and the calamity she brought to the world.
Cut hair and nail parings Cut hair and nail parings were always collected and burnt as they could be used in magic against the person from whom they came.
Cyclops (or Papinijuwaris) are one-eyed giants who, according to the Tiwi people of Melville Island, live in a large hut where the sky ends. Shooting stars are said to be a Papinjuwari stalking across the heavens with a blazing firestick in one hand and a fighting club in the other. They are also said to crave the bodies of the dead and the blood of the sick for food. A Papinjuwari locates a sick person by smell and then makes himself invisible and sucks the blood from the arm of the victim without leaving a wound. As the sick person becomes weaker, the Papinjuwari makes himself small enough to enter the body through the mouth and drinks up the rest of the blood.
Dance Dance plays an important part in the lives and cultures of Aboriginal people, and even in those areas heavily influenced by British culture, where many of the ceremonies have been lost, no Aboriginal event is complete without traditional dance.
Aboriginal dance is often a pantomimic representation of some major event, spiritual tradition or myth, and dances are linked into series which may go on for several days or nights. These series are dramatic performances, each section ending on a high note which increases the excitement up to the final dance sequence. See also Boomerang; Corroboree; Djanggavul mythology and ceremonies; Great corroborees; Laura; Luma Luma the giant; Palga; Rom ceremony of Arnhem Land; Seagull and Torres Strait Pigeon.
Death There are many accounts of how death came into the world. In many, if not all communities, there is a belief in the continuing existence of an essence or ghost or soul after death, and the necessity of sending it on its way, or back to the Dreaming site of its ancestor where it waits to be reborn (see also Conception beliefs).
Delphinus The Delphinus star is seen by the Koori people living along the banks of the Murray river as Otjout the cod fish, who made the Murray river whilst escaping from Totyerguil (Altair).
Dhambridj song series of Arnham Land The Dhambidj songs are usually sung at funerals. They are about the spirit ancestors of the Aborigines around the Blyth river in Arhem Land. The verses evoke the ancestors and the ceremonies which lay the dear departed to rest and to rest and send them on their way. Soing such as Crow, Hollow Log and Sugar Bag bear directly on the ceremonies and have great symbolic value.
There are 21 songs in the series, and an enumeration of their titles gives a lit of the important ancestors of this area. They are: 'Black Batern', 'Turtle', 'Marrawal (Spirit Man), 'Yam', 'Djardidjurda Bird', 'Marsupial Mouse', 'Friar Bird', 'Bandicoot', 'Wild Honey and Hollow Log', 'King Brown Snake', 'White cockatoo', 'Crow', 'Eel' and others. 'Hollow a Log' is particularly evocative of the funeral service and shows how honey is equated with the renewal of all life:
Dhuwa moiety See Duwa moiety.
Dilly bags The making of the first dilly bags is credited to an old woman ancestor by the clans of the Wik Munggan. Her sacred place in Cape York peninsula is called Waiyauwa, 'the place of the old woman'. Once many women had come to this place to make dilly bags and a mother said to her daughter, 'Let us make a fine dilly bag. Bring fibre from the ngangka (fig tree) and we will make a wangka (net bag). Now bring some white fibre from the tu-ta (palm leaf).' The daughter brought the fibre to her mother, enough for them both and she began working on the wangka she was making out of the white fibre woven in the weave used in making 'grass' baskets. They made many dilly bags with a wide weave with which they gathered yams and squeezed them through the mesh.
When they had finished eating they placed the dilly bags they had made into a canoe and got in. They had made dilly bags from fig tree fibre, dilly bags made from the white fibre from the leaves of a palm tree, dilly bags made from the red fibre of the acacia, and dilly bags made in the fish net stitch. The canoe was overloaded with dilly bags. In the middle of the river, the canoe became caught in the current, spun round and round and started to sink. As it sank, the women sang a song about the old woman who made the first dilly bags. See also Baskets and bags; childbirth.
Djabi See Parraruru.
Djamar Djamar mythology relates to the cultural hero Djamar, who established many of the laws, rites and ceremonies of the west Kimberley region of Western Australia. Djamar came from the sea at a place called Bulgin, where he rested for three days against a paperbark tree. The Djamar myth is enacted in ceremonies and songs, and this event is celebrated in a short verse:
After resting, he made a bull-roarer and swung it violently, knocking down all the trees at that place. He began his journey, walking along and continuing to swing his bull-roarer. It struck boulders and broke them into fragments at a place called Goldjeman. These fragments were eagerly prized by the local people, as they made excellent stone knives.
Djamar continued walking, as celebrated in the song verse:
He went southward, continuously whirring his bull-roarer, then turned west and dived into the sea. At a place called Ngamagun Creek he came ashore again and found there a bloodwood tree, which he split into short bounds and made into inma boards of the bull-roarer kind. He straightened them by holding them over a fire, bored holes at one end for the hair strings, then tried them out by swinging them around. After that he pushed the boards (which were now sacred objects, djurings or inma) into the stony bed of the creek in such a way that they formed a straight line, then went back to the seashore and rested before continuing his journey. Next he came to a place called Djarinjin where he felt under a rock and caught a rock-fish. The spikes of the fish pierced his arm and made a bleed. he plugged the vein with a wooden plug before returning to Ngamagun Creek. His wound began bleeding again and filled a stone basin. by his act, blood became a sacrament and and the bleeding was enacted in ritual, accompanied by the song verse:
There are other events and other cultural heroes associated with Djamar, as is usual in the mythology dealing with ancestral heroes. he had no father, nor did he marry, but had three sons from himself, who spread his message to other places. His mother was Gambad, which may simply mean the ocean from whence he came. It is said that when Djamar walks quickly in the whirlwind a big grey dog is with him and that sometimes you can see the tracks of this giant dog. Djamar is equated with the djuringa in the sky, but still watches his people to see that they obey the laws he set down for them. His myth and associated rituals and ceremonies were considered to be strictly for men and were not to be divulged to women.
Djanggawul mythology and ceremonies The Djanggawul mythology, detailed in song cycles, underlies many of the ceremonies and provides motifs for the art of the Duwa moiety of the Yolugu people of Arnhem Land. The ceremonies are called nara and are performed by the initiated men over several days. In preparation the men go out and prepare the sacred objects, which in this area are dalled rangga. These are wooden poles and posts kept hidden in waterholes or in the muddy banks and must be redecorated for the ceremonies. Women have an important part to play in these initial ceremonies. They make long feathered strings which are then ritually stolen from them by the men. This relates directly to an incident in the myth which tells how once the ritual objects and ceremonies were owned by women, Djanggawul's sisters Bildjiwuraru and Miralaidj, but were stolen by men (see Djanggawul and his two sisters myth).
After the preliminaries are over, the ritual ceremonial ground is prepared and a shelter is erected. It now becomes a sacred area in which the Djanggawul will be manifest. The shelter symbolizes the womb of the two sisters of Djanggawul. The first dances relate to the rising and falling of the surf and sound of the sea and symbolize Djanggawul's paddling across the sea to Port Bradshaw. Throughout the dancing and singing of the song cycle, invocations are made which connect the power of Djanggawul with those creating the ceremony. Much of the latter part of the ceremony dramatizes the stealing of the sacred objects from the two sisters. The cycle of rituals and ceremonies concludes with a ritual bathing in which the men, followed by the women and children, dance down to the beach and plunge into the water. This may symbolize the Djanggawul returning to their island home.
Afterwards there follows the ritual eating of sacred cycad nut bread which has been made by the women. The eating of the bread creates a sacred bond of friendship between the participants: they become as one. The ceremonies not only strengthen the bonds between the different tribal groups, but also stress the continuity between the present people, their ancestors and the future generations. The fertility of the universe is enacted in ceremonies based on the seasonal rhythms, for example the wet season, which by its arrival assures the germination of plant life and then by its withdrawal symbolizes the essential death of life. All life and universal activities, including the songs and ceremonies, are cyclical. If the ceremonies are maintained, the cycle will be ever-repeated, thanks to Djanggawul and his two sisters.
Djanggawul and his two sisters myth On the island of Baralku, far out to sea, lived the Djanggawul. There were three of them. "djanggawul, his elder sister Bildiwuwiju (or Bildjiwuraru), who had many children, and his younger sister, Muralaidj (or Miralaidj), who had just reached puberty. After a long time they decided to leave their island home and come to Australia. In a sense, they were like missionaries in that they loaded up their canoe with sacred objects and emblems which they kept in a conical mat basket. As they put out to sea, the Morning Star shone above their island home. They landed on Yelanghara beach near Port Bradshaw on the coast of Arnhem Land, which because of this became a sacred canoe and there is a freshwater spring there which Djanggawul made when he plunged his mawalan, his walking stick, into the sand. The stick itself grew into a she-oak tree. Then they heard they cry of a black cockatoo and, glancing up at the sand dunes, saw the tracks of an animal. It was a goanna. Djanggawul named it djunda. Then they began their travels across the land, naming places and animals and placing sacred objects in the ground for future generations. They peopled the country as they went and finally reached what would become Ekho Island.
One day, Djanggawul tripped over a creeper and accidentally pushed his walking stick into the mud. Instantly the seas rose and flooded the country, separating Elcho Island and the mainland. The myth continues in like manner until it is told how some men, the sons of the two sisters, stole their sacred emblems, their songs and their ceremonies. When they discovered this, after discussing the theft, Bildiwuwiju and Muralaldj forgave their sons because they still had their wombs, a visible sign of power which men could never steal. At last, after many adventures and the passing on of important cultural artefacts, ceremonies, songs and even language, the brother and his two sisters returned to their island home. This corpus of myths is important in that among other things, it places the origins of much of Arnhem Land culture outside Australia. The foreign influence is apparent when we contrast it with the cultures of other parts of Australia and find marked differences - though in northern New South Wales and southern coastal Queensland, it is said also that ancestral cultural heroes came from overseas (the Three Brothers and their Grandmother), and in the Kimberley region it is also told that the Wandjina, or at least some of them, came from the sea; but in the inland areas such as the Western Desert, the great ancestors sprang from the land.
Dogs (or dingoes) are said by archaeologists and others to be a late arrival in Australia, arriving from Asia some thousand years ago. This may or may not be true, although there is evidence in the mythology for their arrival from offshore, but this occurred in the Dreamtime and subsequently they became ancestral beings to many Aboriginal groups, especially in the Western Desert and central Australia.
The elders, of the Bunuba people of the Kimberley region of Australia relate a myth of the arrival of dogs in Australia. The Melatji Law Dogs are said to have waded ashore at King Sound after swimming across the Indian Ocean. From there they began travelling towards the Napier and King Leopold Ranges. They went as far as Fitzroy Crossing, then came back down to Windjana Gorge, in their journey touching all the major water sources of the country. They are thus linked with the water snake mythology. The male dog was called Yeddgee and the female Lumbiella. She had pups at Tunnel Creek, a famous haunt of the fighter Jandamara. The elders of the Bunuba declare that the dogs finally painted themselves onto the rocks at a place called Barralumma in the Napier Range and that is where they still are.
But far to the east at Winbaraku in central Australia, the Melatji dogs are found. They are associated with the giant snake creator, Jarapiri, who was blind and was carried along by other ancestral spirits as well as the Melatji dogs north to a cave at Ngama, near the Aboriginal town of Yuendumu. Ngama is a sacred law place of the Walbiri people and is looked after by their elders. Here the Melatji dog women gave birth to puppies and the Melatji dog men drew the giant snake Jarapiri from the earth and milked him of his knowledge. A large painting commemorates this feat. The dog men carry Jarapiri triumphantly on their shoulders. Jarapiri, the giver of law, culture, ceremonies, weapons, tools, songs and stories to the many Aboriginal communities associated with this Dreaming, is thus linked to faraway Kimberley in the extreme north of Western Australia.
Still further east, from the Mingunburri group of Bundjalung people who live just across the borders of New South Wales and Queensland at the headwaters of the Albert river, Christmas Creek and running Creek, there is the myth of two dogs. In their territory stands the fortress-like Mount Widgee, a sacred place of two dogs. The myth associated with this sacred place concerns two men, Nyimbunji and Balugaan, and two dogs. Burrajan the male dog and his bitch Ninerung. These dogs chased a kangaroo to a place called Ilbogan, where it jumped into the lagoon there and was changed into a water snake. They began their trek home to Mount Widgee, but on the way home were caught by the local people who began to cook them. Nyimbunji and Balugaan had gone looking for their dogs and saw the smoke of the cooking fire. They took revenge on the killers of their dogs, then put the dogs' corpses in bark shrouds and carried them home to the mountain, but pieces of the corpses dropped off at various places along the route. At Mount Widgee, they took the remains of the dogs to the waterfall at the head of Widgee Creek, where they turned into stone, one falling east and the other west. It was believed that the dogs were alive every night as giant dingoes and roamed around the area. The mythology of giant dogs is extensive and stories are found all over Australia.
A variant of this myth is told in Cape York peninsula in the far north of Queensland. Here, the two dogs belong to an old woman. The shape of the Lemington range as seen from the flat coastal plains of the gold coast of southern Queensland is in the shape of a dog.
Dolphins The dolphin is a symbol of the Gold Coast, the resort area of southern Queensland and an important ancestor, Gowonda, or Aboriginal people of southern Queensland.
Oodgeroo, elder of the Noonuccal people of Queensland, told the story of how dolphins used to be friends of humankind and helped them in their fishing. They used to drive shoals of fish into the shallow waters so that the people could gather them up. The Noonuccala of Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island) had a system of sounds, a language by which they could talk to the dolphins. some of the British invaders hid and listened to these sounds and used them to get the dolphins to drive the fish into the shallows, but unlike the Aborigines they also caught and killed the dolphins. Because of this they stopped coming and have only recently returned.
Dreaming Dreaming, in the sense of dreams, or the state between waking and deep sleep, is a state when revelations or instructions are received from the ancestors. Thus myths, songs and ceremonies are received in this state. This is the literal meaning, for the concept of Dreaming has been expanded into a deep spiritual and metaphysical concept, and in fact Dreaming and mythology may be seen as one and the same thing the deep mental archetypes and wisdom images which we receive to guide in when the conscious mind is placed in a state of quiescence. Dreamings are those archetypes symbolized as ancestral beings, who came before and continue to live on in the present generations. These eternal archetypes, sometimes equated with totems, are part of the spiritual identities of Aboriginal people. Groups of people with the same Dreamings are sets of people bonded by a common link to the spiritual. Thus the Nytungar Dreaming, the Wagyal, is connected up with other snake Dreamings across Australia. The snake archetype or Dreaming is the fount of all magical power and wisdom and thus is the Dreaming dreamt by the shaman and the archetype from whom he or she derives healing powers.
Dreaming tree of life (Yarrando) The Dreaming tree of life is found among many groups of Australian Aborigines and was symbolized in the great ceremonies held in the boro circles in which a tree was planted with its roots in the air to show that it grew in the sky world. It is recorded that during the ceremony shamans would ascend the tree and vanish, then return to exhibit many marvels. There is a Koori story from Victoria of how in the Dreaming their ancestral spirits would go up into the sky by means of a giant Dreaming tree. Only the older, fully initiated men were allowed to do so. One day the taboo was broken by a young man who had lent his six hunting dogs to his brothers to go hunting in the sky world. That night, he noticed that there were only five dogs remaining. His brothers, unable to catch anything, had eaten the other dog. The young man decided on revenge and drilled a hole in the taproot of the giant dreaming tree into which he stuffed a live coal which slowly burnt through the root. The next day the other brothers climbed the giant tree to hunt, then, as they were ready to descend, there was a great crack and the tree fell. This myth is etched in the heavens. The trapped brothers may be seen as a cluster of stars and the top part of the tree, which was wrenched away from the tree as it fell, is now a black patch in the Milky Way.
Dreamtime (or the Creation Time, the Altjeringa or the Tjukurrpa or palaneri time) The Dreamtime, the time of creation, symbolizes that all life to the Aboriginal peoples is part of one interconnected system, one vast network of relationships which came into existence with the stirring of the great eternal archetypes, the spirit ancestors who emerged during the Dreamtime. At the beginning, when the Earth was a featureless plain or, in some myths, covered with water, these archetypes, our creative ancestors, in many shapes and forms, stirred and found themselves in the void, the featureless landscape, the waveless ocean. some, like the the giant serpents who had been sleeping under the ground, pushed upward and writhed across the void, creating as they went along the landscape in which we live today. Other ancestors descended from the sky or came from the sea and when they reached the land they commenced their work of creation, not only making all things but naming them. The creative ancestors are responsible for everything there is, including the laws, customs and languages which order the different Aboriginal tribes and communities.
Dundalli Dundally is a hero of the people of Queensland. He belongs to one of the tribes which owned the land on which Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, now stands. He fought for his land and the invaders executed him by hanging in 1845.
The Duwa moiety The Duwa (or Dua or Dhuwa) moiety is one of the two great divisions of the Yolngu of Arnhem Land. It has ancestral cultural heroes who arrived by sea, while the other moiety the Yiritja moiety, has ancestral heroes who came from the land. According to the late Jack Mirritji, who passed on some of the cultural knowledge about his Yolngu people, the Brolga is the bird of the Duwa moiety and the Jabiru bird is that of the Yiritja moiety. Itis a rule that Jabiru people can only marry Brolga people. The interrelatedness of both moieties can be seen in the initiation ceremony, where if a Duwa person is to be initiated, then the Yirtja moiety must act as overseers of the ceremony and ensure that good order be kept, and vice versa. Jack Mirritji tells us what this division means or should mean. He says that since Yolngu people are in a system of interrelationships, then everything a person owns belongs to everybody else as well. Everything is shared - a person's house, his food and belongings.
The Djanggawul and his two sisters myth is the underlying theme of the ritual life of the Duwa moiety, especially in their nana ceremonies. In these ceremonies the epic journey of the Djanggawul from the island of Bralgu to the coast of Arnhem Land is enacted, also their subsequent journeys on the continent. The ceremonies culminate in the ritual handling of the sacred objects, rungga, brought to Australia by the ancestral beings. See also Gunabibi ceremonies; Red ochre.
Duwoon (Glennie's chair) Duwoon is an important Bundjalung sacred place where the bull-roarer was given to the people for use in ceremonies. The story associated with the place is this. A grandmother and her grandson were travelling from the mountains to the seaside, and the boy stopped at a tree to cut out grubs ()djubera). The grandmother continued walking and left the boy behind. The boy continued cutting out grubs and every chip the boy cut would fly up with a roaring noise. By this he knew that the place was a strong place, a djang place, and so he chopped off more chips and put a cord on the ends to make them bull-roarers or wobblegun (the Bundjalong word for bull-roarer). Even today you can hear the bull-roarers sounding there.
Bull-roarers amongst the bundjalung people were only touched and used by men. They were used in initiation ceremonies and were considered the voice for the ancestors. They were used to convey messages between the tribal elders and also to connect with the spirit world. See also bandjalung nation.
Dyaydyu the kangaroo rat See Great corroborees.
Below are Aboriginal symbols - The Power of Masks and Paleolithic Art in the Lascaux Caves...
Australian Aboriginal Anthropology
Australian Aboriginal Anthropology 1
Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime
Australian Aboriginal Music