Aboriginal Anthropology I    Aboriginal Anthropology II     Aboriginal Music     A Story of the People of Goulburn Islands, North Australia

The great mass of Ayers Rock. This was an important totemic site for the people of this
area of central Australia, who called it Uluru. They said that it rose out of a large flat sandhill.



The indigenous aboriginal people of Australia first occupied this country over 50,000 years ago. Their tribal groupings, scattered across this vast continent, include the Patjantatjara, Wotjobaluk, Wikmunkan, Warramanga, Murinbata, Aranda, Mara, Kurnai, and Walbiri. Some examples of the rich tapestry of their tribal art, mythologies and legends are reproduced below on this Web site.


The fading image of the Spirit of the Long Grass, Morkui-kua-luan, can be seen on a rocky outcrop near the boundary of the Agricultural Research Station at Katherine, Northern Territory. He is shown with his eyelids half-closed to protect his eyes from the prickling grass-seeds as he moved through the wild grain. His beak-like nose resembles the sharp sheath of the seed.

Undoubtedly his presence there on the rock was intended to ensure a plentiful and recurring supply of the stands of native sorghum which grow in the area, for although the local aborigines made no attempt to cultivate this grain they gathered it and pounded it into a meal called morkul, to make a nourishing food.


Morkul-kua-luan was rediscovered by W. Arndt, an officer of the research station, and this encounter between scientist and aboriginal guardian spirit contrasts the white Australian's attempts to master a harsh environment, by application of modern scientific methods, with the indigenous population's intimate and intricate adaptation over the centuries to nature's cycle. During some 20,000 years of the aborigines' relatively undisturbed occupation of the vast southern continent, most of the rest of mankind gradually ceased to be wanderers and food-gatherers and became settled cultivators and pastoralists. The aborigines did not take this step. They remained naked, semi-nomadic hunters and foragers who built no permanent shelters and used simple though efficient tools and weapons. even so, in the arid regions, the aborigines managed to support more people per square mile than the European occupants can.

Where did these people come from? Theories about their origin remain speculative and they have been classified as a separate group, the Australoids. some say they are descendants of an early type of man, Wadjak Man of Java, others note their resemblance to other obviously ancient stock including the Ainu of Japan, the Dravidians of India, the Veddaha of Ceylon and the Papuans. The first migrants must have reached Australia after following the line of islands to the north and west and making the journey across the then shallow seas. Their points of entry seem to have been along the northern coast and down Cape York Peninsula.

Did the migrating peoples come in successive waves? And how long did they take to spread across the continent? These and other questions remain unanswered. but we do know that aboriginal man is not a 'stone-age survival'. After his arrival in Australia cultural change did occur within a limited frame of reference. His isolation was tempered by contact with outsiders from New Guinea and Indonesia and selected cultural traits filtered through the northern coastal areas and were passed along the maze of internal trade routes which followed the line of waterholes and the river systems inland. The incorporation into the east Arnhem Land mortuary rites of the mast-rising ceremony performed by departing Macassan praus is one piece of evidence of this continued intercourse which seems to have increased in the few centuries prior to European settlement.

However, the longest determinants of aboriginal culture were obviously the ecological features of the continent itself: the arid and semi-arid areas are extensive and even in those parts of the north where indigenous grains and plants like yams grow, it seems doubtful whether cultivation could have been properly established without modern techniques of soil improvement; nor were the marsupials suitable for domestication. The consequent close dependence of aboriginal man on nature, merely to subsist, meant that his desired objective was to achieve not change but predictable regularity; regularity of the seasons and of plant growth and animal increase. He particularly recognised the life-giving properties of rain though his fear of drought was matched by his fear of floods, storms and tornadoes.

He understood the bond between himself and nature to be a totemic one and believed that this relationship had been established in the mythical past of Eternal Dreamtime by the activities of creative beings. Some of these, like the Sky Heroes of eastern Australia, or the Fertility Mothers and their companions of the far north, established the totemic system; others, like the totemic beings of inland Australia, were themselves actually identified with a particular aspect of nature symbolised by an emblem or totem; for example, a cockatoo, a wind, or the honeysuckle. Each of these totemic ancestors was responsible for the laying down of spirit centres, not only for the particular animals and plants with which each was concerned, but also for spirit children. It is these pre-existent spirits which enter the bodies of the women of the group and are born. So a person's cult totem or dreaming is usually relaxed to his origin from a particular spirit centre laid down by a particular totemic ancestor.

Although many of the creative beings of the Dreamtime took human form, they were cast in a gigantic mould and possessed supernormal powers. In this group belong the Sky Heroes of the south east and the Fertility Mothers of Arnhem Land, but the latter sometimes took snake form. The totemic ancestral beings seemed to be able to slip from human to animal form and back again, though sometimes this metamorphosis took place only once.

Like the aborigines many of these Dreamtime beings were wanderers. They made the landscape, established sacred sites and introduced the ceremonies to be performed there. Their ways led them across tribal and linguistic boundaries, so that each part of a tribe was knowledgeable about only that section of a myth which described events that took place in its territory. However these mythical paths also lined neighbouring groups and they came together for great ceremonial gatherings. One famous site was the honey-ant ceremonial ground at Ljaba in the territory of the northern Aranda in the Macdonnell Ranges of Central Australia.

Some totemic ancestors had dominant roles. For instance, the Tjilpa or native cat ancestors of the Aranda were responsible for establishing, in the proper order, the initiation rites of circumcision, sub-incision (the opening of a certain length of the meatus) and ordeal by fire. But fundamentally this totemic view of life meant that the totemic ancestors shared the labour of creation. This same principle of the division of labour also applies to man's approach to these creative forces. The guardianship of the myths, rites, sacred objects and sites associated with a particular totemic ancestor rests with the members of a particular religious unit who all share the same cult totem, and each of these groups takes its share of the responsibility for ritually ensuring that the life essence created during the Eternal Dreamtime is not only sustained but perpetuated.

They do this in rites in which the actors become the beings and re-live their deeds. They also perform increase rites in which the multiplication of a particular natural species is brought about by actions such as the retouching of rock paintings, regrooving of rock engravings, or the disclosure of sacred objects such as the stories which represent the chrysalis stage of the witchetty grubs. These lie buried in the ground at a totemic site near Emily's Gap in the Macdonnell Ranges. The use of blood drawn from the arm or the genital organ is also believed to release the spiritual essence. It may be rubbed on a body or tot4emic object or used as a fixative for other decorations such as down. It may be scattered over, dripped on, or rubbed into an object. Red ochre may be used in the same way.

Yulunggul, the rainbow snake, lies coiled round some eggs at the bottom of the sacred waterhole. Painted on bark by Dowdi of Millingimbi in Arnhem Land. (Art Gallery of New South Wales)

Throughout Australia the religious life of the group is controlled by the men but this does not mean that women have no part in it. The researches of C. H. And R. M. Berndt have made it clear that women's activities are not restricted to the profane sphere. Moreover there is a strong symbolic association between the women's life and much of the ritual performed by the men, for example the equation of sub-incision with menstruation. The degree of actual participation of the women in the sacred life varies from area to area. In some districts women have their own secret ceremonies such as the djarada or love-magic ceremonies of Northern Australia. They may also be involved in the men's ritual from a distance. For instance they may answer ritual calls made by the men on the ceremonial ground or they may be summoned to act as a chorus or to take a limited part in the ceremonies as they do in the Kunapipi fertility cult of the far north. In Arnhem Land the women see the sacred designs on the men's bodies when they return to camp after a ceremony and they hear and know the 'outside' or general camp versions of sacred songs and myths. Even the negative knowledge of knowing what to avoid must be taken into account, for over much of Australia the death penalty was enforced if women infringed the sacred precincts, or mythological paths, or saw the sacred cult objects. Amongst the Aranda many of the most beautiful waterhole sites were permanently forbidden to the women of the group. Yet an Aranda woman could be a reincarnation of a totemic being and a male relative acted as a proxy for her in the sacred ceremonies.

The spirit beings called mimi who live in the rocks of western Arhhem Land are so thin they are afraid to venture on when it is windy for fear their necks will snap. they are said to eat men but yams are their staple food. It is in this context that the artist, old Naurungulngul of Coulburn Island, chose to paint on bark the flower, leaves and root of the yam plant.

The young boy also has 'outside' knowledge but his introduction into adult status and the secret life begins with his separation from the women, usually at puberty. His initiation usually extends over at least three or four years and each stage of his advance is frequently marked by a physical operation. The order and choice of these varies from group to group: there is the extraction of teeth, hair removal, cicatrization and in most of inland Australia - circumcision, subincision and ordeal by fire. He is also subjected to harsh discipline, food tabus, and periods of seclusion. His instruction includes passive witnessing of ceremonies, limited participation in ritual acts, the revelation to him of sacred objects such as the bullroarer (the sound of which has previously been described as the voice of the initiatory monster) visits to sacred stores of objects like the tjurunga, and journeys along mythological paths. Throughout his life aboriginal man's degree of participation in the sacred life increases until he in turn becomes initiator and instructor. After his death he is entitled to expect that certain mortuary ceremonies will be performed to ensure the safe return of his spiritual essence to the spirit home from which it came. Very often this is a totemic water hole site but often this is a totemic water hole site but in central Australia it may be a sacred tjurunga and in south-east Australia it was the sky.

The demands of this intense spiritual life are many, involving the memorising of many hundreds of verses as well as the details of myths; dance steps, ritual acts, and a knowledge of totemic emblems and designs. Ceremonial activities may occupy many months of the year and place an economic strain on the groups involved. In the old days it made irksome the lives of the young hunters who were subject to the authority of the older men who alone could reveal to them the inner truths which sustained all existence.

These myths are, and were, communicated with a variety and richness of artistic endeavour. There is the vigorous imitative totemic dancing, the compulsive rhythm of the clapping sticks, drone pipe (didjeridu) and chanting, and the beautiful imagery of the songs. There are fantastic headdresses like those of the emu 'men' of the Aranda or the strange ground paintings like those the Warramanga, made to re-live the journey of the great snake Wollunqua.

Through the eyes of the aborigine the Australian landscape becomes a myth evoking one. The broad sinuous reaches of the Ord and Victoria rivers of the north-west were made by the black-headed python who came out of the sea from the direction of Timor and pushed forward, making the ranges, until he reached the Barkly Tablelands where he passed underg4round. The meandering course of Coopers Creek was created by a great rock python, transformed into an indecent rainbow snake. He drew the flood water after him as he moved homeward. He chose his direction of travel by the wind, because he was blind, and when it dropped he paused and a large sheet of water formed. The broadening of the Murray river as it flows into the entrance lake in South Australia was caused by the swishing tail of the primal Murray God as he was pursued by the sky hero Ngurunderi. Wuraka's head appeared above the waves as he walked along the ocean floor towards the Coburg Peninsula in the Northern Territory. He was the companion of the mother creator, Imberombera, and his penis was so heavy he slung it round his neck. He grew tired and sat down at a spot marked by Tor Rock which rises conspicuously from the western plateau of Arnhem Land.

The huge monolithic dome of Ayers Rock in central Australia, which the Patjantatjara people call Uluru, is associated with ten different groups of totemic beings. The vertical gutters and potholes of the southern face are the scars of battle between the Kunia or carpet snake-men. The stands of desert oak to the south-west represent the young Liru warriors silently moving in to the attack. Across the western desert roamed the Wadi Gudjara (Wadi Kudjara), the Two Men; one was a white goanna, the other was a black one. Amongst the places they laid down was a solid hill of red ochre formed from the blood they drew from their veins.

Far away on the other side of the continent in the district at the Wikmunkan on the gulf side of Cape York there is a sub-tropical haven of plenty where women gather the many different edible shellfish along the shore and men spear fish, dugong and turtle. The sandbanks, reed-swamps and water-lily lagoons are breeding grounds for every kind of bird. Here the myths of the totemic ancestors who went down into their auwa or abodes builds up a detailed picture of bountiful nature which is a strong contrast to the harshness of nature revealed in the myths of the desert people. Even the most uninspiring of food plants are celebrated. Miss U. McConnel, who knows these people intimately, retells the story of the Hard Yam Woman and the Arrowroot Man.

They were a married couple who were always bickering about the best place to camp as they searched for food along the river banks. Finally they argued to separate. Wandering alone, the Hard Yam Woman became ill and dug a hole for herself in a dry place. She slept without moving and on waking she exclaimed: 'I'm hungry. Who will feed me? I must stay hungry!' She had not even the strength to leave the hole to fetch water, finally she sank down altogether saying, 'just in this way the root will sink down into its hole!'

Meanwhile the Arrowroot Man also grew old and helpless, and crawling along the water's edge to drink he sank down. Only his stick stood up like the stalk of the arrowroot as a sign to men that the arrowroot is to be found there.

As in many other aboriginal myths the plot is based on a simple domestic situation and the elaborations of the theme serve to explain everyday tasks: in this case how to gather certain foods and how to treat them to make them soft and edible. For all this has been laid down in the Dreamtime.

Not all Wikmunkan myths are confined to the immediate locally. The journeys of Sivri, the Seagull and Nyungu, the Torres Straits Pigeon link the district with the islands to the north. Sivri showed his northern affiliations by his possession of a drum and bow and arrow, whereas on the island of Mabuiag in the Torres Straits where he was known as Kwoiam, he was famous for his seagull dances and his spear. Sivri stole Nyungu's daughter and carried her off to Mabuiag which is the destination of the migrating seagulls. Nyungu decided to give chase, but flew on to Papua. Before he left he turned to each of his children and declared:

And so his children remained behind to become the ducks and native companions of the sandbanks and the shells of the sea. Charming though these stories may be in their prose form they lack the meaningfulness which they possessed when performed in a ceremonial context designed to perpetuate endlessly the first act of creation with which each particular totemic being was concerned.  Today there are not many places left in Australia where the philosophy enshrined in myths like these is still a sustaining faith. Most of the 40,000 remaining pure-bred aborigines are still to be found in the desert regions and the far north; but even there their economic dependence on the white communities is increasing and organised ceremonial life becomes more and more difficult to maintain. In the new situation their view of life has lost its validity. Their absorption into modern Australian society is inevitable and what can survive of their own culture is doubtful.

The earlier years of contact do not have a happy history. A society as rigidly bound by tradition as the aborigines' had not the resources to withstand contact with intruders as alien and aggressive as the European settlers, few of whom seemed either able or prepared to see beyond th4e superficial image of the aborigines as nomads with a few meagre possessions. Far from being aware of the complexities of the aborigine's spiritual beliefs - which bound them to their land - they maintained that they were without religion and even without language, speaking only gibberish. And such ignorant opinions were used as the excuse for treatment which ranged from indifference to brutality. By the eighteen-fifties only a few aborigines remained in the vicinity of Sydney, and by the turn of the century outrageous suggestions were being put forward that the origin of the rock engravings of heroic figures and animals which are so numerous on the escarpments within an eighty-mile radius of Sydney were not the work of the aborigines - but of shipwrecked Peruvian slaves in the sixteenth century! On the other hand, from the eighteen-seventies onward, scholars like Howitt, Roth, Spencer and Gillen were working at the frontiers of settler expansion in an attempt to record every aspect of aboriginal life before it was lost. From their work and the work of later anthropologists we know that the many galleries of engravings of the south-east were sacred sites, which like those found elsewhere in Australia were associated with ceremonies of a revelationary and initiatory nature, but only fragments of the sanctioning myths about the great sky heroes they celebrated have survived.



Throughout most of the eastern third of Australia there was a belief in a sky world, the abode of spirit beings who dwelt on earth in the time of the founding drama. The Wotjobaluk of Victoria thought the sky rested on the earth and prevented the sun from moving until a magpie with a long stick propped it up. Other tribes believed that the sky rested on mountains, or a pine tree, or eucalyptus trees. Some referred to the sky world as a 'gum tree land' or 'the bright bone of the cloud'. It was also thought to be full of quartz crystal, the stone associated with both the rainbow snake and the medicine men.

Some early investigators like Howitt maintained that in the south-east there was also a belief in a dominant spirit being who was revealed to initiates as All-Father. Although it seems unlikely that the idea of a supreme deity could have arisen independently, there is no doubt that the masculine principle of creation was the dominant one in eastern Australia because similar creative activities were attributed to a great sky hero whose name changed from tribe to tribe. In the eastern coastal strip he was known as Daramulun and west of the Dividing Range he was called Baiame. In some places Daramulun was described as the one-legged son of Baiame. Many Victorian tribes knew him by variations of the name Bunjil and towards the lower Murray river region he was known as Norrundere, or Ngurunderi.

These creators gave shape to a bare and featureless land. They made the rivers and the hills and added trees and other vegetation. At first there were only animals, birds and reptiles so they made humans - usually out of amorphous beings. Bunjil was believed to have made two men out of clay while his brother, the Bat, raised women up out of water. These creators also gave men tools and weapons. They laid down the rules and customs by which men should live and introduced initiation ceremonies. In the ceremonies of the Bora ground the sound of the swung bullroarer was the voice of Daramulun and initiates were shown a figure of him modelled in relief on the ground. The mouth was filled with quartz crystal and he had a large phallus.

These primal beings chose many different ways to journey to the sky world. One climbed a stretched kangaroo sinew, another was swept thither by a whirlwind. sometimes, together with other protagonists in the founding drama, they took their places in the heavens as the sun, moon, or stars, particularly the Pleiades or the Milky Way.

This belief in a sky world and sky beings was also important in the extreme north-west of the continent. It even occurred in inland Australia where it co-existed with the dominant themes of creative totemic ancestors who rose out of the ground. For instance the Aranda believed that two self-existent sky beings, the Numbakulla, came down and made men and women out of Inapatua or amorphous creatures in which the human form was faintly visible. Much farther north the Murinbata also believed in Spirits who Found Themselves without Fathers, though they did not celebrate them in their cult activities. One of these self-existent spirits who was called Nogamain was a giver of spirit children. Yet in spite of the obvious importance ideas about him were vague. W. E. H. Stanner suggests that there could be an historical explanation for this in that he may belong to an earlier strata of ideas; or he might well represent a persistent but undeveloped concept of a supreme or dominant being.


Certain personalized animals and phenomena seem to have been the protagonists in the founding dramas more often than others. For instance, Eaglehawk, Crow, Bat, Moon, Sun are familiar mythical characters in many parts of Australia. The Wotjobaluk believed that in the beginning there was only one sex and that Ngunung-ngunnut, the Bat, who determined to remedy the situation, turned his companion into a woman. This motif turns up again in a myth from the Bloomfield river of northern Queensland told to Miss U. McConnel. Mali the Bat was elder brother of Gidja the Moon and this explained why he flew before him, but it was Gidja who made the first woman. He did this by taking Yalungur the Eaglehawk and castrating him. Then he made a baby out of the bark of the bloodwood and milwood trees and inserted it into the woman. He was much feared by his fellows but his undoing was brought about by Kallin-kallin the Chickenhawk who decided that Gidja should be punished for choosing Yalungur who was of the same moiety or social grouping as himself. One day when Gidja was crossing a bridge of lawyer vine Kalling-kallin cut the vine and Gidja fell into the rapids and was swept away. Each time he came to the surface he cried out: 'I am not dead.' At length he reached the seashore and finally he passed into the sky to give men a light at night as the moon. Of course Kallin-kallin took Yalungur as his wife and all was well as they were of opposite moieties.



In eastern Australia some of the stories that explain how certain animals got their characteristic often share elements with similar tales from the islands, though the trickster motif is not so strong.

There is a story about a starfish, a koala and a bird, the native companion, who were envious of the whale's canoe. While the starfish deloused the whale's head the others made off in the canoe. When the whale discovered his loss he was very angry; he tore the starfish to sheds and flattened him so that he sank down to the ocean floor. But the starfish had cut the whale so badly that water spurted from his wounds as he gave chase. The koala used his strong arms to row hard and just as they reached the land the native companion trampled the canoe so that it sprang a leak and sank. Now it lies as a stone on the sea-floor at the mouth of Lake Illawarra, New South Wales.


In the Dreamtime the muramura wandered over the lands of the Dieri and the neighbouring territories. Their paths were found from Spencer's Gulf in the south, north to Lake Eyre and north again to south-west Queensland. Indeed two groups of muramura girls travelled as far as the Gulf of Carpentaria and were finally drawn up into the sky by a long hair cord. One lot became the Pleiades and the others became the stars of Orion's belt. These beliefs resemble those of eastern Australia but many stories about other muramura describe either how they turned to stone or how they changed into animal form and sank into the earth. These ideas are similar to those found amongst their neighbours to the west.

There are also different versions about the origin of man. Some said that the muramura creators made men by smoothing out the limbs of unformed creatures. Others claimed that the earth opened at Lake Perigundi and the totem animals came out unformed and without sense organs. They lay on the sandhills in the warm sun and gradually grew strong until they stood up as men and scattered over the country.

The muramura, like Dreamtime beings elsewhere, were responsible for introducing initiation rites. Two muramura came from the north and while they hunted one brother dived into the water after a boomerang which had gone astray. He accidentally circumcised himself on its sharp edge. The other brother also wanted to become a 'perfected man', so he did the same thing. Then they travelled about the country saving many initiates from death by introducing the use of the stone knife instead of the firestick for the operation of circumcision. Another myth with an almost identical plot told how two other young muramura were the first to sub-incise themselves. These two still wander the desert caring for lost children and returning them to camp.

It is not surprising to find that these desert people had an apocryphal myth about the possibility of world destruction by a dust storm. It involved a most important muramura, Darana the Rainmaker. On one occasion when he 'sang' the rain the water rose first to his knees then to his hips and neck. At last he placed his throwing stick in the ground and the water receded. The desert became carpeted with flowers and the wichetty grubs multiplied. He gathered them in, dried them and packed them into bags which he hung in the trees. Then he went on a journey. In his absence two youths, the dara-ulu, threw their boomerangs at the bags, breaking one of them. The dust of the grubs flew far and wide and obscured the sun while the other bags shone with a brightness that could be seen at a great distance. The muramura returned and strangled the Dara-ulu. Darana restored them to life again but the others again strangled them. They became two heart-shaped stones. The Dieri kept these carefully wrapped in feathers and fat and believed that if they were scratched perpetual hunger would result, no matter how much was eaten. If they were destroyed, they said, the red dust would cover the earth and all would die in terror. At rainmaking ceremonies these stones are reverently smeared with fat and their songs are sung.


Several of the Aranda totemic ancestors had more dominant roles than the rest. There were the two culture-bearing Euro brothers who invented the spear and the spear thrower and also taught the art of cooking on hot coals. Then there were the Lakabara or hawk-men who came from the north, and instituted the rite of circumcision and the four-section system of social grouping, and the Tjilpa or native cat-men who came from the south and introduced the further rite of sub-incision.

Most of these totemic ancestors were 'all-powerful fathers', especially amongst the strongly patrilineal northern Aranda, and in the analysis of Aranda myths T. G. H. Strehlow has revealed how strongly the masculine principle of creation is expressed in Aranda thought. In Aranda Tradition he retells how the primal ancestor of the wichetty grub totemic group is said to have rested, without moving, in a state between sleeping and waking for countless ages at the foot of a witchetty tree. While he lay there the grubs swarmed over his body. Occasionally he brushed some gently aside but they returned and crept about him, and bored into him. Time passed. Then one night something fell from his armpit, and taking human shape grew rapidly. The father woke - but only for a moment - to see his firs-born son. Then he slept again and produced many other sons in the same way. These young men dug the grubs out of the roots, roasted them and ate them. They also changed into grubs and back again into men. then one day a stranger came. He was a witchetty grub ancestor from another centre, and he wanted to exchange some of his thin grubs for the fat grubs of Lukara. When his request was refused he stole a bundle and ran off. The sleeping father instantly felt the loss as a sharp pain in his body. He rose and stumbled after the thief but after taking only a few steps he sank down. His body became a living tjurunga and so did the bodies of all his sons. It was these tjurunga that thenceforth contained the living essence of things classed as witchetty grub, whether animal or human. It is this life force which enters a woman as a spirit child and it is this life force which can be tapped by ritual handling of a tjurunga or any other sacred object which represents the totemic ancestor.

The attribution of the procreative act to man without the assistance of woman is a recurring theme in Aranda myths. In many of these the father-son relationship has strong Oedipal connotations for the father is frequently described as being physically handicapped, lame or blind, and very often his injury or death has been caused by his son. Strehlow has recorded the northern Aranda myth which tells how the native cat ancestors introduced the initiation rite of sub-incision. At the end of the ceremony the initiated sons danced round the old Namatjirea for the last time, then they stripped the ceremonial objects and destroyed the ground. The eldest son cast a spell which destroyed his father's sight, and they left him, a pitiful half-wit, alone on the ceremonial ground. The motive given for the young man's action was that the old man refused him equal status in the ceremonies. This is a particularly interesting reason when one considers that the admission of young Aranda men to the group's secret life depended on their willingness to submit to the harsh disciplines enforced by the older men.



The Walbiri inhabit a desert region which lies to the west of the north-south road in the central section of the Northern Territory. Their most important Dreamtime spirits are the two wanderers, the Mamandabari. They are either referred to as two brothers or as father and son. They rose out of the ground in the north and began to travel south across Walbiri country, sometimes flying above ground and sometimes travelling under it. They made bullroarers and instituted an important complex of revelationary ceremonies. These included sub-incision and a ritual involving the digging of pits, the erection of poles and the one of firebrands: all elements to be found in the fertility cults practised by the tribes to the north.

As they journeyed they sang of other dreamings they encountered: the ibis, the rain, the whistling duck, the galah parrots and the stinging red ants. They passed the yellow ochre deposits formed by the falling feathers of the budgerigars of the dreaming, and they came to the red ochre deposits made by falling red galah feathers. When they passed into southern Walbiri country they ceased to perform their ritual, so it is not yet practised by the people of that district. At last they reached the spinifex country beyond Haast Bluff where their legs were so badly cut by the coarse desert grass that they decided to return home. They travelled mostly underground until they neared their own territory and then, although they were almost exhausted, they resumed their ritual performances wherever they stopped. 'at last they saw distant campfires burning and thought friends were at hand. Alas, they were the fires of the wild dog-men who pursued and overtook the heroes and destroyed them. Their hearts fell as stones by a waterhole and the dingoes built a fire over their victims' torn bodies to hide the fearful evidence; then they silently loped away. The little budgerigar had been attracted by the terrible commotion and had witnessed the slaughter; he mourned his friends and travelled about the country telling others of their fate.

This myth, recorded by the anthropologist M. J. Meggitt, provides an example of the way in which ideas are diffused, and elements from different sources coalesce. For these male totemic ancestors, so typical of the desert region, are said to have introduced the ritual of the fertility cults like the Kunapipi practised farther north. Indeed, the name given to the cult they sanction is Gadjari, meaning Senior Woman, and the bullroarers which are swung are given the same name.


In the northern Kimberley district of north-western Australia the primal beings of the Ungud (Dreamtime) were called wondjiina. One such was Warana the Eaglehawk who left two eggs in a next and went kangaroo hunting. while he was away the eggs were stolen by Wodoi the Rock Pigeon. Warana guessed who the thief was and gave chase but the pigeon's friend, the owl Djunggun, killed him with his throwing stick and boomerang. Warana turned into a rock painting and the two eggs became two stones outside the cave. Another Wondjiina, Walangada, was a being of undefined form. His name means 'belonging to the sky' and he went up there and became the Milky Way. This was remarkable for a wondjiina because almost all of them became rock paintings and their spirits descended into a sacred waterhole nearby, where their life-giving energy was available for all time. The paintings were retouched at the end of the dry season to bring rains, and to stimulate the renewal of fertility in nature. In some galleries paintings of animals and plants were also retouched to bring about their increase. A dead person's bones were painted with red ochre and placed in the cave of his clan's wondjiina while his spirit descended into the nearby pool and returned to the Ungud to await reincarnation.

In spite of their individual careers the fundamental unity of all these wondjiina primal beings is illustrated by the nature of the paintings. although they range in size from a few feet to sixteen feet they share common characteristics: they are painted against a white ground and the head of each is delineated by a strong band of red or yellow, creating a halo effect. The eyes and nose are linked and there is no mouth, for apparently if the wondjiina had a mouth it would rain incessantly. When the wondjiina are depicted as full length figures their bodies are usually painted with white stripes to represent falling rain.

Sir George Grey, the first European to see the strange paintings in 1838, interpreted their strange appearance as that of haloed priests wearing robes. Later European explorers thought that they must have been the work of oriental visitors of long ago. The aborigines say that the wondjiina made the paintings themselves. Experts certainly regard the paintings as ancient but there is no reason to doubt that they were the work of the aborigines for they are completely bound up with aboriginal traditions. The style in which they are painted is also in accord with the way in which the aborigines generally represented personalised natural phenomena as anthropomorphs.

What then was the natural phenomena that supplied the inspiration for these figures? W. Arndt has noticed how massed heads of wondjiina resemble the banks of cumulo-nimbus clouds that herald the arrival of the rainy season. Backed by the sun or lightning each 'head' of the cloud seems to have a dark headband and a surrounding halo of light. He also draws attention to the Hopi Indian's use of the shape of the cumulo-0nimbus cloud as a rain symbol.

The wondjiina are frequently to be found near paintings of the Rainbow Snake, known in this area as Galeru (Kaleru, Galaru), Ungud or Ungur. Indeed they are often identified as one and the same and certainly share the same concern with the regularity of the rain and the production of spirit children. Designs and figures symbolising lightning, thunder and other storm phenomena are frequently to be found alongside the wondjiina. One gallery of wondjiina-like figures are called Garirinji and it was believed that if these were activated they had the power to unleash tornadoes.


For those who have seen the astonishing way a desert blossoms after rain, it is not surprising that of all the elemental forces of nature it is the rain that the aborigines most frequently associate with regeneration. Almost overnight, after the first rains have fallen in inland and northern Australia, the harsh ground is clothed with tender green. Before the rain the air is heavy and moisture-laden, the clouds bank up and the horizon is lit by distant lightning. But these signs do not always mean that relief is at hand. In this country the tension can build up over days, weeks, months, without rain actually falling, so it is again not surprising to find a proliferation of Dreamtime beings identified with rain-associated phenomena; the thunder, the lightning, the rainbow, the rain clouds and the rain itself, as well as frogs that will appear when the pools are full of water again.

At an important rain-dreaming centre of the Wardaman at Delamere on the Daily River in the Northern Territory, much of the ritual was apparently focused on the Lightning Brothers whose images look down from the walls of a rock shelter. The important initiation rite of sub-incision was said to have been introduced by them. The two brothers fought over the charms of Cananda, wife of the elder brother Tcabuinji. The younger brother Wagjadbulla was killed, some say by his brother's boomerang, others say by his stone axe. In the painting he twelve-foot figure of the young brother towers over the elder who carries a forked object beneath his left arm. One inquirer was told by his aboriginal informant that this was Cananda, but others claimed it was the axe used as the weapon and that Tcabunji could split whole trees with it when he struck as lightning.

The axe certainly seems to be a symbol commonly associated with lightning, not only in Australia but also in Europe and south-east Asia. At Oenpelli in the Northern Territory drawings of the Lightning Man, Mamaragan, show him with stone axes on his joints. He lived at the bottom of a waterhole in the dry season and in the wet season he rode on the tops of the thunderclouds. His voice was the thunder and he struck down with his stone axes at the trees and the people. In eastern Australia similar characteristics were sometimes attributed to Daramulun, whose voice was the thunder. Some rock galleries show him in conjunction with stone axes and other weapons.

Other design motifs which the painting of the Lightning Brothers shares with those of rain-associated beings are their body stripes representing rain, and their lack of a mouth. Attached to their heads are two objects which are more like horns or antennae than ears. Some say that these make them like the gecko, the small lizard that can walk on overhanging surfaces, as the lightning does when it crosses the sky. Curiously enough the Rainbow Snake, (the most important of all rain-associated beings, is sometimes described as having horns, and outside Australia mythical horned beasts are associated with lightning.


The iridescence of pearl shell, the glitter of quartz crystal, the phosphorescence of the sea at night, sunlight trapped in water droplets above a waterfall, these things are for the aborigines the signs and symbols of the Great Snake whose body arches across the sky as the rainbow. On the earth he makes his home in the deep rock pools and waterholes which are the reservoirs of the life-giving rain he has sent down. As his tracks cross the continent his name changes from the north-west and across into the Northern Territory he is known as Galeru, Ungar, Wonungur, Worombi, Wonambi, Wollunqua, Yurlunggur, Julungguf, Langal and Muit; in Queensland his names include Yero and Taipan and in the south-east he is Mindi and Karia, and so on.

In the dreamtine the Rainbow Snake co-existed with the other totemic ancestors; he shared with them the shaping of the landscape, particularly the great waterways, and he produced spirit children. Yet he stands out above the rest because of his particular concern with the regeneration of nature and human fertility. In the Mother cults of Arnhem Land the Great Snake is sometimes identified with the mother herself, sometimes with her male companion, sometimes with both. In many places 'his' sex is not clear and in Australia as in other parts of the world the snake symbolises the ambisexuality of the creator.

There is also a creation-destruction or good-evil polarity about the concept of the Rainbow Snake. His power is so awe inspiring that it must not be meddled with. Pregnant and menstruating women must take particular care not to defile his pools and in the north-east young men who have been recently sub-incised fear to drink from the river in case Keleru seizes them. This association between the Rainbow Snake and blood is a strong theme in the Wikmunkan myth about Taipan, as it was told to U. McConnel.

Taipan's son stole the wife of the blue-tongued lizard. The angry husband caught the pair and killed the boy. He tore his heart out and gave it to the father. Taipan made a gift of the blood to man and as a consequence he controls the physiological processes of men; the circulation of the blood and women's menstrual flow. Taipan was considered to be a great healer and sorcerer. His anger was roused particularly by the breaking of the rules which govern relationships between the sexes. If incest w2as committed or a woman withheld her promised daughter Taipan threw his blood-red knife, which he held by a long string, and the thunder roared and the lightning flashed.

Disease as well as flood is an expression of the Great Snake's wrath. When smallpox was introduced by the Europeans the aborigines near Melbourne called it the scale of Mindi. In the late eighteen-forties there was considerable excitement because it was believed that Mindi was coming and not even friendly settlers would be spared the horrors of the plague.

Rainmakers and medicine men can tap the destructive and the healing powers of the Great Snake by manipulating objects like quartz crystal and pearl shell from which emanate his power. In the north-west the medicine man's initiation into this art involved a journey to the sky on the back of the Rainbow Snake. Only medicine men would dare to venture into a pool sacred to the Rainbow Snake.

This fear of the Rainbow Snake gives rise to an element of propitiation in the aborigine's approach to him. In the initiation ceremonies of eastern Arnhem Land it is said that Julunggul swallows the young boys. The implication is that by letting her do so the rest of the camp is saved from destruction. But even in this role the duality of her character is evident because the great snake later vomits up the boys - a symbolic rebirth that marks their transition from childhood to manhood.


In a myth told by the Murinbata of the north-west of the Northern Territory of W. Stanner, Kunmanggur the Rainbow Snake was cast as a powerful father figure whose authority and sexual supremacy was challenged by Tjinimin the Bat. The women he controlled were described as his daughters the green parrot women. One day the two girls sought their father's permission to go in search of food. No sooner had they left the camp than their brother who lusted after them also left on the pretext that he was going to visit his relatives, the4 flying fox-people. Instead he followed his sisters and forced his attentions on them, using them cruelly. The following day the girls det3rmined to have their revenge. They crossed the river bed ahead of him and then, turning, they 'sang' the hornets to come and sting him and the tide to sweep over him. Tjinimin was carried away but after a while he struggled out on to dry land. Seeing the girls' fire at the top of a cliff he again approached them. They agreed to throw down a rope to pull him up. He began to climb and just as he reached the top they cut the rope. He fell to the rocks below, breaking all his bones. But that was not the end of Tjinimin. His own magic songs restored his bones and he tested his power by cutting off his nose and restoring it again.

Assured of his power he next planned the murder of his father. For his part Kunmanggur must have been aware of Tjinimin's infamous conduct because the green parrot women had returned to the camp, but is not explicitly mentioned and the plot continues to unfold with primal inevitability.

Tjinimin's deception continued; he made a spear which he pretended belonged to his father. When he returned to camp he kept it hidden. On the way he invited all the people to a big ceremony and fired the hilltops to announce its commencement. The famous song-man, the Diver Bird, came and Kunmanggur played the drone pipe while Tjinimin led the dancing. He danced so as to arouse the women's desire and then, at the peak of his performance, he drew forth the spear and slew his father. Instantly all the dancers were transformed into flying foxes and birds and flew away crying with grief. Tjinimin fled - none dared to stop him.

The old man went from place to place seeking ways to staunch his blood and heal the wound. Wherever he rested life-giving water welled up. In one place he left the shape of his body and his footprints on the rock wall, in others he left his possessions; his stone axe, fishing net and forehead band. At last he came to the sea, and entering it he gathered the fire of the world and placed it on his head as a headdress. Slowly it dawned on the watchers that he intended to go down, carrying the fire with him. too late the last brand was snatched away; it had already gone out. Then Pilirin the Kestrel gave fire back to men by using two fire-sticks. This had never been done before.

This powerful vision of the founding drama as a primal tragedy is a compelling comment on the human condition as it appears to the Murinbata. W.Stanner, to whom this myth was told, defined the underlying theme as one of 'perennial goodness with suffering'. Furthermore he found that the more details he sought about Kunmanggur the more this powerful image conjured up by the myth receded into ambiguity. Sometimes Kunmanggur the Rainbow Snake appeared to be either bi-sexual, or a woman; even when he was described as male he had the breasts of a woman. There is also obvious phallic symbolism, in the belief that the rainbow was formed by the water he spat from his drone pipe and that this water also carried the spirit children and the young flying foxes he made.

Elsewhere in Arnhem Land the theme of the Rainbow Snake was frequently an important element in the myth which validated the ritual of the fertility cult. Amongst the Murinbata themselves it was unaccompanied by a rite, their most important revelationary ritual being sanctioned by the myth of Kalwadi, the Old Woman. Stanner suggests that there may be an historical explanation for his shift in emphasis from the father figure to the 'Mother of us All', for it parallels an apparently recent change in the system of social organisation from a patrilineal to a matrilineal emphasis.


Along the coastal fringe of the Northern Territory the sub-tropical growth and the plentiful supply of fish, dugong, turtle and crocodile, as well as the great variety of wild fowl and small game makes nature appear more generous than she seems in many other parts of the continent. Yet the rhythm of life in this tropical region is bound to the endless cycle of dry and wet seasons which regulates the abundance of the food resources and inspires the deep concern with fertility that dominates the religious cults of the area.

In the days before European settlement, the north-west monsoons which bring the wet season also brought contacts with the outside world. The Malays and Macassans came down in their praus to trade and fish and retu4rnedd with the south-east winds laden with trepang and pearl shell. Before them had come the legendary golden-skinned Baijini who may have been sea gypsies of the Malay archipelago, and who were sometimes described by the aborigines as the contemporaries of their own ancestral beings who were also said to have come from across the sea. In western Arnhem Land the Mother-Who Made Us All, called by some tribes Waramurungundju and others Imberombera, came out of the sea from the direction of Indonesia. She made the landscape and from her body she produced many children, animals and plants which she distributed. She assigned a language to each group of people. On the other side of Arnhem Land, R. M. Berndt recorded the songs the Alawa people sing of the coming of the Great Mother, Kunapipi, to the mouth of the Roper River:

Tidal water flowing, white foam on the waves.
Fresh water from the rains flows into the river.
There are the paperbark trees: their soft bark
falls into the water...
Rain falls from the clouds...
Waters of the river are swirling...
She, Kunappi, emerges, and walks on dry land.


North of Roper river, also on the eastern coast, Laindjung rose out of the sea, at Blue Mud Bay, his face foam-stained and his body patterned with salt water marks. These patterns and the accompanying ritual he gave to the jiridja moiety. For in this north-east corner of Arnhem Land the Wulamba people classify everything in the universe as belonging to either the dua or the jiridja moiety. This division was laid down in the wongar or Dreamtime by the Djanggawul beings, two sisters and a brother who crossed the sea from Bralgu in the east and landed where Port Bradshaw is now. Each moiety owns its own myths and ritual and is responsible for initiating the ceremonies and acting the principle roles, but members of both moieties participate in the cult activities so that the arrangement is a way of sharing ceremonial responsibilities rather than a division. Of the two myth complexes those that relate to the Djanggawul creative beings are certainly the most important. Their journey is celebrated in a great cycle of some 500 songs rich in cryptic and symbolic imagery to which the translations and annotations of R. M. Berndt in Djanggawul provide a key.

The eternally pregnant Djanggwul (Djanggau, Djunkgao) sisters are a dual manifestation of the Fertility Mother. The cycle begins with an evocative description of the two women, their brother and a companion, Bralbral, paddling along, following the path of the morning star which guides them in their journey from Bralga, the dua island home of the dead. (The Wulamba believe that the morning star is really a ball of seagull feathers attached to a long string which is played out by the spirits.) With them they carry the conical plaited ngainmara mat, the sacred dilly bag and the rangga emblems to use in their sacred ritual. The words of the first song recreate the scene.

1. Djanggawul, look back; and see the rays
of light leading back to our island of
Shine that falls on the paddle as it's dipped
into and drawn from the sea:
Shine that spreads from the Star's rays,
from Bralgu.
The Morning Star skimming the sea's surface,
sent by the dancing spirits there,
Shine following us from Bralga, like a feathered
ball with string attached.
Foam and bubbles rise to the sea's surface:
a large wave carries us on the crest.
The roar of the sea, the sound of our paddling,
the spray of th4e waves, its salty smell!
We carry with us the sacred mat within which
like the sacred rangga objects.

In both the songs and the ritual the mat represents the womb; the rangga are sometimes phallic symbols and sometimes identified with the children the sisters produce. In some versions, the sisters are themselves identified with the sun.

As the sun came up and warmed their backs they likened its rays to the red parakeet-feathered string with which they decoratged the rangga. After they arrived at the Place of the Sun, the present Port Bradshaw, the party began to walk overland. Wherever Djanggawul thrust his mauwalan, or walking stick-rangga, into the ground water welled up. The same thing happened when the sisters thrust their yam stick-ranggas into the ground, and when they used the tree-rangga trees sprang up. but their most important activity was the removal of the children from the mat and the dilly bag and from the sisters' wombs, for they were constantly being made pregnant by the Djanggawul brother.

They left animals and plants for the people they made and they also left them sacred rangga emblems and taught them the nara ceremonies. They not only met other ancestral beings but also the Baijini whom they forced to move.
The women played the principal part in all these activities until one day they left their sacred objects in the main camp while they went to gather shellfish. The brother and his companions returned to camp and stole the sacred paraphernalia. The whistle of a mangrove bird warned the sisters that something was wrong and fearing a fire had burnt their possessions they hurried back. They discovered the men's tracks and followed them but as they drew near the men the latter began to beat the sticks and chant the sacred songs. The women drew back afraid. The power to perform the sacred ritual had bypassed from them to the men, who have retained it ever since. In Djanggawul, in the 140th song, the sisters sing:
Let us kneel down in the mud, crawling
We leave it for them, for our younger
We shall grand the cycad nut, preparing the
bread for them, for our Brother!
We shall whiten our hands with flour, for
it is better that way...
With our hands we shall hold the grinding
stone; we shall hang from our foreheads
our bags of 'coffee' tree fibre, collecting
We leave that ritual for them for they want it that way.

At the beginning of the journey the women had elongated genitals so that, in a sense, they embodied the male and female principle in nature but in the course of the journey the brother shortened these and the pieces became sacred rangga. After the theft of the sacred objects the final symbolic transfer of their power occurred when he but them for the last time and made them like 'proper women'. As the Djanggawul journeyed along the northern Arnhem Land coast towards the setting sun they continu3ed their procreative activities and established the rules by which the people they made should live.
The idea that the women controlled the religious life until the sacredparaphernalia was stolen by the men or handed over to them, is a recurring theme in aboriginal myths.

In the nara ceremonies in which the Djanggawul story is re-lived the bough shade or hut on the sacred ground represents both the ngainmara mat and the womb of the mother. In it are stored the sacred rangga which men have made 'the same' as the originals. The ritual is revelationary in intent, designed to lead the fully initiated man deeper into the sacred life. But the women and the uninitiated are also involved, for in the ngainmara ceremony which is performed in the main camp, they are gathered together and hidden underneath mats. As the men dance round them poking at them with sticks and spears they wriggle in response like children in the womb. The climax comes with their emergence from under the mat re-living in their actions the primal birth of their ancestors from the wombs of the Djanggawul sisters.


The Wawalag or Wauwalak sisters whose story is told in north-eastern Arnhem Land are sometimes described as the daughters of the elder Djanggawul sister, but although their myth substantiates the fertility cult of the area and they are concerned with fertility they are not creators. The important incident in their story is their encounter with the great python or Rainbow Snake Yurlunggur, or Julunggul.

In the Milingimbi version of the story as told to L. Warner, the sisters were said to have come from the south after having had incestuous relations with their clansmen. One of them was carrying a baby boy. As they travelled they named the animals and plants and spoke different languages in each territory they passed through. After a while the younger sister gave birth to a girl. They continued on towards the sea until unwittingly they camped beside Yurlunggur's waterhole. They prepared their food but as soon as they placed each animal and plant on the fire it jumped out and dived into the waterhole because it had taken on the sacredness of the well. Then the elder sister went to fetch water and profaned the pool with her menstrual blood. The great snake rose up in anger and the water spilled from the well and flooded the countryside - the rain fell. At last the women realised their danger and tried to stop the rain and the advance of the great snake towards them by singing and dancing. Whenever they paused he moved forward. At last they fell asleep and he swallowed them. Again he raised himself to the sky and all the other great pythons of the other centres also raised themselves up. The great snakes talked together about the ritual they shared although they spoke different languages. Then they told each other what they had just eaten. When it came to Yurlunggur's turn he was ashamed and at first refused to say, but at last he admitted to having eaten the two sisters and their children. Then he fell down, splitting the ground, and spewed up the women and children. Green ants bit them revived and them. Again he swallowed them and again he regurgitated them, and each time he rose up and fell down he made a ceremonial ground for each of the great rituals with which this myth is associated. The most important of these ceremonies are the Djunggawon or Djungguan, the Kunapipi or Gunabibi, and the Ngurlmak, or Ulmark. All of them are both initiatory and revelationary in intent, although the Djunggawon is concerned particularly with circumcision. In each the central theme of the myth, namely the swallowing and regurgitation of the sisters by the snake is ritually represented. In the Kunapipi the ceremonial ground stands for the body of the great snake and a hole is dug to represent the sacred well. Later a crescent-shaped trench is dug which is the hollow made by the great snake's fall, and also symbolises the womb of the Mother.

In some variants of the myth the great python is said to be the women's brother. In others it is female, Julunggul for example, and is therefore more easily identified with the image of the swallowing - regurgitating mother of the ritual and of other myths. In the Djunggawon the great snake is represented by the trumpet Yurlunggur (Julunggul). In the Kunapipi the great snake's name is Muit. In the same ceremony the voice of the snake is the sound of the bullroarer and is called Mumuna. This is an alternative name for Kunapipi, the Great Mother, and it is also one of the names given to the Lightning Snake. In the Ngurlmak the same great snake is called Uwar, represented by a hollow log drum.

One can take any one of these names and establish links with other myths and rites throughout the whole northern section of the Northern Territory, thus demonstrating not only the dynamic nature of the cults of the area but also the common concern with fertility which flows through them and finds expression in the interlocking images of the Great Mother and the Rainbow Snake.


In western Arnhem Land Urbar is the name of a cult, and the beating of the urbar drum summons the men to the ceremonial ground. A low whistling sound introduces the first dancers and this is said to be the wind whistling through the horns of the Rainbow Snake as he raises his body up and across the sky to announce the coming of the wet season.

One part of the ceremony re-enacts the killing of a mother and daughter by Jurawadbad because the daughter who was betrothed to him refused to sleep with him. He made a hollow urbar and hid inside it in snake form. The women came in search of small game and peered into the log. When the daughter looked the snake shut his eyes and she saw only darkness, when this mother looked he opened his eyes and as she saw right through the thought it was empty. The women placed their hands in the log and were bitten and died.


Because the Wawalag sisters came from the south they are sometimes identified with the Mungamunga girls, who in the south of Arnhem Land are described as the daughters of Kunapipi. this is the Kunapipi who lends her name to the Kunapipi-Kalwadi-Kadjari complex of ceremonies which are perhaps the most widespread of the mysteries or cults of the Great Mother. In recent years it has extended west from the Roper River in a wide sweep that encompasses almost all Arnhem Land and continues across the central-west of the Northern Territory into Western Australia.

In the myth told by the Mara of the roper River area to R. M. Berndt, Kunapipi exploited the charm of her daughters to ensnare young men whom she killed and ate. When she tried to vomit them up only the bones appeared and the ants weren't able to revive them. This state of affairs continued for some time until a very powerful man, Eaglehawk, decided to investigate the disappearance of so many men. He caught Kunapipi in the act and killed her. As she died she cried out, and her sound entered every tree. Eaglehawk cut a bullroarer from a tree, and in swinging it gave back her cry as 'mumuna'. This became her secret name in the ritual. Now men enter the sacred ceremonial ground which represents her womb and later re-emerge as new men.

In the Murinbata myth of the Old Woman, Kalwadi, as told to W. Stanner, the rebirth of the children was made possible by her death. Mutjingga, for what was her name, was left in charge of the children. She tended them carefully and when the time came for them to rest she made a sleeping place in the shade. She pretended to look for lice in one child's hair and swallowed her whole. Then she swallowed another nine children and left the camp. On their return, the parents were horrified to find their children missing and searched for the guardian-grandmother. Splitting into two parties they followed the river on opposite banks. At first the water was clear but then it became murky and they knew they were coming closer to her, so they hurried ahead and then turned back to face her. As they saw her big eyes appear above the surface Left Hand pierced her legs with his spear and Right Hand broke her neck with his club. To her cries of protest they replied: 'Yours was the fault.' For they truly regretted killing her. They cut her open and removed the children alive from her womb, because this was where they had gone when she swallowed them. They washed, painted, and adorned them and retu4rned them to their mothers who cried out: 'She swallowed you.'

This too is a tragic theme. It is the validating myth of the highest revelationary ceremony of the Murinbata called the Punj. The young neophytes approach this with fear and awe because they believe they are about to be swallowed and vomited up by the Old Woman. In these mysteries Kalwadi's voice is the sound of the swinging bullroarer and the blood of the mother, with which they are smeared, is supplied by their potential wife's brother. They are transformed by the experience and emerge from the sacred ground to a new adult role in the society.


Aboriginal man believes that after death at least some part of a man's spiritual essence is re-united with the Eternal Dreaming. Sometimes this implies a return to the site laid down by the totemic ancestor but over most of eastern Australia the spirit rejoined the heroes in the sky world. The people of the lower Murray river district believed that Ngurunderi established the route the soul should take when he journeyed to Kangaroo Island off 4he South Australian coast and then went up into the sky. Two ideas which are found elsewhere in Oceania also occurred along the east coast. They are the belief in the existence of a Leaping Place for souls and the belief that the land of the dead was reached by crossing a hazardous log or tree bridge. In parts of the north-west it was thought that the land of the dead lay over the sea to the west. In north-eastern Arnhem Land dual spirits are ferried to the island of Bralgu by Ngnug the paddle maker, while jiridja spirits journey to Badu, an island somewhere in the Torres Straits. There they are welcomed by the Kultana, or Guldana, whose duty it is to light fires to guide them to their destination.

In spite of this assurance that the spirit is eternal, death is still regarded as a crisis. Few deaths are thought to be from natural causes. An inquest is held and retribution sought. A part of a man's spirit may also linger round his old haunts and came trouble.
The Aranda affirmed that a primal murder was the explanation of the origin of death. When the curlews emerged in the Dreamtime the women came out first, followed by the men. The first man was thought to have followed too closely behind the women so the others killed him by pointing a magic bone at him. After they buried him the women began to dance round the grave and slowly he broke through the crust again. Seeing this the magpie flew down and speared him, then trampled him back into the ground again. The grief-stricken women flew away as curlews and mankind lost the chance of becoming immortal. Throughout Australia curlews are associated with death and mourning, no doubt because of their mournful cry.

Amongst the Murinbata it was Crow who robbed man of the chance to return to life. Crab showed how life could be renewed by changing one's shell but Crow said that it took too long and, after pecking out it took too long and, after pecking out Crab's eyes, fell down dead.

The Wonguri-Mandigai song cycle of the Moon-bone from Arnhem Bay tells how Moon, a man, lived with his sister, Dugong, by the side of the claypan which, in the rainy season, becomes a billabong. Dugong complained that the place was dangerous because the leeches bit her as she searched for edible roots. So one day she went into the sea and turned into a dugong. 'When I die', she said. 'I won't come back, but you may pick up my bones.'
Moon replied that he didn't want to die, that he would go into the sky. When he grew old he went down into the sea and threw his bones away, to be washed up as the nautilus shell. After three days he reappeared and gradually regained his size and strength by eating lotus and lily roots.

Once again it is R. M. Berndt who by his translation of this song-cycle has enabled us to share the beauty of the songs of the people who live beside the claypan and gather their foods and tell of the moon's death and renewal.
New the New Moon is hanging, having
cast away his bone:

Gradually he grows larger, taking on new
bone and flesh.
Over there, far away, he has shed his bone:
he shines on the place of the Lotus Root,
and the place of the Dugong,
On the place of the Evening Star, of the
Dugong's Tail, of the moonlit Claypan...

His old home gone, now the New Moon
grows larger;
Gradually growing, his new bone growing
as well.
Over there, the horns of the old reeding
moon bent down, sank into the place
of the Dugong:
His horns were pointing towards the place
of the Dugong.
Now the New Moon swells to fullness, his
bone grown larger.
He looks on the water, hanging above it,
at the place of the Lotus.
There he comes into sight, hanging above
the sea, growing larger and older...
There far away he has come back, hanging
over the clans near Milingimbi...
Hanging there in the sky above those clans...

These songs will probably not be sung beside the claypan for many more years for the link which binds aboriginal man to 'his country' is a fragile one, unlikely - even in northern Australia - to survive as he is absorbed into modern Australian society. But a people who can express their beliefs with such poetry and rich imagination can hardly be dismissed. They must be permitted to make their own contribution - indeed we cannot afford to reject the legacy of the timeless ideas expressed in their myths.


    Aboriginal Anthropology I

The Australian landscape and the surrounding natural features were some of the things that shape Aboriginal mythology which, in turn, had become projections of "the time long past". In Aboriginal society, the women were responsible for extracting, used and cooked bush foods while older women transmitted knowledge about bush lore to younger women and children. The men and women together were both responsible for undertaking subsistence activity to support their family.
From an early age, children were encouraged to learn about bush lore. For boys, there were many opportunities to become familiar with territories other than his own since at circumcision he is taken to tribes other than his own. Girls, however, were primarily restricted to the family camp. Fathers sustained authority over their children, such as in relation to marriage arrangements, but it was generally the mother and the grandmother who had the primary right to discipline their children. Women also had rituals of their own and did not regard men's ceremonies as a privilege from which they were excluded.


Until on the threshold of marriage, young women had little contact with the group into which they were destined to marry some day - that is, the affinal group to which the woman was betrothed or promised. After the age of nine years, or possibly later, the young woman was handed over to her future husband and sleep at his fire side from time to time. In this respect, the young girls generally aged between nine and thirteen were not required to participate in sexual relation with their future husbands until they were beyond puberty.

Transition from childhood to adolescence and preparation for marriage were dealt with in some detail by Aboriginal women. Younger Aboriginal women were well aware of what was involved with sex and sexual intercourse. At tone time, certain Aboriginal tribes practised introcision which was done by the old women. This was conducted when women wished to hasten puberty, the ceremony being regarded as essentially desirable since a girl can then take lovers. Ritual details were kept secret from men and often occurred as a counterpart to male sub-incision. During the ritual, young women were told associated myths and acquired additional esoteric knowledge about Aboriginal religion.

Personal ritual for women usually occurred before and after menstruation, which some men feared because contact with a menstruating woman could cause sickness. Women had to remain apart from their family camps for three to five days, where they were painted in red ochre by female kin. Food taboos were observed during times of menstruation and pregnancy. These taboos which restricted the consumption of bush food such as porcupine, snake, turkey and barramundi were similar to those imposed on young men during initiation.

Indications that marriage was positive for women included economic reciprocity whereby the betrothed man handed over gifts to the woman's parents from betrothal onwards. Betrothed women, on the other hand, were not required to make any material sacrifices because their intentions were less obvious. In some cases, young girls who were betrothed and married after puberty had run away from their husbands because their husbands were too old or had frightened them. They were usually sent back by their parents and, from all accounts, sought lovers, one of whom they would eventually marry. Aboriginal marriages in general do not allow freedom of choice in marriage partners. Indeed, out of the disputes, discontent, reconciliations, and affection between those who are married, a relationship would seem to emerge which has in it the elements of permanency and the advantages which have, in part, been deduced, and in part, directly formulated by the people themselves. In fact, from childhood onwards, men and women were expected to marry individuals of a certain subsection or social classification, and that such an arrangement did not necessarily result in the oppression of women. Anthropological studies suggest that Aboriginal people have a desire to marry in accordance with the prescribed rules, although in some cases, elopements did occur. In general, there was a recognized procedure in courtship, which could be initiated by a woman or a man.
Most marriages were in accordance with the preferred model and monogamous unions were the most consistent form of marriage. Polygamous unions, where two women were married to one man, involved older men, although young stock boys occasionally had two wives, due mainly to their role as employees on stations where they receive additional material resources, such as tobacco, clothes, tools and food, giving them a wealth and prestige they would otherwise not have known. Alternative marriages also existed which were connected to kinship rather than to social subsection that normally regulated marriage.

Authority was vested collectively in a family group rather in particular individuals for social arrangements such as marriage. This process also occurred with gifts exchange. How gifts were provided by a man to his future in-laws formalize the union and distinguished it from a casual liaison. Gift exchange also gave the man the right to take his wife away to his own family resident in accordance with the rules of patrilocal resident. The man would also claim any children that were born as his own. Soon after betrothal, the first gift such as hair-belt, pearl-shell, spears, and axes were made. The mother of the girl received her share of these because she exercised equal rights over her child. While gift exchange might seem to exchange an element of compensation for the loss of a family member to the girl's parents, the bond with relatives and country persisted after marriage. Indeed, the process surrounding marriage ensured that the woman's family secured alliances with individuals in other hordes, along with the right to visit them. The principles of matrilineal succession, such as inheritance of knowledge and rights in land which were transmitted through women, were considered to be significant because they predate ethnographic consideration of matrilineal affiliations to land.

Rights and duties of women in marriage

Patrilocal residents produced one of the fundamental alterations in a woman's life when, after marriage, she moved to her husband's country. In doing this, the woman did not lose her claim to her father's country nor did the husband exert arbitrary rights over his wife as a moveable piece of property. The women were free to move about in their husbands' territories, to forage for food and came to know the sacred sites and stones for ceremonies aimed at ensuring the maintenance of a plentiful and reliable food supply. These ceremonies were referred to as increase ceremonies. In their daily life, the men had greater responsibility for ritual activity with the women often being central to the performance of increased ceremonies carried out by the old woman or women who were wives of the head men. On marriage, women's relationships to others were widened to include an important set of reliable affinal kin. As both wife and in-law, a married woman became the keeper of the hearth, gatherer of fire woods, bearer of her own and her husband's burden, and has the right to own property. Upon death, the property, such as billycan, digging stick, fighting stick, axe, knife, of women did not revert to their husbands; it was either destroyed or distributed to the woman's relative.

Much of the discussion at "inter-tribal meetings" before the initiation of a boy concerned remembering but not naming deceased relatives, and reconciling grievances, such as those resulting from extra-marital affairs. There were also attempts to settle certain scores, such as when a woman was attacked with a fighting stick by her sister because she had not prevented an elopement. In this respect, authority, when yielded, was in the hands of those closely connected with the individual involved. There was also a sharp distinction between illicit affairs and promiscuity with the latter being dealt with by "contempt". No moral judgments were made on the formation of new liaison and, once disputes were settled publicly, the new marriage was accepted.

With regard to the affection between husband and wife and other kin's people, temporarily disruption, such as adultery, were usually tolerated and/or resolved by the means described above or by some form of material compensation to the aggrieved man or woman. On the whole, there certainly seems to be present a bond of affection that manifested itself when either husband or wife was in danger or ill. In some cases, men would sit for hours by their sick wives, fetching water, providing shade and physical comfort. With regard to adult authority over children, the common interest of women and men in children consolidated the marital relationship. While children of both sexes inherited their father's country and dream totems, education and discipline during childhood were largely in the hand of the mother. It is perhaps worth noting that the mother received a share of the gifts distributed at the circumcision and sub-incision of her son, and presents are handed over to her by her son-in-law during his marriage to her daughter. Some of these be later passes on to her own relatives.

In Aboriginal society, there were many positive aspects to marriage for women. They acquired more intimate relationships with the individual in other hordes together with the right to visit them; the experience of grief and anxiety during the circumcision and sub-incision of sons showed a woman to be someone of consequence. Marriage was unambiguously based on the necessity of satisfying sexual, economic and social needs that were influenced by the cultural environment. Women were not oppressed by marriage, which brought with it a certain status, companionship, protection and settled existence that were sanctioned by all members of the community.

The functions of women in the larger social groups

Women's part in wider social groupings can only be understood if their role in the economic, kinship and political organisation were taken into account. The pervasive force of totemism with all it ethical and religious implications provided some of the sanctions that underpinned marriage, berthing ceremonies, puberty, death and the authority of both men and women. In particular, totemism tied women and men into larger social groupings in both sacred and profane activity. In this respect, both the men and women made the article they needed for their own purposes. The women made fighting and digging sticks, necklaces and swag while the men made their own spears for hunting, fishing and fighting, spear-throwers, boomerangs, shields, necklaces and armbands. The women and men also undertook joint activities such as spinning human hair into threads or belts, tassels and headband. Young boys, as part of initiation, were taught to manufacture articles such as axes while after puberty, young girls were taught by women to make digging and fighting sticks.

Economic transactions fulfilled kinship obligation and ensured an exchange of resources from one region to another. This involved a chain of women and men as partners with the variety of consanguineal, affinal and classificatory relatives. These exchanges occurred over distances of up to 400 miles with some of the resources traded being shelled, wild honey, flower, boomerang, shovel-nosed spears, red ochre, necklaces, and dresses. Under the system, the partner would eventually receive the equivalent of what he or she had given previously with conflict being resolved by the public airing of grievances and by the withdrawal of various resources. Women and their role as members of a horde united women with their country and it was both an economic and spiritual affiliation. Indeed, when the women dies, her bones will find the resting place there. Also, it was the men who performed corroborees associated with the cult-totem and these intensified the sentiment for the horde.

The women seemed to be just as desirous as the men, when the opportunity offered, of visiting their horde country, the increase site, and resting place of the totemic ancestors. The women seemed just as deeply convinced of the economic superiority of their territory over all others, including event hose of their husbands. This sentiment probably springs from long residents during childhood, knowledge of economic resources, sacred sites, myths, totemic affiliations and kinship ties with other individuals who also belong to the country. A strong bond existed among women, in part because they shared so many of their pursuits such as foraging and hunting together. In such circumstances, focus and positive interests created the conditions for a sense of shared identity among women, although there was also a great deal of co-operation with their husbands and other male kin, especially in economic and social matters.
The spiritual heritage of Aboriginal women

Women had the right to receive benefits from totemic ceremonies as these were first instituted by the totemic ancestors for Aboriginal men and women. In this respect, totems were regarded as not merely objects appropriated by Aboriginal groups but an expression of kinship with the environment. They were fundamental to how the mythic beings created the earth and all it contained in plant and animal forms. Myth that accounted for the inauguration of certain customs all describe totem ancestors who stood in a kinship relation to each other and had subsection names. Having performed their tasks, the totemic ancestors change into birds, animals, reptiles and rocks.

The time long past when the world was created, in compass a variety of totemic beliefs. These included "conception totems", "sub-section totems", "moiety totems", "dream totems", and "cult totems" all of which provided connections between people and their environment including various plants and animal species, and to the Dreaming. The conception totem was identified as a manifestation of the affinity between people and nature; it had "developed out of, and is determined by, the native belief about Narungani and spirit children".

      Aboriginal Anthropology II

 Australian Aborigines And Their Culture

Aborigines came to Australia from the north probably more than 18,000 years ago. They migrated during the last Ice Age, when the spreading polar ice caps took up so much water that the general sea-level fell, exposing more land. They crossed at least two stretches of water in canoes or on rafts. Aborigines are classified as Australoids, a stock distinct from the three main groups of mankind: the Caucasoid (typified by the European), the Negroid (typified by the African Negro) and the Mongoloid (typified by the Chinese). As a distinct type, the Australoids probably became differentiated in South-east Asia and possibly in the Malay Archipelago. There are isolated groups of people in Asia and the west Pacific with physical resemblances to the Aborigines. these include some Aboriginal hill tribes of Southern India, the Veddas of Ceylon, and the Sakai of Malaysia. There are also traces of Australoid groups in Celebes and New Guinea. Moreover, archaeology points to their presence probably thirty thousand years ago in Java. the dingo, which the Aborigines brought with them to Australia, is believed to be related to the paraiah dog of India.

Although all Aborigines share common features, there appear to be somewhat different regional types. They all have dark brown skin and dark wavy hair, are of about medium height and slender build, and have a very erect, graceful carriage. However, some are shorter, lighter-skinned, and have rather curly hair; others are of medium height and heavy physique, with high foreheads and high-bridged noses; others again have darker colouring, flat noses and are tall and slim. These types might indicate separate migrations into Australia by different peoples, but this is unproven and many authorities believe the Aborigines are homogeneous - that is, from the same stock. They attribute the different 'types' on the one hand to special environments and diets and on the other to genetic variation and selection. Although some northern coastal tribes had a long history of sporadic contact with people from Macassar and possibly other parts of the Indies, most Aborigines for many millennia were isolated from the rest of mankind.

The Tasmanians were a negritoid group with a rather simpler material culture than the Australians. It is not known how they came to Tasmania. Their canoes may have been blown from the New Hebrides or they may have entered Australia from the north and later been driven across Bass Strait by the Australians. They became extinct late last century but some part-Tasmanians survive. When the Aborigines arrived in Australia men all over the world used stone tools and were nomadic hunters and food collectors, as they had been for hundreds of thousands of years. Domestications of animals and cultivation of crops began about 10,000 years ago in Europe. Civilisation as we know it began only about 5,000 years ago, when farmers in very fertile areas around the Eastern Mediterranean began to produce sufficient surplus food which allowed some people to specialise as craftsmen, merchants and priests. Metals were first used in Asia and Egypt at about this time, but not in Europe until about 3,000 years ago.

The Aborigines did not develop along similar lines; they never became food-producers but remained hunters, collectors and makers of stone, bone, shell and wooden implements. The main reasons for this were their unsuitable environment and their isolation. Australia had no indigenous animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, horses or asses which could be herded for food supplies or used as beasts of burden or draught. It had no indigenous grain foods which could be cultivated. The Aborigines were also largely denied the stimulating effect of intercourse with developing societies. They were entirely dependent on nature and were constantly on the move in search of food and water. Since there is a limit to the kinds and yields of foods which nature will reduce without assistance, they were never a numerous people; mere handfuls were scattered across a great continent cut off from the rest of the world. At the time of European settlement there were no more than 300,000 Aborigines in Australia, an average population density of one person per 10 to 15 square miles.

They were divided into about 500 regional groups or tribes, ranging in size from perhaps 100 to 1,500 persons. A tribe has been defined for Australia as a group of Aborigines having in common a language or dialect, a body of similar customs and beliefs and occupying a fairly definite territory. In several parts of the continent, especially in good environments, there were not clear-cut 'tribal' divisions. there might be several dialects within larger tribes (e.g. there are four or five Aranda dialects) and tribes otherwise distinct might speak closely related dialects. Again, adjacent tribes might share almost identical customs, and portions of different tribes might make common use at times of one tract of country. Generally speaking, the numbers of a tribe believed themselves related through descent from common ancestors, who brought their pre-existent spirits to the regions where they were later born. Because of this, they considered themselves tied to the territory which in the long past was inhabited, and given its natural characteristics, by these ancestors who were credited with super-human abilities. The size of tribal territories varied with the fertility of the country, ranging from a few hundred square miles often with relatively well-defined boundaries in coastal areas, to large areas in the arid regions, such as the 25,000 square miles of the Aranda in central Australia. In these cases, tribal territories were sometimes separated by useless country - a kind of 'no man's land'.

Because of the relatively small numbers, became each tribe lived in comparative isolation, and because the environments differed so greatly, life varied somewhat from region to region although it had a common basic pattern. Except for short periods and in good seasons, people who lived off the country could not live in groups several hundred strong. Logically, therefore, a tribe consisted of several hunting and food-gathering hands or 'hordes', each of which had its own recognized 'country', and each of which consisted of several generations of related men and their wives and children. Such a band probably never numbered more than about 50, and in desert areas was much smaller. In good times several hordes sometimes might remain together for considerable periods. Each horde normally had as its nucleus a small descent-group or 'clan'. the members of this clan had religious ties with a series of sacred sites in its own part of the tribal territory. This area was their spiritual home and men of the local group were its ceremonial guardians.

The horde generally ranged over the country surrounding its sacred sits, but was free to move more widely. by agreement it could cross the hunting areas of other hordes and frequently shared the use of their resources. Tribal economy was a hunting and collecting one, but the Aborigines did not wander aimlessly about the countryside. They exploited their territory in accordance with definite routines determined by the seasonal supply of food and water. They took care not to waste precious or scarce resources. Totemic and other religious and social taboos served in some measure to protect useful plants and animals. The Aborigines' attitude was expressed very clearly in their religion; it was one of active co-operation with the rhythms, patterns and structure of nature. For many thousands of years they maintained a delicate balance between man and environment. Food collecting depended on the seasons and, up to a point, so did large-scale social activity. The ripening of the bunya pine nuts in central Queensland and the breeding of the bogong moth in New South Wales were occasions for groups of Aborigines, more than 1,000 strong, to come together. These were times of great excitement and activity - feasting, trading, the performance of ceremonies and rites, learning new customs, meeting old friends, and settling old scores. The social season in parts of central Australia was summer, when the smaller water holes dried up and the people were obliged to converge on permanent waters.

Aborigines were limited to the range of foods occurring naturally in their area, but they knew exactly when, where and how to find everything edible. Anthropologists and nutrition experts who studied the tribal diet in Arnhem Land found it to be well-balanced, with most of the nutrients modern dietitians recommend. But food was not obtained without effort. In some areas both men and women had to spend from half to two-thirds of each day hunting or foraging for food. Each day the women of the horde went into successive parts of one countryside, with wooden digging sticks and plaited dilly bags or wooden coolamons. They dug yams and edible roots and collected fruits, berries, seeds, vegetables and insects. They killed lizards, bandicoots and other small creatures with digging sticks. The men went hunting. Small game such as birds, opossums, lizards and snakes were often taken by hand. Larger animals and birds such as kangaroos and emus were seared or disabled with a thrown club, boomerang, or stone. Many indigenous devices were used to get within striking distance of prey. The men were excellent trackers and stalkers and approached their prey running where there was cover, or 'freezing' and crawling in the open. They were careful to stay downwind, and sometimes covered themselves with mud to disguise their smell.

Frequently disguises were used. Mud also served as camouflage, or the hunter held a bush in front of him while stalking in the open. He glided through water with a bunch of rushes or a lily-leaf over his head until he was close enough to pull down a water-bird. He prepared 'hides' and, with bait or birdcalls, lured birds to within grabbing distance. He attracted emus, which are inquisitive birds, by imitating their movements with a stick and a bunch of feathers or some other simple device. Fish were sometimes taken by hand by stirring up the muddy bottom of a pool until they rose to the surface, or by pacing the crushed leaves of poisonous plants in the water to stupefy them. Fish were sometimes taken by hand by stirring up the muddy bottom of a pool until they rose to the surface, or by placing the crushed leaves of poisonous plants in the water to stupefy them. Fish spears, nets, wicker or stone traps were also used in different areas. Lines with hooks made from bone, shell, wood or spines were used along the north and east coasts. Dugong, turtle and large fish were harpooned, the harpooner launching himself bodily from the canoe to give added weight to the thrust.

Hunting was frequently organised on co-operative lines. Groups of men combined to drive animals into a line of spearsmen, a brush-fence, or large nets. Sometimes a U-shaped area was fenced and the trapped animals killed. Animals were also trapped in snares, pits, and partly-enclosed water-holes. there was a fairly clear division of labour between the sexes in food-collecting, but this was not rigidly maintained. The main concern was to get food. The women's work may appear monotonous drudgery, but it was usually easier than the men's. Hunting was arduous, and the men often had to walk, run, or crawl long distances. In poor country the men often returned empty-handed but the women invariably collected something - perhaps only a few roots and tiny lizards - but sufficient to tide the family over. Inland, the quest for water was a life and death matter. Aborigines survived where others would perish. they knew all the water holes and soaks in their area. They drained dew, and obtained water from certain trees and roots. They even dug up and squeezed out frogs which store water in their bodies.

Very little effort went into the preparation of food and much was eaten raw. Meat was cooked quickly on fires, in hot coals and ashes, or in ovens scooped in the earth. roots were pounded, and seeds ground between stones, winnowed, and made into cakes or loaves. Some foods, such as certain yams and the fruit of the cycad palm, were pounded or sliced, soaked in water (to remove poison) and dried or roasted. Most of the foods available could not be stored under bush conditions, and generally Aborigines were ignorant of food preservation. In a few areas, however, some types of food were preserved - fruits were sun-dried and stored in north Queensland and the Great Victoria Desert, fish were smoked along the lower River Murray and around some rivers in the Northern Territory, strips of kangaroo were sun-dried in some central desert areas, and nuts and grass seeds were stored underground in other places. Fire was made by friction and percussion. A common method was the fire drill. The operator twirled a hardwood stick into a softwood base until enough smouldering powder was produced to be tipped into a handful of dry grass and tinder, where it was blown into a flame. The same result was achieved by sawing a piece of hardwood such as a mulga woomera (spear thrower) across a cleft in a piece of softwood such as a bean-wood shield.

Because Aborigines were constantly on the move they limited their possessions to a minimum. they did not need permanent houses but built temporary shelters ranging from a simple windbreak of branches, bark or stones to a fairly substantial 'wet season' hut, rectangular and built of poles and sheets of bark, with a raised floor below which a fire was kept smoking to discourage mosquitoes. Aborigines generally preferred to go naked, rubbing their bodies with animal fat as a protection against cold wind and insects and sleeping at night between small fires. Ornaments were popular, and seeds, shells, string, feathers, teeth, animal tails, claws and bones were fashioned into head bands, necklets, armbands, girdles and pendants. Some tribes wore a small apron made from fur or human-hair string and in the south of the continent cloaks of sewn skins were worn in cold weather. The main weapons and implements were the spear, spear-thrower, club, boomerang, shield, stone axe and knife. there were many regional variations of each.

Spears measured up to about ten feet in length and varied, according to purpose, from light three-ronged fishing spears, through medium and heavy hunting and fighting weapons, to elaborately carved ceremonial spears. Hand-thrown spears were made of a single length of hardwood pointed and sometimes barbed at one end. Most spears, however, had a hollow or light wood shaft fitted with a stone or hardwood head. They were made to be thrown with a woomera, which acted as a lever, giving the spear greater velocity, accuracy and range. Clubs were of hardwood with wooden or stone heads and were made in a variety of sizes, from great two-handed sword sticks used in personal combat, to short throwing sticks which were used throughout the continent. The best known type of throwing-stick was the boomerang. The returning boomerang was made only in the east and west and was unknown to Aborigines in the centre and north. It was mainly a plaything, although it was sometimes thrown into a flock of birds. the non-returning boomerang was a larger, heavier weapon with a shallower curve, sometimes with a hook at one end, and was often thrown to bounce along the ground. Some tribes did not use the boomerang at all.

Shields fanged from a very narrow, hardwood type to a slab of softwood up to five feet long. Knives, axes, spearheads and a variety of pointed or edged tools such as adzes, chisels, scrapers, borers and saws were made from stone, by knapping - striking or prising off flakes - or grinding. In some areas needles were made from fish or animal bones. Containers included dilly bags, plaited and woven from pandanus fibre or various grasses (in some parts of northern Australia these were woven so tightly that honey and even water could be carried in them); pitchis or coolamons (shallow wooden dishes); bark baskets joined with wax, gum or cord, and animal skins in which all openings but the neck were sealed or tied off. Watercraft ranged from simple log or bark floats, used once for crossing a river and then abandoned, to the dugout canoes used along the northern coasts. The latter were probably copied from those of Macassan visitors. A few had large Macassan-type sails woven from pandanus palm leaves. Along Cape York Peninsula dugouts measured up to 50 feet long and were fitted with outriggers, an idea probably copied from new Guinea via Torres Strait.

The lack of raw materials such as ochre, stone or suitable wood for weapons in some areas led to barter between groups. But there were other forms of material transactions: gifts were given as part of kinship and marriage obligations, to settle grievances or debts, and in return for social and ritual services. Gift-giving strengthened kinship and friendship ties, and sustained social contacts and exchange of ideas between groups. Except in outright barter, the fact of giving was always more important than the gift, which might even be reciprocated with an identical object. When barter and exchange are looked at on an Australia-wide basis, a number of major trade routes can be plotted. Along these, objects were traded over long distances. Pearl shell ornaments travelled east and south from the Kimberleys right across Australia to Eyre Peninsula and Eucla, while back to the Kimberleys from the east came spears, boomerangs, red ochre, and other goods.

Because Aborigines had a live in small groups, and because in poor seasons survival was precarious, the groups kept in touch with each other as much as possible in order to have a full and satisfying social life. These needs were formalised in an elaborate social organisation between a great many inter-related social groups. Aborigines extended family-type relationships throughout, and even beyond, the whole tribe. They used a classificatory kinship system - a limited number of relationship terms extended to cover all persons. thus, a father's brothers were also called 'father' and their children were classed as 'brothers' and 'sisters'. The number of classes of relatives varied from about fourteen to about thirty two. A definite code of bahaviour was prescribed for each class of kin. For example a man was not permitted to look at or speak to any woman classed as his 'mother-in-law', although in the case of his wife's own mother he was obliged to make gifts to her, and to take her art in a dispute. In this way a person's general behaviour towards everyone with whom he came in contact was, to some extent, ordained. the strength of the behavioural codes diminished with the distance - spatial or genealogical - between relatives.

Obligation and reciprocity were important aspects of kin behaviour. A hunter always shared his kill among his relatives, sometimes according to fixed rules. Each relative, however, was obliged to reciprocate when able to do so. there was a positive ideal of generous sharing and return. No member of the group ever went without if others could help. Other forms of social grouping were associated with or expressed the kinships system in various ways. Many tribes were divided into two 'moieties' or halves. In effect these were descent groups. A person was born into either his father's or mother's moiety, depending on whether descent was reckoned through the father or the mother. People born into one moiety had to marry into the other. Not only people, but animals, plants, birds and other natural species and phenomena were often divided between the two moieties, so that the people of each moiety had a special relationship with all the natural phenomena associated with it. Moieties not only affected descent, inheritance, succession, marriage and the family, but they also had an important role in the organisation of fighting, the settlement of grievances, and the playing of games. Above all, they were important in the conflict of religious ceremonies. Each moiety had a heritage of myths and rites, symbols, sacred designs, songs and dances which it had to cherish, perform, and hand on. The men of each moiety were bound together by this sacred responsibility. Many tribes were divided into four sections. These summarised relatives into classes or divisions and, like the moieties were associated with marriage, descent, totemism etc. The following example is from a Western Australian tribe:

(Panaka = Burong)
(Karimba = Paljeri )

The double-headed arrows connect a mother's section to her children's section and the = signs connect intermarrying sections. thus a Panaka woman would marry a Burong man; their children were Karimaba. Karimba girls married Paldjeri men and had Panaka children; and Karimba men married Paldjeri women and had Burong children. Panaka's cross-cousins (and wife or husband, who were usually second cousins) were Burong, and Panaka's and Burong's paternal grandparents were also Panaka and Burong. the sections thus summarised relatives not only into four categories but into intermarrying as well as alternate generations. Each inter-marrying pair of sections represented a person's own generation level, and also the levels of his grandparents and grandchildren. sometimes the four sections were associated with a system of two moieties as well.

Across much of central and northern Australia, the system was even more elaborate. There were divisions into eight sub-sections with or without moieties. There were other combinations too complex for brief description. In all cases the connections of the divisions with descent, kinship, marriage and totemic systems were comparable. In summary the 'horde' or band was the most important territorial group. The nucleus of the horde, a 'clan', was the most important social group. These clans were groups of people who claimed to be descended in one line from the same ancestor, often a mythological being. The moieties, sections and sub-sections and sub-sections were structural divisions rather than discrete groups. All were connected together through the kinship system. The behaviour rules associated with the kinship system ensured for the most part confident and co-operative relations within and between the clans, hordes and other divisions or groups. The territorial, social and structural divisions gave further rules for the regular practice of institutional customs. Nevertheless, these rules provided only a formal or ideal scheme to which actual behaviour did not always conform.

Aborigines saw man as sharing a common life-principle with animals, birds and plants. They included these things in human social and religious life by establishing totemic relationships between them and people. The totemic relationships varied. For example a man of the kangaroo totem looked on the kangaroo as a friend and helper, even as a brother; he was reluctant to kill or eat it because it was his flesh; or he may have had an attitude of responsibility towards it - to guard its 'beginning place' and to perform ceremonies to ensure that there would be plenty of kangaroos continuously. there were several forms of totemism, and one person could have several totems - his moiety totem, say, could have been eaglehawk, his section or sub-section totem wallaby, and the totem associated with the place where he was born, the yam. he might also have a personal or 'dream' totem. All were inalienably part of himself. In this way totemism linked man in a bond of mutual life-giving with nature. The sharing of certain totems by all members of a group or division brought order into social relations, and the common public recognition of each person's or group's totems made the symbolic principles of immense social importance.

A person and his totems possessed a sacred quality in common because their relationship, it was thought, had been established by an ancestral being in the dreamtime, the period long ago when the world, as the Aborigines knew it, was formed and their pattern of living established. Suprahuman ancestral spirits, it was believed, then lived on earth. They often embodied the essence of some natural species - thus goanna man was at once man, goanna and spirit. the ancestors travelled about performing marvels which led to the production of features of the landscape, animals and plants, the sky and the seasons, and - in some mysterious way, variably phrased in different regions - the first appearance of recognisable human beings, the Aborigines. the forms of religion, law, customs, rites, songs and dances supposedly were established then. The tracks of the ancestors (the routes they followed) were marked with sacred sites associated with their deeds. Eventually they changed into other forms; their physical elements went into the ground, or the sky, or waterholes, or into rocks or trees, but their spiritual elements continued to exist. Living men, it was supposed, could keep in touch with them draw on their magical power, and make sure that their country maintained the fertile pattern given it in the dreamtime, by faithfully following the teachings of the ancestors and re-enacting their ceremonies and rites. The dreamtime was not merely the sacred past, it was vitally continuous with the present and future. Because of this it was conceived of as an eternal dreamtime and is appropriately referred to as the Dreaming.

The deeds of the ancestors were enshrined in mythology. there was an enormous and rich body of myths, ranging from secular stories or fables such as 'Why the kookaburra laughs' to complex religious myths and immense song cycles sometimes requiring days to recite. Many of the song cycles were but connected strings of key words or place names denoting the track of an ancestor. to an initiated Aboriginal each name symbolized heroic deeds of great significance. Associated with the myths was a vast body of ritual through which the latent power of the ancestors and of the Dreaming became operative. Many rites were concerned with maintaining the fertility of the country as the ancestors had created it by leaving the life 'principle' of various species, including particular clans of people, at different sites. The kangaroo 'principle', for example, was believed to persist, say, in a certain sacred rock. Living men who had the kangaroo as totem regularly performed special increase rights at this rock, to ensure that the 'principle' there would go forth into kangaroos so that they would continue to multiply. Other rites were re-enactments of the ancestors' deeds, performed partly in memory of them and partly to instruct the young men. these rituals sometimes continued for many months. the Aborigines believed that the performances were vital to the very existence of man and nature; if they were neglected, the life-giving forces which came from the dreamtime would dwindle or be lost.

An Aboriginal did not own land in the sense that he could acquire or dispose of it. He belonged in his country. His spirit had lived there since the dreamtime, and because of this he had the right to draw on the life-giving powers of the ancestors; in fact it was his duty to do so, for it was essential to the well being of the country and his people. Aboriginal beliefs, economic, social and religious, thus bound each person to his country, united him with nature in a relationship of intimate dependence, and explained the origin of and reasons for his social organisation, customs, and laws. In this form of life religion and magic were inseparable. Religion gave a general assurance of well-being; particular misfortune such as illness, death, and drought were attributed to, and an effort made to avert or control them by, magic of many kinds. It was thought that some magic could be carried out by anyone. Specialised magic such as curing illness was usually the province of 'clever men'. Some of their methods of treating illness (bleeding, heating, massage) were in part empirically sound and often psychologically fruitful. Belief in the efficacy of both white (benign) and black (malign) magic was so profound that no Aboriginal doubted that magicians could cure apparently doomed men, and cause healthy men to die. Bone pointing, a form of projective magic, was a common method of sorcery.

The survival of any local group eventually depended on its solidarity and there was strong feeling against serious quarrels within it. Nevertheless personal conflicts were common. Where possible these were confined to the person immediately concerned, but it was one of the weaknesses of Aboriginal society that quarrels tended to spread widely because of kinship and marriage loyalties. there was no juridical machinery to prevent this from happening and the moral feeling against it was often ineffective. However, there was a deeply-ingrained principle of 'equivalent injury', and this helped to limit the passion for revenge. Antagonists often fought a duel with spears, clubs or stone knives, striking at each other, torn and torn about, until one submitted. Usually they took care not to disable each other permanently, as the loss of an able-bodied man to a small hunting community was a serious matter. Even in large-scale fights a sense of prudence and common interest made itself felt. On most occasions the fighting ceased when several men were badly hurt or killed. Grievances between local groups often led to massed duets of a format character conducted under strict convention. the most intractable offenders, especially against religious codes, were judged secretly by elders, and they were injured or killed by younger men acting under orders. Sometimes the retributive methods involved magical ritual. Pitched battles were common, but not warfare in the sense of protracted campaigns. There were no military or social organizations suited to warfare in that sense and, indeed, little to be gained by it. Material wealth, conquest and slavery were alien to the Aboriginal way of life. perhaps the nearest approach to warfare resulted when repeated murders, deaths attributed to sorcery, and thefts of women gave rise to an uncontrolled series of revenge killings. Most tribes had a favourite enemy of this kind.

The Aborigines had no chief or rulers and only the loosest form of political organisation. Their elaborate social and religious rules were enforced, often relentlessly, by the older men, who also sought to settle serious quarrels, punish offences against the group and decide the group's economic, social and ceremonial activities. It was not, strictly, a gerontocracy, or rule by the oldest men, but age and authority were very closely connected. Men, who had passed through the long periods of training and ordeals of initiation, had proved themselves as hunters and as fighters, and had shown the wisdom of maturity, were those to whom everyone naturally turned when guidance and leadership were needed. They alone knew all the rituals and ceremonies on which the well-being of the group and their territory depended. Indeed, because the Aborigines had no writing, the older men were the living store-houses of the knowledge, the precedents, and the well-tried experiences of their people. Authority was achieved by and given to them by virtue of these things. They were prepared for responsibility from boyhood. boys and young men were disciplined and trained for many years by their elders who handed on to them their knowledge of tribal law, religion and social behaviour. Usually each youth had one or more older men as mentors. Crucial stages of the initiation period were often marked by a ritual operation, such as the knocking out of a front tooth, or the cutting of cicatrices on the body, or circumcision. young men bore these signs of manhood proudly.

Because of the use of comprehensive symbolism, it is almost impossible to separate Aboriginal art from craft and religious and magical practice. Implements weapons and utensils were not merely useful - they were beautifully made and adorned. In addition the owner often sang a special song as he made the object, and painted a sacred design on it to give it dreamtime power. Religious and magical rites always involved symbolism and mythology. In such rites a lavish use was made of sacred objects such as Tjuringa (carved pieces of wood or stone); ornate headdresses made of sticks, twine, feathers, down and grasses; carved, painted or feathered poles 15 or 25 feet high; a great variety of paintings and designs; and a rich repertoire of songs and dances. The performers usually painted themselves elaborately with red and yellow ochre, white pipe clay and charcoal; sometimes they added feathers and down stuck on with blood. Some groups painted the ground where they were to perform. The most beautiful ground designs were made in central Australia. Rock painting, usually with religious significance, occurred all over Australia. There were many different styles. In parts of Arnhem Land the artist painted in X-ray style, showing the bones and internal organs of the animal depicted; in caves in north-western Australia were great 14 feet long figures with large eyes and noses, but no mouths, representing Wandjina, ancestral beings; in western Arnhem Land there were stick figures - running, fighting, spearing, dancing - drawn with grace and vigour. Bark painting was (and is) very popular in Arnhem Land, and is recognised today as one of the world's outstanding forms of primitive art. In southern and eastern Australia rocks were engraved and trees carved, and across north Australia figures were made from wood, beewax and bound grass.

Over much of Australia designs were stylised. Just as many Aboriginal songs cannot be understood simply by hearing the words, so the painting cannot be understood simply by looking. Most paintings were associated with a story. The symbols used varied. In central Australia concentric circles, spirals, U-shaped figures, dots and wavy lines predominated. In different parts of Arnhem Land paintings were either geometric and abstract or more naturalistic. Songs and dances were usually accompanied by hand-clapping or time (percussion) sticks and, in northern Australia, by the didjeridoo, a long, hollowed-out wooden instrument which, when blown, gives a pulsating droning sound. The Aborigines were a people of buoyant mood and of carefree outlook when circumstances allowed. They greatly enjoyed games. Ball games were played in eastern Australia with an opossum-skin ball; a type of game resembling hockey was played in western Queensland with sticks and a stone; and tops made of clay or a gourd on a stick were popular in eastern Australia and Lake Eyre. Men everywhere enjoyed spear and boomerang throwing contests. Children played the universal games of hide and seek, wrestling and telling stories with string figures. Like children the world over, they learnt by copying their parents. both boys and girls practised tracking animals and people; the boys enjoyed sham fights, threw small spears and clubs at a bark disc bowled along the ground and hunted small animals; the girls took miniature coolamons and digging sticks and busied themselves alongside their mothers.

In the evenings folk lore, jokes and popular myths were told, songs were sung and dances performed for general entertainment. Environment, isolation, and economy of hunting and collecting kept the Aborigines materially poor but they compensated for their lack of material possessions by developing a rich social, religious and cultural life. It was a satisfying and emotionally secure life. Everybody was expected of him. food gathering, social organisation, religion, law and art were all inter-dependent. A life constituted in this way was extremely resistant to change.

In many ways, however, the Aborigines were ill-equipped to face the changes brought by European settlement in Australia; similarly, a western European people, whose economy emphasized competitive activity and the value of material possessions, found the Aboriginal philosophy and way of life hard to appreciate.


        Aboriginal Music


The music of the Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders is very much part of the social fabric of their life, their history and their culture It has a haunting and mysterious quality that draws the listener into the history, culture and the ancient dreamtime of the Aboriginal people.

The oldest settlement so far recorded in Australia is radiocarbon-dated to about 50,000 years ago. This settlement around Lake Mungo is where humans camped around inland lake shores and dined on fish, shellfish, emu eggs, small marsupials and - almost certainly - a range of wild seeds, roots and fruits. The first human remains found at Lake Mungo are all homo sapiens - the modern human type to which present-day black and white Australians all belong. More than this, the remains are among the oldest of this type in the world.

The first archaeological discovery at Mungo, in 1969, was a skeleton of a female who  had been cremated and placed in a small pit. This cremation is dated to about 24,000 B.C. Other burials in the Mungo region are of bodies laid out flat and not burned, but all have some kind of goods with them in the grave. These goods include stone tools, shells and animal seeds. At this time, we do not know the beliefs of the mourners who made these offerings, however, their presence most probably recorded a complex set of beliefs about the spiritual world. It seems likely that aspects of the "Dreaming", the all-encompassing historical and cosmological structure that is a cornerstone of modern aboriginal life, were already present all those years ago.

Although there were variations in the customs and skills of the hundreds of different Aboriginal tribes across the vast continent of Australia, they all lived in equally close  community with their environment. The Dreamtime, the Aborigine's spiritual guide, encouraged their intimate involvement with the landscape, whether their home was on the lush coastal plains or in the harsh interior. They knew what to eat, how to prepare it, where and when to find it and, most important, how to protect their resources for the future. What the elders knew about survival, they passed on by example, legend and ritual. Along with this, there were songs for every occasion - hunting songs, funeral songs, gossip songs and songs of ancestors, landscapes, animals, seasons, myths and Dreamtime legends.




Aboriginal didgeridoo


Indigenous Australian music, in this context, is taken to include the music of the Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, who are collectively referred to as indigenous Australians. Music has formed an integral part of the social, cultural and ceremonial observances of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, down through the millennia of their individual and collective histories to the present day.

Aboriginal people throughout most of Australia believe that in the beginning of time, in the Dreaming, there were no visible landmarks; the world was flat. As time progressed, creatures emerged from the ground and had the power to change at will from their animal to their human form.

The kangaroo ancestor may now be described, in songs particularly, as the kangaroo; the form of his life essence is a matter of little consequence. These original ancestral beings created all the features of the landscape in the area in which their lives were spent, and also populated the entire region concerned. By their actions, they laid down the rules of conduct for all their offspring.

Throughout their lives on earth, they left inseminating powers in the soil; they also created, and taught to others, many songs including those recounting the history of their own lives, songs for healing the wounded and the sick, injuring the enemy, including rain, arresting the flood, or causing the wind to turn back.

The inseminating powers left by these ancestors are doubly important to the present people: firstly, because the propagation of their group is dependent on this power to create human offspring in the likeliness of the human elements of the ancestor; secondly, because the food source of the group is dependent on this power of each ancestor to ensure the plentiful supply of recreated forms of the animal or plant element of the ancestor's being. These powers become most accessible to the present inhabitants of the area on those occasions when the spirit of a particular ancestor is drawn towards his own identification marks of the song, acts and designs which he originally created and which have been meticulously preserved ever since.


A song is sung as a series comprising many short verses, each of which tells about a particular event or place associated with the ancestor; or the performance may be a full ceremonial one which includes portrayal of relevant events in the performance of
dances accompanied by the singing of the appropriate verses.

The song associated with any one totemic "line" will have the one melodic form throughout. This means, in the case of very long "lines" of songs, where the ancestor is reputed to have crossed thousands of miles of territory, that the characteristic melodic form will be found in areas with different languages and musical techniques.

Because of the latter differences, an outside observer may well fail to recognise extreme sections of the one song-line as conforming to the same musical pattern, but that they do conform has been repeatedly stressed by performers and shown by a number of detailed analyses. The concept differs from our experience of melodic sameness; it consists of repetitions of sections of melody for a set proportion of the time the total verse takes to perform.

Because this technique allows flexibility in those areas of musical expression which tend to change from one tribe to another, the basic information can be kept intact even though the total history may be retained, section by section, in many different tribal areas.

This means that, even when a visitor from afar is unable to understand the language that the locals are using in a song, he can determine, from the musical structure, to which totemic line the song belongs.

And, because his own totemic song has been very strong conditioning agent in the total
processes of his education to adult status in the community, the recognition of his own song in another area will have very deep significance. These history songs link the time long past with the present; the singer is part of a continuum; he is reliving events of another era, and is yet part of them.


The Australian Aboriginal people developed a number of rare, unique and interesting musical instruments. These include the didgeridoo, the bullroarer, and the gum-leaf. Most well known is the didgeridoo, a simple wooden tube blown with the lips like a trumpet, which gains its sonic flexibility from controllable resonances of the player's vocal tract. The bull-roarer is a simple wooden slat whirled in a circle on the end of a cord so that it rotates about its axis and produces a pulsating low-pitched roar. The gum-leaf, as the name suggests, is a tree leaf, held against the lips and blown so as to act as a vibrating valve with "blown-open" configuration. Originally intended to imitate bird-calls, the gum-leaf can also be used as a musical instrument.

The didgeridoo originated in Arnhem Land on the northern coastline of central Australia, and has some similarity to bamboo trumpets and even bronze horns developed in other cultures, though it pre-dates most of these by many millennia. The characteristic feature is that the didgeridoo, which is a slightly flaring wooden tube about 1.5 metres in length, is simply hollowed out by natural termites ("white ants") from the trunk of one of the small trees of the region. After cutting down, the instrument is cleaned out with a stick, the outside refined by scraping and then painted with traditional designs, and the blowing end smoothed by adding a rim of beeswax.

The predominant sound of the didgeridoo is a low-pitched drone with frequency around 70Hz, but depending significantly upon the length of the instrument and the flare of its bore. In traditional use, the didgeridoo, with clap-sticks for emphasis, accompanies songs or illustrates traditional stories about ancestors and animals Recently, however, its use has spread into the popular music domain and has had world-wide influence.

The bullroarer consists of a simple wooden slat, 30 to 40cm in length and 5 to 7cm wide that is whirled around in a circle on the end of a length of cord. The slat rotates under the influence of aerodynamic forces and generates a pulsating sound with a frequency typically around 80Hz. This sound is an important feature of Aboriginal initiation ceremonies. The instrument itself is by no means unique to Australia, as similar instruments have been used by populations as diverse as those of ancient Egypt and Northern Canada.

The gumleaf is altogether more primitive as a musical instrument, since it consists simply of a leaf from one of the various species of Eucalypt trees growing throughout Australia, which held against the lips using the fingers of both hands. It does, however, have a long tradition and culture. Although it takes a good deal of trial and error for a beginner to even produce a sound from a gumleaf, a skilled player can control the pitch with good accuracy over a range of more than an octave and play simple tunes with ease.

As in most cultures, the Aborigines also used percussive instruments in their ceremonies. Often these were simply two boomerangs clashed together, but they also made special shaped sticks for this purpose. Because the wood used is a fine-grained hardwood, the clapsticks are physically long-lasting and produce a sharp and well defined sound.


Yothu Yindi

In their usual form, these sticks are about 200mm in length and 20mm in diameter and
are shaped to a long point at each end. One stick is held in each hand and they are struck together at about the mid-point of each. The pointed ends ensure that the fundamental transverse vibration has a high frequency, so that the percussive effect stands out well above the low-pitched drone of the didgeridoo. The musical instruments of the Australian Aboriginal people have come into world prominence because of the popularity of the didgeridoo, both as a tourist item and as a musical instrument. It is only recently that we have begun to have an appreciation of the acoustical subtleties associated with performance on this and the other ancient instruments of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people.






A Story of the People of Goulburn Islands, North Australia


Naganmara - a magic man

Naganmara came from way up in the north - he came from one of the islands. He landed on Cape York Peninsula, and then he travelled down west. When he travelled, he was all on his own. this man was a magic man, and as he came he followed the beach. When he stopped, a tree sprang up, and he named it a ngurum or casuarina tree. He travelled a bit farther and sat down, and another tree sprang up. He named that tree. As he travelled along the beach, all the trees that grow along the beach sprang up, and he gave them all their names. But he didn't look back as he went along naming all the trees. Then he sat down, and looked back, and suddenly an island sprang up. 'Oh, there's an island!' he said. 'I want trees to grow on that island.' So he caused trees to grow, and grass. He went a bit farther and looked back again and another island sprang up, and then a line of islands. These are The English Company's Islands. Well, this is where he sat down and counted the islands. He moved on a bit more, and he caused the water holes and the springs. He said, 'this is fresh water. This is salt water'. He caused swamps, he caused long beaches. Then he said, 'these are cliffs'. So he caused cliffs to come up and then trees to grow inland. And grass.

He came on a bit farther, then sat down again. then he looked back, and there were islands springing up. Lines of them. These are the islands that go out toward the Wessel Islands. Then he went along a bit farther. He was very, very interested in the way that things were going. He was very happy. So he decided to move on a bit farther. As he came down, he walked along the beach and found the beach all covered with shells. Shells had been washed on to the beach. He looked at them and he said, 'these shells must have names'. He walked on and he crossed creeks, but before he crossed over they were just little trickles. he said, 'let these be big creeks', and then he said, 'let there be trees'. These were different sorts of trees, the mangroves that grow along the creeks. And then he came a bit farther. He walked along the beach. He sat down. This magic man, Naganmara, travelled right through from Cape York Peninsula, right through to western Arnhem Land. That's where he finished up. He was a powerful man. He could say something, and when he said a word, the things that he wanted, they happened. When Naganmara landed, he found people living on the mainland. He travelled down and he found different people with different speech - their languages were a bit different. The people saw Naganmara and saw the works that he did. They got very interested in him. They said, 'Nagamara, he must be a magic man. Or he must be something that has power'.

He travelled right down to the west of Arnhem Land, right up to Cobourg Peninsula. that's where he travelled. He3 had met a lot of people. He once camped with a lot of people. they came to the place where he was camped. this was near Port Essington, or somewhere there in Yiwadja country. One day these people went out hunting, and there was with them a young man. He was very strong, very active. He got a lot of 'sugarbag', wild honey. And he ate and he ate till he was really full. So he said, 'I'll cross this creek'. He walked over with a lot of his friends. Everybody crossed the creek and he came after, and as he crossed the creek he got this pain. 'What's happened?' they asked. 'I think, well, I must have - I've eaten too much wild honey.' But he kept on walking till they came to a camp. They all settled down, but he was sick that night. He was in pain. they said to him, 'we can't do anything'. They tried their best to make him better and make him strong. But they couldn't do anything. He got worse and worse, until he died.

When he died, all the people mourned for him. He was a great hunter. He was a good man. They had lost someone who had been good to them. So they mourned for him for several days. They didn't bury his body or put it up on a platform, as they used to do then. They had him all wrapped up. His father and mother weren't going to bury him. they were going to keep him somewhere until his flesh decayed, then they would get his bones. So they had this man's body. Anyhow, the news got around, and they said, 'oh yes, we know there is a man called Naganmara. Naganmars is a man who can help. He does many good things. He does many wonderful things. He must be a powerful man. He might help us. He might do something to give this man back his life'.

Some messengers went to Naganmara. They went to tell him about this man. He was camped with some people about a day's walk away. When the messengers got to this place, they were very tired, but they wanted Naganmara to go straight back with them that night. He could see that they were very tired and he said, 'there is no need to travel back tonight. We'll go back in the morning'. They said, 'he is dead, he may be stinking by now'. But Naganmara said, 'we will stop here till the morning, and then we will go'. So they camped there that night and in the morning started to walk back to their own camp, and a lot of people went back with these messengers.

Naganmara was very, very humble. He did not show that he was a great man - he did not show that he could do something very, very great. But the people could see that Naganmara was humble and yet he was a great man. They all went back with Nqaganmara, they walked all the way with him, and at last they got to this place. The people could see them coming. 'Oh, there is that man coming! Naganmara!' So the cry went up, 'Naganmara is coming! Naganmara is coming! The great one. He is coming!' Naganmara felt the people were praising him. He felt very humble. He did not want them to praise him. So he beckoned with his hands not to do that. He told them to all sit down. They all sat down. he came up to the father and mother of the young man, and all the relatives came round He gave them a little bit of a speech. He told them not to worry, not to do themselves any harm. He said he would try his best to help them. He asked them where the body was. They said they would show him, and all the people followed to the place where the body was.

There Naganmara said, 'all you other people, I want you to go back home. I want only the father and the mother and the closest relatives of the boy to stay with me'. So they stayed and all the others went back to the camp. They wondered what was going to happen, what this man was going to do. They wondered. They looked very hard. They kept looking down the path. Then they could see some people coming. I don't know what Naganmara did, but this man was alive again. And the people saw him. they could see this young man coming back with Naganmara and all his relatives. the people were very happy. When Naganmara came into the camp, they shouted. 'Naganmara was a man who had great power. The parents were very happy. Very thankful.
We don't know when he died, but people have told us that Naganmara lived for many years. He did good for the people and he helped them. He did many kind things. In everything that he did, the people were very happy. Naganmara, a man with great power. that is the story of Naganmara.
Making the long beaches

See the long beaches. These long beaches, they say the jabiru bird made them. He walked a mile. Then he looked back. He walked on another mile, and looked back again. then he walked another mile and looked back. And these long beaches, they say, they came because the jabiru kept walking and looking back. that's why the beaches got longer and longer. but the beaches were all black.

But jabiru had this other little bird following him along. This little bird we call guluwidbid. He is very small and when he runs his legs are very quick. This little bird ran along after jabiru. And as he went he had a firestick in his hand. He carried this firestick and it brought light, and it turned all the black sand to white. He followed the jabiru, and where the beaches were long and black he turned them white. It all became light. And that's why the sands are white. It became light. See the long beaches, that's where jabiru walked, and the sand is white because guluwidbid came behind with the firestick.
How the big stones came on Waira

This is a story of North Goulburn Island and a big giant. A long time ago on North Goulburn Island, Waira, there lived a man called Maiimaij. He lived on the east side of the island, and these people are called the Wara Narigi. They are Maung. A lot of people were camped on the east side at a place called Angalgein - that's near Yurungdjurung, the big name for that area.

One morning Malimaidj said, 'I will go and cut some string'. These plants are what we call mariwi. It's a creeper that grows in the jungle. People cut this creeper and scrape the hard stuff off and then beat it and peel it off. Then they soak it in water, or they bit it or chew it to get the sap out. Then they split the stems and dry them and make them into string. It was early in the morning when Maiinaldj went to cut this mariwi. He started off from Angalgein, walked along a path until he came to a beach, and then walked along the beach and went up into the jungle. As he came to the edge of the jungle, he saw this big Yumbarbar. A great giant. Maiinaidj was afraid. He was trembling, he was so frightened that tears were coming out of his eyes. He stool there. He did not know what to say. The Yumbarbar got up and said , 'what do you come here for? What do you want? Do you want a fight? Maiinaidj just looked at him and shook his head. He felt he couldn't fight this giant. He was too frightened to speak. The Yumbarbar handed him a club. He said, 'here's a club for you. We will fight. And we will see who is the winner, who will win this fight'. So the two of them started to fight. The Yumbarbar stood above Maiinaidj. And Maiinaidj looked like a little ant beside this big tall Yumbarbar. The Yumbarbar got his club, he swung it. He hit Maiinaidj and Maiinaidj fell to the ground, just like a piece of paper. But the Yumbarbar did not want to kill him. He just wanted to hit him little by little until he died. That's what he did. He hit Maiimaldj little by little. Malinaidj was on the ground. He was out of breath, he didn't dare to look. He held his breath just a little bit, in case the Yumbarbar would see him breathing.

Then the Yumbarbar dropped his club. He looked around and Maiimaidj quickly grabbed his club. He got up and he swung this club, hit the Yumbarbar's two big balls (testes). His two balls were very long and nearly touched the ground. When Maiinaidj hit his balls, the giant came down. He fell to the ground. The ground shook. All the people at the camp heard the ground shake. They could hear something making a big noise. And everyone said, 'it's Malinaidj! Maiinaidj! What has he done'?
Malinaidj started to vomit when he saw that this Yumbarbar was dead. He vomited. Then he started to walk back to the camp. he was shivering with fright. And he was vomiting. He did not worry about the creepers. He left his dilly bag, his wulangana, and he left the shells that he brought to cut the creepers. They used these shells called ngarlawi for cutting things because they didn't have any knives. He left all these things and walked back to the camp. Everybody in the camp sang out, 'Maiimaidj! Maiimaidj! What have you done'? He had a rest for about two hours, and when he got up he didn't vomit. They gave him some food and he was feeling all right again. Then he told them about the Yumbarbar. And the people said, 'we will go and see. We will go and see this great giant. Is he dead? Are you sure'" Maiinaidj said, 'he is dead'. So they decided to go and see, and they told him that they would come back again. It was about five miles to that place. They walked for five miles, and as they got near they saw this huge thing lying on the ground. They were very frightened. They went up, very slowly. They got closer and closer, and then they saw that he was dead.

The first thing they did was to pull out his two eyes. When they had pulled out his eyes, they went and got some wood. They made a great heap of wood. Stacks of it. Then they put all the wood on top of the giant and set it alight. They burned him. In the early days, they often used to burn the bodies of people when they died. Now they say it's too cruel. They say it is too cruel for the people who are watching. The relatives don't like to see the body burning. After that they used to put the body on a platform and later collect the bones. Or they would bury the body. But today, if you go to North Goulburn Island you can see these big stones there. They say that these are the bones of the great Yumbarbar that Maiimaidj killed. The stones are there, and they are the bones of the giant.

Then, of the two eyes they pulled out, one they sent to the east so that people there could see an eye of this Yumbarbar. They took it a long way and showed it to many people. As a payment, these people from the east sent back lots of presents. They sent dilly bags, spears and fishing nets. They made drum nets for them. They sent back red paint, red ochre, that we call gurud. All these things the people from the cast sent because they wanted to repay the people for showing them the eye of the Yumbarbar. But the other eye, they sent that to the west. The people took it down to the west and from there it was traded to the people of Macassar. That's what they told us. They took this eye back to Macassar. The people there had never seen anything like those eyes before. They sent back presents to the people of North Goulburn Island, the Wara Narigi, because they were pleased that these people had shown them the eye of the big giant, the Yumbarbar, that Maiimaidj had killed. And you can see his bones up at Waira on the east side.

The caves of Ngalungalu

This is a story of a man who was living in the country at the top of the King River. This man had two wives, and they were sisters. One day he said to his first wife, 'I think we will go on a long journey. We will go imurg [that is, to the east]'. His first wife said, 'yes, let us go. but what about our little boy'? Her husband said, 'he can stay home with his grandmother. Your sister, my wife, can look after him and my brother will be here. He can look after him'. So they gathered all their things together and went away to that far country in the east. They had relatives there. When they got to it, they stayed, because a lot of this woman's relatives were living there. She was very happy, and they stayed for many months.

While this man was away with his wife, his second wife was living with his brother. He wasn't supposed to live with her, buthe did. He was a lazy man, he wouldn't hunt. He wouldn't do anything. He wouldn't chop wood and he wouldn't get water or look after the little boy. He just slept all the time with his brother's wife. The grandmother used to do their hunting. Bring in the water. Bring in the wood. Look after her little grandson. This went on for a long time, and the old woman got very tired. She said, 'I'll destroy this man, I'll do something'. She thought of a plan, of what she would do to him.

One day when she went out hunting with her grandson they gathered yams and some bandicoots, goannas and wild honey. When she came back, she said to herself again, 'I'll do something to this man'. She gathered a lot of bark from the stringybark trees. She brought in a big bundle of it, but she didn't let this man see what she was going to do. When she came near the cave where they were camped, she hid all the bark. Then she went to the cave. She said to her daughter, she said, 'get up and have something to eat. You don't do any hunting, you or your husband. You two are just sleeping all day. You don't deserve anything. Come and eat'. So she gave them something to eat, but all the time she was still thinking the same thought, 'I'll do something to this man'. When the man and the woman, her daughter, had eaten, they went back into the cave. The old woman was very unhappy. But she still went on thinking about destroying that man. When they went to sleep in the cave, she said it was too hot for her and she would sleep outside. So she went outside and took the little boy with her and they slept out there. After a while she crept back into the cave and woke her daughter up, and said quietly to her, 'come outside'. So the daughter went outside. The old woman had everything ready. She packed all the bark rightly a cross the entrance of the cave and then she set fire to it. It all caught alight. The cave got very, very hot.

The man woke up and wondered what was going on. He tried to get out, but the fire was all across the entrance, blocking it. He couldn't get out. He cried for help, but they wouldn't do anything for him. the old woman said, 'you can die. You're a lazy fellow. You wouldn't hunt. This is your punishment. You will die'. And after a while the man died in the cave. The old woman and her daughter and the little boy went off to another place to camp. They made a new camp. but the brother of the dead man, away in the east, I think he might have had a dream or something. The story tells that he began to feel very uneasy. He felt something wrong had happened. so he said to his wife, 'I think we will go back. Let's go and see if anything has happened back in our camp'. They started off, bringing with them a lot of presents they had been given. He had a lot of spears and dilly bags and carvings, some sacred carvings, and he brought back netbags and fishing nets and all sorts of things that are made out of string. He had some things made out of parrot feathers, all decorated. Very pretty things he brought back with him.

As he came near his old camp, he felt that something had happened there. As he came near, he could smell something not very pleasant. So he went up to the cave and looked in, and there he found his brother was dead. All burnt. He cried, he lifted up his voice and cried out loud for sorrow. They were only two brothers and now he was alone. He picked u all his brother's bones and put them in a dilly bag, and he carried it on to where they found that the others were camping. He had an idea what had happened, so he made a plan, and on the way he began to cut some cane. His wife asked, 'what are you cutting that cane for'? He said, 'oh, it's nothing. I'm just going to make an armband for myself'. He did not tell his wife what he was going to do. This cane that he had, we call windi. He took this into the camp.
When the old woman, the grandmother, saw them coming, she called out to her daughter and her grandson and told them. Then she got up and she cried. She cried and cried and hit herself. She wanted to show her son-in-law that she was sorry his brother had died. But he said, 'don't trouble about it. I knew when I was away in the east that something was wrong. So I came back'. The old woman said, 'I'll tell you where your brother is. I'll show you'. But he said, 'don't trouble about it. I've been to the place'.

They camped there that night, and the old woman gave them some food. Her son-in-law wouldn't take any. He was very upset and he was thinking hard what he was going to do. But he said, 'don't trouble. I'll fix up everything'. The old woman told him stories about what had happened to his brother. That night when they were going to sleep, the man said, 'I won't sleep in the cave. I'll just sleep out in the open air. I feel much more comfortable than in that cave there'. So he camped outside with his first wife. About midnight, he got up and started to split the cane. He got the lengths of cane and split them and then he began sewing with them. I don't know how he did it, but he started sewing u the cave. When he had finished, he just waited outside the cave. Then he heard his little boy. He heard him wake up his grandmother and ask her to take him outside. he old woman got up and started to walk outside. It was very dark. But there was no open place, there was no air. She called out, 'what have you done to us? Let us out! Help! Help'! then she said, 'I've given you my daughters and now you have turned on me like this'. Her son-in-law said, 'yes, but what did you do to my brother? You turned on me, and now you are getting your payment'. And they all died in there.
From then on, that place has been called Awunirgbung. It means a place where he sewed, or a place he sewed up. the other cave, that is called Mambulawingbung, and that means the place where something was set ablaze. If you go and visit these big rocks on the mainland in the hills called Ngalungalu south of Goulburn Island, you will see where all this happened. It was a long time ago. I don't know if it is true, but this is what our people used to tell us about those caves.
Places set apart

There are many places that are djang. On Croker Island, where I am now, there are a lot of djang. Not many on South Goulburn Island, but there are some very important places on North Goulburn Island, but there are some very important places on North Goulburn Island and in our country on the mainland. In the past something happened there, and then people say the place is djang. It might be the earth mother or the Rainbow Snake, Ambidj, that caused the djang. Many places are like this, and people say we shouldn't go to them, we shouldn't touch anything there or something bad will happen.
One djang place on South Goulburn Island is on the east side up toward the north. There are two little points there. The first one, the one to the south, it's all right for people to go there, but the other one is a djang. People can't go into that area, they have to walk around the beach. This lace is called Iwanimadjiriwu. Iwani mans he or it is here, and manjiriwu is the name of the djang: 'mandjiriwu is here'.

My father told me the story about this place. A man went to cut cane in the jungle near Mangrove Point. He was told not to cut cane at this place, Iwanimandjiriwu. But he did. Suddenly there was a big wind and a storm and the sea started to rise. It nearly covered the island. Some of the people went over to the west side to a place called Amaunu, where there are some hills, and others went to the mainland. They stayed there, and after about four or five days they could see the water going down. they went back, but now they hold this as a sacred place. there are rocks near the beach and trees growing there, and the cane that is growing just there, we are not allowed to touch it. It is djang.

Just near the Mission station on Croker Island there is a place where they get the water for the settlement. It is called Black Jungle now, but the people say there is a djang there. We call this place Banigurudalg - it means, that's where the crab is. They say that a lot of crabs caused this jungle, that the crabs came up; there and made this jungle for themselves. People say that if the jungle was cleared a plague of crabs would come up and destroy the village or even destroy the whole island. They say that the jungle is a djang place. on the mainland, going west from Goulburn Island and inland into Yiwadja country, the most important place is Langa. It is djang and it is njunjug (Nyunyug), sacred. Only one man is allowed to go there, and that is Paddy Compass who lives at Croker Island. Langa is a very special place and no-one else is allowed to go there at all. Not even Paddy's sons. It is farther over to the west from Tor Rock.

Not very far from Langa is an area we call Igararayl. It is near Mt. Borradaile and in this place there are some caves. There are a lot of bones in the cave, from a lot of people who were killed in there. There was a man called Marulda who got some gulag, a poison, from a place nearby that is djang, and he poisoned all the people who lived in the cave. He knew how to do this thing and how to make the poison and kill these people. He put the poison in the ashes of a fire at the entrance of the cave, and fanned the ashes so all the smoke went into this cave. So all the people died there. He punished them because they wouldn't send him the girl they had promised to him. this poison, it was a very special thing that he knew how to use. but that place where the caves are, that isn't djang. People can go there if they ask Big Nelson, the man who looks after that area.

Well, I have told you about some of the places that are in our country and in the country around. Some of them are njunjug and some are djang. And, as I said, some places like Langa are djang and njunjug too. Wherever we go, we know the stories about these places, and we know whether we can go there and what we can do. We know about how all these places were made, and this is something that our people have told us about what happened in the past - all these special places. The people know that they should keep these things, because the things that happened in the past, they are important to us. In the country around Hall Point in Junction Bay there is an important place. This is the country of the Maindjimaidj people - the people of my mother and her brothers. They all come from there, and this place we call Mandjulug is a special place. Farther on into the bay from Hall Point, a big stone stands up, just like a pillar. It is a very important place because it is a djang for the maralin and a djang of mandjulug.

The people say that this is where the maralin stopped. It came travelling all the way from Blue Mud and this is where it stopped, near Hall Point. this place is also called Duga Lara - that is, just the area when the Mandjulug is. And there is another story about5 this place and some other rocks that the people call Gumalan Arawir - that means, the place where the didjeridu stopped. Once there was a pack of dingo coming down from the top of the Gumadir River. These dogs were following a hollow log. The hollow log was in front, and the dogs kept going along after it. The log was really a didgeridu. In Maung, we call this arawir. It was making a long low noise, like 'beeb ... beeb ... beeb ...' The dogs were following this noise, but they couldn't catch up with the arawir - they just kept following. As they were going along they were forming the river, that is now called the Gumadir River.

The dogs kept on chasing but never catching up with the arawir. They kept on going until they got down nearly to the sea. Suddenly the arawir stopped, and then the dogs stopped. they decided to stay there, and that is where the big high rocks are now. Ambidj, the Rainbow Snake, was smelling around because she knew that something was there. Then she saw them, and said, 'what's wondered about this. Then she said, 'I know. I'll show myself and I'll do something'. And so this Ambidj stood up. And that's the very big high rock that's there. When she said this, she turned the dogs and the arawir into rocks too. those are the rocks we can see now. that's Mandjulug, and that's djang. It is the most important djang in that country that belongs to my mother's people, the Maindjinaidj. People are allowed to go there and they can look at these big rocks, but they are not allowed to touch anything.

There are many places in our country where people say we must not go. Various things can happen if people go to these places or touch the things that are there. sometimes it is a big storm with thunder and lightning, or it can be sickness, or a lot of insects can come. It depends on the djang. At North Goulburn Island on the north coast, is a place we call Ilalmulg, meaning 'fly is here'. At this place is a tree that people are not allowed to touch. If someone touches a twig or a leaf, it will cause a plague of flies - not just on Goulburn Island but on the mainland and all the other islands. Lots and lots of flies. We say this place is djang, and it is really njunjug. On the east side of the Gumadir River there is something the same - it is the mosquito djang, that we call njili djang. People are not allowed to dig there and they are not allowed to break the trees. It is njunjug too.

There are a lot of places that are different but, as I said, they are not all njunjug. Tor Rock, that we call Wuragag, is a big high rock or a hill on the mainland and you can see it for miles and miles. We say this is Iyaliyali. It was made by a man who came from the north and turned himself into a rock. People can go there and they won't meet any trouble, because it is not djang.



Wild dog and kangaroo

A wild dog and a kangaroo got together, and sat down under a gum tree to have a talk. The kangaroo said that he wanted a picture of himself. So the dog said to him, 'I want you to paint me. I want you to paint a picture of me. And I will paint me. I want you to paint a picture of me. And I will paint a picture of you'.
The kangaroo said, 'all right. We will go out to the bush together'. And the two of them set off. I don't know what they looked like then, but I think they looked very different from the way we see them now. They put the bark on the fire and made a straight and flat and then they scraped it. They prepared it just the way people do today when they make a bark painting. Then they said, 'we will go out and get ochre. some red paint and some white clay. And some yellow paint'. They went out and got these things. They dug in the ground and got white clay and the red stuff and the yellow stuff. They brought it back and and they soaked it. Then they did the mixing. They mixed the white clay. Then they mixed the yellow, and then the red. They stirred and stirred and they made it look like real paint.

Then they sat down. The dog said, 'I'll paint you'. With careful eyes he looked at the kangaroo. He said, 'sit up! Sit up straight'! So the kangaroo sat up very straight and the dog got his hair brush and started to paint. He painted the body, then he painted the head, and then he made two ears and then the face - the eyes and the nose. He went down a bit lower and made his mouth. Went down a bit lower, and put on his front legs. He made them a bit small, like you see on a kangaroo, more like arms. then he made his belly and his back. Painted it. Then he painted a tail, a long tail, and his hind legs. He made them long. Then he made his feet. He made everything. Then he was finished. He said to the kangaroo, 'now then, just go away a bit farther'. The kangaroo hopped away a bit. The dog said, 'stand up'! So the kangaroo stood up straight. Then he said, 'now you look like this painting'. When the kangaroo saw the painting of himself, he said, 'aha, you are a very good painter. that just looks like me'. Then he said, 'I'm very, very pleased about that. Now, all the kangaroos that come after me will look like this painting'.

The dog was very pleased too. He wagged his tail. He shook his ears. He licked his arm. Oh, he was very, very pleased. He showed his teeth, that is to say that he was smiling. He said, 'now, I am a good painter. Everyone will talk about me. They will all say that I am a good painter'. He sat down and he thought for a while. hen he said to the kangaroo, 'well, it's your turn now. You have to paint me. You have to paint a picture of me'. he kangaroo said, 'all right'. He got his bark all ready, scraped it, and got sandpaper leaf and smoothed it all down. He made it very smooth. He prepared the bark very carefully. Then he got his ochre all ready. When he had finished all this work, he was ready to start painting. He said to the dog, 'now then, stand up! don't look straight at me. turn yourself sideways'. So the dog did that. The kangaroo sat down. With careful eyes he looked at the dog. And this is how he painted the picture. Very carefully. He painted the head, and then he made two ears. Then his face, his eyes and his nose. He went down a bit lower and made his mouth. that's how he painted. Then he sat down for a while. The dog asked, 'aha, are you getting tired'? But the kangaroo said, 'I'm doing a very good job'. The dog asked, 'can I have a look'? The kangaroo said, 'no, no you can't. Later on I'll show you'. he dog said, 'are you doing a good painting of me'? The kangaroo said, 'yes, I am. Say when you are ready and I'll go on'. So the dog said, 'I'm ready'. He got up and asked, 'the same way again'?

The same way again. The kangaroo painted the dog's body, right down. Painted his tail, and then he made his front legs. Then his back legs. Then he looked at him. 'This looks like a real dog, but I'll have to paint his lower part the other way.' So he made his lower part, just below his belly, and then he made his two balls at the back of his legs. And he said, 'all right, have a spell. I'm just finishing off the colour', just like a dingo. After a while he said, 'I'm finished now'. Dog said, 'are you'? 'Yes,' he said, 'I'm finished.' The dog asked if he could have a look, and the kangaroo said yes. The dog came round to have a look. Everything was all right, but his lower part was underneath his belly. He said, 'look here. hat's not right. I haven't got my lower part under my belly'. He said, 'you're wrong. You painted me wrong. And now my lower part will be under my belly and my balls will be behind my two legs'. He said, 'now then, you have done something that makes me angry'. He showed his teeth again, but this time he was angry. he kangaroo got up. He was frightened, he was shivering. His two front legs started to get smaller and smaller.
The dog said, 'I'm going to bite you. I'm going to kill you'. He sprang up to kill the kangaroo. He was angry. The kangaroo hopped away. The dog chased after him. He chased him and chased him. Up and down hills. Up on the rocks and down again. Into steep valleys. Across creeks. He chased him and chased him and the kangaroo got tired. He was tired out. But the dog was determined to kill this kangaroo. 'Because', he said, 'from now on I'll have my lower part under my belly. And that is something that is not very nice. He shouldn't have done that. I painted him very well. I've given him a very good painting. I've given him a real painting. But when he painted my picture he did it wrong. I'm going to kill him'. And so he did.

When the kangaroo got tired, the dog sprang up and grabbed him by the throat and there he held on and wrestled him. He said, 'now I'm going to get you'. At last the kangaroo fell down on the ground. But the dog was stronger than the kangaroo. He beat him. Knocked him right down into the ground. Then he started to suck his blood. He said, 'from now on, I'm going to kill kangaroos and wallabies and rock wallabies and rock kangaroos. I'm going to kill you all and I'm going to eat you raw. That is my main food from now on'. He showed his teeth, he scratched the ground. 'This is what I'm going to do. I'm a dog!' he said. 'I'll be very, very savage from now on. I'll hunt kangaroos.' He ate up the poor old kangaroo.


This is the story of Dugong. Dugong was once a man and he lived on the land. He had a lot of relatives and they all lived together. They were people who wanted to live together. But Dugong was a very disobedient young man. He thought he knew everything. He did not want to be told what to do. Some things that his parents used to tell him he did not take any notice of, because he thought he was wise enough to go on his own. It is true that in our Aboriginal way, when a young man is about twelve or thirteen, he is supposed to know himself what he can do and he can do what he likes. He can go hunting on his own, or go fishing or go out in the bush. This Dugong said, 'they don't allow me to go anywhere'. He said, 'I'm going on my own'. He remembered that there were some fruits in the jungles that his parents had told him not to eat. They said they were poisonous and would make you sick. One day, when he was out hunting, he saw this tree and it had fruit on it. But this fruit was very dry. You could open the skin and inside there were some nuts. These nuts taste something like peanuts.

Dugong was very happy. He said, 'ha-ha. Now I'll sit down and have a food. I know my parents and other people have told us that we are not allowed to eat these nuts'. This tree, I don't know what it is called in English, but in Maung we call it inmulwabi.* If you touch the nuts, you will get very itchy and scratch and scratch and make big sores. Dugong sat down. When he had picked a lot of these fruits he sat down on the ground. He said, 'now I'm going to have a good feed'. He opened the fruits one by one, and he found several nuts inside each one. Generally there are about twelve or thirteen nuts inside one skin, sometimes more. He looked at the nuts. He said, 'this is very good, there's nothing wrong with it. I'll sit down and eat'.

As he was eating he could feel himself itching, so he started to scratch. He scratched and scratched and scratched. 'Oh', he cried, 'I think I'd better leave off, better stop scratching myself. He was still busy eating those nuts. He ate and ate and ate. At last he had finished the nuts. But he could not stand the itching, so he got to his feet. He started to rub his eyes. His eyes were getting swollen up. And his eyelids were closing in. He could just see a little bit of light, an little opening. He said, 'this is very bad. I'll wash all this itchy stuff away'. He ran quickly down to the sea and he washed himself in the water. But as he washed himself, he could see that it was not good. He was still itchy. His yes were still closing up. He wondered what was going to happen to him. So he dived right into the water, the salt water. He thought he would get the itchy stuff off if he dived right in. When he came out he looked like a dugong. He said, 'oh dear, I'm not a man any more. Oh, my head and my legs! I haven't got any feet. I haven't got any arms. I'm a funny looking animal'. And he thought to himself, 'ah, this is not good enough for me. I shouldn't have disobeyed. Well, I can't help it. I am a dugong, a sea-cow. I live on seaweed and grass that grows in the sea. That's what I am going to live on'. He swam right away.
This is the story of dugong who was once a man. It tells you not to be disobedient. Not to disobey people who are wiser than us when they tell us something they think is good for us. If we are disobedient, we will find something that we will be very sorry for. And this is what the dugong found. He was very sorry later, when he turned into a dugong. Now there are lots and lots of dugong in the sea, down in the sea. that is the story of the dugong. *Commonly called kurralong tree
Why the stars twinkle

When w are not hunting, and at night we sit around the camp fire, the old people tell us many stories. Many times as we sit around the fire on a clear night I have heard this story told when somebody, one of the children, asks why the stars twinkle. Our people tell this story about the stars.
In our Aboriginal customs, we say that the stars are all females. One time, a lot of women all went out in the bush together to dig some yams. These were the long yams that we call garwulug. They are the same yams that the old Neinggu singer, Balilbalil, has made a song about. This is a famous song that people sing, but it is his song because he made it. He is a famous songman and a painter. Well, the story goes, as I said, that these women went out with their digging sticks to gather garwulug. They went into the bush and they had to dig and dig. They had to dig about four feet down to get these yams. They dug and dug, and some were lucky and others were not. They all came back to their camp and started to cook the yams. Those that had got yams, they got them ready and when they were finished they started to eat them. They were eating and chewing away at the yams.

The other women who hadn't got any yams, said to one another, 'what are we going to do? We didn't get any yams'. They felt very ashamed that they couldn't get any yams. Then they said, 'we will live up in the sky where people will see us'. But the other women said, 'we want to live u in the sky too, where people can see us'. They said, 'we will join you up in the sky'. Suddenly some magic thing happened and turned all these women into stars. And so now you can see them all up there in the skies. some are twinkling and some are not. The ones that are still, they are the ones that came back to the camp without any yams. but the ones that twinkle, they are the ones that got yams and they are up there chewing their yams. When you see the stars on a clear night, you can see which were the lucky ones and which were the unlucky. The stars are all women.

These yams, the gurwulug, they are a very favourite food of the Aboriginal people. We call them long yams - they are about eighteen inches long and about four inches round. You can eat them raw or cooked, and they are very sweet. Very nice yams. They grow in the drier country. They grow like a creeper and we dig out the roots. usually they are ready about October. They are an important food, that's why the old songman made a song about them.
Ambidj - the Rainbow Snake

This is a story that was told of North Goulburn Island, Waira. It is about the east side of the island, where a lot of people were camped. these were the Wara Narigi - they are the people of the eastern side. The people of the west are called Muruon. They are two lots of people, but they are all Maung. Some of them speak a little bit differently, but they speak Maung too. there was a little boy on the east side who had no father and no mother. He had a grandmother, and she looked after him. She did all the work for him. I don't know what hat happened to his mother and father, but I think they were dead. One day the grandmother went out hunting, and brought back a lot of yams and water lily roots. She got the yams from the jungle and the lily roots from the billabong. The little boy saw what his grandmother had brought. He felt very hungry. In our Aboriginal customs, when a man and his wife have died and leave behind a little child, that child is called nomalaidj. And they say that nomalaidj children are always looking for something that they can't get. It is different when the parents are alive, the children play around and they know that if they want something they can go to their parents. With orphans, they feel that they can't get everything they want.

This little boy wanted everything. He asked for food and his grandmother said to him, 'later on you will get your food, but be patient because I am going to cook it now'. And straightaway she made a big fire and cooked the yams and the lily roots. The little boy was very impatient, he wanted the yams and the lily roots at once. The grandmother wouldn't give him anything raw to eat. She said, 'wait! Be patient. You'll get your share'. The boy sat down and cried and cried and cried, till the sun went down. When the grandmother gave him something to eat, he wasn't satisfied. He wanted more. Of course, she had to share her food with her relatives. The little boy got his share. but he wanted more. So he cried and cried. The sun went down, it was very dark. A pitch dark night. It was a very rough windy night. The little boy went on crying. he cried and cried, until out in the sea the Rainbow Snake heard him. This is what we call Ambidj. they say it looks like a dragon, a big sea dragon. He was much bigger than a dragon. I can't say how large, but he was very large. That is what they told us.

Ambidj heard the crying and came up above the water and decided to go over and see what was happening. The people could hear the big waves and the big breakers were roaring. The people heard this noise, and said to the children, 'keep quiet. Keep quiet. We are in danger! They couldn't make out what it was, but they could see the flames out on the sea. They said, 'somebody told the orphan to keep quiet and he wouldn't. He kept on crying and now the Rainbow Snake is coming ashore'. So he did. First, when he got ashore it was the orphan boy that he went for. Ambidj swallowed up this boy, and then with his big tail he dragged all the people into the sea and just swallowed them up. Not one by one, but the whole lot at once. No people were left on the east side of Waira, only on the west side.

Later on, the people of the west side, the Muroon, wondered why they hadn't seen any of the Wara Narigi. They said, 'we will go over and see our friends on the east side. What might have happened? no-one has come over to see us'. These people were always visiting one another and taking things over and getting things to bring back. But this time they waited and no-one came, so they decided to go over. And so they did. When they got to the camp, it was about sixteen miles across to the other side, they couldn't find anyone. but they could see big scales, like big fish scales, on the shore. then they said, 'a Rainbow Snake has come up and swallowed them all'. They were very, very frightened. they went straight back and told the other people what had happened. They all thought that the Rainbow Snake might come and take them too. They get their bark canoes, and they got together their spears and their stone axes and all their things - all their fighting weapons. They decided to go to the mainland and find safety there. So a fleet of canoes started off from the west side of the island and went straight across to the mainland.

Now it seems that this Amnbidj had floated into Sandy Creek. He was too full to move - he was full of people. He went up Number 2 Sandy Creek. He went up about six miles, and there he had a rest. then he went another two miles and rested again. He couldn't move himself. He decided that he would have to stay there. He was very full, and he could feel the people in his belly moving around. The people inside started to cut his stomach with stone flints and shells and other things that they had. He was having a terrible time, he was in pain. He was just lying there groaning and he could feel these people inside cutting his stomach. The people arrived in their canoes and decided to make their camp at the mouth of Sandy Creek. One day, when some of the people were hunting a bit farther up the creek, they saw some big scales. They were the size of a big dish. They were very big. 'Oh!, they said, 'that is the Rainbow Snake. She has come along this creek'. they decided to take the scales back and show them to the other people. And the others said, 'yes, it is Ambidj. We will go and see for ourselves'. So they went on up the creek, farther up, and then a bit farther, and then they came to the place where they could hear groaning. You could hear for miles and miles the sound of the Ambidj groaning to himself. The people decided to go on up and see. but when they got near, they were frightened. They said, 'let's get back or we might be swallow3ed up by the Ambidj'. They went back to their camp and got their spears ready, they got their axes and their fighting weapons.

Then they lined up, all the people together, and they marched up to the place where the 'Rainbow Snake was lying. They all began to throw their spears. They hit the snake. The Ambidj turned and started to swallow them all up. It swallowed some, but the spears were too much. It was too much for the Ambidj. The Ambidj couldn't move. There were so many spears, it was just like tall grasses growing out of its body. There were so many spears that the people had thrown. They speared and speared. At last there was no more room for the spears. It was just spear hitting another spear. but the Ambidj was still alive. It moved around a little. The people asked him, 'where did you come from? Did you come from the east'? The Rainbow Snake shook his head. 'Ah, well, where did you come from? Did you come from the west?' No, he shook his head. 'Did you come from the north?' He nodded his head. Then they knew he must have come from one of the islands. they asked, 'which island did you co9me from'? They called the names of the islands, but the snake shook his head. At last they said, 'did you come from Waira'? And the snake nodded his head. They knew then that the Ambidj or Rainbow Snake was the one at North Goulburn Island. It was then that Ambidj died.

Then all the people got together, and they had a talk. they asked, 'what are we going to do with this monster'? the older people, or the elders, they said, 'let's cut his stomach open. We might find something in his stomach'. So they agreed, and they started to cut the stomach. they cut off the skin and the flesh and then, when they came to the stomach, they could see someone moving around. They called out, 'something is moving around in there/! So they went on cutting, and cut the stomach open. there were people. Live people. they got all these people out, and they washed them, washed them thoroughly. Then they started to heat them up with the fire and leaves of the ironwood. that's to make them strong. Our Aboriginal people always use the smoke from the ironwood when people are sick. they did this, and it made the people strong. Then they told the story of the orphan boy who cried and how the Rainbow Snake, the Ambidj, heard him and came out of the sea and swallowed them all. They were very pleased that the snake had brought them there to Sandy Creek. At the top of the creek, that's where the snake went up. they call this snake Ingarnar. And up; at the top of the creek there is a big waterhole. It's a big hole. And the water is still blue, looks very blue. It doesn't get dry. In the dry season, it doesn't get dry at all. It's fresh water. They say this is where Ingarmar went down. After they killed him, he went under the earth again. Ingamar is the creek that goes up, right to Tor Rock.
The people all got together. They were very happy. And many people say today that this creek was made by a Rainbow Snake, that Ingarmar. that is the story of the Rainbow Snake, the Ambidj.
The crocodile
This is the story of the crocodile, how he became a real crocodile. He was a man once. there were a lot of people, and they were all going to cross a creek. there was only one bark canoe and the creek was too dep to cross any other way. They could only take a few people over, but this man wanted to go, and they wouldn't take him in the canoe. The others said, 'no, we won't take you. There isn't enough room'. They pushed him out of the way. he got very angry. He said to himself, 'what will I do to these people'? He was annoyed. He thought, 'they have done something to me. I don't expect them to do that to me. They should have taken me in the canoe'.

So he went up the river a bit farther, to the place they call Aniwunggalainyung. He cut down an ironwood tree. Then he got the roots, he dug them out and cut them off. He burned these roots of the ironwood tree. Then he got the skin and he beat it. He beat it, and it made a sort of pitch. Lainjung (lainyung) - that's the same pitch that we use to fasten on the head of the womera (spearthrower), and to join spears together. It is a very hard pitch, and once it is set the top won't come out at all. Well, this man took the pitch and put it on his nose. After that, he wriggled a bit. At first he thought he would be a snake, but then he decided that he wanted to get down to the creek. so he did. He got into the creek. And there he found that he was a crocodile. He said, 'now I look like a crocodile. What will I do? I will go and eat up those people who are just crossing the creek. They refused to take me over. Well, I am going to eat them all'.

he swam over to where the people were. they could see something floating on the surface of the water. They cried out, 'hey! what's that? Hey! what's that? There is something strange there in the water coming toward us'. The crocodile got down under the water for a while. In a short time he came up again. Then he got down under the water again, stayed under for a while and came up again. It wasn't very far to where the people were. So he said, 'now, I'll spring'. He made a big splash, sprang up in the water and tipped the bark canoe into the water. And down it went. All the people were swimming about in the water. Hew got them one by one. He got them and he ate them all. Then he said, 'from now on, I'll eat anything. I'll eat crabs, raw crabs, anything that is bad - I'll eat kangaroos. I'll eat anything that comes near the water. I'll eat anything'.

And now this crocodile, you can see him up in the sky. If you look up in the sky at night you can see him there and you can see the bark canoe crossing the creek. And there is the crocodile coming toward the bark canoe. That is the story of the crocodile, that our people used to tell us round the fire at night.


Birth and death

People say that the spirits of babies come from the east. They say that the spirits of the dead go to the west, but they say too that they go to an island in the north. It might be where the Macassans live. We are not sure where the spirit comes from or where the place is that it goes to, but people always believed that it went to the spirit world. They believed that this place was somewhere, but they were not sure where. They believed that it was a very lovely and happy place and the spirit stayed there for ever. The Maung, the Yiwadja and the Walang people believe that it is the man, the father and not the mother, who first finds the spirit of the baby. It might be when he is out hunting =- it might be at a waterhole or a billabong and the man says, 'that's where I found a spirit and I gave it to my wife'. Iyaliyal (or, lalial) - that means the place where the man finds the spirit.

Or it might e that a man finds the spirit out in the sea when he is out catching turtles or fishing. The people say that the father has seen the spirit of the baby. Or that the spirit of the baby comes to the father and he takes it. Sometimes the men out fishing with him do not know that this has happened. The father doesn't say anything. He waits. When he goes back to his camp, he gets a clean tin or a clean bailer shell that has never been used and he puts some clean, cool water into it. He gives that to his wife, and tells her to drink it. She drinks the water; but she keeps the shell or the tin and puts it away somewhere. About two or three days after that, she tells her husband that she is going to have a baby. He says, 'you know that when I gave you that water, the spirit of the baby was in the water'. Then the other people say, 'yes, we saw you giving your wife the water. We know that you are right'. Our people believed that the body and the spirit were different, because the spirit might come to one man or it might go to another. The man whose wife is going to have a baby, he will say that the spirit came to him first because he was ready for it. If he wasn't ready, the spirit could go to someone else. They say that the father knows before the mother. When she tells him she is having a baby, he will always say, 'yes, I knew that before'.

If a man is out hunting and he catches a very big or a very fat fish or an animal - it might be a turtle, or a fish, or a kangaroo - people say it is the spirit of the child that has given him the fat one. they talk about this. When they know that the woman is going to have a baby, they say, 'remember the time we caught that very fat turtle. That was the spirit of the baby'. they always think that, when a very fat turtle or a very fat fish or something is caught, the spirit of the baby gave them this special thing. Sometimes too, people say, when someone catches a very fat fish or a fat animal, that there must be a djang there. It could be the djang of rain or lightning or sickness or the djang of a mosquito. Sometimes people didn't realize there was a djang there; but if they get this special big animal, they say there must be one around although they didn't know about it before.

Most of the people believed there were a lot of spirits, but some of them don't believe there are any at all. My brother Nangulumin doesn't believe in spirits. but there are some things that the people say that you should not do or the spirits will be angry and bring storms or lightning and things like that. I respect what they say, I wouldn't do it, although I don't really know if this thing will happen. My brother, he would do it even though people say it is wrong. He doesn't care, because he doesn't believe in spirits. He has been all through the rituals and ceremonies, he is not a Christian, and he doesn't believe in spirits at all.
When people die, the Maung believe that their spirits go to the spirit world. As I said before, when a person dies now they bury the body. Before, they used to put it up on a platform and leave it there till all the bones were bare. Then they would collect the bones and have a ritual for the dead person. A long time ago, some of them used to burn the bodies, but they don't do that now. They haven't done that for a long time. It doesn't matter what they do with the body, because the spirit goes straightaway. This story I will tell you is about what happens to the spirit, or ghost, when a person dies.

Up at North Goulburn Island there are two big hills. that's on the eastern side, up at the northern end. these two hills, one is for women - that is, all the females who die - and the other is for all the males who die. I will tell you first what happens to a male spirit. When a man dies, the spirit leaves the body and goes up to this hill at North Goulburn Island. It goes to one of these two hills - the lower one. They are really big sandhills. This place we call Duga Gawuladja. When the spirit arrives here, it calls out. Someone from the spirit island hears the call and gets his canoe ready. He knows from the sound of the call whether it's a male or a female. If it's a man, he brings an ugly, broken canoe. It's full of leaks. The spirit of the man keeps calling out. hen he sees the canoe coming right up on to the beach. He shouts to the spirit, 'come along! Come quickly'! the spirit goes down to the beach and up to the canoe and he is dragged in very roughly. The canoe man speaks to him very crossly. He says, 'come on! Get into the canoe. What did you come for? I've got no time for you. come along'!

As they move away, he swings the paddle. He pretends to do it accidentally, but he hits this man, this new spirit, with the paddle and then he pushes off from the shore. The water starts to come into the canoe, and it is very wet. He gets a big bailer shell and starts to bail out, and as he does this, he cuts the spiritman. This man is in torment. He is in pain. He doesn't know what he is going to do. He is moaning. The canoe man paddles on, and sometimes he swings the paddle round and hits the spiritman. He hits him on the head. the spirit is in terrible pain. He says to himself, 'why have I died? Now I am going to this other land'. We don't know, but they say that land is a better place than the one we live in. And that is where the spirit goes. After a while a call rings out, 'the canoe is coming'! Everybody gets ready on the beach, the people in the spirit land get ready. They knew that this one who has died is a man. When the canoe comes ashore, they drag him along and throw him on the sand. They treat him very cruelly. He picks himself up. then he is taken to a place where he is looked after. A place where he feels at home. He begins to feel that this world is a better one. There is plenty of food, plenty of water and plenty of friends. That is what happens to a man when he dies, until he reaches the Unknown Island.

When a woman or a girl dies, her spirit goes to North Goulburn Island and she calls out from the high sandhill. They hear the call, and they say, 'hu8rrayh! there's female. She has come'! So they get a canoe ready. A very good canoe - it's a lovely canoe, all decorated. It's covered with parrot feathers and has paintings and carvings on, this lovely, beautiful canoe. They take food. And they take everything for this spiritwoman. The canoe starts off. It has lovely decorated paddles, and there is a strong man in the canoe to go and pick her up. He is all decorated and looks very pretty. When he comes near the shore he can see her on the tall hill. He pulls the canoe up on to the beach and runs to pick her up. He carries her down to the beach. But with the man 's spirit, they just called out to him and made him come himself. Then the canoe man puts the female spirit in the canoe, very gently, and paddles away, very happy. A lovely canoe all decorated with feathers, no leaks. A very pretty canoe. When they arrive at the spirit world, a cry goes up. they call out, 'the canoe is coming'! Everybody waits on the beach for this woman. And when she comes on to the beach, they pick her up and carry her away into a lovely home. A beautiful place. And she always stays and sleeps in this beautiful home.
That is the story they tell about how the male and the female spirits get to this spirit world. This place, they say it's an island. We call it the Unknown Island. I don't know where it is - it is up north somewhere. They used to say that this island was under the sea in the daytime and only came up to the surface at night. Now people say that this island is in Indonesia somewhere, it's up north. We call this place garungmoi gagaidj, that's an unknown island. They say that if a person does in the morning, his spirit will reach this place before noon. It is very quick for him to get to this place. When the body bursts, about that time - three or four days - he comes back, just to see what the people are doing, and then he goes back again to the spirit world.

I remember when I was a young boy at Goulburn Island and I was sent out with another young boy by the missionary. It was nearly dark. A man had just died a few days before, and people had told us, that is when the spirit can come back. As we were walking along the path, we saw a light. We were very scared - we thought it was the ghost of that dead person. We went running back, screaming that we had seen this spirit of the dead man. They wouldn't believe us. When one of the missionaries walked back along the path, there was a little buffalo there. A little tame buffalo that belonged to the Mission. We had seen its eyes in the path and we thought it was a spirit. that was the time that the spirit could have come back.

The Unknown Island or the island of the spirits is called Ulurunbu. I know a story some of the men used to tell about some people who went to this island. One of these men was my mother's half-brother, they had the same father but different mothers. I called this man idji, uncle. He told me this story, and I don't know whether they went to this island or if they went to Indonesia. Anyhow, this is the story he told.
There were two canoes of Maindjinaidj men who set off from Guion Point, on the mainland in their territory. They were big canoes, the kind we call lambiri, and the leader of these men was my idji; his name was Djargala. They wanted to go to Waruwi, South Goulbutrn Island. They set off, and they paddled and sailed. They kept on going and going, and they felt that they must have missed their way. As you know, this island, the Unknown Island, cannot be seen in the day because they say it is under the sea, but at night it comes up. so these men were still sailing when night came, and they saw some lights. These lights were on an island, but they thought that it couldn't be Waruwi because there were such a lot of them. they decided to sail on. They were trying to go past this island, and then suddenly their canoe landed on the shore. People, a lot of people, came to meet them. The Maindjinaidj men told them they had gone off their course and landed there by accident. The people of the island said, 'there is nothing wrong with that'. Then they said, 'come along with us. You must be hungry'. They took them all into one house and brought them food - yams, turtle meat and all sorts of food, they brought.

The island people counted how many men had come in the canoes, and went and brought a wife for each of them. they told them they were welcome to stay on the island for as long as they wanted to. Every day, people used to being a lot of foods for them. They used to take them around and show them all the places, and other villages that were on the island. They said that the people spoke two languages, Manaanggari and Ilgar. One day the Maindjinaidj men got together on their own. They said to each other, 'I think we are trapped. We cant get away'. As soon as they did anything that seemed as though they wanted to leave, there would be one of the island people there and in no time a lot of people would come and stop them from going away. The island people said to the visitors, 'we've given you wives so that you will stop here all the time. we have been treating you very well. so why sneak away from us'? And then they said, 'it is impossible for anyone to get away'.
One night when everybody was asleep, everything was quiet and still, the men made a plan. there were no lights. the wives were fast asleep. The men got up one by one, each one woke another up very quietly. They all sneaked down to the beach. They had put everything ready in the canoes. They got into the canoes, and without making any noise they were off. They sailed all night and all day, and at midnight they came to North Goulburn Island. A lot of people were living on North Goulburn Island, but these men decided not to land there. They wanted to get a lot farther on, because they had a fear that someone might come after them. They sailed on, heading for South Goulburn Island. When they got to this place we call Alwambi, a camping place on the east side of Waruwi, they were very, very happy. They felt safe. They went around from there to Wighu, McPherson Point, and showed the people there the things they brought back from the Unknown Island. They had rice and coconuts and different kinds of fruits. They had materials and knives and axes and tomahawks. When they saw these things, the people of South Goulburn Island thought they must have been to Macassar.

This is the story that my idji and some of the other men used to tell. Djargala told me himself. The last man who was on this trip, died sometime during the war. This idji was very kind to my sister and my brothers and me. He called us gainjung, like children of his full sister, although he and his sister had different mothers. He told me this story. I don't know if they really did go to the Unknown Island, or if this was some other place. I think they might have been to one of the islands in Indonesia or somewhere.


Why the dead never return

This is a story about ningdarbug and gurana. Ningdarbug is a little animal that lives in the bush, it's like a spotted cat. We call it a spotted squirrel, but I don't think it's really a squirrel. Gurana is the moon. Once these two had a fight. I don't know what they were arguing about, but the squirrel got very angry. The squirrel ran for his club, and the moon ran for his. they came out together. The moon swung his club. He hit the spotted squirrel and knocked him unconscious. He lay there on the ground for a while and then he got up again. then it was his turn. He swung his club and hit the moon. The moon fell down to the ground unconscious, for a little while. then he got up again and swung his club and hit the squirrel and knocked him out. Then the squirrel got up again and swung his club and hit the moon. the moon lay on the ground. Then the moon got up again and he swung his club again. He hit the squirrel and knocled him down. He lay there. Didn't move. Then the squirrel said, 'I will die, and so will all the people who come after me. They will die. Same as me. They will die once, and that is the end of them. They will never come back to life again once they die'.

Then the moon said, 'I will die, but only for a little while, I will come back to life again. I won't die forever'. He asked the squirrel, 'what are the people going to do? Are they going to follow you or are they going to follow me'? The squirrel said, 'no, the people will follow me, not you'. And that is why, when we die, that is the end of us. We don't come back to life again. The moon said, 'I won't die forever. I will come back again'. So every time when we see the new moon we think, 'oh yes, he's back again'. We remember the fight that the spotted squirrel and the moon had. In the story, the moon said, 'I will die, but not forever'. but the squirrel said, 'I will die forever and so will all the people'. When people die, they follow the spotted squirrel, they can't come back. Only the moon can come back after it has died. This is the story that the people tell.

The boy who was taken by the manja (manya)

This is a story about what I would call a devil. It was a spirit. I will call it a spirit. Anyway, this spirit was out hunting and at the end of the day he was going back to the cave. That is where he lived with other spirits. Some of them were good spirits and others were evil. Near this cave there was a camp of people, and one of the men from this camp was out hunting geese. He had a long stick. He climbed up a tree, and as the geese passed under the tree, he would knock them down with the stick. this is what our people do. We call this stick namaduru. Someone would stand at the foot of the tree and collect the geese as they fell down. The man climbed up the tree and he knocked the geese down with his namaduru. As he knocked them down, the spirit came by and heap. He thought, 'I'll wait until this man comes down, and then I'll show him all these geese. He might let me have one'. The man knocked down a few more birds, and when he had finished he threw down the namaduru. It is a very long thin stick, about thirty feet long. Then he came down from the tree, and when he saw this devil, he was very frightened. He thought, 'I'm in trouble now'. But the spirit said to him, 'don't run away, I won't do you any harm. I've come here to help you'. He said, 'I've picked up all these geese for you and they are over there in a heap. You can pick them up and take them home'.

Then the spirit thought that he would like to invite this man back to stay the night with him. So he asked him 'would you mind coming to my place and camping the night with me? And then in the morning I will let you go to your own camp'. The man was a bit afraid, but this spirit seemed different and he had a bit of confidence in him. So he agreed, he said, 'all right, I'll come and camp the night with you'. So the two of them picked up all the geese and went back to the spirit's cave. When they got near the cave, the spirit said, 'don't let my wife or any of the other spirits see you. Even my wife and my family, they are evil spirits. They will kill you if they see you. But I won't let them see you'. The spirits in these caves. When this spirit went out hunting, he used to just blow with his breath, breathe on the entrance of the cave and it would shut. When he came back, he would breathe on it again and the cave would open. He left the man there at the entrance. He hid him in a corner, and went in to his wife. He gave her some of the geese, saying, 'cook all these geese and give them to our families and have a good feed'. Then he said, 'I feel very hot in here - I think I'll go just outside and sleep there'. So he went outside and stayed out there with the man, just inside the entrance where the others couldn't see them. In the morning when they got up, he blew on the entrance and the cave opened. As the man was going, the spirit said to him, 'remember, when yo9u go, bring back a lot of people, to come and kill all these spirits because they are evil spirits'.

then he told him this story. 'Once I was a man like you', he said, 'and it happened that one of the spirits got me and took me away. this was when I was a boy. Ever since, I have been kept in here, and I grew up amongst all the evil spirits. that's how I became a spirit and lived in the caves. So go back and bring a lot of people here, and they can kill all these spirits. These manja'. The man listened to him and then went back to his camp, and as he went he was thinking of this story. When he arrived back, the people asked what had happened to him. He said, 'wait a minute, I will tell you this story of a spirit first'. He told them how the spirit had been kind to him and taken him to his cave to stay there. He told them how the spirit had looked after him and given him everything he wanted. The he said, 'he has become a spirit in that cave and he can't return, the evil spirits keep him there'. He asked them to go along with him so that they could kill all these spirits. they got all their spears, their clubs and throwing sticks and all their fighting weapons, and set off for the cave.

The man walked up to find his friend, who was waiting for him, and told him he had brought all the people. The spirit said, 'I'll go back and bring all the others out'. And so he did. He told them there were a lot of people outside. They came out with their spears, but it was too late. The people from the camp overwhelmed them and killed the whole lot of them. they took the good spirit away and brought him into their camp with them. When he got there some of the people recognized him, and they remembered he had disappeared from one of the families of that camp. When the people tell us this story, they tell us not to go away, not to go into another country because we might be kidnapped by these spirits. People still believe that they are somewhere about. Najigjig and mariwa are spirits that can kill. Najiglig has very long hair and his hair is very stiff. It sticks out like a brush. You couldn't comb it. It's very touch and just stands up like brushes. He is evil, and so is mariwa. A mariwa is a big spirit, a very big spirit - but we can't see him.

People tell their children that if they are naughty a spirit will come and take them away. When children hear strange noises in the night, it might be a bird or something, they are frightened and think that an evil spirit might have come to get them. Especially this is so with namargun, he is a really evil one. Manargun will kill. He will kill little babies or a little child. There is a bird that we hear in the bush sometimes and the people say that is namargun. When they hear this sound, they say that you must keep your children quiet or he might get them. He makes a sound that we hear at night, like 'Kauk! Kauk! Kauk'! Then the people say he has come to take a little child's spirit, or soul. They say that he takes the soul and he roasts it in a big stone oven. he eats the soul, and presently the child dies.

Sometimes you see a little child and he has no blood. His tongue is white and his finger nails are white and the eyes go white. They say the namargun has got the spirit, the soul, of that child. They say he has roasted the child's soul and the child will die. They say there is a place on the mainland where he takes the souls and that's where he roasts them. People paint pictures of the namargun The ones I have seen show him as a funny-looking thing. He has claws and is something like a flyng fox. That's the namargun. They know that if a little child gets sick and dies and there is no reason for this, the namargun has taken his soul. Mimi are very kind spirits. there are some other spirits that are kind too. People say that they were men once, now they are spirits. Mimi are timid and get out of the way when they hear people coming. They are not on the islands, only on the mainland, and they made many of the paintings that are in the caves on the mainland. All that country to the west and going south to Oempelli, the area to the north of Tor Rock, that's my father's country and my grandfather's country. their people, the Manganowal, I think they lived in those caves. There are bones in the caves, and there are paintings high on the walls. When I first saw these paintings, I wondered how they could be done so high up. One of the men who was with me, one of the older men, he told me, 'these paintings are done by mimi. Mimi can make the top of caves come down very close. Afterward they say a magic word and blow some wind, and the paintings go back near the top of the cave. That's how the paintings are done'.

Mimi are very shy spirits and during the day they hide in the caves. They make up songs. some men who have hidden themselves from sight have heard these songs that the mimi make, and they remember them and sing them to the people. the mimi have dances too. We say that they go away in the wet season, and when people look across from Goulburn Island and they see dust rising in the hills they say that the mimi are back and they are dancing. They have a special dance that they do.

There are many spirits and, as I said, they are not all evil. We have signs that the spirits are about. Like the bat we see flying around is a messenger for a blind manja or evil spirit. When we saw a bat flying around, the old people used to say, 'look at this bat, he is looking for fire to take back to a blind sprit, an old spirit who can't see'. He is what we call manja dja bunjigarlu - that is, spirit that (is) blind. People throw coals from a fire, just throw them away, an d they say the bat will pick up those coals and take them to this spirit. hey say the bat looks like his master the manja. His face and his wings and his claws, they are just like a bat. Well, if you come across an evil spirit, it might look like this bat.


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