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Australian Aboriginal mythology

Australian Aboriginal mythology

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Australian Aboriginal myths (also known as Dreamtime
In the animist framework of Australian Aboriginal mythology, The Dreaming is a sacred era in which ancestral Totemic Spirit Beings formed The Creation.-The Dreaming of the Aboriginal times:...

 stories, Songlines
Songlines, also called Dreaming tracks by Indigenous Australians within the animist indigenous belief system, are paths across the land which mark the route followed by localised 'creator-beings' during the Dreaming...

 or Aboriginal oral literature
Oral literature
Oral literature corresponds in the sphere of the spoken word to literature as literature operates in the domain of the written word. It thus forms a generally more fundamental component of culture, but operates in many ways as one might expect literature to do...

) are the stories traditionally performed
A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community. The term usually excludes actions which are arbitrarily chosen by the performers....

 by Aboriginal peoples
Indigenous Australians
Indigenous Australians are the original inhabitants of the Australian continent and nearby islands. The Aboriginal Indigenous Australians migrated from the Indian continent around 75,000 to 100,000 years ago....

 within each of the language groups across Australia.

All such myths variously tell significant truths within each Aboriginal group's local landscape
Cultural landscape
Cultural Landscapes have been defined by the World Heritage Committee as distinct geographical areas or properties uniquely "..represent[ing] the combined work of nature and of man.."....

. They effectively layer the whole of the Australian continent's topography with cultural nuance and deeper meaning, and empower selected audiences with the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of Australian Aboriginal ancestors back to time immemorial
Time immemorial
Time immemorial is a phrase meaning time extending beyond the reach of memory, record, or tradition, indefinitely ancient, "ancient beyond memory or record"...


David Horton's Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia
Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia
The Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, society and culture , edited by David Horton, is an encyclopaedia published by the "Aboriginal Studies Press" at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in 1994 and...

contains an article on Aboriginal mythology observing:

"A mythic map of Australia would show thousands of characters, varying in their importance, but all in some way connected with the land. Some emerged at their specific sites and stayed spiritually in that vicinity. Others came from somewhere else and went somewhere else."

"Many were shape changing, transformed from or into human beings or natural species, or into natural features such as rocks but all left something of their spiritual essence at the places noted in their stories."

Australian Aboriginal mythologies have been characterised as "at one and the same time fragments of a catechism
A catechism , i.e. to indoctrinate) is a summary or exposition of doctrine, traditionally used in Christian religious teaching from New Testament times to the present...

, a liturgical
Liturgy is either the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to its particular traditions or a more precise term that distinguishes between those religious groups who believe their ritual requires the "people" to do the "work" of responding to the priest, and those...

 manual, a history of civilization
Civilization is a sometimes controversial term that has been used in several related ways. Primarily, the term has been used to refer to the material and instrumental side of human cultures that are complex in terms of technology, science, and division of labor. Such civilizations are generally...

, a geography
Geography is the science that studies the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of Earth. A literal translation would be "to describe or write about the Earth". The first person to use the word "geography" was Eratosthenes...

 textbook, and to a much smaller extent a manual of cosmography
Cosmography is the science that maps the general features of the universe, describing both heaven and Earth...



An Australian linguist
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

, R. M. W. Dixon
R. M. W. Dixon
Robert Malcolm Ward Dixon is a Professor of Linguistics at The Cairns Institute, James Cook University, Queensland, and formerly Director of the Research Centre for Linguistic Typology at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.In 1996, Dixon and another linguist, Alexandra Aikhenvald,...

, recording Aboriginal myths in their original languages, encountered coincidences between some of the landscape details being told about within various myths, and scientific discoveries being made about the same landscapes. In the case of the Atherton Tableland
Atherton Tableland
The Atherton Tableland is a fertile plateau which is part of the Great Dividing Range in Queensland, Australia. It is located west to south-south-west inland from Cairns, well into the tropics, but its elevated position provides a climate suitable for dairy farming. It has an area of around...

, myths tell of the origins of Lake Eacham
Lake Eacham
Lake Eacham: is a popular lake of volcanic origin on the Atherton Tableland of Queensland, Australia, within the World Heritage listed Wet Tropics of Queensland.-Origins:...

, Lake Barrine
Lake Barrine
Lake Barrine is a freshwater lake situated on the eastern parts of Atherton Tableland in Far North Queensland, Australia, close to Lake Eacham. The lake and surrounds are protected within the Crater Lakes National Park and are accessible via the Gillies Highway.Lake Barrine was formed over...

, and Lake Euramo. Geological research dated the formative volcanic explosions described by Aboriginal myth tellers as having occurred more than 10,000 years ago. Pollen fossil
Paleobotany, also spelled as palaeobotany , is the branch of paleontology or paleobiology dealing with the recovery and identification of plant remains from geological contexts, and their use for the biological reconstruction of past environments , and both the evolutionary history of plants, with a...

 sampling from the silt which had settled to the bottom of the craters confirmed the Aboriginal myth-tellers' story. When the craters were formed, eucalyptus
Eucalyptus is a diverse genus of flowering trees in the myrtle family, Myrtaceae. Members of the genus dominate the tree flora of Australia...

 forests dominated rather than the current wet tropical rain forests. (See Lake Euramo for an excerpt of the original myth, translated.)

Dixon observed from the evidence available that Aboriginal myths regarding the origin of the Crater Lakes might be dated as accurate back to 10 000 years ago. Further investigation of the material by the Australian Heritage Commission led to the Crater Lakes myth being listed nationally on the Register of the National Estate
Register of the National Estate
The Register of the National Estate is a listing of natural and cultural heritage places in Australia. The listing was initially compiled between 1976 and 2003 by the Australian Heritage Commission. The register is now maintained by the Australian Heritage Council...

, and included within Australia's World Heritage nomination of the wet tropical forests
Wet Tropics of Queensland
The Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Site consists of approximately 8,940 km² of Australian wet tropical forests growing along the north-east Queensland portion of the Great Dividing Range, stretching from Townsville to Cooktown, running in close parallel to the Great Barrier Reef...

, as an "unparalleled human record of events dating back to the Pleistocene
The Pleistocene is the epoch from 2,588,000 to 11,700 years BP that spans the world's recent period of repeated glaciations. The name pleistocene is derived from the Greek and ....


Since then, Dixon has assembled a number of similar examples of Australian Aboriginal myths that accurately describe landscapes of an ancient past. He particularly noted the numerous myths telling of previous sea levels, including:
  • the Port Phillip
    Port Phillip
    Port Phillip Port Phillip Port Phillip (also commonly referred to as Port Phillip Bay or (locally) just The Bay, is a large bay in southern Victoria, Australia; it is the location of Melbourne. Geographically, the bay covers and the shore stretches roughly . Although it is extremely shallow for...

     myth (recorded as told to Robert Russell in 1850), describing Port Phillip Bay as once dry land, and the course of the Yarra River
    Yarra River
    The Yarra River, originally Birrarung, is a river in east-central Victoria, Australia. The lower stretches of the river is where the city of Melbourne was established in 1835 and today Greater Melbourne dominates and influences the landscape of its lower reaches...

     being once different, following what was then Carrum Carrum swamp. This was an oral history that accurately described a landscape from 10 000 years ago.

  • the Great Barrier Reef
    Great Barrier Reef
    The Great Barrier Reef is the world'slargest reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,600 kilometres over an area of approximately...

     coastline myth (told to Dixon) in Yarrabah, just south of Cairns, telling of a past coastline (since flooded) which stood at the edge of the current Great Barrier Reef, and naming places now completely submerged after the forest types and trees that once grew there. This was an oral record that was accurate for the landscape 10 000 years ago.

  • the Lake Eyre
    Lake Eyre
    Lake Eyre is the lowest point in Australia, at approximately below sea level, and, on the rare occasions that it fills, it is the largest lake in Australia and 18th largest in the world...

     myths (recorded by J. W. Gregory in 1906), telling of the deserts of Central Australia
    Central Australia
    Central Australia/Alice Springs Region is one of the five regions in the Northern Territory. The term Central Australia is used to describe an area centred on Alice Springs in Australia. It is sometimes referred to as Centralia; likewise the people of the area are sometimes called Centralians...

     as once having been fertile, well-watered plains, and the deserts around present Lake Eyre having been one continuous garden. This oral story matches geologists' understanding that there was a wet phase to the early Holocene
    The Holocene is a geological epoch which began at the end of the Pleistocene and continues to the present. The Holocene is part of the Quaternary period. Its name comes from the Greek words and , meaning "entirely recent"...

     when the lake would have had permanent water.

Aboriginal mythology: Whole of Australia

Diversity across a Continent

There are 400 distinct Aboriginal groups across Australia, each distinguished by unique names usually identifying particular language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

s, dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

s, or distinctive speech mannerisms
Manner of articulation
In linguistics, manner of articulation describes how the tongue, lips, jaw, and other speech organs are involved in making a sound. Often the concept is only used for the production of consonants, even though the movement of the articulars will also greatly alter the resonant properties of the...

. Each language was used for original myths, from which the distinctive words and names of individual myths derive.

With so many distinct Aboriginal groups, languages, beliefs and practices, scholars cannot attempt to characterise, under a single heading, the full range and diversity of all myths being variously and continuously told, developed, elaborated, performed, and experienced by group members across the entire continent. (See external link for one indicative spatial map of Australian Aboriginal groups, and see here for an earlier Tindale
Norman Tindale
Norman Barnett Tindale was an Australian anthropologist, archaeologist and entomologist. Born in Perth, his family moved to Tokyo from 1907 to 1915, where his father worked as an accountant at the Salvation Army mission in Japan. Soon after returning to Australia, Tindale got a job at the South...

 map of Aboriginal groups.)

The Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia nevertheless observes: "One intriguing feature [of Aboriginal Australian mythology] is the mixture of diversity and similarity in myths across the entire continent."

Public education about Aboriginal perspectives

The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation
Reconciliation Australia
Reconciliation Australia is the non-government, not-for-profit foundation established in January 2001 to provide a continuing national focus for reconciliation. It was established by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation...

's booklet, Understanding Country, formally seeks to introduce non-indigenous Australians to Aboriginal perspectives on the environment. It makes the following generalisation about Aboriginal myths and mythology:

"..they generally describe the journeys of ancestral beings, often giant animals or people, over what began as a featureless domain. Mountains, rivers, waterholes, animal and plant species, and other natural and cultural resources came into being as a result of events which took place during these Dreamtime journeys. Their existence in present-day landscapes is seen by many indigenous peoples as confirmation of their creation beliefs.."

"..The routes taken by the Creator Beings in their Dreamtime journeys across land and sea.. link many sacred sites
Aboriginal sacred site
Aboriginal sacred sites are areas or places in Australia of significant Aboriginal Australian meaning within the animist context of the localised indigenous belief system. Most are somehow related to Aboriginal mythology, known as 'The Dreaming, or The Dreamtime'. The Dreaming / Dreamtime is a term...

 together in a web of Dreamtime tracks criss-crossing the country. Dreaming tracks can run for hundreds, even thousands of kilometres, from desert to the coast [and] may be shared by peoples in countries through which the tracks pass.."

An Anthropological generalisation

Australian anthropologists
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

 willing to generalise suggest Aboriginal myths still being performed across Australia by Aboriginal peoples serve an important social function amongst their intended audiences: justifying the received ordering of their daily lives; helping shape peoples' ideas; and assisting to influence others' behaviour. In addition, such performance often continuously incorporates and "mythologises" historical events in the service of these social purposes in an otherwise rapidly changing modern world
Modern World
Modern World or The Modern World may refer to:*Modernity, a popular academic term.*The modern era, the age in which people today now live.*Modern World, a song by Wolf Parade from their 2005 album Apologies to the Queen Mary....

. As R.M. W. Dixon writes:

"It is always integral and common.. that the Law (Aboriginal law) is something derived from ancestral peoples or Dreamings and is passed down the generations in a continuous line. While..entitlements of particular human beings may come and go, the underlying relationships between foundational Dreamings and certain landscapes are theoretically eternal... the entitlements of people to places are usually regarded strongest when those people enjoy a relationship of identity with one or more Dreamings of that place. This is an identity of spirit, a consubstantiality
Consubstantial is an adjective used in Latin Christian christology, coined by Tertullian in Against Hermogenes 44, used to translate the Greek term homoousios...

, rather than a matter of mere belief..: the Dreaming pre-exists and persists, while its human incarnations are temporary."

An Aboriginal generalisation

Aboriginal specialists willing to generalise believe all Aboriginal myths across Australia, in combination, represent a kind of unwritten (oral
Orality is thought and verbal expression in societies where the technologies of literacy are unfamiliar to most of the population. The study of orality is closely allied to the study of oral tradition...

) library within which Aboriginal peoples learn about the world and perceive a peculiarly Aboriginal 'reality' dictated by concepts and values vastly different from those of western societies
Western culture
Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization or European civilization, refers to cultures of European origin and is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and...

"Aboriginal people learned from their stories that a society must not be human-centred but rather land centred, otherwise they forget their source and purpose.... humans are prone to exploitative behaviour if not constantly reminded they are interconnected with the rest of creation, that they as individuals are only temporal in time, and past and future generations must be included in their perception of their purpose in life."

"People come and go but the Land, and stories about the Land, stay. This is a wisdom that takes lifetimes of listening, observing and experiencing .... There is a deep understanding of human nature and the environment.. sites hold 'feelings' which cannot be described in physical terms.. subtle feelings that resonate through the bodies of these people.. It is only when talking and being with these people that these 'feelings' can truly be appreciated. This is.. the intangible reality of these people.."

Rainbow Serpent

In 1926 a British anthropologist specialising in Australian Aboriginal ethnology
Ethnology is the branch of anthropology that compares and analyzes the origins, distribution, technology, religion, language, and social structure of the ethnic, racial, and/or national divisions of humanity.-Scientific discipline:Compared to ethnography, the study of single groups through direct...

 and ethnography
Ethnography is a qualitative method aimed to learn and understand cultural phenomena which reflect the knowledge and system of meanings guiding the life of a cultural group...

, Professor Alfred Radcliffe-Brown
Alfred Radcliffe-Brown
Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown was an English social anthropologist who developed the theory of Structural Functionalism.- Biography :...

, noted many Aboriginal groups widely distributed across the Australian continent all appeared to share variations of a single (common) myth telling of an unusually powerful, often creative, often dangerous snake or serpent of sometimes enormous size closely associated with the rainbows, rain, rivers, and deep waterholes.

Radcliffe-Brown coined the term 'Rainbow Serpent' to describe what he identified to be a common, recurring myth. Working in the field in various places on the Australian continent, he noted the key character of this myth (the 'Rainbow Serpent') is variously named:
Kanmare (Boulia, Queensland
Boulia, Queensland
Boulia is a town in Central West Queensland, Australia. It is located approximately by road south of Mount Isa, and lies on the Burke River, which was named after the explorer Robert O'Hara Burke who passed through the area with the Burke and Wills expedition in 1860. The township was gazetted in...

); Tulloun: (Mount Isa, Queensland
Mount Isa, Queensland
-Culture and sport:The local theatre group, the Mount Isa Theatrical Society, or MITS, often holds plays and musicals, at least once every few months or so....

); Andrenjinyi (Pennefather River
Pennefather River
The Pennefather River in Queensland, Australia, is located on western Cape York Peninsula at . The river is about 11 km long and up to about 2km wide.- External links :**...

, Queensland), Takkan (Maryborough, Queensland
Maryborough, Queensland
Maryborough is a city located on the Mary River in South East Queensland, Australia, approximately north of the state capital, Brisbane. The city is serviced by the Bruce Highway, and has a population of approximately 22,000 . It is closely tied to its neighbour city Hervey Bay which is...

); Targan (Brisbane
Brisbane is the capital and most populous city in the Australian state of Queensland and the third most populous city in Australia. Brisbane's metropolitan area has a population of over 2 million, and the South East Queensland urban conurbation, centred around Brisbane, encompasses a population of...

, Queensland); Kurreah (Broken Hill, New South Wales
Broken Hill, New South Wales
-Geology:Broken Hill's massive orebody, which formed about 1,800 million years ago, has proved to be among the world's largest silver-lead-zinc mineral deposits. The orebody is shaped like a boomerang plunging into the earth at its ends and outcropping in the centre. The protruding tip of the...

);Wawi (Riverina
The Riverina is an agricultural region of south-western New South Wales , Australia. The Riverina is distinguished from other Australian regions by the combination of flat plains, warm to hot climate and an ample supply of water for irrigation. This combination has allowed the Riverina to develop...

, New South Wales), Neitee & Yeutta (Wilcannia, New South Wales
Wilcannia, New South Wales
Wilcannia is a small town located within the Central Darling Shire in north western New South Wales, Australia. This was the third largest inland port in the country during the great river boat era of the mid-19th century. At the 2006 census, Wilcannia had a population of 596.- Geography...

), Myndie (Melbourne
Melbourne is the capital and most populous city in the state of Victoria, and the second most populous city in Australia. The Melbourne City Centre is the hub of the greater metropolitan area and the Census statistical division—of which "Melbourne" is the common name. As of June 2009, the greater...

, Victoria); Bunyip (Western Victoria); Arkaroo
The Arkaroo
In the dreamtime of Australian Aboriginal mythology, the Arkaroo is a serpent who drank all the waters of Lake Frome in South Australia, the latter remaining a large salt pan most of the time. Heavily filled and tired, the Arkaroo retracted for a nap into the mountains west, carving by his body the...

(Flinders Ranges, South Australia); Wogal
The Wagyl is, according to Noongar culture, a snakelike dreamtime creature responsible for the creation of the Swan and Canning Rivers and other waterways and landforms around present day Perth and the south-west of Western AustraliaA superior being, the Rainbow Serpent created the universe and...

Perth, Western Australia
Perth is the capital and largest city of the Australian state of Western Australia and the fourth most populous city in Australia. The Perth metropolitan area has an estimated population of almost 1,700,000....

, Western Australia); Wanamangura (Laverton, Western Australia
Shire of Laverton
The Shire of Laverton is a Local Government Area in the Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia, about northeast of the city of Kalgoorlie and about east-northeast of the state capital, Perth. The Shire covers an area of , and its seat of government is the town of Laverton.-History:The...

); Kajura (Carnarvon, Western Australia
Shire of Carnarvon
The Shire of Carnarvon is a Local Government Area in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia, located about north of the state capital, Perth. The Shire covers an area of , and its seat of government is the town of Carnarvon...

); Numereji (Kakadu, Northern Territory
Kakadu National Park
Kakadu National Park is in the Northern Territory of Australia, 171 km southeast of Darwin.Kakadu National Park is located within the Alligator Rivers Region of the Northern Territory of Australia. It covers an area of , extending nearly 200 kilometres from north to south and over 100 kilometres...


This 'Rainbow Serpent' is generally and variously identified by those who tell 'Rainbow Serpent' myths, as a snake of some enormous size often living within the deepest waterholes of many of Australia's waterways; descended from that larger being visible as a dark streak in the Milky Way
Milky Way
The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains the Solar System. This name derives from its appearance as a dim un-resolved "milky" glowing band arching across the night sky...

, it reveals itself to people in this world as a rainbow as it moves through water and rain, shaping landscapes, naming and singing of places, swallowing and sometimes drowning people; strengthening the knowledgeable with rainmaking and healing powers; blighting others with sores, weakness, illness, and death.

Even Australia's 'Bunyip
The bunyip, or kianpraty, is a large mythical creature from Aboriginal mythology, said to lurk in swamps, billabongs, creeks, riverbeds, and waterholes....

' was identified as a 'Rainbow Serpent' myth of the above kind. The term coined by Radcliffe-Brown is now commonly used and familiar to broader Australian and international audiences, as it is increasingly used by government agencies, museums, art galleries, Aboriginal organisations and the media to refer to the pan-Australian Aboriginal myth specifically, and as a shorthand allusion to Australian Aboriginal mythology generally.

Captain Cook

A number of linguists, anthropologists and others have formally documented another common Aboriginal myth occurring across Australia. Predecessors of the myth tellers encounter a mythical, exotic (most often English) character who arrives from the sea, bringing western colonialism
Colonialism is the establishment, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. It is a process whereby the metropole claims sovereignty over the colony and the social structure, government, and economics of the colony are changed by...

, either offering gifts to the performer's predecessors or bringing great harm upon the performer's predecessors.

This key mythical character is most often named 'Captain Cook', this being a 'mythical' character shared with the broader Australian community, who also attribute James Cook
James Cook
Captain James Cook, FRS, RN was a British explorer, navigator and cartographer who ultimately rose to the rank of captain in the Royal Navy...

 with playing a key role in colonising Australia. The Aboriginal 'Captain Cook' is attributed with bringing British rule to Australia, but his arrival is not celebrated. More often within the Aboriginal telling, he proves to be a villain
A villain is an "evil" character in a story, whether a historical narrative or, especially, a work of fiction. The villain usually is the antagonist, the character who tends to have a negative effect on other characters...


The many Aboriginal versions of this 'Captain Cook' are rarely oral recollections of encounters with the Lieutenant
A lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer in many nations' armed forces. Typically, the rank of lieutenant in naval usage, while still a junior officer rank, is senior to the army rank...

 James Cook
James Cook
Captain James Cook, FRS, RN was a British explorer, navigator and cartographer who ultimately rose to the rank of captain in the Royal Navy...

 who first navigated and mapped Australia's east coast on the HM Bark Endeavour
HM Bark Endeavour
HMS Endeavour, also known as HM Bark Endeavour, was a British Royal Navy research vessel commanded by Lieutenant James Cook on his first voyage of discovery, to Australia and New Zealand from 1769 to 1771....

 in 1770. Guugu Yimidhirr predecessors, along the Endeavour River
Endeavour River
The Endeavour River on Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland, Australia, was named in 1770 by Lt. James Cook, R.N., after he was forced to beach his ship, HM Bark Endeavour, for repairs in the river mouth, after damaging it on Endeavour Reef...

, did encounter James Cook during a 7-week period beached at the site of the present town of Cooktown while the Endeavour was being repaired. From this time the Guugu Yimidhirr did receive present-day names for places occurring in their local landscape; and the Guugu Yimmidhir may recollect this encounter.

The pan-Australian Captain Cook myth, however, tells of a generic, largely symbolic British character who arrives from across the oceans sometime after the Aboriginal world was formed and the original social order founded. This Captain Cook is a harbinger of dramatic transformations in the social order, bringing change and a different social order, into which present-day audiences have been born. (see above regarding this social function played by Aboriginal myths)

In 1988 Australian anthropologist Kenneth Maddock
Kenneth Maddock
Emeritus Professor Kenneth James Maddock was an eminent anthropologist in Australia, and respected, rigorous scholar of Australian Aboriginal societies....

 assembled several versions of this 'Captain Cook' myth as recorded from a number of Aboriginal groups around Australia. Included in his assemblage are:
  • Batemans Bay, New South Wales
    Batemans Bay, New South Wales
    - Media :Radio Stations*East Coast Radio 2EC *Power FM NSW South Coast - POWER FM from Nowra can also be received in parts of Batemans Bay on FM 94.9....

    Percy Mumbulla told of Captain Cook's arriving on a large ship which anchored at Snapper Island, from which he disembarked to give the myth-teller's predecessors clothes (to wear) and hard biscuits (to eat). Then he returned to his ship and sailed away. Mumbulla told how his predecessors rejected Captain Cook's gifts, throwing them into the sea.
  • Cardwell, Queensland
    Cardwell, Queensland
    Cardwell is a tropical coastal town in northeastern Queensland. It is located at the southern extremity of the Cassowary Coast. At the 2006 census, Cardwell had a population of 1,250. The Bruce Highway National Highway 1 and the North Coast railway line are the dominant transport routes;...

    Chloe Grant and Rosie Runaway told of how Captain Cook and his group seemed to stand up out of the sea with the white skin of ancestral spirits, returning to their descendants. Captain Cook arrived first offering a pipe and tobacco
    Tobacco is an agricultural product processed from the leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana. It can be consumed, used as a pesticide and, in the form of nicotine tartrate, used in some medicines...

     to smoke (which was dismissed as a 'burning thing.. stuck in his mouth'), then boiling a billy of tea
    Tea is an aromatic beverage prepared by adding cured leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant to hot water. The term also refers to the plant itself. After water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world...

     (which was dismissed as scalding
    Scalding is a process of burning using hot liquid such as boiling water. This may either be a deliberate treatment of material such as foodstuffs or accidental, resulting in injury....

     'dirty water'), next baking flour
    Flour is a powder which is made by grinding cereal grains, other seeds or roots . It is the main ingredient of bread, which is a staple food for many cultures, making the availability of adequate supplies of flour a major economic and political issue at various times throughout history...

     on the coals (which was rejected as smelling 'stale' and thrown away untasted), finally boiling beef
    Beef is the culinary name for meat from bovines, especially domestic cattle. Beef can be harvested from cows, bulls, heifers or steers. It is one of the principal meats used in the cuisine of the Middle East , Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Europe and the United States, and is also important in...

     (which smelled well, and tasted okay, once the salty skin was wiped off). Captain Cook and group then left, sailing away to the north, leaving Chloe Grant and Rosie Runaway's predecessors beating the ground with their fists, fearfully sorry to see the spirits of their ancestors depart in this way.
  • South-eastern side of the Gulf of Carpentaria
    Gulf of Carpentaria
    The Gulf of Carpentaria is a large, shallow sea enclosed on three sides by northern Australia and bounded on the north by the Arafura Sea...

    , Queensland
    Queensland is a state of Australia, occupying the north-eastern section of the mainland continent. It is bordered by the Northern Territory, South Australia and New South Wales to the west, south-west and south respectively. To the east, Queensland is bordered by the Coral Sea and Pacific Ocean...

    Rolly Gilbert told of how Captain Cook and others sailed the oceans in a boat, and decided to come to see Australia. There he encountered a couple of Rolly's predecessors whom he first intended to shoot, but instead tricked them into revealing the local population's main camping area, after which they:

"set up the people [cattle industry] to go down the countryside and shoot people down, just like animal, they left them lying there for the hawks and crows.. So a lot of old people and young people were struck by the head with the end of a gun and left there. They wanted to get the people wiped out because Europeans in Queensland had to run their stock: horses and cattle."
  • Victoria River (Northern Territory): it is told in a Captain Cook saga
    Sagas, are stories in Old Norse about ancient Scandinavian and Germanic history, etc.Saga may also refer to:Business*Saga DAB radio, a British radio station*Saga Airlines, a Turkish airline*Saga Falabella, a department store chain in Peru...

     that Captain Cook sailed from London to Sydney
    Sydney is the most populous city in Australia and the state capital of New South Wales. Sydney is located on Australia's south-east coast of the Tasman Sea. As of June 2010, the greater metropolitan area had an approximate population of 4.6 million people...

     to acquire land. Admiring the country, he landed bullocks and men with firearms, following which local Aboriginal peoples in the Sydney area were massacred. Captain Cook made his way to Darwin
    Darwin, Northern Territory
    Darwin is the capital city of the Northern Territory, Australia. Situated on the Timor Sea, Darwin has a population of 127,500, making it by far the largest and most populated city in the sparsely populated Northern Territory, but the least populous of all Australia's capital cities...

    , where he sent armed horsemen to hunt down the Aborigines in the Victoria River country, founding the city of Darwin and giving police plus cattle station managers orders on how to treat Aborigines.
  • Kimberley (Western Australia): Numerous Aboriginal myth-tellers say that Captain Cook is a European culture hero who landed in Australia. Using gunpowder, he set a precedent for the treatment of Aboriginal peoples throughout Australia, including the Kimberley. On returning to his home, he claimed he had not seen any Aboriginal peoples, and advised that the country was a vast and empty land which settlers could come and claim for themselves. In this myth, Captain Cook introduced 'Cook's Law', upon which the settlers rely. The Aboriginals note, however, that this is a recent, unjust and false law compared to Aboriginal law.

Murrinh-Patha people

Murrinh-Patha people's country

The Murrinh-Patha
The Murrinh-Patha are an indigenous Australian people, whose traditional lands are located in Australia's Northern Territory, inland from the settlement of Wadeye between the Moyle and Fitzmaurice rivers...

 people (whose country is the saltwater country immediately inland from the town of Wadeye
Wadeye, Northern Territory
Wadeye is a town in Australia's Northern Territory.Wadeye was formerly known as Port Keats. The town is remote, situated on the western edge of the Daly River Reserve more than 200 km south west of Darwin, with road access being cut off by flooding during the wet season. Year round access is via...

) describe a Dreamtime
In the animist framework of Australian Aboriginal mythology, The Dreaming is a sacred era in which ancestral Totemic Spirit Beings formed The Creation.-The Dreaming of the Aboriginal times:...

 in their myths which anthropologists believe is a religious belief equivalent to, though wholly different from, most of the world's other significant religious beliefs.

In particular, scholars suggest the Murrinh-patha have a oneness of thought, belief, and expression unequalled within Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

, as they see all aspects of their lives, thoughts and culture as under the continuing influence of their Dreaming. Within this Aboriginal religion, no distinction is drawn between things spiritual/ideal/mental and things material; nor is any distinction drawn between things sacred and things profane: rather all life is 'sacred', all conduct has 'moral' implication, and all life's meaning arises out of this eternal, everpresent Dreaming.
"In fact, the isomorphic fit between the natural and supernatural means that all nature is coded and charged by the sacred
Holiness, or sanctity, is in general the state of being holy or sacred...

, while the sacred is everywhere within the physical landscape. Myths and mythic tracks cross over.. thousands of miles, and every particular form and feature of the terrain has a well-developed 'story' behind it."

Animating and sustaining this Murrinh-patha mythology is an underlying philosophy of life that has been characterised by Stanner
Bill Stanner
W.E.H. Stanner was an Australian anthropologist who worked extensively with Indigenous Australians. Stanner had a varied career that also included journalism in the 1930s, military service in World War II, and political advice on colonial policy in Africa and the South Pacific in the post-war...

 as a belief that life is "...a joyous thing with maggots at its centre.". Life is good and benevolent, but throughout life's journey, there are numerous painful sufferings that each individual must come to understand and endure as he grows. This is the underlying message repeatedly being told within the Murrinh-patha myths. It is this philosophy that gives Murrinh-patha people motive and meaning in life.

The following Murrinh-patha myth, for instance, is performed in Murrinh-patha ceremonies to initiate young men into adulthood.
"A woman, Mutjinga (the 'Old Woman'), was in charge of young children, but instead of watching out for them during their parents' absence, she swallowed them and tried to escape as a giant snake. The people followed her, spearing her and removing the undigested children from the body."

Within the myth and in its performance, young, unadorned children must first be swallowed by an ancestral being (who transforms into a giant snake), then regurgitated before being accepted as young adults with all the rights and privileges of young adults.

Pintupi people

Pintupi people's country

Scholars of the Pintupi
Pintupi refers to an Australian Aboriginal group who are part of the Western Desert cultural group and whose homeland is in the area west of Lake MacDonald and Lake Mackay in Western Australia. These people moved into the Aboriginal communities of Papunya and Haasts Bluff in the west of the...

 peoples (from within Australia's Gibson Desert
Gibson Desert
The Gibson Desert covers a large dry area in the state of Western Australia and is still largely in an almost "pristine" state. It is about in size, making it the 5th largest desert in Australia, after the Great Sandy, Great Victoria, Tanami and Simpson deserts.-Location and description:The Gibson...

 region) believe they have a predominantly 'mythic' form of consciousness
Consciousness is a term that refers to the relationship between the mind and the world with which it interacts. It has been defined as: subjectivity, awareness, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood, and the executive control system of the mind...

, within which events occur and are explained by the preordained social structures and orders told of, sung about, and performed within their superhuman mythology, rather than by reference to the possible accumulated political actions, decisions and influences of local individuals (i.e. this understanding effectively 'erases' history).
"The Dreaming.. provides a moral authority lying outside the individual will and outside human creation.. although the Dreaming as an ordering of the cosmos is presumably a product of historical events, such an origin is denied."

"These human creations are objectified – thrust out – into principles or precedents for the immediate world.. Consequently, current action is not understood as the result of human alliances, creations, and choices, but is seen as imposed by an embracing, cosmic order."

Within this Pintupi world view
World view
A comprehensive world view is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society's knowledge and point-of-view, including natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and...

, three long geographical tracks of named places dominate, being interrelated strings of significant places named and created by mythic characters on their routes through the Pintupi desert region during the Dreaming. It is a complex mythology of narratives, songs and ceremonies known to the Pintupi as Tingarri
The Tingari cycle in Australian Aboriginal mythology embodies a vast network of Aboriginal Dreaming songlines that traverse the Western Desert region of Australia...

. It is most completely told and performed by Pintupi peoples at larger gatherings within Pintupi country.

See also

  • Aboriginal sacred site
    Aboriginal sacred site
    Aboriginal sacred sites are areas or places in Australia of significant Aboriginal Australian meaning within the animist context of the localised indigenous belief system. Most are somehow related to Aboriginal mythology, known as 'The Dreaming, or The Dreamtime'. The Dreaming / Dreamtime is a term...

  • Cultural landscape
    Cultural landscape
    Cultural Landscapes have been defined by the World Heritage Committee as distinct geographical areas or properties uniquely "..represent[ing] the combined work of nature and of man.."....

  • Dreaming (story)
  • Dreamtime
    In the animist framework of Australian Aboriginal mythology, The Dreaming is a sacred era in which ancestral Totemic Spirit Beings formed The Creation.-The Dreaming of the Aboriginal times:...

  • Indigenous Australian spirituality
  • Myth
  • Rainbow Serpent
    Rainbow Serpent
    The Rainbow Serpent is a common motif in the art and mythology of Aboriginal Australia. It is named for the snake-like meandering of water across a landscape and the colour spectrum caused when sunlight strikes water at an appropriate angle relative to the observer.The Rainbow Serpent is seen as...

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