Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

The Stone Fish Trap of Baiame - the Brewarrina fish traps 

In western New South Wales, in the country of several tribes, the Ngemba, Ualarai, Kamilaroi and Weilwan, there was a great drought in the Dreamtime. Their country above Brewarrina was fertile before the drought, but now dried out, the lush grass shrivelling in the blazing sun, and the rivers shrunk to strings of stagnant waterholes, the nearest fish being further to the west as the rivers dried up. The animals that had always depended on the water of the river now got bogged in the mud along the rivers, where they were easy prey for the hunters. As the drought went on the number of animals dwindled.

The Gurrungga waterhole, in the country of the Ngemba, around Brewarrina, was drying up as the remaining water was evaporated by the heat of the Sun, and the people were suffering a famine. When Baime became aware of the suffering of the people he went to Brewarrina with his 2 sons, Boomaoomanowi and Ghindaindamui. Baime dug up many scattered boulders and stones, then they set out the stones in the pattern of a large fish net. They placed the boulders on the bottom, then built up the wall with smaller stones to the height of a man's thigh, that stretched from one bank to the other across the dry watercourse. Baime taught the people how to open the trap at each end, and how to maintain it.

The grateful people put on a corroboree for Baime that night. Taking a coolamon, Baime showed some of the old men how to call the rain. The men danced for hours, stamping their feet, as the fine dust rose up to the sky, until the camps were engulfed in the clouds of dust. As they became exhausted the men dropped to the ground and slept, caked in dust. As they slept the dust clouds reached higher into the sky until they ringed the Moon, Bahloo, who filled the dust clouds with water and the sleeping men were awakened by heavy drops of rain. The torrential rain continued for several days, and Gurrungga slowly filled. After the rain had continued for several days they heard a loud roar approaching them, startling them, until they saw a wall of brown water ruching along the river bed, a flash flood, that poured into Gurrungga, than carried down along the length of the Callewatta River. As the flood passed by and the water level fell back to a normal level, and they could see the fish trap and thousands of fish thrashing around. The excited people rushed into the water and herded the fish into the stone meshes where the were killed with sticks or short spears, or simply grabbed.

One type of fish they caught was the black bream or grunter, the black fish of Baime, that grunt when caught, as did the great fish, the first one speared by Baima. The older men, being wiser, followed the hunters into the river, but set about blocking the entry to the stone traps to prevent the fish returning upstream to worn other fish of the trap.

Soon the flocks of waterbirds were seen in the sky, as they made for the retuned waterbodies, as they have they had since ancient times.

Sources & Further reading

  1. Jennifer Isaacs, 2005, Australian Dreaming: 40,000 years of Aboriginal History, New Holland Publishers.


Brewarrina Fish traps

Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated: 02/10/2011
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