Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Giant Kangaroos in the Dreamtime

In western New South Wales there is a story of the Dreamtime that may be telling of an encounter between Aboriginal People of the Dreamtime and giant kangaroos. The story is set where the Lachlan River and Murrumbidgee River meet. It tells of a group of people resting in the heat of the day when they see a mob of giant kangaroos approaching. They are afraid and disperse into the bush. The kangaroos killed many by crushing them with the powerful arms. The headman survived and called together the survivors and they devised a defence against these fearsome roos. They made spears, clubs, boomerangs and shields, and the women made bark cradles to carry their babies so they wouldn't get lost when they rushed to escape the roos. The cleverest of the men was Wirroowaa. He thought they needed to call on the help of the Great Spirit, but to do this he needed to paint his chest with white clay. The clay had to be collected from the banks of the riverbed, but the giant kangaroos were camped there. He killed a brown-banded goanna that he found under a hollow log and smeared its fat all over his body, then rolled around in the dust until he was the colour of the ground. Carrying some branches in front of him to complete the camouflage he crept to the river and collected the clay without being seen. This was the first time camouflage had been used.

A breeze started blowing that got stronger the closer he came to the river. In the strengthening wind 2 sticks were rubbing together and eventually became hot enough that a spark jumped from them to dry grass that caught fire. He quickly rubbed the white clay on his chest in sacred designs that summoned the Great Spirit who told him to keep to the open treeless places. It was already too late for some who had been caught in the fire, but the rest of them gathered in an open clear space. They saw the giant kangaroos on the horizon but when the kangaroos saw the fire they were driven back.

The headman was dying so Wirroowaa painted him with the white clay so the power of the Great Spirit would be with him. He told the people that one day the giant kangaroos would be overcome and told the men to carry spears and clubs and to use bark to make shelters from the hot sun and to make shields.

Depicted in Rock Art

In his book, Australian Mammal Extinctions, Chris Johnson refers to paintings of kangaroo tracks that show a single large toe, that is believed to represent an extinct sthenurine kangaroo.

Ochre mine at Wilgie Mia

The Giant Kangaroo speared by Mondong, the blood from which became the red ochre at Wilgie Mia, where the kangaroo landed with its last leap, the liver becoming the yellow ochre and the gall becoming the green ochre.

Sources & Further reading

  1. Josephine Flood, Archaeology of the Dreamtime, J. B. Publishing
  2. Jennifer Isaacs, Australia Dreaming: 40,000 years of Aboriginal History, New Holland Publishers
  3. Chris Johnson, Australia's Mammal Extinctions, a 50,000 year history, Cambridge University Press, 2006





Author: M.H. Monroe
Last Updated 26/01/2010


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