Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Giant Serpents - Eastern Australia                                                                                                                                    

The serpents in various are endowed with a wide variety of temperamentsn in various parts of the continent, some being so belligerent that the people cannot approach the waterholes where they live, whereas others they can. Fire is a deterrent, being used to allow people to camp near waterholes that are known to be the home of a serpent. The beliefs of different parts of Australia vary as to the connection of the snakes with fertility and spirits of children. Among the Wiradjuri of New South Wales, the serpent created the ceremonies and inspires artists.

According to the stories of the Wiradjuri, The Wawi is serpent-like, lives in waterholes on the Darling River, where it burrows into the banks. The Wawi's wife and children live in a nearby camp. The only person who can go near the Wawi is a clever man ('doctor'), who must paint himself all over with red ochre. To find Wawi, the man watches for a rainbow after a thunder-shower, finding the place where the end of the rainbow is over a waterhole, which tells him the home of the Wawi. He dives into the water and is taken to the hole of the Wawi where he is taught a new song for corroboree. When he returns to camp he goes into the bush with a few other clever men. They strip pieces of bark off the trees and paint different patterns on them with earth ochres. These bark paintings are taken to the corroboree ground where all the men sing the new song as they dance. The Wawi can change his size from a few inches to very big. One of  the ancestors of the Wawi is a black streak in the Milky Way towards the Southern Cross.

There are stories of giant beings that are described either as serpents of crocodiles. The confusion of form is similar to that of the Borlung in Arnhem land. There is the story of a great hunter, Toolalla of the Barwon River, who decided to kill the powerful snake to remove the menace to his people. He was unsuccessful, having to run for his life, taking refuge in a very tall tree until the serpent returned to the water. It is said the serpent is in the water of Boobera Lagoon when it is swollen by floodwater. It was said this serpent couldn't travel on dry land, digging into the bank of its waterhole when it wanted to travel, the water following and carrying it along the trench. The large number of shallow channels around Boobera Lagoon were said to be these channels dug by the serpent.

An example of giant serpents in Queensland comes from the Bloomfield River. This serpent is Yero, inhabiting long, deep pools connecting the waterholes and rapids of a stream known as the Roaring Meg, that flows to the river from rugged mountains. Yero is described as having the appearance of a giant eel or serpent with a striped body and a large head with red hair. It was said that if a man entered the water of one of the waterholes he will be pulled about by Yero.

There is similar description of supernatural water snake with a head of hair like a mane. He is said to be associated with quartz crystals at the ends of rainbows that were said to have come from the great serpent's body. The native doctors use them for their magical power.

The Bunyip was another being that was feared by the people of South Australia and Victoria. Like the great serpents, it lived in waterholes. The Arkaroo were ancestors of the Flinders Ranges people who appear to have have had serpent-like appearance. Also in Victoria, was a giant snake called Myndie, who had been created by Bunjil, the Great Creator, to be the keeper of his laws. Myndie was the enforcer, punishing law breakers. Like some other great serpents he could vary his size at will. He lived in a waterhole near Puckapunyal (Bukara-Bunnal), but could climb trees, where he used his tail to grip branches like a ring-tailed possum.

The Wilpena Pound Serpents 

According to the stories of the Adnyaantana people of the Flinders Ranges, at the end of the Dreamtime the bodies of 2 Arkaroo were changed into the steep walls that surround Wilpena Pound, their spirits became large, multicoloured creatures with manes and beards that inhabit a waterhole at the entrance to the pound. It is said that during the Dreamtime the 2 Arkaroo heard that the first circumcision ceremony was to be held at Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges. They decided to destroy the people so they travelled to the Pound and waited until the ceremony was finished. They surrounded the people who had gathered for the ceremony and used very powerful whirl winds to sweep the people into their mouths. The only survivors were Wala the wild turkey, Yulu the kingfisher and the initiate.

Yamini, Rainbow Serpent, Atherton Tableland


Arkaroola, South Australia

Sources & Further reading

  1. Jennifer Isaacs, Australia Dreaming: 40,000 years of Aboriginal History, New Holland Publishers, 2005
Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated: 02/10/2010

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