Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Mythology of the Simpson Desert                                                                                                                                        

Among the Wangkangurru the Dreamtime is called the History Time. The native wells were all connected with 1 or more of the ancestral beings from the History Time, travelling past the wells as they travelled across the country. As with Dreamtime stories elsewhere in Aboriginal Australia, they were associated with various features of the landscape.

Among the wells of the Simpson Desert that were associated with more than 1 myth was Balcoora, being passed by several of the History Time beings, the Two Boys, the Two Carpet Snakes and the Two Men. The Eastern Simpson Desert Rain History includes Perlanna Well and Kilpatha Well. Some wells were important in particular myths, such as Beelaka Well that was associated with the Wadla Grinding Stone History, and Beepla was one of the most important sites in the Crane and the Waterbirds myth. The ritual centre for the Acacia Seed History was at Pudlowinna Well.

The Two Boys

In the mythology of the Wangkangurru people the myth of the Two Boys is one of the most important. The Two Boys who lived with their mother at Dalhousie were rainmakers who spent their days catching small birds. While chasing birds they gradually ended up in the Simpson Desert. Here they met the Karanguru people, to whom they gave feathers from the birds they caught, initiating the cult of the Warrthampa, linking the Karanguru of the east with the Wangkangurru. Parra-Parranha Well (the long one) in the central Simpson Desert is the main centre for rituals connected with the Two Boys. Lindsay called it Burraburrinna.

Wurru the Ancestral Crane

This myth is centred on the Palthirri Pithi grindstone quarry in the Peake and Denison Ranges, west of Lake Eyre. The Crane, as well as all the other birds in the area, were trying to catch the Two Big Fish. The Crane lost interest in the Two Big Fish, becoming more interested in his 2 daughters-in-law. The Fish escaped. The birds then followed the Macumba River and the Diamantina River to the Simpson Desert. The Crane could think only of his daughters-in-law so he decided to kill the rest of the birds that were with him. Near Kallakoopah Creek he made the weather very hot and windy by singing songs, leading all the birds to areas where he knew there was no permanent water.

After returning to one of the waterholes to drink he created a very big dust storm as they approached Beelpa Well. To prevent the birds smelling the water he forced them to burrow into the sand on the northern side of the well. The Crane dug in the well until the water reached his neck. On returning to the other birds he begged them to cover him with cool sand because he was exhausted by the heat and lack of water. The other birds now became suspicious of his intentions, though they continued on north until, as they approached the well at Toko Range, they could smell water though were getting very weak and were almost blind, ignoring the Crane when he tried to persuade them to burrow into the sand. In their frenzy they were changed into Waterbirds.

In the lighter vein of this story the Crane made suggestive gestures to his daughters-in-law as they travelled along. An evil spell was left at Beelpa Well because of what Crane did there. The Crane and the other birds are said to be a number of white limestone boulders that can still be seen on a sandhill north of Beelpa Well.

Ancestral Rain Histories

In the Simpson Desert there are 4 Ancestral Rain Histories linking the Wangkangurru with their neighbours in the west, the Arabana and the Lower Southern Aranda, and their eastern neighbours, the Karanguru and Ngamini. Ilbora on the Finke River is the beginning of the Western Rain History, extending into the Western Desert. Boolaburtinna Well and the surrounding area is the centre of the Rain Histories from the central part of the desert. Perlanna Well, Kilpatha Well, Yelkerrie Well, and Lake Mirranponga Pongunna are associated with the Eastern Simpson Desert Rain Histories. According to Irinjili, the Rain travelled all over Wangkangurru country in History Time just as clouds still travel about anywhere, so the 4 Histories are closely linked.

In the desert between Wolporican Well and Boolaburtinna Well, 2 knolls, low gypseous hills, the Approdinna Attora Knolls, were said to be near an important ceremonial site, the hills being landmarks that warned all but the fully initiated elders to approach no further, as told to Ted Colson on his desert crossing in 1936, though he later doubted the accuracy of the information he was given in respect of these particular knolls.

As with other tribes, the country of the Wangkangurru was crossed by trade routes, often following Dreamimg tracks of the ancestral Beings, with the result that they were mythologically significant. The Wangkangurru obtained stone from the Palthirri Pithi quarry, their red ochre from Parachilna in the Flinders Ranges. Fragments of bailer shell found at Boolaburtinna Well and Perlanna Well suggest the trade routs stretched all the way to the far northern part of the continent. Dolomite axes were obtained from the Mt Isa area and pituri, a narcotic plant, the leaves of which were chewed, came from western Queensland. There were small pieces of shell of freshwater mussels found at Murraburt Well and Beelpa Well. Again indicating long trade routes.

Sources & Further reading

  1. Shephard, Mark, 1992, The Simpson Desert: Natural History and Human Endeavour, Reed


Heritage of the Birdsville and Strzelecki Tracks: Part of the Far North and Far West Regions (Region 13)


Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated: 30/09/2011

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