In the mythology of Bundjalung Nation (represented by 15 Australian Aboriginal tribes, within which are many groups, clans and bands), the Dirawong (a goanna) is the Creator Being that taught the people the Aboriginal astronomy, body designs, bullroarers, bush cosmetics, bush foods, bush medicines, cave paintings and designs cut into trees, ceremonial headgear, ceremonial poles, cultural lore, dances, dreamings, games, geographical locations, how people are required to behave in their communities, initiations, laws of community, paintings, rock art, rock engravings, rules for social behaviour, sacred chants, sacred earth mounds, sacred ground paintings, songlines, songs, stone artefacts, stone objects, stories, structures of society, symbols, technologies, the ceremonies performed in order to ensure continuity of life and land, values, wooden articles, wooden sacred objects, and also the beliefs, values, rules and practices concerning their relationship to the land and water of their country. It is known as a benevolent protector of its people (in the Bundjalung Nation) from the Rainbow Snake (also known as the 'Snake' or 'Rainbow Serpent').
Goanna Headland, at Evans Head (one of the most easterly points on mainland Australia, and the town where Her Australian Majesty Queen Elizabeth II flew into during her Royal visit to Australia in 1954) in New South Wales, is believed to be the body of the mythical Dirawong.
Goanna Headland has been the mythological place of origin of the Bundjalung Nation for thousands of years. The Australian Aboriginal tribal groups of the Bundjalung Nation call it "The Dirawong" (goanna). It is the spiritual centre of their culture. Within its landscape are many sacred, secret, and ceremonial sites. To date some 24 archaeological sites have been located on Goanna Headland to the south of Evans Head Village. Nine sites have also been identified within the Broadwater National Park, which are of aboriginal cultural significance.
The Dirawong continues to be a influential place binding the Bundjalung people to their living culture. In 1985 a 16 hectare section of the southern part of Goanna Headland became the first aboriginal land grant in New South Wales. This grant was made to the Bogal, Jali and Ngulingah Land Councils. The major part of Goanna Headland is now a reserve which is managed for the wider community by the Dirawong Trust. The objectives are to conserve aboriginal culture and heritage, preserve the native flora and fauna and provide recreational activities to the public.
In the 1840s Goanna Headland was the site of a massacre of Bundjalung people by Europeans.
Firstly, nearly all of the information known about the deity called the 'Dirawong' and the associated tribal spiritual beliefs, come from the Aboriginal tribes people of the Bundjalung Nation; therefore it is necessary to be aware of the possibility of bias in the historical record.
Secondly, the Bundjalung Nation tribal groups have never used a written language. To communicate, they talked, but they never wrote letters or books. This meant there was no common written language or alphabet for all tribes like there is for the English, Greeks, or Italians.
All the world's peoples have a concept of how the world was formed. The Bundjalung Nation tribal groups believe that, in the beginning, the earth was featureless, flat and grey. There were no mountain ranges, no rivers, no billabongs, no birds or animals - in fact not one living thing. Then long, long ago came the Dreamtime.
The Dreamtime (Dreaming or Altjeringa is a sacred 'once upon a time' time out of time in which ancestral Totemic Spirit Beings formed 'The Creation') was a time when giant creatures rose up out of the grey plains where they had been slumbering for countless ages. These mythical Beings looked like animals or plants or insects, but they behaved just like humans. They wandered across the vast grey wastes, performing ceremonies, digging for water, and searching for food and as they searched, because of their giant size, they made huge ravines and rivers in the land. The greatest of all these beings from the Dreamtime took the form of the Rainbow Snake. The movement of his huge multicolored body across the land formed the mountains and the rivers that flow to the ocean. By lifting his tail he makes rainbows. The Bundjalung people tell us that Rainbow Snake and Dirawong worked together to create the Richmond River area. Thus the world took on the shape it has today.
Bundjalung Nation tribal groups believe that in the Dreamtime the traditional Aboriginal way of life was established by these mythical Beings and that this way of life is still followed in traditional Aboriginal society today. They believe that their ancestors were taught about their tribal lands by the mythical Beings, and were told how they, as descendants of these Beings, should behave. This was their Dreamtime and this teaching is as important to them as the "Ten commandments" were to the ancient Hebrews. The Dreamtime ended, no one knows how or why, and the Aboriginal ancestor spirits changed into the landscape, they turn into a rock or mountain range, an isolated hill, island, river or even trees arose to mark the place, and time and life, as we know it, began. For Aboriginal people the land has a very special meaning for all over the land there are features which are reminders of those giant Beings of the Dreamtime. When they see a mountain or river, a rock or a tree, they think of the mythical Beings that had a part in their own creation.
The Bundjalung Nation tribal groups believe that they are directly descended from these mythical Beings. When the Dreamtime ended, the people were left with a social and cultural heritage which came from their ancestors. All the rites and ceremonies are, and always were, aimed at preserving this heritage. Their ancestors from the Dreamtime also gave them possession of tribal lands, and hence tribal land, and all forms of life contained within it, are regarded as a sacred trust.
The bonds with the mythical Beings of the Dreamtime are such that Bundjalung Nation tribal groups believe in a united world of body and spirit for every form of life in the land, both living and non-living. This then means that the rocks, rivers and waterholes are more than just a reminder or a symbol of the Dreamtime they represent reality and eternal truth. The legends in this article are some of the stories about the ancestors from the Dreamtime. The legends portray all sorts of human behaviour, including the less endearing ones such as vanity, lying, cruelty, trickery and cheating. There is a moral in these myths. As you listen to the antics of 'The Three Brothers', or of 'The Rainbow Snake & the Dreamtime', you are warned by the characters' downfall of what might happen to you should you fall into the same temptation.
To non-Aboriginal people, Aboriginal mythology can be confusing because the characters are non-human Beings, but behave like humans. Many of the myths seem only to be concerned with a particular animal or bird. However in symbolic meaning of great importance. For instance, the Sun is a woman, she creates life and she is often symbolized by water, fire, earth and red ochre, the Moon is male and controls the tides and seasonal cycles - he is often symbolized by snake, dog, frog and also water.
Some people may find these legends hard to believe, but because they do not seem real to one person, this does not mean that they are not real to another. Indeed, Aboriginals may find it as difficult to believe the Bible story of Moses parting the waters of the Red Sea as Europeans may find it difficult to believe that the Rainbow snake and Dirawong created parts of the Richmond River, Goanna Headland, Snake Island and Pelican Island . To those who really want to believe, both these events really did take place. Aboriginals believe that each tribe is descended from the Beings of the Dreamtime. Today, every Aboriginal has a special symbol - they are called totems - which represents this spiritual attachment or special link to a particular ancestral Being, such as an animal, fish, bird or plant. Traditionally, Aboriginal people care for their totem as they would a brother or sister or friend. Dirawong's tribe is the 'Nyangbal' tribe from the Far North Coast of New South Wales and Dirawong's totem symbol is the 'Goanna'.
Goanna had a prominent place in the culture of Indigenous Australian Bundjalung Nation tribal groups. This included totemic relationships, anthropomorphic representations in Dreamtime stories, and as a food source. Representations of goannas are common in Indigenous artwork, not just as food, but also as a symbolic spiritual motif. Goannas and the mighty Perentie are often considered two different animals when used in Aboriginal works, as illustrated by the story "How the Goanna and Perentie got their colours".
'Nyangbal' tribes people believe that they are direct descendants in spirit of “mythical supernatural being architects”, the Rainbow Snake and Dirawong who created the land and the two totems; the Snake & the Goanna and the land in which Bundjalung Nation tribal groups live. This belief is very important to Nyangbal people, and the goanna of today constantly reminds Nyangbal people of that spiritual ancestor. These symbols are also important because they help to show man's unity with nature. They feel special affinity with their related totem animal species.
It is believed that sacred ceremonies have to be re-enacted on a regular basis to maintain the animal species and ensure survival of the humans. Each Bundjalung Nation tribal groups families owns a special area of land and must protect sacred sites representing their personal totems Dreamtime spirits. Bundjalung Nation people travel long distances from all directions to participate in the initiation ceremonies and to educate the young. The journey could last days or several months and women hunt and collect food during the voyage. All animals, birds, insects, reptiles, plants and other life forms, including man, are part of nature, it is only outward forms that are different.
In summary, the legendary tales of the Bundjalung Nation tribal groups have come down to us from a series of European people. The Aboriginal story-teller would have added facial and bodily gestures and voice inflection to a narrative that was sparing in words. In the re-telling by European people, additional words and phrases have been necessary, while occasional interpolations and omissions have produced different versions. In each case the version used in this article is the one that makes the best story while being consistent with what is known of the beliefs and customs of the Bundjalung Nation tribal groups.
In ages past, Aboriginal Elders were the storytellers. This was the way things were passed along to the generations that followed. For this reason the Aboriginal Elders made it a point to remember every detail of a myth, legend or story so they could relate it at a later time. They were the word and picture carriers making history and spiritual values alive and important. In recent times we have made Aboriginal Elders think they are not so important. We spoof their stories and make them feel foolish. The truth is that we are ignorant of what is precious and how to appreciate age.
Like the spirits of the American Indians in the United States of America, the Bundjalung Nation Aboriginal spirits the Dirawong and the Rainbow Snake continue to live on in the land and water, which originally belonged to the Bundjalung People of the Far North Coast of New South Wales and South East Queensland area.
The double symbolism used in its name is considered allegoric to the dual nature of the deity, where being a Rainbow represents its divine nature or the ability for water to reach the skies and being a Serpent represents its human nature or ability to creep on the ground among other animals of the Earth.
Although its appearance may differ slightly, it retains similar features and stories and two particular characteristics that remain the same throughout is; its gender is not agreed upon and it is linked to rainbows, water, rain, waterholes, rivers, seas, islands, life, social relationships, shape-shifting, spirits, goannas', birds, snakes and fertility.
The concept of the Rainbow Snake as a water spirit is found in many forms. Sometimes it is simply a guardian of a sacred pool or lake and will attack and bring ill health and bad fortune if the sacred place is not correctly respected.
At other times the Rainbow Snake is a much more powerful water spirit – it is the rain itself, the storm, the flood, the life-giving water from the sky. Its rain is vital to life, yet water also has a powerfully destructive side that the Aborigine tribes of Australia were all too aware of. It has been theorized that the dozens of stories of humans being swallowed by the Rainbow Serpent – found throughout Australia – are metaphorical accounts of people being swallowed by flood waters or being drowned in lakes and pools.
In such cases, it is shown that the Rainbow Snake holds no respect for people, nor does it have a code of morality: it acts only as its nature dictates, often being a blind destructive force. But in the same way as rain it also creates: it creates the world, births many children, brings fertility to the land and humans, and is often associated with the Aborigine soul itself.
The ferocity with which the Rainbow Snake guards and defends its sacred pools, and the reverence with which it was – and still is – thought of by Aborigine tribes, indicates that it is a primal force in nature rather than a ‘God’ in the sense that many people in the Western world today would think of it. It follows only its natural inclinations – whether they be anger, lust, compassion, or creation – and its dynamic, raw energy with which it fertilizes the land and creates the world gives to the element of water associations that are not usually thought of in modern Pagan thought. Often, water is seen as passive, reflective, deep, emotional, and spiritual, and is symbolized by the ever-receiving Chalice or womb of the Goddess. But here, in the motif of the Rainbow Snake, we see water as the Cosmic Phallus of active, dynamic creation – of fertility, of the rawest, most primal part of life. Here water is dangerous, destructive, creative, blind, unfeeling and magical: just like the Rainbow Snake in its many forms.
What exactly is the Dirawong? Is it possible to lessen its complex features into formal description? the description will be limited to a general overview of the Goannas' characteristics. Consequently, the most relevant attributes will be analysed in the light of Aboriginal traditions.
Although its appearance may differ slightly, it retains similar features and stories and two particular characteristics that remain the same throughout is; its gender is not agreed upon and it is linked to Goannas', Birds, Snakes, ethics, food, land, medicines, morals, rain, social relationships and spirits.
Bundjalung people believe the spirits of wounded warriors are present within the mountains, their injuries having manifested themselves as scars on the mountainside, and thunder storms in the mountains recall the sounds of those warriors' battles. The patch of 'red ochre' on top of Goanna Headland shows the wound where the Rainbow Snake bit the Dirawong (Goanna) in the dream time.
Dirawong's teachings include
# Teachings 1. Songlines 2. Values 3. Symbols 4. Initiations 5. Songs 6. Dances 7. Stories 8. Paintings 9. Structures of society 10. Rules for social behaviour 11. The ceremonies performed in order to ensure continuity of life and land 12. Laws of community 13. Cultural lore 14. How people are required to behave in their communities 15. Dreamings 16. Geographical locations 17. Technologies 18. Bush foods 19. Bush medicine 20. Bush cosmetics 21. Body designs
Dirawong’s wisdom includes
# Wisdom 1. Calculating 2. Curiosity 3. Knowing When to Hide 4. Seeking Knowledge 5. Climbing Out of Danger 6. Chivalry
Goannas feature prominently in the mythology and culture of Bundjalung Nation Aboriginals and Australian folklore. This included totemic relationships, anthropomorphic representations in Dreamtime stories, and as a source of food and medicine.
Representations of goannas are common in Bundjalung Nation artwork, not just as food, but also as a symbolic spiritual motif.
European settlers perpetuated several old wives' tales about goanna habits and abilities, some of these have persisted in modern folklore amongst campers and bushmen.
A common European settlers tale was that the bite of a goanna was infused with a powerful incurable venom. Every year after the bite (or every seven years), the wound would flare up again. For many years it was generally believed by herpetologists that goannas were non venomous, and that lingering illness from their bites was due solely to infection and septicaemia as a result of their saliva being rife with bacteria from carrion and other food sources. However, in 2005 researchers at the University of Melbourne announced that oral venom glands had been found in both goannas and iguanas.
Because the goanna regularly eats snakes (often involving a fierce struggle between the two), they are often said to be immune to snake venom. The goanna does eat venomous snakes, but no evidence found suggests actual poison immunity. Other stories say the lizard eats a legendary plant, or drinks from a healing spring which neutralises the poison. This is immortalised in Andrew Barton "Banjo" Pattersons humorous poem Johnson's Antidote.
Possibly related to the above poison immunity, goanna fat or oil has been anecdotally imbued with mystical healing properties. Bundjalung Nation Aborigines traditionally used goanna oil as an important bush medicine, and it also became a common medicine among Europeans in Australia's early days. Said to be a cure-all for all sorts of ailments, and possessing amazing powers of penetration (passing through metal as if it were not there), it was sold amongst early settlers like snake oil (a traditional Chinese medicine used to treat joint pain. However, the most common usage of the phrase is as a derogatory term for compounds offered as medicines which implies that they are fake, fraudulent, quackery, or ineffective) in the Old West of North America.
Dreamtime Stories - Myths & Legends
We can count ourselves fortunate that some of the ancient Aboriginal languages and dreaming tales of the Northern Rivers region and South East Queensland have survived. In just 200 years, and after thousands of years of habitation, the last speakers of the original tongues of this region were all but wiped out. Their sacred land as well as hunting grounds were involuntarily turned into someone else's property. So much has been lost.
Bundjalung Nation Creation Myth - The Rainbow Snake & the Dreamtime
Since there are numerous versions of the myth, what is in this instance reported is a summarised version, which lacks crucial details essential for the understanding of the myth. In translating creation myths into English and in changing the stories, Europeans have obscured the wisdom passed down by the Australian Aborigines from generation to generation. The creation myth or story is but one aspect of the whole and must be linked with the sacred place, sacred song and sacred ceremony known only to the fully initiated elders of each tribe;
Bundjalung Nation oral literature tradition tells the story about the creation of Bungawalbin River, the Evans River, Pelican Island, Snake Island, other islands in the Evans River, an unknown island in the pacific ocean (Rainbow Snake) and possibly the hill known as Goanna Headland (Dirawong), as a fight between the Dirawong and the Rainbow Snake.
According to the legend, the Rainbow Snake had been very bad. What he did is a secret, and cannot be revealed here, but it was so bad that a Weeum (known as a 'Clever Man', 'Man of high degree of initiation' or 'Man with great powers') named Nyimbunji from the area known as Bungawalbin, called on the Dirawong (or Goanna) to help protect a Yabbra (or Bird) from the Rainbow Snake (or Waugal).
Only Dirawong was powerful enough to deal with Rainbow Snake. Dirawong chased Rainbow Snake from inland eastward towards the coast and as they went they formed parts of the Richmond River. At Maniworkan (or the town of Woodburn, New South Wales, Australia) they left the Richmond River and kept on going east. Half-way down the Evans River, Dirawong caught Rainbow Snake, the Snake turned around and bit Goanna on the head, Dirawong then withdrew from the battle in order to eat some herbs to recover (heal) from the snakebite, when he felt better from the snakebite he resumed his chase.
Meanwhile, Rainbow Snake had reached Evans Head. Rainbow Snake looked around. Dirawong was nowhere to be seen, so Rainbow Snake decided to go back west. The Rainbow Snake then went into the Evans River and coiled itself around and created Snake Island. As he turned his body made another larger island in the river, now known as Pelican Island.
When Rainbow Snake spotted Dirawong heading towards him, Rainbow Snake quickly turned, and this time Rainbow Snake kept going until he reached the Burraga (Tasman Sea, Pacific Ocean), and made himself into an Island so Dirawong wouldn't recognise Rainbow Snake.
Dirawong reached the coast at Evans Head. Dirawong then laid down next to the coast, facing the Burraga, waiting for Rainbow Snake to come back. And you can still hear Rainbow Snake and see Goanna, today at Evans Head. The patch of 'red ochre' on top of Goanna Headland shows the wound where the Rainbow Snake bit the Goanna in the dream time.
Interpretation of the Creation Myth - The Rainbow Snake & the Dreamtime
The creation was believed to be the work of culture heroes that in the creative epoch travelled across a formless land, creating sacred sites and significant places of interest in their travels. In this way songlines were established, some of which could travel right across Australia, through as many as six to ten different language groupings. The songs and dances of a particular songline were kept alive and frequently performed at large gatherings, organised in good seasons.
Legend of 'The Three Brothers'
Bundjalung Nation - Story 1
This Bundjalung Nation Aboriginal dream-time legend tells of three brothers, Mamoonh, Yarbirri (also known as 'yar Birrain') and Birrung, their mother and wives who landed at Gummingarr (which is now called Chinamens Beach at Evans Head, New South Wales, Australia) in canoes (made from the bark of a Moreton Bay Pine (Araucaria cunninghamii)). While the three brothers repaired one of their canoes, their mother went to look for food. When it was time to leave the three brothers could not find their mother so left without her. On her return she found her three son's had left without her, enraged at being left behind, she called out to the three brothers and in her anger struck the sea with a stick. This caused the first big waves on the sea and caused the three brothers canoe to sink on a reef at the mouth of the Richmond River and the three brothers then swam ashore at the historical geographical location known as 'Shelley Beach', located at Ballina, New South Wales, Australia (the area was called in Bundjalung language 'Bullinah', meaning place of many oysters in Njangbal language). The three brother’s returned overland to find their mother and stayed to settle this country. One brother went south, another west and the third brother north. In doing so the three brothers founded the tribal groups of the Bundjalung Nation.
Bundjalung Nation - Story 2
This Bundjalung Nation Aboriginal dream-time legend tells of three brothers, Mamoonh, Yarbirri (also known as 'yar Birrain') and Birrung, who are said to have come from the sea. The brothers, along with their grandmother, arrived in a canoe made from the bark of a hoop pine. As they followed the coastline, they found a rich land sparsely populated, so they landed at the mouth of the Clarence river, where the towns of Iluka and Yamba now stand, and stayed there for a long time, then, leaving their grandmother behind they continued on in their canoe heading up the east coast. At one place they landed and created a spring of fresh water. They stopped along the coast at various places and populated the land. 'The Three Brothers' also made the laws for the Bundjalung Nation people and also the ceremonies of the Bora rings. The Bora Ring was the meeting place where stories were handed down. That's where the laws came from for all the tribes. The Elders got together and passed down the laws to the younger men of the tribes.
Bundjalung Nation - Story 3
According to Bundjalung Nation Aboriginal dream-time, three brothers, Mamoonh, Yarbirri (also known as 'yar Birrain') and Birrung, settled on what is now known as Seven Mile beach (between Lennox Head and Broken Head) and one of them, Yarbirri, produced a flow of fresh water by thrusting his spear into the sand. At low tide there is said to be a stain marking the spot from where the water flowed.
Bundjalung Nation (Dirawong tribe) - Modern Day Story 4
This is Bundjalung country, magnificent landscape but among the wild flowers, the bush trees, and the dunes, ghosts lurks about. It is said that if you walk the lonely beach near dusk and stand at the edge of the dunes, you will hear the sound of screaming, wailing, weeping of children and women who were murdered by the white settlers back n the mid 19th century. These were the victims of a massacre of over a 100 women and children. Their ghosts remind us of those long, forgotten blood soaked days as they wail and weep, hoping to rest. I know some of you out there would say: It’s only birds...really? Is it? Care to check it out yourself? It’s a grim reminder of our not-so-nice history.
Yaegle tribe - Story 5
In the very beginning, three brothers, Mamoonh, Yarbirri (also known as 'yar Birrain') and Birrung, together with their wives and mother traveled from far across the sea, arriving on the Australian coast at the mouth of the Clarence River. Their boat, however, was blown out to sea in a storm, so 'The Three Brothers' decided to build canoes in order to return to their homeland far across the sea.
They completed building the canoes but could find no sign of their mother anywhere so they set off without her. On returning to find she had been left behind, the mother climbed to the top of a hill and cursed them for abandoning her. She called the ocean to anger and the wild seas forced 'The Three Brothers' back to land at Chinamans Beach, near Evans Head. Once the seas had abated one of 'The Three Brothers' returned south to find their mother. The others settled near Evans Head, developed families and a thriving community.
One of the families moved north, another west and the third to the south, forming the three branches of the bundjalung people.
Yaegle tribe - Story 6
According to Bundjalung Legend, The Founding Three Brothers, Mamoonh, Yarbirri (also known as 'yar Birrain') and Birrung, made one of their famous landings at what is now Lennox Head said to be near today a group of black rocks on the beach.
When the eldest of 'The Three Brothers' Yarbirri, thrust a spear into the sand, fresh water ran (Lake Ainsworth) and it is said when the tide is low you can still see a rusty stain.
After their landing at Lennox Head, the Three Brothers moved north towards Brunswick Heads, where they created the first Bora ground. Thousands of years later, a bora ground remains at Lennox Head, protected by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and is open to the public.
Ngybul tribe - Story 7
"The coastal areas of New South Wales and southern Queensland were associated with the legend of the THREE BROTHERS the ancestors of the Aboriginal people who came from the sea and landed on the east coast. The details of the legend vary from one part of the coast to another, each Aboriginal language area claiming that the brothers landed in their territory.
In the Northern Rivers area the legend states that the three brothers made their first landing at Yamba or illuka, and after three subsequent landings further north, one at Evans Head, then Ballina and the last at the Lennox boat channel area at Lennox Head, two of the brothers then occupied the coast, while the third moved inland and occupied the Lismore district.
Evans Head was known as Gummingarr, a name derived from gummi, meaning father's mother. This recalls an incident in the legend where the grandmother of the three brothers went into the bush to gather fern roots; she could not be found when the three brothers prepared to paddle northward, and was therefore was left behind. Arriving back at the beach the grandmother grew very angry at being left behind and used her magic to summon up a storm making the first waves on what up till that point had been a waveless ocean. This forced the brothers ashore at Ballina and they went overland back to retrieve the grandmother.
The next landing was at Lennox Head in the boat channel area (bream hole/moat) of the beach. One of the brothers, named Yarbirri (his beard was a dark red colour), thrust his hunting spear into the sand, and fresh water gushed out. Before the swampy area in the southern corner was filled and drained a ti-tree coloured stain was often seen that resembled a red beard.
After Lennox the brothers continued north to their final landing at Brunswick Heads, where they are said to have made the first wandaral or bora ring. Be that as it may, there is a well preserved bora ring in Lennox. It is situated ninety metres west of Gibbon Street and is also adjacent to the Megan Crescent cricket field. It is fenced and maintained by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of NSW and is open to visitors. The Bora Ring was used mainly for male initiation ceremonies.
After the first Wandaral ceremony at Brunswick, The eldest brother, Yarbirri, made the laws. The brothers decided to separate and to populate the earth, Yarbirri went north, Mamoon to the west and Birrung to the south. The name Birin (Birrung) was widely used to mean "southerners"; the people north of the Brisbane River regarded all of the Bunjalung people as Birin: to the people of the Byron Bay area Birin referred to the people of the Clarence."
Legend of 'Mount Bugerum Boogerum'
Ngybul tribe - Story 1
According to Bundjalung Legend, Mount Bugerum Boogerum was of enormous spiritual signicance to local Aboriginal people.
The eldest of The Founding Three Brothers, Yarbirri (also known as 'yar Birrain'), was spoken to by God on Mount Bugerum Boogerum, that at least is the belief, and the belief has drawn pilgrims for thousands of years. There is not a great deal of evidence but it is Bundjalung Nation oral history.
A Bundjalung Nation Aboriginal Legend
In ancient times, long before white people came to this country, Aboriginal people living in the area now known as the Upper Richmond River District believed that a lagoon at Wiangaree was haunted by the ghostly spirit of a woman.
One day a warrior from a tribe living near the lagoon came back to the camp tired from hunting. He was angry when he found that his wife was not there to meet him, as were the wives of the other warriors.
The warrior was jealous and thought immediately that his wife was being unfaithful. He went looking for her and became more and more angry with every step he took. When he found her walking in the bush, quite unaware that her husband had returned, he accused her of being unfaithful. Against her determined protests of innocence and her struggles, he drowned her in the lagoon.
It was said that from time to time the sound of her body struggling in the lagoon could be heard, as could her cries as she sank beneath the surface. The warriors, an ancient people, continue to live there in spirit.
And what of the spirit of the woman? Is it the sound of her body splashing in the lagoon or ... only a platypus? Are they her death cries one can hear or ... merely those of a night bird? Who can tell? It was so long ago.
Legend of 'The Three Brothers'
Biripi Nation - Story 1
The Three Brothers are also known as three mountains in the Hastings area on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales, Australia. They were named by Lieutenant James Cook (also known as Captain Cook FRS RN) during his voyage along the east coast of Australia in May 1770.
The name 'Three Brothers' is a striking coincidence, as the mythology of the Biripi Nation Aboriginal people, the Birpai, tell of a Dreamtime legend describing how three brothers from the Birpai tribe met their fate at the hands of the witch named Widjirriejuggi. The Three Brothers were buried where each mountain stands.
Legend of 'The Three Sisters'
Katoomba tribe - Story 1
This Gundungurra Nation Aboriginal dream-time legend has it that the local witch doctor of the Katoomba tribe had three beautiful daughters, 'Meehni', 'Wimlah' and Gunnedoo', who were told not to go into the Jamison Valley (Katoomba, New South Wales, Australia) because a fearsome Bunyip lived there. The daughters were curious and leaned over the cliff face to look down into the valley and accidentally dislodged some rocks which, falling into the valley below, awoke the Bunyip. The Bunyip was terribly angry and started up the cliff to eat the young girls, the witch doctor saw what was happening and quickly turned his daughters into stone pillars using his magic stick. The Bunyip became enraged and turned on the witch doctor, who then quickly turned himself into a lyrebird. He fled from the Bunyip and lost his magic stick.
The 3 Sisters are still pillars of stone and if you go for a walk in the Jamison Valley below the 3 Sisters, if you are quiet, you may see a Lyrebird scratching in the forest, still looking for the magic stick so that he can turn himself and his daughters back into human form.
Katoomba tribe - Story 2
This Gundungurra Nation Aboriginal dream-time legend has it that three sisters, 'Meehni', 'Wimlah' and 'Gunnedoo' lived in the Jamison Valley (Katoomba, New South Wales, Australia) as members of the Katoomba tribe within the Gundungurra Nation. Word of their beauty spread and other tribes from other Nations became jealous.
These three very beautiful maidens had fallen in love with three brothers from the Nepean or Mulgoa (Mulgowey) tribe of the Darug Nation (which is North East of the Gandangara Nation), yet tribal law forbade them to marry outside their own tribe. The brothers were not happy to accept this law and so decided to use force to capture the three sisters causing a major tribal battle.
A terrible battle raged across the mountains – blood flowed and stained the ground red, colouring the cliffs around. The Katoomba tribe were losing the battle and the maidens were terrified. They ran to the cliff edge and saw the fierce fighting. Their father, who was also the witch doctor of the tribe, cast a magic spell on them to turn them into stone where they stood for their bad behaviour. He planned to change them back after the battle, however he was killed when he went back into the battle.
The Nepean tribe won and went to claim the maidens, only to find three great pinnacles of rock - the famous 3 Sisters. As only the witch doctor could reverse the spell to return the ladies to their former beauty, the sisters remain in their magnificent rock formation as a reminder of this battle for generations to come. To this day no one has discovered the magic spell which will set them free.
Interpretation of the legend - 'The Three Sisters' (Katoomba tribe - Story 2)
Dr Martin Thomas states in his book, 'The Artificial Horizon: Imagining the Blue Mountains' that when he began researching the Blue Mountains, he discovered competing narratives, so he felt that in writing an historically inspired work, it was his job to suggest, evoke and play with narrative as much as just telling it.
Dr Martin Thomas points out that; "Myths pose particular problems for traditional historians, who see their work as being about facts and replacing myths with truth or scientific history." Dr Martin Thomas does not share that view and states that "myth permeates society and we should think creatively about myth and engage with it."
Excited by myths that offer prospects of opening rather than closure, Dr Martin Thomas refers to an ancient Blue Mountains myth collected by Robert Hamilton Matthews (R. H. Mathews), who in 1893 started collecting data on Aboriginal societies. Robert Hamilton Matthews documented an Aboriginal story of creation that effectively maps the local landscape.
Dr Martin Thomas says to compare Robert Hamilton Matthews 'Aboriginal story of creation' to the legend of 'The Three Sisters' at Echo Point in Katoomba, published in the 1940s, which doesn't have an Aboriginal provenance.
The Three Sisters' story claims that the sisters are three women who were turned to stone. One can see that as a false myth but, as a myth created by the invading colonial culture, it reveals underlying truths about petrifying the Aboriginal sisters and turning them into things you just look at.
In addition, Dr Martin Thomas argues that it is the hallmark of colonisation, with its deletions, denials, losses and absences, that our sense of the past is perpetually unstable, always liable to crack or shatter; and that the 'Three Sisters' legend should not be dismissed as a bogus myth. Precisely because of its ambiguous meaning and origin, it qualifies as myth in the deepest sense.
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