How the animals came to Australia

Long before there were men or animals in Australia, the only living things that had eyes to see the vast continent were flocks of migratory birds. When they returned to their homeland far to the east, their reports created such excitement that the animals assembled from far and near to hold a corroboree and discuss the matter. It was decided that, as the land appeared to be so much richer than their own, they would all go and live there.

The big problem was how to reach the land of promise. The only vessel that could contain them all was the one that belonged to Whale. He was asked if he would lend it to them, but he gave a flat refusal.

They held another secret meeting at which they enlisted the aid of Starfish, who was Whale's closest friend. Starfish agreed to help. To distract Whale, he offered to pick the lice from Whale's hair. So Whale placed his head in Starfish's lap and gave a wriggle of contentment. Starfish plucked off the lice in a leisurely fashion.

While the cleaning task went on, the animals went on tiptoe to the shore, loaded all their possessions in Whale's huge canoe, and paddled silently out to sea.

After a while Whale became restless, and began to fret.

"Where is my canoe?" he asked.

Starfish picked up a piece of wood and struck a hollow log by his side. It gave out a booming noise.

"Are you satisfied now?"

Whale sank back again and submitted himself to his friend's attentions once more. The sun was low in the sky when Whale woke up for the second time.

He brushed Starfish aside and rolled over so that he could look round him. There was a long furrow in the sand where the canoe had been pulled down the beach, but of the canoe itself there was no sign. Whale turned round in alarm and saw it on the distant horizon, almost lost to sight. He turned on Starfish and attacked him so fiercely that he was nearly torn to pieces. His descendants still hide among the rocks and in salt water pools as their ancestor did that day, and their bodies bear the marks of the fury of Whale when he turned against his friend. But little Starfish had not submitted to punishment without some resistance, and in his struggles he managed to tear a hole in Whale's head, which is also inherited by the descendants of their huge ancestor.

Whale raced across the ocean with water vapour roaring from the hole in his head, and began to overtake the canoe. The terrified animals dug their paddles deeper in the water and strained every muscle to make the canoe go faster, but it was mainly through the efforts of Koala that they managed to keep at a safe distance from their infuriated pursuer. Ever since his arms have been strong and muscular.

The chase continued for several days and nights, until at last land came in sight. At the entrance to a sacred cove the canoe was grounded and the animals jumped ashore. They pushed the canoe out from the shore and danced and stamped on the thin bark until it was broken and sank beneath the waves. There it turned to stone; and it can still be seen as an island near the entrance to the sacred cove. Ever since that day the footprints of the animals can be seen in stone on the island.

Whale turned aside in disgust and swam away up the coast, as his descendants still do. As for the animal-men, they explored the land and found it as good as the birds had said. They settled there, making their homes in trees and caves, by rivers and lakes, in the bush, and on the endless plains of the interior.

Caves and Blowholes

To the Australian Aborigines, and people all over the world, caves contain many marvelous, mystical and terrifying things. In the Nullarbor the vast treeless plain the Mirning people called Undire (which means 'bare like a bone') or Kattaundiri, the intricate network of caves was the home of Jeedara, devil serpent of the plain. The Mirning believed that when Jeedara became angry he lashed himself about so fiercely that he created terrible dust storms and whirlwinds that swept across the plain. When Jeedara moved around, it was 'like a big hill walking about'. The caves and blowholes are believed to be the gates through which Jeedara passes to his home in the sea where he changes skins with the whale.

In the creation times when Jeedara was a whale he was watching a ceremony where the wombat was changing skins with the seal. Yugarilya, the seven sisters (from the constellation of the Pleiades) saw Jeedara and recognising him as an uninitiated man chased him with their digging sticks towards another ceremonial ground in the west. In the pursuit, Jeedara, pushing the waters of the sea ahead of him, created many caves and blowholes as he pushed up the mighty cliffs of the Great Australian Bight with his shoulders. Jeedara created the cliffs so that his two dingo companions, one black and one white, could run alongside him while he swam west beneath the cliffs to be instructed in tribal law at a special teaching place.

Later, after the special ceremonies had taken place, Jeedara travelled further west to a special place where he danced and mated with his wives.

Dream Song

A sea coast woman dreamed she was balancing herself upon the back of a whale in the water, and the following morning she improvised her dream.

These dream songs are called by the South-western people Koorannup songs.

"Maangarla maangarla wandee bal
dowel gen, gen, gen, boordee boording
dancing on the maaming (whale)
balancing on my thigh,
one, one, one, going on balancing."

The Fire Tree

The discovery of fire not only completely altered man's way of life, but set him apart from the rest of creation as nothing else could have done. A number of myths tell of its origin. Sometimes fire was given by a sky-dweller; often it was left by a lightning flash, or it was brought by a small bird after a long journey to a burning volcano.

A South Australian myth relates how a man, Kondole, hid his fire stick, rather than bring it with him to provide light for an evening's ceremony. When Kondole became a whale, another man, Tudrun, set out to find the precious fire stick. He had not searched for long when he saw a grass tree glowing with a strange light. This was Kondole's fire, which, escaping from its secret hiding place, had set alight the dry flower stem of the grass tree.

Ever since, when the aborigines need fire, they take a flower stem of the grass tree and rub it vigorously with a piece of harder wood. The friction causes Kondole's hidden fire to ignite the powdered wood-dust, and the aborigines have fire; fire to cook their food, fire to keep them warm, and fire to protect them from the dangerous spirits of the night.

Kondole the Whale

The mythology of Encounter Bay, in South Australia, tells how, at the time of the ceremonies, the day was so hot that the streams of perspiration pouring from the bodies of the actors created all the springs and watercourses in the neighbourhood.

As the performers had no means of providing light for the evening rituals, they invited Kondole hoping that he, being the sole owner of fire, would bring it with him. But being mean and disagreeable, Kondole simply hid the fire in the bush and arrived without it.

Enraged by his selfishness, the performers discussed several possible means of forcing him to bring his fire to the ceremonial grounds. But as Kondole was a large, powerful man, no one was brave enough to follow up any suggestion. Finally, one of the performers, completely losing his temper over Kondole's mean behaviour, crept up behind him and threw a spear that penetrated his skull.

Suddenly, the people of the ceremony were transformed into creatures. Some became kangaroos, some opossums, others the smaller creatures. Some rose into the air as birds, while others, entering the sea, were changed into fish in their many forms. Kondole, the largest of them all, became the whale whom ever since, has spouted water from the spear-wound in his head.