Sadly, many believe that Australian history begun with the discovery of “southern Terra Nullius” by Captain Cook and the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. Personally, I can’t really understand why you would start there when you have got the possibility of beginning 50,000 years ago when Australia was first settled. People, who are now collectively know as Aboriginal persons in Australia, pre-British colonisation lived across the whole country in thousands of unique and distinct communities, language groups, cultures and societies. The Rainbow Serpent, which I will refer to as Goorialla (as I grew up reading Dick Roughsey’s Dreaming retelling, which you can watch a fantastic narration of here) however is also known in Gun-djeihmi as Almudji or Bolung to Jawoyn speakers, is amazingly a widespread presence in the Dreaming stories of many and varied Aboriginal communities.
Goorilla has been said to have created the world in many different ways depending on which group is telling the story. One of the most common stories however says that during the Dreaming Australia was pretty flat and boring until Goorialla, who was sleeping underground with all of the world’s animals in her belly, sprang forth birthing the animals, the mountains, lakes, the sun – everything you could want, really – unto the world.
My favourite story however, tells of how Goorialla came long to once more for the flat and boring land of the Dreaming and, feeling queasy and needing a lie down, vomited up a red kangaroo to form Uluru, before continuing her journey in search of her lost people, in the process forming creeks and rivers. It is not until Goorialla finally find her lost people (but really were they lost or was she?), do we get an idea of how cool and hip Goorialla really is. One day in the distance Goorialla finally hears her people singing on the wind; she had finally found them, her people in the process of holding a dancing bora. Not too overcome with excitement I guess, Goorialla crept up on them to watch their dancing and basically judge them on it. Finally revealing herself, her people are very happy and excited to see her, but Goorialla says (and I’m paraphrasing here): ‘Hold up, you call that dancing? THIS is how you dance’, and proceeded to lay some proper dance moves on her people. Then, to really put her people in their place, she criticised how they dressed and gave them some fashion schooling.
This is only one small part of a larger Dreaming story that continues on to tell how Goorialla, maybe accidently, maybe on purpose, swallowed two brothers who when finally freed became the first rainbow lorikeets. This ends with Goorialla going nuts and all her people fleeing, some of whom became different animals to better escape, which stresses the interconnectedness and responsibility for humanity to treasure the natural world as we descended from the same people.
This becomes more important in the knowledge that Goorialla is told to be still around and watching you – and I’ve already said just how emotionally mean she can be (so dance well my friends).
It is quite amazing not only the variety of stories that Goorialla appears in one form or another across the country, but the sheer longevity of Dreaming stories. It is a bit of a blow to the ego (as if you are watching Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos) to think of the uncountable generations through 50,000 years, these stories have been passed on to reach this point today. Not worrying about overusing this word, but what is truly amazing is that this oral tradition is still alive today – talk about world’s oldest living cultures.
All I can say is this: Australian history? 50,000 more years, please.
Roughsey, D (1992), The Rainbow Serpent, Australian Children’s Classics.
Eidt, J (2012), Aboriginal Dreaming: the Rainbow Serpent, http://www.wilderutopia.com/traditions/myth/aboriginal-dreamtime-the-rainbow-serpent/.
For the image above I used Kooladoo’s great Rainbow Serpent Dreaming print found here.