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Aboriginal Mythology - Some Truths Revealed

The Aboriginal people believe they have lived in Australia since the beginning of all things. Archaeologists have dated their occupancy to many tens of thousands of years and much of the Aboriginal mythology harks back to these earliest of times. Stories and legends were expressed in everyday life through art, song, and dance - verbally handed down by word of mouth from these ancient times. Here is a selection of fascinating mythology including some that have startling explanations. 

The Bunyip

The Bunyip is a large mythical creature from Aboriginal mythology, said to lurk in swamps, billabongs, creeks, and waterholes. Their terrifying bellowing cries and shrieks heard only at night, frightened Aborigines to the point where they would not approach any water source where a Bunyip might be waiting to devour them. The word Bunyip is usually translated by Aboriginal Australians today as "devil" or "evil spirit" Across Aboriginal Australia there are at least nine regional variations to descriptions of the Bunyip, the most prevalent being that of a huge fearsome creature, furry, half-human half-beast with a long neck and a head like a bird. Various written accounts of Bunyips were made by Europeans in the early and mid-19th century, as settlement spread across the country, but none of these were scientifically verified - Australians now consider the existence of the Bunyip to be mythical.

A Scientific Explanation?

In-1830, the discovery of fossilized bones, unearthed in the Wellington Caves, south of Wellington, New South Wales, changed the way scientists understood ancient fauna forever.  British anatomist Sir Richard Owen identified the fossils as the gigantic marsupials Nototherium and Diprotodon (shown above). The Diprotodon sometimes is known as the Giant Wombat or the Rhinoceros Wombat is the largest known marsupial ever to have lived. Along with many other members of a group of unusual species collectively called the "Australian megafauna" At the same time, settlers observed "all natives throughout these districts have a tradition of a very large animal having at one time existed in the large creeks and rivers and by many it is said that such animals now exist” – the Bunyip These giant marsupials lived in Australia up until around 25,000 to 50,000 years ago so it is very possible that they co-existed with early Aborigines for many thousands of years. Bones of butchered animals have been unearthed from early human settlements and identified as being the diprotodon.

The Diprotodon

The Dirawong ( and the Rainbow Serpent)

 In the Bundjalung Nation's (Coastal New South Wales) mythology, one of the first dream time creatures’s to appear is that of the Dirawong, a large and powerful Goanna (an Australian monitor lizard) that is believed to have shared with the Bundjalung a vast range of knowledge, teaching them everything from astronomy to medicine. The Dirawong is known as the protector of its people from the Rainbow Serpent. The immense Rainbow Serpent was thought to inhabit certain waterholes. An epic battle was fought between the Dirawong and Rainbow Serpent. The legendary struggle resulted in the creation of parts of the Richmond River, Snake Island, and Pelican Island. The Goanna Headland at Evans Head, New South Wales is believed to be the Dirawong’s physical body guarding against the snake's return.

The Dirawong ( and the Rainbow Serpent)

A Scientific Explanation?

 In 1994, excavations at Cuddie Springs in north central New South Wales exposed numerous bones of what is now known as Megalania, the giant Goanna. It was a true monster its maximum length was approximately 5.5 meters, its weight about 600 kilograms, so it was twice the length of the Komodo Dragon. Recent research shows that Megalania was also venomous and was the largest carnivore to have lived in Australia during the last two million years. It is an extinct giant monitor lizard. It was one of the megafaunas that roamed Southern Australia and appears to have disappeared before the peak of the last Ice Age (18,000 years ago) when Australia was becoming drier and Megalania’s prey less numerous - Interestingly enough some scientists think it may have been partially aquatic. There is a chronological overlap between humans and Megalania so early Aboriginal would have encountered this creature.


Article updated on the 10th of October 2018 by Brent

Anne Baumscheiper
Submitted by
Anne Baumscheiper
: 10 Oct 2018 (Last updated: 13 Jun 2019)

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