The Rainbow Serpent By Dick Roughsey Edit

North American edition first published in 1988
By Gareth Stevens, Inc.

Introduction Edit

The Rainbow Serpent is the story of Goorialla, the giant serpent. According to Aboriginal mythology, the Earth once formless and flat. It remained that way until a giant serpent wriggled and slithered across the land creating the lagoons, gorges, mountains, and rivers. This magical creature was the Great Rainbow Serpent, Goorialla, who lived in the Dreamtime. Though Goorialla eventually disappeared into the sea, his eye can still be seen shooting across the night skies. Aboriginal artist-lorist Dick Roughsey has interpreted this legend to be the story of Halley’s Comet, which streaks across the sky with its bright eyes and luminous trail.

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The Myths of the Aboriginal people spring from a time long ago when human beings were the only living creatures on Earth. The first human beings, who came from the stars, possessed supernatural powers. These ancestral beings brought the world into existence, creating the land and the sea. They brought knowledge, morality, and law. Life on Earth was good in the ancient time until cataclysmic changes rocked the land. Disaster came to earth in the form of floods, vocalnoes, droughts, and earthquakes. Fear moves many of the first ancestors to seek refuge in a most remarkable way. They transformed themselves into animals, birds, plants, insects – and even rocks – as they attempted to hide and protect themselves. It was during this tumultuous time of transition that Dreamtime commenced and the Earth came to be populated with the multitude of life forms we know today.

Story Edit

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Far off in Dreamtime there were only people – no animals or birds, no trees or bushes, no hills or mountains. The land was all flat and featureless. Goorialla, the giant Rainbow Serpent, stirred one morning, and set off to look for his own people. He traveled across Australia from south to north. At Cape York he made a big red mountain called Narabullgan. He listened to the wind  and heard only voices speaking strange languages. “ This is not my country. I must look further for my own people, ” he said. Where he slithered down Narrabullgan, his huge body made a deep gorge. He traveled north, listening each evening for his people. He traveled many days, and his track made the creeks and rivers. Traveling north from Narrabullgan, Goorialla made two more mountains. One of them, Naradunga, was made of grantie. The other, which had five sharp peaks and five capes, became known as Gormungan. His next resting place was at Fairview, where he made a lili lagoon called Minlinka. Goorialla turns his great body round and round, but the ground was too hard to make it deep. One day he heard singing on the wind. “ Those are my people singing, ” said Goorialla. “ They are holding a big bora.” He traveled north and the singing became louder and louder. At the meeting place of the two rivers, Goorialla found his own people who were dancing and singing. Hiding himself, he watched for a long time. At last the came out. When his people saw Goorialla, they welcomed him. Goorialla told the men, “ Let me show you the correct way to dance and to dress.” Goorialla showed them how to fit a lump of beeswax on the back of their heads and how to make a rayed, feathered headdress. He dressed them with pandanus arm bands and placed white bones through their noses. Then he taught them to dance, and they copied him until they were tired. A big storm was gathering, so all the people built bark humpies for shelter. The Bil-bil brothers came running to camp asking for shelter, but no one had room. They asked their grandmother, the star woman, but she said, “I cannot help you, my grandsons. I have too many dogs.” The boy went to Goorialla, who was snoring in his humpy. When the boys called out, he yawned and said, “I have no room for you.” No one would help the young brothers, even though the rain became heavy. Once more the boys asked Goorialla for shelter. Goorialla said “All right, I will make mu humpy bigger.” He opened his mouth wide and then said, “You can come in now.” The Bill-bill boys ran into Goorialla’s mouth and he swallowed them up! Quickly Goorialla decided to travel north to mighty Bora-bunaru before his people discovered what he’d done. Bora-bunaru was the only natural mountain in the land. Next morning the people found that the Bill-bill brothers were gone. They saw the tracks of Goorialla and knew he had swallowed them. The men took spears and followed his trail. Goorialla traveled toward the mighty mountains, Bora-bunaru which towered far up into the sky. When he reached Bora-bunaru, he crawled up the cliffs at its base. Then he coiled himself up, to sleep, with the Bill-bill boys inside him. The people tracked Goorialla to the steep base of Bora-bunaru. The men tried to climb the cliffs. Emu, Turkey, Brolga, Tortoise, Possum, and Barramundi all tried but fell down again and again. Two of the Wangoo clan, the Tree Goanna brothers, came along and said, “We will climb up to rescue the Bil-bil boys” They each made a knife from quartz and began to climb to mountain. The Wangoo brothers climbed for many days and nights. On the mountain’s top, they found Goorialla fast asleep and snoring. They crept up on him, The older brother said, “We will cut him open and free the Bil-bil boys.” Inside Goorialla they found the Bil-bil boys changed into beautiful parrot, called Rainbow Lorikeets, with all the colors of the Rainbow Serpent. “Come out. Fly away!” cried the Wangoo brothers. The Bil-bil boys swept into the sky.

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The Wangoo brothers ran away down the mountain. Goorialla snored on until a cold wind blew through his empty stomach. He awoke, saw his cut, and discovered his dinner had been stolen. Goorialla worked himself into a great rage. He thrashed about furiously with his long red tongue flashing like lightning. The great mountain shook and thundered as Goorialla tore it apart in his rage. He hurled parts of the mountain all over the country, forming the hills and mountains of today. All the people were terrified of the thunder on the mountain as Goorialla knocked it to pieces. Some people were killed by flying stones. Others ran away and hid by themselves into animals, birds, insects, and plants. When Goorialla’s anger was spent, there was only a small hill remaining of the great mountain Bora-bunaru. Goorialla disappeared into the sea, where he remains to this day. Those who remain as people now must look after all those become animals, birds, insects and plants, for they were once people, too, in Dreamtime. The shooting star racing across the night sky is the eye of Goorialla, watching all.

Child Friendly Edit

Here is a recount of the Aboriginal dreamtime creation myth involving the Rainbow Serpent:

In the Dreamtime all earth lay sleeping. Nothing moved. Nothing grew. One day the Rainbow Serpent awoke from her slumber and came out from under the ground.

She travelled far and wide and eventually grew tired and curled up and slept. She left marks of her sleeping body and her winding tracks. Then she returned to the place where she had first appeared, and called to the frogs, “Come out!”

The frogs came out slow because their bellies were heavy with water, which they had stored in their sleep. The Rainbow serpent tickled their stomachs and when the frogs laughed, water ran all over the earth to fill the tracks of the Rainbow serpents’ wanderings. This is how lakes and rivers were formed.

With water, grass and trees sprang up. Also all animals awoke and followed the rainbow serpent across the land. They were happy on earth and each lived and gathered food with his own tribe. Some animals live in rocks, others on the plains and others in trees and in the air.

The Rainbow Serpent made laws that they all were to obey, but some became quarrelsome and made trouble. The Rainbow Serpent said,” Those who keep my laws will be rewarded; I shall give them human form. Those who break my laws will be punished and turned to stone, never to walk the earth again.

The lawbreakers became stone and turned to mountains and hills, but those who kept the laws were turned into human form. The Rainbow Serpent gave each of them their own totem of the animal, bird or reptile from whence they came. The tribes knew themselves by their totems. Kangaroo, emu, carpet snake, and many, many more. So no one would starve, the Rainbow Serpent ruled that no man should eat of his totem, but only of other totems. This way there was food for everyone.

The tribes lived together on the land given to them by the Rainbow Serpent or Mother of Life and knew the land would always be theirs, and no one should ever take it from them.

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