Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mullyangah the Morning Star

As recorded by Katie Langloh Parker (1897)

From the Eulayhi people of northwestern New South Wales.

Mullyan, the eagle hawk, built himself a home high in a yaraan tree. There he lived apart from his tribe, with Moodai the possum, his wife, and Moodai the possum, his mother-in-law. With them too was Buttergah, a daughter of the Buggoo or flying squirrel tribe. Buttergah was a friend of Moodai, the wife of Mullyan, and a distant cousin to the Moodai tribe.

Mullyan the eagle hawk was a cannibal. That was the reason of his living apart from the other people. In order to satisfy his cannibal cravings, he used to sally forth with a big spear, a spear about four times as big as an ordinary spear. If he found a blackfellow hunting alone, he would kill him and take his body up to the house in the tree. There the Moodai and Buttergab would cook it, and all of them would eat the flesh; for the women as well as Mullyan were cannibals. This went on for some time, until at last so many blackfellows were slain that their friends determined to find out what became of them, and they tracked the last one they missed. They tracked him to where he had evidently been slain; they took up the tracks of his slayer, and followed them right to the foot of the yaraan tree, in which was built the home of Mullyan. They tried to climb the tree, but it was high and straight, and they gave up the attempt after many efforts. In their despair at their failure they thought of the Bibbees, a tribe noted for its climbing powers. They summoned two young Bibbees to their aid. One came, bringing with him his friend Murrawondah of the climbing-rat tribe.

Mullyan - an eaglehawk. Image from

Having heard what the people wanted them to do, these famous climbers went to the yaraan tree and made a start at once. There was only light enough that first night for them to see to reach a fork in the tree about half-way up. There they camped, watched Mullyan away in the morning, and then climbed on. At last they reached the home of Mullyan. They watched their chance and then sneaked into his humpy.

When they were safely inside, they hastened to secrete a smouldering stick in one end of the humpy, taking care they were not seen by any of the women. Then they went quietly down again, no one the wiser of their coming or going. During the day the women heard sometimes a crackling noise, as of burning, but looking round they saw nothing, and as their own fire was safe, they took no notice, thinking it might have been caused by some grass having fallen into their fire.

After their descent from having hidden the smouldering fire stick, Bibbee and Murrawondah found the people and told them what they had done. Hearing that the plan was to burn out Mullyan, and fearing that the tree might fall, they all moved to some little distance, there to watch and wait for the end. Great was their joy at the thought that at last their enemy was circumvented. And proud were Bibbee and Murrawondah as the blackfellows praised their prowess.

After dinner-time Mullyan came back. When he reached the entrance to his house he put down his big spear outside. Then he went in and threw himself down to rest, for long had he walked and little had he gained. In a few minutes he heard his big spear fall down. He jumped up and stuck it in its place again. He had no sooner thrown himself down, than again he heard it fall. Once more be rose and replaced it. As he reached his resting-place again, out burst a flame of fire from the end of his humpy. He called out to the three women, who were cooking, and they rushed to help him extinguish the flames. But in spite of their efforts the fire only blazed the brighter. Mullyan's arm was burnt off. The Moodai had their feet burnt, and Buttergah was badly burnt too. Seeing they were helpless against the fire, they turned to leave the humpy to its fate, and make good their own escape. But they had left it too late. As they turned to descend the tree, the roof of the humpy fell on them. And all that remained when the fire ceased, were the charred bones of the dwellers in the yaraan tree. That was all that the people found of their enemies; but their legend says that Mullyan the eagle hawk lives in the sky as Mullyangah the morning star, on one side of which is a little star, which is his one arm; on the other a larger star, which is Moodai the possum, his wife.

Listen to an audio recording of this story here.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Bahloo the Moon and the Daens

As recorded by Katie Langloh Parker (1897)

From the Eulayhi people of northwestern New South Wales.

Bahloo, the moon-man looked, down at the earth one night, when his light was shining quite brightly, to see if any one was moving. When the earth people were all asleep was the time he chose for playing with his three dogs. He called them dogs, but the earth people called them snakes, the death adder, the black snake, and the tiger snake.

As he looked down on to the earth, with his three dogs beside him, Bahloo saw about a dozen daens, or people, crossing a Creek. He called to them saying, "Stop! I want you to carry my dogs across that creek."

But the people, though they liked Bahloo well, did not like his dogs, for sometimes when he had brought these dogs to play on the earth, they had bitten not only the earth dogs but their masters; and the poison left by the bites had killed those bitten.

So the people said, "No, Bahloo, we are too frightened! Your dogs might bite us. They are not like our dogs, whose bite would not kill us."

Bahloo, the moon man. Image from

Bahloo said, "If you do what I ask you, when you die you shall come to life again, not die and stay always where you are put when you are dead. See this piece of bark. I throw it into the water."

And he threw a piece of bark into the creek. "See it comes to the top again and floats. That is what would happen to you if you would do what I ask you: first under when you die, then up again at once." 

"If you will not take my dogs over, you foolish daens, you will die like this," and he threw a stone into the creek, which sank to the bottom.

"You will be like that stone, never rise again, Wombah deans!"

But the people said, "We cannot do it, Bahloo. We are too frightened of your dogs."

"I will come down and carry them over myself to show you that they are quite safe and harmless."

And down he came, the black snake coiled round one arm, the tiger snake round the other, and the death adder on his shoulder, coiled towards his neck. He carried them over. 

When he had crossed the creek he picked up a big stone, and he threw it into the water, saying "Now, you cowardly daens, you would not do what I, Bahloo, asked you to do, and so forever you have lost the chance of rising again after you die. You will just stay where you are put, like that stone does under the water, and grow, as it does, to be part of the earth."

"If you had done what I asked you, you could have died as often as I die, and have come to life as often as I come to life. But now you will only be people while you live, and bones when you are dead."

Bahloo's "dogs" (snakes). Pictured is the death adder. Image from

Bahloo looked so cross, and the three snakes hissed so fiercely, that the people were very glad to see them disappear from their sight behind the trees.

The people had always been frightened of Bahloo's dogs, and now they hated them, and they said, "If we could get them away from Bahloo we would kill them."

And thenceforth, whenever they saw a snake alone they killed it.

But Babloo only sent more, for he said, "As long as there are people there shall be snakes to remind them that they would not do what I asked them."

Friday, May 3, 2013

Jangurna Story: Indigenous Astronomy in Western Australia

By Peter Morse

Taken from Peter Morse's blog at

Above is a 4 minute preview of the 20 minute ‘Jangurna Story’ – a fulldome movie exploring Indigenous stories of the night sky around the Gascoyne region of Western Australia. This story – concerning ‘Jangurna’ (The Emu) has been told by community elder Stella Tittums to the historian Mary Ann Jebb – the recording provides the narrative soundtrack.
The movie was shot during a 10,000 km 3 month voyage that took me and my film crew (Chris Henderson and Sally Hildred) from Hobart (Tasmania), across the Nullarbor, to Perth (Western Australia), and then around the Gascoyne, camping all the way. We filmed the night skies, dusks and dawns, amidst the magnificent arid landscapes of Carnarvon, Quobba, Exmouth, Ningaloo, Mandu Mandu and many others.
Read the remainder of the blog on Peter Morse's website.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Rock Art and Ancient Knowledge of Astronomy

Based on the article Orientations of linear stone arrangements in New South Wales iAustralian Archaeology No. 75 by Duane Hamacher, Robert Fuller and Ray Norris.

Original article written for the Australian Archaeological Association Blog

When we think about early astronomy, people like Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton and other famous scientists of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries tend to spring to mind. What most people do not realise is that astronomy – the study of celestial objects (planets, stars, galaxies etc) – is the oldest of the natural sciences.

Ancient cultures worldwide observed and considered the objects visible in both the day and night skies and constructed interpretations for their presence and change during the year. Indigenous Australians were one of these considering cultures, and over thousands of years constructed a significant understanding of how the natural world worked. This knowledge was used for various day-to-day and season-to-season activities, such as when it was time to gather certain foods, when the tides would be at their lowest (or highest) and shellfish could be safely collected or islands reached, when were the best times of year to travel and when and how to navigate across this enormous country of ours.

Stone arrangements studied by Duane Hamacher and colleagues: (left) A large stone arrangement complex near Armidale, NSW; (right) Ray Norris at the Wurdi Youang stone arrangement in Victoria. This latter arrangement marks the setting position of the sun at the solstices and equinoxes. Where Ray is standing marks the setting sun at the equinox (photographs courtesy of Duane Hamacher).

This accumulated knowledge was passed on to the next generation, not only through oral history, but also through artworks including rock art. In previous research, Duane Hamacher, Robert Fuller and Ray Norris studied astronomical knowledge and symbolism in Australian Aboriginal rock art and were able to show that Indigenous Australians had a solid understanding of the astronomical realities of our planet and its place in the solar system far back into prehistory.

Read the rest of the article on the Australian Archaeology Association Blog.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Mystery of Parna

In the Adelaide region of South Australia, the arrival of autumn was signalled by the heliacal rising of a star the local Aboriginal people called Parna. The appearance of Parna just before sunrise warned the Aboriginal people that the annual autumn rains (Figure 1) would soon arrive and that they needed to build large, waterproof huts. Local place names illustrate this: a hilltop campsite south of Adelaide was named Parnangga, which meant “autumn rains" and referred to the appearance of Parna in the morning sky. The identity of Parna has remained a mystery, as the identity of the star in Western terms was never given.

Figure 1: Autumn thunderstorm over Adelaide. Image from
But if we do a little research, we can figure out the most likely candidate for Parna. First, we look at the autumn rains. The autumn rains occur around the end of March and beginning of April. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, the average monthly rainfall in the period from 1977 to 2010 increased from 19.9mm during the summer months (December-February) to 40.9mm in April, after which it surpasses the monthly average of 45 mm and increases throughout the winter to reach a peak of 79.7mm in June (see Figure 2). The March average (24.9mm) is just above the summer average (19.9mm), showing that the increase in rainfall during April rises significantly from that in March. This suggests that Parna would rise just before dawn in mid-March.

Figure 2: The average rainfall for Adelaide between 1977-2010. Taken from Hamacher (2012).
Therefore, Parna is most likely a bright star (probably 1st or 2nd order magnitude) that rises just prior to sunrise in mid-March in the southeastern sky. This leaves only one obvious candidate.

The bright star Fomalhaut, in the constellation Piscis Austrinus, rises at dawn on 15 March. At sunrise, it is ~ 22 degrees above the horizon at an azimuth of ~ 112 degrees, corresponding to the southeasterly direction. The star Fomalhaut is the best candidate for the star Parna as it meets the criteria set out and is the only bright star in that region of the sky visible at sunrise (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: The star Fomalhaut visible in the southeastern skies of Adelaide
just before sunrise. Image from Stellarium Astronomical Software.


Hamacher, D.W. (2012). On the Astronomical Knowledge and Traditions of Aboriginal Australians. PhD Thesis, Department of Indigenous Studies, Macquarie University, pp. 79-82.