Stories & Songlines
Cultural knowledge is held by individuals, Elders and Community and is deeply spiritual and personal. Over the past 250 years there have been many changes that have prevented our people learning our cultural language, songs and stories.
Now is the time for us to come together and share our stories so that our ways and values are better understood.
There are many Dreaming and creation stories shared by our mob. They help to explain our history and some of our traditional beliefs, blending scientifically verifiable events from our ancient past with stories that relate to our beliefs, tales of morality and life lessons.
Ours is an oral tradition spanning thousands of generations. Our stories teach us about events from the last ice age, when long extinct animals still roamed the land, and of the changes to the land and water over millenia. They teach us to be good to one another, to listen to our Elders, look after our Country and understand how many things work.
The stories which appear on this website have been approved for use by the Elders and Knowledge Holders to ensure balanced and consistent public material is provided, and we thank them for their generosity.
We share the following stories, told to us by Community, to help tell the history of our people, our connection to Country and our values.
Understanding that there are many ways to tell a story, we invite you to treat the following as a starting point in your awareness of our ancient culture.
Borun & Tuk
Our Creation Story
In dreaming time, the first Gunaikurnai came down from the mountains in Victoria’s northwest carrying his canoe on his head. He was Borun, the pelican.
He crossed over the river at what is now Sale and walked on alone to Tarra Warackel (Port Albert) in the west.
As he walked, he heard a constant tapping sound but could not identify it.
When he reached the deep water of the inlets, Borun put down his canoe and, much to his surprise, there was a woman in it. She was Tuk, the musk duck.
He was very happy to see her, and she became his wife and the mother of the Gunaikurnai people – they are the parents of the five GunaiKurnai clans.
The creation story is about the origin of our people. It helps to explain the bonds we have to our Country and reminds us that our ancestors are still watching over the landscape today.
It is important for us to be able to walk in their footsteps and follow their journeys from thousands of years ago – it is a powerful, spiritual aspect of our cultural heritage, and fundamental to our recognition and respect. We are guided by the spirits of our ancestors when we walk through this Country.
Yeerung & Djeetgun
The men and women of the Gunaikurnai
Long ago there was a great fight between the men and women of the Gunaikurnai. The men had killed a Djeetgun, a small bird that was sister to the women. In revenge, the women killed a Yeerung, another small bird, that was brother to the men.
This caused a great fight among the women and men. After the quarrel they began courting one another, they then agreed to marry, so uniting Yeerung and Djeetgun. Ever since then, the Gunaikurnai men have had to fight for their wives.
All Gunaikurnai men are of one order, the Yeerung the Southern Emu Wren. All Gunaikurnai women are Djeetgun, the Superb Blue Wren.
The Den of Nargun
The Den of Nargun on Woolshed Creek, a small tributary of the Mitchell River, is of great cultural significance and is known as a women’s place.
According to Gunaikurnai lore the Nargun is a large female creature who lives in a cave behind the waterfall. Stories were told around campfires about how the Nargun would abduct children who wandered off on their own. The Nargun could not be harmed with boomerangs or spears. These stories served the dual purpose of keeping children close to the campsite and ensuring that people stayed away from the sacred cave.
It is a place of women’s initiation and learning ceremonies, and traditionally Gunaikurnai men are not allowed to enter the area of the Den of Nargun and the Woolshed Creek valley.
The Story of Legend Rock
Legend Rock, lying in the shallow waters of Bancroft Bay, is an important part of Gunaikurnai mythology. One day, three fishermen caught many fish in their nets but didn’t share their catch with the mob. The women, who were guardians of the social law, turned them into stone as punishment for their greed.
One day, some fisherman who had hauled in many fish with their nets, ate their catch around their campfire. The women, guardians of the social law, saw that the men had eaten more than enough but had not fed their dogs.
The men took no notice of the dingoes, and kept feasting, when suddenly one of the dogs began to speak. “You greedy fullas, why don’t you share the fish?” and they all heard it.
The whole camp was turned into stone, and stands as a red rock on that spot by the shores of Lake King to this day. Ever after this rock was referred to as Wallung, “The Rock”, and was pointed out to the children of the Gunaikurnai as an example of what happens when you are greedy and thoughtless, and when you don’t share.
Long ago there was a big frog and his name was Tidilick. He went to the river to have a drink. He began to drink the water from the water hole, then from the creek, then the river, ‘til there was nothing left.
All the animals were thirsty. There was no water anywhere.
The animals called a meeting, they decided that one of them should try to make Tidilick laugh. Turtle and platypus played leapfrog. That didn’t make Tidilick laugh. Duck and bird flew around. That didn’t make Tidelek laugh. Bataluk strutted to and fro puffing out his stomach. Tidilick was nearly asleep. Snake said, ‘Let me try’. He started a wiggly, squiggly dance. He twisted and nearly tied himself in a knot.
Then came a rumbling noise from Tidilick and it grew louder and louder. His mouth opened and he began to laugh. A mighty gush of water came out of his mouth, all the water came back to the water holes and the rivers.
Tidilick tells of the natural history of the area and the flood records the period of natural change. It shows the location of Lurtbit Yauung Brataualung clan group who recorded this story. It shows the natural history of the country going through a turbulent time of great natural change, which shaped the landscape as we know it today.
How Bung Yarnda was formed
Narkabungdha, the sea, was tired from playing with fish, rushing over rocks and rolling up and back on the sand. He searched the coast for somewhere to rest.
At last he found a quiet place with tall gum trees for shade and soft earth to lie on. Narkabungdha lay down to sleep. He wriggled down into the soft sand, turning his body this way and that until he was comfortable.
This place became Bung Yarnda (Lake Tyers), a place where Narkabungdha still rests among the trees.
The Story of the Southern Cross
The Dreamtime Ancestors of the Gunaikurnai
Narran the moon was a mighty warrior and a fearless hunter. One day, after travelling a long way, he couldn’t find any food at all. At last he saw Ngooran (the emu) on the other side of a wide creek, but the water was very deep and he could not get across. Narran thought he could cross over the creek on a log, but Brewin, a mischievous spirit, was hiding nearby.
As Narran reached the deepest part of the water, Brewin upset the log and Narran fell off it into the water and drowned. Narran’s spirit went to the sky where he is now the moon.
Ngooran also went to the sky and is now the Southern Cross. Narran still hunts through the sky trying to catch Ngooran.
Respecting Gunaikurnai Cultural Knowledge
Cultural knowledge is held by individuals, Elders and Community and is deeply spiritual and personal. These personal views are a right under the charter for human rights. This website acknowledges this right but also recognises that certain aspects of this cultural knowledge is sought by outside groups, government agencies and education providers and that consistency, or an explanation where inconsistency occurs, is required.
GLaWAC, as the representative body set up as a result of the Native Title and Settlement Act, takes its responsibilities very seriously to ensure balanced and consistent public material is provided and available if deemed appropriate by the Elders and knowledge holders.
GLaWAC has policies and processes in place to protect the intellectual property of this personal and organisational knowledge, to ensure that cultural learning and sharing is encouraged in a culturally safe manner and the Knowledge Holders are respected.
-Excerpt form the GLaWAC Cultural Heritage Policy
The Gunaikurnai word used today is derived from interpretation of language. The words Gunnai and Kurnai are based on traditional language and how this has been interpreted. The words Gunnai and Kurnai – the oral sounds – were documented by Bulmer, Howitt, Hagenuar, Matthews, Brough Smythe, Crown Land Surveys and others.
These databases collected dust in museums and libraries for many years until researchers started to take an interest in Aboriginal history. By the 1960s, linguistic studies began and further development in this field has influenced the ‘interpretation’ of the sounds. The stories passed down by Elders to some in community make a significant contribution to this journey.
That said, we as Gunaikurnai descendants were not able to access this information, to verify or to validate the information until the 2000’s. GLaWAC continues to work to ensure this material is available to all of the community in a balanced and consistent manner.
In relation to the use of language, we find varying spelt words to choose from, depending on who the recorder was.
During the negotiations with the State of Victoria and the Federal Court, significant and complex written, and personal evidence was provided by the Traditional Owner Community who connect to the area known as Gunaikurnai Country. The Court and most parties agreed that all people of the above area were connected to the Apical Ancestors and that the two language names would be put together to recognise and respect all. Hence Gunaikurnai is the agreed name to be used.
There are many Dreaming and significant stories shared by the mob, many of which are used in interpretive material. The spelling of those which appear on this website has been approved for use by the Elders and Knowledge Holders to ensure balanced and consistent public material is provided and available.
-Excerpt form the GLaWAC Cultural Heritage Policy