In this episode, learn about how Bunjil, the mighty eagle, created the world. There's also an introduction to the Dreaming.
The History of Australia Podcast
Bunjil, the creator, made the world and all things on it. First he made the sun, the moon, and the stars. Then he made the hills, the valleys, the great plains, and all the trees and plants. Next he created all the creatures to inhabit the land.
Having done all this, Bunjil became lonely. He felt the need for companions with whom to sing and dance, and so he decided to make a man. He searched for the finest clay, fashioned a man to his own likeness, and added some finely-shredded tree-bark for the hair. Bunjil was so pleased with his creation that he immediately made another.
When both figures were finished he breathed on them to give them life. His breath was a wind of great violence that blew for many days and swept everything growing from that area. When the land grew still again, the two figures came to life, and the clay that was left over became the oddly-shaped rocks that are in the region today.
Bunjil stayed with the two men for a long time. He taught them to sing and dance, and under his guidance they gradually became wise in all things. Eventually they, in their turn, could pass on Bunjil’s wisdom to all Aborigines who followed them.
Welcome to the History of Australia Podcast, Episode 2 In the Beginning.
What you just listened to was a reading from the story In the Beginning. This story is recorded in Dreamtime Heritage by Ainslie Roberts and Melva Jean Roberts. This story is credited as belonging to the Aboriginal people who lived in the desert areas in the west of South Australia. A specific tribe or nation is not named, and there are several groups that inhabit this large area. The story was shared with the authors of Dreamtime Heritage during working tours performed by Ainslie Roberts of remote regions of the outback.
One thing that struck me about this creation story, and it was remarked upon by the Robertses, is the similarity with the Christian origin stories, particularly Genesis 1. The form and rhythm of this particular telling of the story may be influenced by the culture of the Robertses, I don't know.
There is a richness and complexity to the creation story of Bunjil that can be added by looking a little deeper.
The main character in the story is Bunjil, an ancestral, spiritual being for some Aboriginal people in South Australia and Victoria. The belief was and is held by Aboriginal people that Bunjil created the earth, land, mountains, rivers, animals, birds, trees, people, all living and natural things. A version of the story, told by Wurundjeri-willam elder, William Barak, Bunjil’s brother Pallian, created women out of water. So you have men and women being created by these opposite, yet harmonious elements, earth and water.
In other stories, Bunjil has many powers, for example, he is able to take both human form and eagle form, is a star in the sky, and is able to stop the sea from rising.
According to Ms Carolyn Briggs, an Elder of the Boon Wurrung people of Port Phillip, Bunjil was also seen as a law giver. Bunjil taught her people to obey the laws of Bunjil and not to harm the land.
As the story of Bunjil illustrates, there are aspects of Aboriginal spirituality that are both familiar, and unique. The Aboriginal people do not worship a deity of god in a materialistic fashion, building temples or churches. But they lived and live by the lore of the Ancestral Spirits.
The period of creation before time as we know it existed, is known to the Australian Aboriginal people as The Dreaming. The Dreaming also refers to the spiritual belief system that encompasses art, songs, dances, cultures, land, customs and totems of the Aboriginal people. The Dreamtime is the oral storytelling part of this.
Helen McKay, editor of Gadi Mirrabooka, explains “The Stories of the Dreaming are more than myths, legends, fables, parables or quaint tales. They are definitely not fairy tales for amusement of children. Down through generations, the Aboriginal people’s stories were told orally, but were never written down. They were the oral textbooks, of their accumulated knowledge, spirituality, and wisdom, from when time began.”
The point Helen is making is that as the Aboriginal culture was an oral one, the storyteller’s role was not just to entertain, but also to preserve culture. The Dreamtime stories can include lessons on beliefs, customs, culture, history, geography, weather, astrology, tracking, hunting, animal behaviour, gathering food, water sources and survival.
This is a very brief introduction to the Dreamtime and the Dreaming. We will be exploring the Dreaming a lot more as the narrative history of Australia progresses. We will learn about different elements of aboriginal cultures in some sort of alignment to time and the archaeological record. The point of introducing the Dreaming today is to just contextualise that last week we explored the formation and origin of Australia from the geological and palaeontological record whereas today we are drawing on the oral history tradition and spiritual belief system of some aboriginal people to get an understanding of the dawn of the continent.
I really get a lot out of drawing upon both traditions and I hope you do too.
Next time we are going to take a look again at what we know from geology and palaeontology and trace the history of Australia through the Jurassic and the Cretaceous. That includes have a deep dive into a very awesomely named animal, the Muttaburrasaurus.
I would love to know what you think of the podcast so far and how I can improve. Please feel free to reach out to me through my website, historyofaustraliapodcast.com, send me an email at email@example.com, or leave me an iTunes review.
Until next time, stay safe and I’ll see you again soon.
AIATSIS, ‘AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia’ Last reviewed: 3 Jul 2020, https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/articles/aiatsis-map-indigenous-australia, (Accessed, 30 August 2020)
City of Yarra, ‘Connecting with the Aboriginal History of Yarra - A Teachers’ Resource Levels 3 - 10’, https://aboriginalhistoryofyarra.com.au/teachersresource.pdf (Accessed 17 August 2020)
Firstaustralia, October 30 2009, ‘Bunjil - First Australians’, Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajebg9K1Viw (Accessed 17 August 2020)
Joy Murphy-Wandin, ‘Bunjil the Eagle’, Yarra Healing Towards Reconciliation with Indigneous Australians, http://www.yarrahealing.catholic.edu.au/stories-voices/index.cfm?loadref=79 (Accessed 17 August 2020)
Merri Creek Management Committee, 2018, ‘Wurundjeri-willam: Aboriginal Heritage of Merri Creek’, updated 17 January 2018, https://www.mcmc.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=31:wurundjeri&Itemid=216, (Accessed 17 August 2020)
McKay, H., ‘The Dreaming’, Gadi Mirrabooka - Aboriginal stories book, https://www.gadimirrabooka.com/dreamtime, (Accessed 17 August 2020)
Ms Carolyn Briggs, ‘Boon Wurrung Story’, Yarra Healing Towards Reconciliation with Indigneous Australians, http://www.yarrahealing.catholic.edu.au/stories-voices/index.cfm?loadref=87 (Accessed 17 August 2020)
Roberts, Ainslie, Dreamtime heritage: Australian Aboriginal myths in paintings/by Ainslie Roberts and text by Melva Jean Roberts - Adelaide: Rigby, 1975.
Wikipedia, Bunjil, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bunjil (Accessed 17 August 2020)