Myth – Australia

Myth- Aboriginal Dreamtime Story- Australia

The Rainbow Serpent

The rainbow serpent story is the most famous Aboriginal story and it basically depicts how the Australian landscape was created especially the rivers, trees and sky. The serpent traveled through the outback of Australia looking for food and in doing so, she created the lakes and riverbeds. In the end, when she died, she left a reminder of herself, in the form of a rainbow.

Rhys gave me the above story and also the following explanation.

I’m sure that we were told more detailed stories about the particular creation of the individual landscape feature, but I cannot remember them. The basic moral of this story involved teaching us as children to respect and care for the natural environment. I learnt about this story and much of the Aboriginal folklore while at primary school. The stories were usually read out of picture books by teachers or occasionally by visiting Aborigines. Classes did artwork and wrote stories based on the ‘Dream Time’. In particular, there was a certain week every year called ‘reconciliation week’, during which Aboriginal speakers would share various aspects of Aboriginal culture.

Rhys has lived in Greenwich, a suburb of Sydney, his entire life, yet sadly, he does not remember this popular Aboriginal Dreamtime story. I lived in Australia from March 2000-March 2004 (6th grade-9th grade), and I recall that this story is one of the most popular Dreamtime stories among the non-Aborigines. Interestingly, almost every different Aboriginal tribe has a different variation of the Rainbow Serpent story. While Rhys had heard this story in primary school, it is said that the Rainbow Serpent story was very popular with the Aboriginies that resided in the Northern Territory.

An analysis of this story can be found in A Guide to Australian Folklore by Gwenda Beed Davey and Graham Seal (Kangaroo Press, Published in 2003, page 219). In this excerpt, the author says that the Rainbow Serpent story revolves around fertility, and the creation of the rivers. This is interesting, as it is easy to see why the Aboriginals think a snake created the rivers. The path that rivers create is similar to a snake’s shape.

It is also interesting how the Australians used these stories to teach the children to care for the environment. As many of the Dreamtime stories revolved around the creation of the environment, schools saw this as an imaginative story that would appeal to kids and help get the message across about a cleaner environment. It is also ironic that these stories were taught to primary school kids, such as Rhys, as when Rhys was in primary school, there was a big argument between the Australian government and the Aborigines about the Aborigines’ Rights. The Aborigines were mad at the Australian government and the Australian government was angry at the stubbornness of the Aborigines, so it is fascinating that they used Aboriginal Dreamtime stories to teach kids life lessons.

Another version of this story can be found Treading Lightly: The Hidden Wisdom of the World’s Oldest People by Karl Erik Sveiby and Tex Skuthorpe (Allen & Irwin, Published 2007, pages 1-2).