Australian Aboriginal Tales of the Dreaming…

The Brolga is one of Australia’s iconic birds and is also an important dreaming story for the Aboriginal people.

In a well-known Dreaming about Brolga1, she was a beautiful girl obsessed with dancing. A wirrinun (shaman) wanted her for his wife but she refused, as she refused all men. Dancing was her love and nothing else distracted her. He harboured resentment until one day, seeing her dancing alone on the plain he takes his chance, changes himself into a willywilly (small whirlwind) and sweeps her into it with the intention of abducting her. The Great Spirit intervenes and she is transformed into Brolga as we see her today. She is still dancing.

Mountford, Charles P. “The Dawn of Time.” Also H. Rule & S. Goodman, compiled by. “Gulpilil’s Stories of the Dreamtime”

Another variation on the dreaming story

Long ago back in the Dreamtime there was a very beautiful girl called Brolga. She was very young and the best dancer in the whole land as her dancing was so graceful and her movements so special. Now Brolga hadn’t always been such a good dancer. When she was a very little girl she used to get up very early in the morning and creep out of the gunyah and onto the plains around her camp. Once there she would practice swooshing her arms like the Pelican, parading like the Emu and whirling like the wind. But Brolga didn’t just do the old dances. She liked to make up new ones about the trees and the wind, dances about the Spirits and the animals. Soon ‘s dances became so good that other tribes would come from far away just to watch Brolga dance her beautiful dances.

One day, Brolga went off by herself to dance out onto the dry red plain near her favourite tree, a big old coolibah tree. Brolga began to dance in its shade moving with the shadow of the old tree’s branches. As little puffs of dust rose from her feet, an evil Spirit, Waiwera looked down from his home in the Milky Way and saw Brolga. She was the most graceful and beautiful girl he had ever seen. Waiwera decided Brolga must be his so he quickly spun himself into a whirlwind, a willy-willy and flew down onto the plain. As the wind came closer to Brolga it made a sudden great roaring sound and enclosed her. Brolga was swept off her feet and taken away.

When Brolga’s tribe discovered she was missing, they went looking for her but the wind had covered her tracks. They found the old coolibah tree and a path where the willy-willy had been and decided to follow it. For several days they followed the path of the willy-willy until they came to a hill overlooking a small plain. There below they saw the evil Spirit, Waiwera and his captive Brolga. The whole tribe rushed down hurling their spears and boomerangs. Realising that he couldn’t escape with Brolga decided that no one would have her. Waiwera swirled around her and just as the tribe reached her, she vanished.

Brolga’s tribe watched as the willy-willy wound its way slowly up into the sky. On the spot where it had been there now stood a big old coolibah tree but there was no sign of Brolga. As they stood near the tree that Waiwera had left, a beautiful tall grey bird appeared from behind the tree. The bird began to stretch its wings and instead of flying away it began to dance making the same graceful moves that Brolga used to make. The bird danced taking long, hopping steps and floating on its graceful wings. It pranced slowly towards them and with one last graceful bound, flew up into the air and away!

Then they all knew that the evil Spirit, Waiwera had changed Brolga into a bird. A bird the Aboriginals, from that day onwards, have always called the brolga.

Dancing Brolga (Antigone rubicunda)
Dancing Brolga (Antigone rubicunda) © Dorothy L

There is another telling of the Brolga Dreaming on the SBS NITV website:

Goorrandalng: Brolga Dreaming
A song and a story about the Dreaming place at Keep River National Park in the Northern Territory, where women can go to become pregnant.

Goorrandalng is a song and a story. The Goorrandalng song is about brolgas. It’s from Granny Sheba Dignari’s mother and is sung all the time for country, keeping it strong.


The Brolga (Kurdarrku) (2009)
The Brolga Dreaming belongs to the Mambaliya-Wawukarriya clan. This story tells of the Brolga coming into Yanyuwa country and creating lagoons, freshwater wells and putting ceremony and song into the country.


You can find out about the specie in our Birds section on Brolga.


Footnote

  1. Mountford, Charles P. “The Dawn of Time.” Also H. Rule & S. Goodman, compiled by. “Gulpilil’s Stories of the Dreamtime”
  2. Goorrandalng: Brolga Dreaming,, SBS NITV, https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/feature/songlines-screen-goorrandalng-brolga-dreaming
  3. The Brolga (Kurdarrku) (2009), Monash Country Lines Archive, The Yanyuwa People Borroloola NT, https://www.monash.edu/arts/monash-indigenous-studies/wunungu-awara/animations/the-brolga-kurdarrku
  4. Brolga Song (Video), Crackerjack Education, https://www.crackerjackeducation.com.au/resources/brolga-song/
  5. Brolga Song, Dust Echoes, A Studyguide by Robert Lewis, https://education.abc.net.au/res/pdf/DustEchoes-BrolgaStudy-Guide.pdf