The world always existed. To the Gagudju People, however, it had no shape, no life until the dormant creator spirits awoke - until the Dreamtime.
Dreamtime is an intricate Aboriginal belief that explains the mystery of creation.
"Tales of the Dreaming" tell of this creation - offering explanations for the existence of different kinds of animals, the first human beings, the unique landscape, the wonder of the seasons, the endless sky...
Once their creative efforts were over, the spirit ancestors remained, turning themselves into rocks, pools, paintings, and other special places. In these sacred districts, the Gagudju and the land continue to draw strength. These are the Dreaming sites.
ALMUDJ - The Rainbow Serpent
Almudj the Rainbow Serpent, also known as Ngalyod, was a major creator being. She created passages through rocks and formed waterholes in the Kakadu landscape. She split rock faces and created ranges of hills.
But unlike other Dreamtime figures, she did not change her form. Long ago, Almudj carved a deep gash through the escarpment. She moved through a ravine. The entrance was guarded by a rock and the ravine ended at a waterfall. She chose this place as her home.
The Gagudju know where the Rainbow Serpent still lives - at a place called Djuwarr. Water flows along cracks atop a plateau, forms into many pools, and then falls to the base of a barren rock face. Beneath Djuwarr Rock, at the foot of this waterfall, in a deep, dark pool surrounded on three sides by sheer cliffs, Almudj the Rainbow Serpent lives.
Almudj brings forth the wet season, causing all forms of life to multiply. Almudj can arise from the bottomless pool. She can flood the land. Sometimes, she can be seen, standing on her tail. In the sky a rainbow is formed.
While a creative force, Almudj is also one of the most feared. If she is disturbed, her anger can be aroused to show that she is still a great creator. Anyone who has broken any law can be drowned in floods she brings forth.
Almudj should not be sought. Her image, though, can be seen as one of the dominant subjects of rock paintings. At the end of the pre-estuarine period of rock paintings, the Yam Figures developed - rock images that transposed yams into human and animal forms. The Rainbow Serpent was often painted at this time. Changes in the physical environment, rising sea levels, brought about a reliance on yams... yams needed water... Almudj provided.
GINGA The Estuarine or Saltwater Crocodile
In the beginning of creation, Ginga was also a man.
The giant crocodile, Ginga, also helped form the Kakadu landscape. He carved his way through rocks to get to the East Alligator River. After finishing his creative act, he did not disappear. He turned himself into a rocky ridge, which still shows his lumpy back in a place known as Djirringbal.
Perhaps the broad snout enabled Ginga to so deftly create the landscape. It is this wide snout that distinguishes the larger saltwater crocodile from the freshwater crocodile.
Ginga is at home during monsoon season. In coastal swamps, and as far inland as the billabongs and creeks, Ginga are seen stalking geese stranded by rising waters.
Though not usually surprised by commencement of the dry season, estuarine crocodiles occasionally need to leave the safety of their diminished river or billabong to head in search of water. Fraught with danger, this journey often leads to death due to drought conditions or attacks from other territorial crocodiles guarding their homes.
When the rains arrive, the estuarine crocodiles head to the flooded grassland areas where plentiful food is available.
During the monsoon season, amongst the thick growth at the base of the paperbark trees, female Ginga develop thick nests of grass and soil to house their eggs. Ginga will guard her hatchlings while they learn to catch young fish.
It will be two years before Ginga is a metre long, and around ten years will pass before the mighty creature measures three metres in length.
NAMARRKUN The Lightning Man
Namarrkun is the lightning man. He came out of the sky riding storm clouds. Bright light arced across each of his shoulders. With stone axes fixed to his head, elbows and knees he made thunderous sounds by striking the clouds. When men and women disobeyed the law, Namarrkun would hiss and crackle and even strike the wrongdoers with his fiery spears.
Still today, Namarrkun lives high in the sky. He is mostly unseen, soaking up the sun's rays that form a bright arc of light across his body. He appears each year in Gunumeleng, pre-monsoon season. At that time, he reminds people of the consequences of invoking the spiritual power. If people, who perhaps do not share food or fight with their family, fail to heed Namarrkun's warnings, a spear of lightning is thrown to strike the offender. About 7,000 years ago, as ice caps melted and sea levels rose, the climate changed. At this time, Namarrkun joined in the Gunumeleng season build-up by creating violent thunderstorms ahead of Wet Season rains brought by the Rainbow Serpent.
During the ancient environmental change, Namarrkun became a favourite subject of rock paintings. It is a mark of the longevity of the creation beings, that the last major rock art painting created in Kakadu included Namarrkun. In 1964, a Gagudju elder returned to his land, and inspired one last time by the Dreamtime, created a fresco of spirit figures at Anbangbang rock shelter beneath Nourlangie Rock.
WARRAMURRUNGUNDJI - The Fertility Mother
Life started when a creator woman called Warramurrungundji came out of the sea. Arriving on the coast of Arnhem Land, she carried with her a digging stick. A dilly bag, suspended from her head, held yams, waterlilies and other important plants. Crossing the land to the west, Warramurrungundji planted the food and created waterholes in the ground with her digging stick.
She also created mountains and creeks, and left on the land her spirit children that she had carried in her womb. Groups of children were given different languages. From Warramurrungundji's acts, new creator beings appeared. Other Dreamtime creatures began to weave the land. The fertility mother is also responsible for the seasonal changes that govern the country - the onset of rains, wind, and drought. After completing her inventive acts, Warramurrungundji turned herself into a rock. Forever within the landscape she created.
The Great Earth Mother of the Kakadu area, Warramurrungundji is today celebrated in sacred ceremonies to enable all creatures to thrive and to imbue life into humans. In all cultures throughout the world, the creators are worshipped through a belief all life emanates from them. For 40,000 years this symbolic background has proclaimed the history of the Kakadu area, its wildlife, and people.