The Nourlangie rock escarpment (a classic image in the film Crocodile Dundee) in Kakadu National Park has been home to the Bininj and Mungguy people who have lived there since time immemorial. Rock shelters have dozens of rock paintings such as those of Namarrkun (Lightening Man).
Dreamtime stories say that Namarrkun comes out of the sky riding on storm clouds. Lightening flashes across his head when his stone axes strike the clouds which make a thunderous noise. If people disobey the law Namarrkun will hiss and crackle in annoyance. He can be seen during the pre-monsoon season blocking the sun as he looks down on his people. He comes every year to show his power and remind people to obey the law. If people fail to share food, or fight with each other he rumbles a warning and if this goes unheeded he may strike the offender down with his lightening spears.
The bright orange and blue Leichardt’s grasshoppers are one form of Namarrkun’s children and when they appear, migrating from the north, they are said to be looking for Namarrkun. This is a sign telling people that storms are coming and its time to move and seek a more sheltered camp.
This deceptively simple story is one of thousands that have guided Australia's aboriginal peoples for millennia, enshrining spiritual life, community obligations, law and order and guidance about the changing seasons.
Guarded by the Rainbow Serpent
Katherine Gorge, in the Northern Territory, towers hundreds of feet above us and it was incredible to realise that just weeks earlier the water level had been near the top.
There's a deep river pool half way down Katherine Gorge and I was told by an abogirinal guide that ‘Bolung the Rainbow Serpent’ lives there. The Dreamtime story says that Bolung will get angry and bring monsoons and lightening if people fish there or take more fish than they need.
A simple story, but ecologists have recently discovered that this is a vital fish breeding ground; so age-old aboriginals knew this area needed protecting and enshrined this knowledge as folklore and rock art tens of thousands of years before modern scientists discovered it.