Great Dividing Range: A gurulidj (bunyip) story, told by Tyronne Bell's father Don Bell (Ngunawal Elder) [audio]
Ngunawal people live in the alpine region of NSW from Queanbeyan to Yass, Tumut to Boorowa, and east to beyond Goulburn.
Most Ngunawal camps sites were close to a water source, on well-drained ground not on the water’s edge; and located in defensible positions with access to firewood and bark for hut-making. Location out of the wind and food source was likely to have been the governing factor in the selection of a campsite.
Ngunawal people never camped on rivers but on nearby rises because of their fear of bunyips. One dreamtime story passed down over time has suggested that a bunyip existed at Devil’s Pass (near Yass) and took a Ngunawal girl ‘Nada’.
(Thunderstone: Aboriginal Cultural & Land Management Services website)
Next morning these two boys picked up their little spear and boomerang and went hunting. They came upon a fruit tree which they climbed and ate the fruit. And taking some back to the camp they told the Elders where they found the fruit and then the Elders said they should not being eating that fruit – that place is taboo to children. And they should not go back and have any more fruit, it was only for the Elders.
The young ones didn’t like that because they thought if the Elders could eat it, why couldn’t they? And as they said, we were the ones that found it, not the Elders. So one morning while everything was nice and quiet the two boys stole back to the tree. They got their fill. But they were cunning they never took any back to the village, back to the camp as they knew the Elders would know that they went there. One mother found out and she went crook on him. They knew that the two would have to be in it. So they were grounded. They could not leave the camp. They could not go hunting with the other young boys. They couldn’t go swimming. They had to hang around the camp and look after things around the camp. Once this was over everyone thought it a was alright.
But they used to watch the Elders go over and come back with bowls of fruit and sit down in front of their gunya and eat it. and they still did not like that. So when they were right to go out hunting one day, they picked up their spear and their boomerang and away they went with all the other boys. They were chasing kangaroos through the scrub and somehow they disappeared away from the main party. They walked on and on and came to a river. They knew if we follow this river back we can come back to the camp, and with that they followed the river. They were skylarking and going along, throwing their boomerang at anything that moved, only in fun. Just mucking around. Then they came to this spot and they looked up and there were these great gum trees and box trees all in a row standing side by side so tall they went into the sky and then it suddenly dawned on them that this was the bunyip hole it was taboo to them. It was taboo to all the tribe. No-one was allowed to go near it. And with that they started to run away from it and then the thought came about – taboo, why should we be not be allowed to go there? We were stopped going to our fruit tree, and what do the Elders do, they eat the fruit! So they said there can’t be anything wrong here. It’s only taboo – there must be good fishing or something good here for the Elders to get for themselves.
So they said we will go for a swim. They went to the nice clear fresh water and looked at it and were about to dive in when out of the water came a monstrous thing screaming at them they stood petrified staring at it – they had never ever seen anything like it. So frightened were they, they could not run, their legs would not take notice of what they wanted to do, which was run. And then this bunyip came walking across to them through the water growling and screaming then all of a sudden their legs took notice of what their brain was trying to tell them – RUN! Which they did, they ran over logs through the bushes through the scrub they were nearly exhausted when they run onto the women’s party who were out gathering some yams and bracken roots. They collapsed at their feet and were trying to tell them what they’d seen so the women picked them up and carried them back to the camp and placed them before the Elders. And when they came out with their story – when they could talk and come out with their story – of what they saw, the Elders told them: ‘we told you what was taboo now you’ve found out the hard way. If you did not run when you did, you would have been two boys lost to the tribe now’.
So with that it shows a point about Aboriginal people … when they say taboo – especially the Elders – they know what they’re talking about!