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  • The Rainbow Serpent stories are common to all Australian Aborigines. To me, part of their fascination is that they are wonderful examples of how great occurrences from history can fuse with mythology.

    According to the Nyoongar people of south-western Australia, long ago during The Dreamtime, the animals and other beings were huge. The great Rainbow Serpent himself created the universe. He also created the Wagual (Wagyl), who was a lesser, but nonetheless powerful deity. This Wagual was an enormous snake-like creature, both benevolent and mischevious. As he slithered over the land, his tracks shaped the sand dunes and his body scoured out the course of the Swan River. Where he occasionally stopped for a rest, he created the many lakes that surround Perth. As he carved his way to the sea, his scales scraped off and became the bushland. Rocky outcrops and boulders are said to be his droppings.

    In the 1970's, evidence of a 5-6 metre long python-like snake was discovered. Wonambi Barrei ranged across Western Australia during the Pleistocene Ice Age. Wonambi lived in natural sun-traps beside waterholes (billabongs), where it would catch kangaroos and wallabies coming to drink. Its head was relatively small compared to the rest of its body, restricting the size of its prey. But that didn't stop the Nyoongar people from being terrified of this gigantic 'serpent', the size of 5-6 men standing on top of each other. To protect them from being harmed by a Waugal, aboriginal children were forbidden to play or visit billabongs without an adult accompanying them.

    The discovery of this snake provides scientific evidence to support the fact that Australian Aboriginals have been handing down the history of this species through their oral traditions. They have kept the tale alive in their memory for up to 50,000 years. We now know Wonambi Barrei became extinct within the last 50,000 years. How wonderful to think that stories of the Waugal originate from this example of extinct megafauna.

    *The photo accompanying this story is the skeleton of Wonambi naracoortensis, the only other species closely related to the Wonambi Barrei, and was found in South Australia in 1976.

    **Here's a link to fabulous animated Waugal story on youtube with music by Aboriginal musician Richard Walley:
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