Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigine

Men of Ngarrindjeri by Cedric Varcoe

Non-western mythology definitely needs more attention than it is receiving at the moment, including those of the Australian Aborigines. David Unaipon’s Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigine showcases over twenty Dreamtime stories as well as the Ngarrindjeri culture, which is the tribe David Unaipon comes from.

For those who don’t know, Dreamtime stories are creation myths of the Australian Aborigine. The stories included range from how the tortoise got its shell to who Naroondarie is (a prophet) and what happened to his wives. Overall, they were pleasant and interesting. None were awful, and my only complaint would be that a few dragged on for a tad too long. What I did have an issue with was the educational chapters.

Even though it was interesting to learn how some Aborigines killed swans or how they used math for fishing, it didn’t always connect to a legendary tale. Witchcraft was able to bring a story into its explanation on, well, witchcraft, but the same can’t be said about Hunting or Fishing. They were more series of events than an actual tale. So, even though they were fascinating and something I enjoyed reading, it didn’t exactly fit the book.

Most of the tales included anthropomorphism, which was quite surreal at times. Overall, I loved learning about the symbolism behind certain animals and ideas as to why they are what we know today, but it was sometimes confusing. This is evident in The Mischievous Crow. After the crow traps some baby pelicans really high up a tree, everyone is distressed, not knowing how to retrieve the birds. However… some birds can fly. They even fly in the chapter, yet they’re stuck in that moment. It just annoyed me.

Another awkward part of the book is when Unaipon used Ngarrindjeri – his native language. While I loved the use of Ngarrindjeri terms for animals or important expressions, there were some instances where it didn’t make sense. In certain chapters, he alternated between the two languages for the same word, or he would use Ngarrindjeri for a basic statement. They shouldn’t have gotten rid of the Ngarrindjeri, but it would have been better if they used it in a more appropriate way.

Other than those few hiccups, the language was splendid. Unaipon gave himself authority with the phrase ‘my people’, and the description resembled something you would hear around the fire. It led to an intriguing read.

I’m giving this book 8.5/10. It’s a fascinating read with most chapters are great at explaining the culture of the Ngarrindjeri people. Even though there are some differences, it will give you an basic understanding of many Aboriginal customs and beliefs.

Discussion Point: Do you know any Dreamtime stories? If so, which ones?

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