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Tracking Snakes in the Outback – Part 1

Rainbow Serpent

I was usually the only woman on St. Vigeon’s Station. And during the mustering season, the men would be away at camp for weeks at a time, so I’d be completely alone with my baby son. Occasionally, seasonal workers brought their wives. They stayed at the headquarters’ compound while the men went to camp. Joaquin, a Spaniard, brought his Aboriginal Australian wife, Alice, and their two children.

Alice was a breath of fresh air. She taught me a great deal about The Dreaming, myths of the spirits that molded the earth during creation. I was twenty and she was almost forty. I’d be mesmerized by her stories, such as the Rainbow Serpent, a creator god. When he came from deep under the ground, he created mountains as he pushed up to the surface. “His size is immense and he lives in deep water,” she told me. “He’s in control of water, life's most precious resource.”

Rainbow Serpent myths have existed for millennia in Aboriginal Australian cultures. He’s known by different names in different parts of the country, such as Yurlunggur in northeastern Arnhem Land. A myriad different images of him were painted more than six

thousand years ago in caves all over central and northern Australia.

A cave painting representing the Rainbow Serpent. To me it looks more like an elephant than a serpent.

The propagation of the Rainbow Serpent idea to other countries is attributed to western-trained anthropologists that also thought the myth occurred in the past, like the story of Ulysses. Yet Aboriginal Australians have a living myth concept that is past, present, and future all at once.

A few days after Alice shared that myth, I encountered a huge, coiled snake enjoying the afternoon sun on my doorstep. It looked like a taipan, one of the world’s most deadly snakes. In a panic, I picked up my baby son and ran out a different door to call Alice.

“Please help me kill the snake on my doorstep.” Then I remembered the Rainbow Serpent story and added, “If it doesn’t go against your religious philosophy.”

“I’ll kill it while I can,” Alice said. “Before it bites someone. Or one of the dogs.”


Note: The propagation of the Rainbow Serpent concept around the world through digital means has impacted the concept. It’s appeal to other cultures has turned it into an icon used not only for children’s books, but also for political and social movements. I write about it in my blog in the spirit that Alice taught me decades ago – as part of the Aboriginal Australian creation beliefs.

Next month: Tracking Snakes in the Outback, Part 2


Visit me at I love hearing from readers. Ask questions, suggest an idea, or comment about this blog. (All previous Outback blogs are on my website.)

This series of My Life in the Outback is based on recollections of my life in Australia many years ago. My own photographs of Australia are not only limited, but they are also old 35mm film in dismal condition. To make the series more appealing to the reader, I supplement with photographs similar to the experiences and locations I’ve described. I’m often dependent on pictures from the public domain and Creative Commons. All photographs are used in an editorial or educational manner.

*Names of people have been changed to protect their identity since this is not a memoir, but merely my recollections of Australia.

All photos are used in an editorial or educational manner.

Photo credits:

Bungle Bungle Ranges, Purnululu Park 3 by Arthur Chapman is licensed BY-NC-SA 2.0

Rainbow Serpent by samshennan is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

My Life in Australia, a blog, is brought to you by Tortuga Publishing, LLC


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