An Introduction to the Most Famous and Beautiful Aboriginal Stories

To celebrate the launch of Ask Aunty: Seasons, the first book in a children’s book series written by respected Aboriginal author Aunty Munya Andrews, we have collated a brief introduction to some of the classic, magical, and insightful Dreaming stories, many of which are tales that have been passed down the generations.

Transferring these wonderful stories into text and an Indigenous book that is accessible to younger readers is a great way to connect with the culture, heritage and belief systems of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, supported by colour and illustration to spark the little one’s imaginations.

What Are Aboriginal Stories?

Part of  Dreamtime, these narratives–called ‘Jukurrpa’ by some First Nations people–tell tales of the Spiritual Ancestors who built the world and all the living things within while still being present today around the people, land, and animals.

Indigenous Australian authors have captured the essence and meaning of these ancient tales, which remain relevant to the modern world while existing outside of the limitations of time. Dreamtime stories are the basis for art, literature, community, and beliefs; each story is unique and may relate to different aspects of Aboriginal life.


Introducing Much-Loved Dreamtime Stories

In no particular order, here are some of the most famous and well-known Dreamtime stories–and what they stand for.

How the Kangaroo Got Its Pouch

This tale tells the story of a time long ago when kangaroos did not yet have pouches to carry their young. A dingo catches a baby joey, who turns to its mother for help. With nowhere to hide, the joey is in peril, but his mother is gifted by an Ancestor with a pouch for him to hide, saving his life and creating the pouches all kangaroos are now born with.

The lesson is in the wish of the mother kangaroo who asks kangaroos to be given the same gift–those with warm hearts who think of others will be rewarded with good fortune.


The Rainbow Serpent

The Rainbow Serpent tells the story of a giant snake that sleeps beneath the surface of the Earth. When it decides to emerge, it wakes all the animals who travel around the hills, rivers and valleys, creating the terrain and natural landscapes.

The Rainbow Serpent is a powerful force connected to water and life. The rainbows in the sky are the serpents travelling from one watering hole to the next. This story represents the importance of water’s role in while being a cyclical part of nature–and its potential to cause destruction if made unhappy.

Tiddalick the Frog

Tiddalick is a giant frog who decides one day, in his greed, to drink all of the water. All the rivers, lakes, creeks and water sources are left dry, leaving the other animals to work as a team to try and find a solution to their problem. They decide to make Tiddalick laugh, forcing him to spill the huge amount of water he has drunk and return the valuable resource to the community of creatures reliant on it. 

Tiddalick teaches about the need to share with others and the dangers of being greedy. The story also shows how teamwork and using each animal’s special skills was the only solution.


Emu and the Jabiru

Our final tale is based on a family dispute between brothers-in-law Gandji and Wurrpan, who live close to each other with their children. Gandji leaves to fish for stingray and brings his catch back to share with the entire family–but saves all of the sweet meat for himself.

The men begin fighting with coals and rocks. Gandji hurts Wurrpan, jumps in the air, and starts to fly as a jabiru, afraid of the repercussions of his actions. When his enemy hits him with a spear, it becomes his beak, and he falls to Earth and begins to run, transforming into an emu with grey feathers from the ash of the fire. The lesson is about cooperation, sharing, and the senselessness of silly arguments.

Each of these stories can be retold in different ways, but they all explore how our world was created while teaching lessons in respect, kindness, and conduct, while framing the way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people protect and pass on their traditions and beliefs.

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Stacey Wells
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