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The Origin of Lake Eacham ... Dick Moses | Ngayu, Bama, Water, Galiiny, Initiands, Camp, Ngabi, Ngunggum | FATSILC, Fed. Aboriginal Torres Strait Island Languages and Culture
The Origin of Lake Eacham ... Dick Moses PDF Print E-mail
This is an extract from the book ‘Words of Our Country - stories, place names and vocabulary in Yidiny, the Aboriginal language of the Cairns-Yarrabah region’ compiled by R.M.W Dixon. It is an account of the legend of the origin of Lake Eacham - how newly-initiated men broke important taboos, and so angered the rainbow spirit who caused the earth to erupt, bringing about the formation of several lakes. It was told by Dick Moses at Yarrabah, in 1971, in the coastal dialect of the Yidiny language. George Watson from the Tully region recorded a similar story, and both texts provide a plausible account of a past volcanic eruption.
The Origin of Lake Eacham
Dick Moses Yarrabah 1973


The Origin of Lake Eacham
Relief map of Axial Volcano

Yingu bama muyngga gundaal mulaarri bama
These people, had their tribal marks cut, the initiated men.

Ngabi duguuda jimurrula nyinaany burriburriing jili+budil ngabi bama nyinaany bajaar
Many [people] were sitting around in small and large huts. The old people are looking after the [initiands]. A lot of people [the initiands and their minders] were sitting [there], and were left alone [by everyone else].

Ngayu galing minyaa wurrbaajing mayi dugal
‘I’m going out, to look for game. [And i’ll] pick fruit’ [the old man said].

Garba nyinan wirra ngabi wawal wanyja maluy giyi wanggaajin nyinan munubujun
‘Sit behind! [If you] see lots of shadows anywhere, don’t get up [to investigate them]! Sit down inside still!’ [the old man tells the initiands before he goes out for food].

Ngayu bajar nyunduubany ngayu galing mayiigu minyaagu
I’ll leave you. I’m going out for fruit, and for game.

Ngayu wabar galiiny burrgiiny wurrbaajinyu mayii bulmba ngayu wawaal
I went for a walk, went walkabout, looked for fruit. I looked for a place [to rest].
(The narrator has here taken over the identity of the old man, guardian of the newly-initiated boys).

Nguwanyundal bulmba yingu nguwang
It was getting dark at this place (ie. at the place where the old man had reached on his walkabout). Why is [this place] getting dark.

Bama gurrbi jan.gandagang garba
‘The people might be getting in trouble back there’ [the old man thought to humself]. (That is, the dark clouds that are now obscuring the sun may be due to the initiands having transgressed in some way).


Wanyja ngayu bajaar
‘Where did I leave [them]?’ [he said, not being able to find his charges].

Ngayu galiiny wurrbaajinyu galiiny ngayu wawaal bulmba
I went, went searching. I saw the camp. Marun wanggi gurrbilnyunda [And I saw] a cloud high up [in the sky] getting yellower. (This indicated that there was trouble brewing).

Bama ngajin wanyindagang ngayu bajaar gurriny nyinanyunda bama gurrbi jan.gandagang
‘What’s happened to my people? I left them alright, sitting down [in the camp]. The people might have got into trouble’.

Ngayu janaany wawaajinyu wanggi marun wawal gurrbilnyunda
I stood, watching. [I’m] looking at the dark cloud up high, getting yellower.

Gana ngayu galiina biri gunjiinal ngayu galiiny galiiny muguy galiiny wawaalinyu ngambu munduung
I tried to go, to return. I went, went on all the way. [I] went and saw more easily from half-way.

Wanyinbarraa gana ngayu galiina wawaalina ngayu wawaalinyu gujuun guyaajinyuun yiway wanggaajinyu
I tried to go, to go and see what [was wrong]. I went and saw the wind blowing strongly (like a whirlwind). A cold wind was rising up.

Ngayu wawaal bama nganyjiin jan.gandagang
I saw [that and knew that] our people are in trouble.

Garru ngayu wawaal bana wama
By-and-by I saw the water (rushing up and engulfing everthing).


Gindaajal junggangadaany ganguul junggangadaany wawun burrujuur bundu minya junggangadaany gayay gurriili junggangadaany
The cassowary came running. The grey wallaby came running. The scrub turkey, the pandemelon, the dillybag and all the animals came running. The short-nose bandicoot and the black-nose wallaby came running. (All were running to escape the rushing waters; they were in fact partly blown by the wind).

Wanyindagang bama nganyjiin
What’s happened to our people?

Bulmba ngayu gundaal bunjaany
[I] cut [the ground at] the camp, and hit [the ground all around the camp]. (The old man did this to try and stop the wind and the rain).

Nyunduuba wanyiinda jibujibudagang bamaan gujuuga
[The old man spoke to the place]: ‘What’s wrong with you? {Literally: why are you getting too smart?] [This place] belongs to other people’.

Jabu dagaal buri gilbiil gundaal warrnggingalnyu jabu gundaal
The old man made deep cuts in the ground; threw fire; and cut the ground all around the camp; [he] cut [it, to try and stop the incursion of the waters].

Bana bayiildanyu bana bayiil
The water came springing up; the water came out.

Bama ngabi jariiny banaa nganyji banaa wulnggaany
Lots of people were drowned in the water; we were covered by the water.

Nganyjiin bama jan.gandagaany
Our people had done wrong.

Ngunggum bana wanggi janang yijam bama ngunggu jarriny
Then [a body] of water stood [there] up [in the tableland] - Lake Eacham. The people had drowned there.

Mulaarri ngunggum ngunggum bama nguju binaagaldagaany ngabi nganggaany
[It came about] from the initiated men not having paid atention, none of them listened [to the old men, who told them, as initiands not to touch certain sacred things].

Garru ngunggum gurruun galingalnyu bamaanda yumbaar
By-and-by the message was taken from there to the people [in the other camps].

Bama mulaarri gaymbiiny wulnggaany banaal judaany
‘The newly-initiated men were all covered by water; [they] sank down (and were drowned).



R.M.W. Dixon’s new books are called ‘Basic Linguistic Theory V1 & V2. Go to for more information