The story of Barratt's Lagoon

In the past, when Aboriginal people wanted to explain something, they would start by telling a story about it. This could be a mythical story using your imagination, like a fairy tale, and was often linked to a place.

Just outside Cooktown, on the way to the rock art sites, we pass a story place we call Ngurrayin or Barratt's Lagoon. The story belonging to this place explains how Aboriginal people came to speak different languages, and it's the story depicted in the picture below which was painted by my Dad, Tulo. This is how he told the story in Milbi: Aboriginal Tales from Queensland's Endeavour River.

Long ago all men had a single language, which everyone could understand.

Then, one time, word went out to all the different tribes of people that there would be a big dance. People came together from the East, from the West, from the North and from the South. They all gathered together at Ngurrayin, to have their corroboree.

They used to go out hunting of a daytime. Some would spear game for meat. Others might go after bush tucker, look for yams and other things. Still others would chop down trees and get the honey in them. In the evening they would come back to that big lagoon. They used to cook the meat and yams, and then everybody would have a big feed. They would sit down and eat and eat and eat. When everyone was full, they would get up, and start the dance. This went on night after night, for some time.

Now this place, Ngurrayin, is a big lagoon. In the summertime, no matter how hot it is, that water never dries up. It is fresh water, but the old people say that sea water comes underground from the ocean and holds the water in that lagoon up. That's why it never dries up, you see, because it is connected to the sea underground.
Well, there was a giant fish, a nhinhinhi or groper, that came up from the sea, from the East. It came along underground towards the lagoon where all those different tribes were having their dance. When it got there it opened up its gigantic mouth, and it rose up out of the water, and swallowed the whole jolly lot of them. Then that giant fish turned around and headed East again, travelling underground until it reached the sea.

For two months that groper stayed in the sea, with all the people inside of him. Then he came again from the East, just the same way, travelling underground. When he got to the lagoon he opened up his mouth and vomited all the people out again.

The people jumped down onto the ground and they began walking all about. But when they tried to speak to one another, they found that they were all speaking different languages. One man would talk one way, and another man would talk another way. And the first one couldn't understand the second one.

Well that's why Aboriginal people talk different languages until today.

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