Possum skin cloak: Taungurung
Mick Harding was the lead artist in the making of the Taungurung possum skin cloak. His country is in Central Victoria and extends from the upper reaches of the Goulburn River to Kilmore in the west, Mount Beauty in the east up to Benalla in the north. They are river people.
Click here to watch Interview: Taungurung Elder Mick Harding.
Mick Harding shares the creation stories on the Taungurung cloak.
The first three panels are our interpretation of the Bunjil creation story. It's only those first three that we dedicated to the creation story because we thought that's the most important story. If you read through all the stories, there's always reference to Bunjil.
There's always these moral stories about what happens, when it happens and why people, or animals, are punished. What happens to them from not following Bunjil's law. In every panel after that in between the crosshatchings is a creation story and there are 30 in total.
On the edges is bird wings - you've got that chevron look with the stars above it This was there to represent Bunjil and Waang. Clans are either a Bunjil clan or a Waang clan. Bunjil is the wedge tail eagle and Waang is the crow. My clan is actually a Waa clan.
Then when we look at the other two panels, they represent the mountains. The chevron looking line there with the brown represents the mountains. The other one on the other side is to represent the rivers.
All that other line work, which is intersecting each other is to represent everything else that's living, everything else on the Earth. All the other animals, the plants, the animals, the inanimate objects. So, that's to represent everything that Bunjil did.
Starting in the centre, each panel represents the different creation stories.
Panels 1-3: Bunjil
Bunjil had two wives and a son whose name was Binbeal, the Rainbow, whose wife was the second bow, sometimes seen showing fainter than the first.
The six young men were:
• Djurt-djurt, the nankeen kestrel
• Thara, the quail
• Yukope, the green parakeet
• Dantum, the blue-mountain parrot,
• Tadjeri, the brush-tailed possum,
• Turnung, the glider-possum
All of these men were powerful wizards.
After Bunjil had made the mountains and the rivers, and a man and all the animals, he taught the men to make weapons, how to fight with them and how to behave with one another. When he had finished he became tired of staying one earth. So he gathers about him his wives and sons and told Bellin Bellin, the musk crow, who had charge of the winds:‘’Open your bags and let out some wind’. So Bellin Bellin opened all the bags at once, and a gterrified whirlwind came out, and blew Bunjil and all his people into the sky where they live in plenty, and look down on the world as stars.
Panel 4: Why the kangaroo has a tail and the wombat does not.
Koim, the kangaroo, and Wareen, the wombat, were once great friends and shared everything. One day Wareen made a home for himself in a hole underground and slept there in comfort during the cold winter nights. One very wet day Koim came to his friend and asked to be allowed to shelter in the hole and to dry his fur by the fire. But Wareen would not let him come in. A quarrel ensued, in which Koim cut off Wareen’s tail with a blow of his axe, but as he was running off Wareen drove his spear at the base of his back where it stuck fast. This is the reason why kangaroos carry a heavy tail, which sticks straight out behind them and wombats have no tail.
Panel 5: How mopokes were made
Long ago mopokes were men. One day a Kulin named Kokurn went hunting with two young men. They killed and skinned a kangaroo. After a good meal of its flesh, the young men lay down to have a sleep. Once they were asleep, Kokurn pegged the kangaroo skin down over them so tightly that they could not move. They remained there quite helpless until Bunjil, the creator, happened to notice them. He said, ‘What are you doing there?’ ‘Kokurn put us here,’ was the answer. Bunjil was very angry. He split the skin and released the young men.‘
Then Bunjil caught a possum and put it in a hole in a tree. Next he sent for Kokurn and ordered him to get a possum. Kokurn smelt around. On smelling a possum in the hole of a tree, he went to catch it. But as soon as he disappeared into the hole, Bunjil put a big stone in the opening and imprisoned him inside. However, Kokurn was strong in magic, so he turned himself into a mopoke and in the night escaped through a small opening betweent he stone and the edge of the hole. Ever since then mopokes have lived in holes in the trees and only fly out at night.
Panel 6: Why cranes have thin legs
Karwine, the crane, was a very mean fellow, and he ill-treated his wife. One day he went out hunting and brought back some possums but he ate them all himself and refused to give his wife any. The women complained to Bunjil, the Eaglehawk and father of all Kulin, about Karwine’s greedy conduct. Bungil came down and threw a spear at him.
Karwine flew off but the spear passed through his knees so that he was not able to bring them up under him. As time passed his legs grew very thin. This is the reason why cranes’ legs always hang down when they fly.
Panel 7: Old woman who stole the children
Not far from Mansfield there was a hideous old hag, all alone in the bush. She was wicked and used to keep little boys and girls who had wandered away from camps.
In one of the Kulin camps, some distance away from her, there was a very nice little boy. Since everyone liked him, he thought that he would be safe anywhere, so he went from one camp to another by himself. When he got there, people would welcome him and give him pieces of possum to eat. But one day he disappeared and no-one knew where he was until they remembered the wicked old woman who was always taking children. In their distress, the Kulin went to Bunjil and asked him to restore the little boy back to them.
Bunjil was very sorry for them and told Kowurn, the spiny ant-eater, to go and find them. So Kowurn burrowed down under the old witch’s camp and found the boy, who was not hurt, but very frightened, And Bunjil said to the Kulin,’ You must not let little children wander away from the camps’. And then he told the child, ‘Let that be a lesson to you’. And Bunjil went back to his own camp in the sky.
Panel 8: Bat and emu maidens
Balayang, the bat, was miserable and uncomfortable because his wife had died. Now he had no-one to dig up murnung, his favourite roots, or to gather yams and grubs for him. And since it was women’s work he could not do it himself.
The only person living near him was his mother-in-law and to her. He could not talk to her as this was prohibited by tribal custom. Her husband had died, so she had no-one to hunt game for her. She could not ask her son-in-law to do it. Then she thought of a way. One day when Balayang was away from his camp, she quickly carried a basket full of roots and left it there. When he returned he was very pleased and waited until she left her own camp and he took some game fish over to her. So they managed to help her in that way.
After a while Balayang felt very unhappy again because he wanted a wife to keep him company and to talk to. His mother-in-law guessed what was troubling him so she made some magic. She went to a log lying on the ground and hit it with her yam stick. Two young maidens came out of the log. The old woman told them to go to the swamp. This they did and swam about beating the surface of the water with their hands, thus making a noise like the drumming of an emu man.
Balayang heard this noise and taking up his spears, he went to investigate. But when he peered through the scrub he saw the two maidens swimming about. He took the spear out of the spear-thrower and sat down where they could see him. So they called out to him, ‘Do we call you grandfather?’ He said, ‘No.” Then in turn they called, ‘Father? Father’s brother? Brother?’ To which questions he said, ‘No.’ And the girls said, ‘Then should we call you husband?’ and they went to his camp as his wives.
Panel 9: Blood-sucker lizard
Berrimun, the blood-sucker lizard, was a very wicked fellow. He once went up to some Kulin, who had just killed a kangaroo, and put a pebble in his mouth and pretended to be in great pain. ‘What is the matter with you?’ asked the Kulin. ‘Oh, I have such a tooth ache,’ was the reply. The Kulin felt so sorry for him and offered him some of his kangaroo flesh but Berrimun refused it saying that his teeth were too sore to chew them. He then suggested that perhaps he would be able to suck some of the blood. This was given to him and he sucked all the blood and rendered the meat useless.
Bunjil, the eaglehawk, was very angry when he saw this so he ordered his young men to punish Berrimun. When Berrimun saw them coming he immediately put the pebble back in his mouth and again pretended to be in great pain. Bunjil’s young men asked him what the trouble was and again he answered that he had a bad toothache. They said to him, ‘ You lie, there is nothing wrong with your teeth, and we know what you did to the Kulin.’
Then they hit him in the mouth with clubs and all his teeth were knocked out and stuck to the outside of his chin. Since then the blood-sucker lizards have no teeth and have sharp spines on their chins.
Panel 10: Emu and crow
Waang, the crow, was very fond of eating eggs., and he liked the eggs of Berimul, the emu, best of all. One day, as he was walking in the bush, Waang found a great nest filled with Berimul’s eggs. He resolved to collect them all and to take them home for dinner but just as he started to pick them up Berimul returned. A fight ensued during which the emu was killed.
Waang called his friends together and they prepared and cooked the emu and its eggs. Waang was offered the choicest cuts but he refused them all, only taking the head, which he carried up into the high tree. Then he told the head of Berrimul that in future, emus were not to defend their nests and were to allow the Kulin to help themselves to the eggs whenever they wished to do so.
Panel 11: Why men die
Once men did not die because Menyan, the moon, would give them a drink of magic water and they would come back to life. Mongebarra, the bronze-winged pigeon, was very hard-hearted and decided to put a stop to this practice. His magic, being stronger than Menyan’s, meant people remain dead. All except Menyan, who dies and comes back to life each month.
Panel 12: The first women
Balayang, the bat and also Bunjil’s brother, was at a place called Booerrgoen, on the Goulburn River, about twelve miles above the stream from Yea. He was amusing himself by thumping the surface of the water with his hands and making it splash. As he thumped away, the water became thick, and as it thickened it became mud.
Balayang could no longer see through it, so he took a bough from a tree and divided the mud with it. He then perceived something in the mud, so he bent the bough into a hook, and put it in the mud. He saw four hands, then two heads, then two bodies. He fished them out of the mud and saw that they were two women.
Balayang named one Kunnawarra, the black swan, and the other Kururuk, the native companion, and brought them to Bunjil, the great man, who gave them to the men he had made. Bunjil put spears into the hands of the men and ordered them to hunt kangaroo. He gave the women digging sticks and ordered them to dig for yams and roots. Then he told the men and women to live together.
Panel 13: Witch
There was an old woman who lived in a cave on the side of a hill. She was always crying out to people passing by so that they would come and see what she wanted. When they were near, she would kill them and eat them later. At last Bunjil sent tow of his sons to investigate the reason for the disappearance of so many people. They hid behind nearby trees and saw what happened. They then decided to kill the old woman. First they made a large hollow tree, then approached the woman and told her that they made a nice new shelter for her, which was better than the old cave in which she lived. As soon as she was near the tree, they pushed her into it. They blocked the entrance with dried wood, to which they set fire. And that was the end of the wicked old woman.
Panel 14: Why the native companion only lays one or two eggs
In the old days there was great jealousy between Kururuk, the native companion, and Berimul, the emu, on account of the number of children they each had. Berimul did not like to see Kururuk with as many children as herself.
One day she hid all of them except one and went out to see Kururuk who had all her children with her. ‘See Kururuk,’ she said. ‘How comfortable I am with only one child to look after. You have no idea what it feels like to be so free. How can you be bothered with so many?’
‘Yes indeed,’ agreed Kururuk. ‘But I have them now, so what can I do about it?’ ‘Lose them in the bush,’ said Berimul as she strode off with her child. Kururuk decided to follow this advice but she was punished. Ever since native companions only laid one or two eggs.