The Rainbow Serpent is an important mythological being for Aboriginal people across Australia, although the creation myths associated with it are best known from northern Australia.
The Rainbow Serpent is seen as the inhabitant of permanent waterholes and is in control of life’s most precious resource, water. He is the underlying Aboriginal mythology for the famous Outback “bunyip”. He is the sometimes unpredictable Rainbow Serpent, who vies with the ever-reliable Sun, that replenishes the stores of water, forming gullies and deep channels as he slithered across the landscape, allowing for the collection and distribution of water.
Dreamtime stories tell of the great Spirits during creation, in animal and human form they molded the barren and featureless earth. The Rainbow Serpent came from beneath the ground and created huge ridges, mountains and gorges as it pushed upward. The Rainbow Serpent is known as Ngalyod by the Gunwinggu and Borlung by the Miali. He is a serpent of immense proportions which inhabits deep permanent waterholes.
Serpent stories vary according to environmental differences. Tribes of the monsoonal areas depict an epic interaction of the Sun, Serpent and wind in their Dreamtime stories, whereas tribes of the central desert experience less drastic seasonal shifts and their stories reflect this.
It is known both as a benevolent protector of its people and as a malevolent punisher of law breakers. The rainbow serpent’s mythology is closely linked to land, water, life, social relationships and fertility. There are innumerable names and stories associated with the serpent, all of which communicate the significance and power of this being within Aboriginal traditions.
The myth of the Rainbow serpent is sometimes associated with Wonambi naracoortensis, a large snake of the now extinct megafauna of Australia.