News & Insights

The Breath of the Mindye

As told by Uncle Larry Walsh of Taungurung.

Uncle Larry Walsh has been a much valued cultural advisor on the Refuge project since the first iteration in 2016. Arts House would like to thank him for his continued contributions to the project for the past three years.

“I’m from Taungurung people but this is a story of all Kulin people.

The Wurundjeri Woiworung of Melbourne, the Bunurong of Melbourne, the Jajowrong Jarra of the Bendigo / Castlemaine area to Ballarat and the Wathawurrung.

We all believe that our creator Bundjil, who sometimes appears as a man and can also turn into an eagle, had a creature which we call the Mindye, a snake who lives in barren country that is very rocky and quartzy.

Every time Bundjil feels that a mob needs punishment for not following Bundjil’s law/lore, he summons the Mindye. The Mindye then ties himself to the highest tree in his land, and stretches out so that he increases in size and distance. When he stretches to the right distance and arrives at the right land, he breathes out an illness as a punishment that can harm or kill Kulin people. You might not have known what you were being punished for, but it was a common belief that great illness that affected everybody was done by the Breath of the Mindye.

Bungil’s laws/lores were everything from how you treat your children, your visitors, old people to your land, to observing that fact that you were from different skin groupings and therefore there are certain animals you cannot eat or animals that you must hunt or eat in a certain way. Back then, a lot of Aboriginal women wouldn’t eat the breast of certain animals because they breastfed their children and believed it would poison their breastmilk. Whether they were true or not, we can’t judge, but the rules were put in place for a reason.

It is thought there was only one person who could stop the Mindye. A man named Moonee Brum-Brum who was the guardian of that area and, for want of a better word, the doctor of the area. So you’d go and see Moonee Brum-Brum if you were crook and he’d sort you out. There isn’t much known about him now, whether he was a mythical man or a real person we don’t know, but Bundjil did have people who could intercede on his behalf so he might have been one of them.

In some ways, it is similar to having a pandemic because a lot of illnesses are airborne. So when the Mindye breathes air and illness in the direction of the people who need to be punished, there is an airborne infection that kills like a pandemic does.

As far as we see it, if we had modern terms back then, yeah, we had a pandemic. But for us it was the breath of the Mindye that was death and illness as punishment for breaking a law/lore.”