News & Insights

The Return of the Rainbow Serpent

by Laniyuk

The Return of the Rainbow Serpent by Laniyuk was written in response to The future is Indigenous: Cultural change to survive a climate change world.

This piece is part of First Nations in the House, a residency program as part of Refuge that invites writers from across the country to share and respond to the matter of displacement, honouring and respecting local stories of resilience, survival, loss and the future.

This is a story my Aunty was boss for. She used to tell it to me whenever we were alone, walking along the river. She used to say I had to listen very carefully and learn to pronounce all the words and remember all the names. She said it was really important to learn this sacred story because, like all of our creation stories, it tells us where we come from and who we are.

“Stories sometimes tell us what happened in the past and also what will happen in the future. ” – Uncle Larry

Now it’s my responsibility to hold it and pass it on to the next generations. My sister knows the song for this story and my cousin knows the dance so when we all come together we have a ceremony to honour the spirits of that story. There are somethings that I can tell you but there are some things that are secret…

It was a time after Creation and Dreaming. A time where the Rainbow Serpent slid silently, listening to the sounds of the people rumble and caress its body. The people that had been birthed by Country had been living, practising and following Law, singing and dancing and doing right by all the waters and creatures of the lands. Country and Spirit was happy and healthy. People were adorned with the skins and shells of their homes and followed the Spirit of the land in their farming and movements. They spoke to Country in the languages that Country had given them and with their technologies of agriculture and communication lived overall prosperous lives.

(Talking about Christian conceptualising of having dominion over the world)

“For Aboriginal people, your heaven is your country where you come from and you return there when you die” Claire G. Coleman

One day the winds shifted and a people of another spirit landed on the shores in the south-east. The people were from a land which had a broken and silenced spirit and brought with them a sickness that penetrated the earth and poisoned the water. The people did not speak the language of our countries so did not understand when the wind tried to welcome them and the waters tried to heal their sickness. They were so sick they could not move with the rhythm of the lands and instead tried to control the patterns the Rainbow Serpent had gifted us. They drained the rivers dry, ripped out the foods, medicine and homes.

“The essence of decolonisation is learning the land you’re on because the language of the land is a reflection of the environment its history and the way of living on the environment and keeping it alive. You’re connected to your land if you know it’s language…” – Uncle Larry

The ancestors were angry and confused. The Sick-People were so empty they stole our children and even raped and killed our people. This lasted for many many many moons. The Sick-People’s spirit was so damaged they could not hear our voices, even when we spoke their language and could not see our tears even when we pleaded. Our People became sick in body and in spirit and the land cried for us. The sickness that arrived in the east spread across the lands and across the world.

“I was the fourth generation of my family to be moved. The fourth generation of displacement…I was one of the unlucky families but it affected every family throughout Victoria because everyone was worried if it would be their children or their grandchildren that would be the ones to be moved. And that those children wouldn’t be able to learn about their land” – Uncle Larry

“We’re constantly fighting on the front lines. The frontier wars never really ended” – Rosie Kalina

Rainbow Serpent receded deep into the earth to try and escape the sickness and from that movement, the lands shifted. The water disappeared in some places and rose in others. Many creatures died and some never came back. Even the winds and rain forgot their patterns and the spirits were in great distress. Our people tried to sing health into the newcomers and heal their spirits but their sickness was so great they only hurt us and silenced our languages.

“British Invasion was apocalyptic and the apocalypse continues and there is this intent to use our land until it’s dead.” – Claire G. Coleman

“Although we might be a little astray because of colonial damage it’s still within our DNA” – Rosie Kalina

One day the Rainbow Serpent emerged, angry and singed from the sickness. Its scales were worn and broken, some of its flesh was exposed and bleeding, dripping fresh blood into the earth. It angrily slid, hissing and flicking its tail and diving in and out of the earth. Great gusts of water filled the land where it bled and where its tail slashed the air, great storms swirled for many seasons. Where there was once forest there was now desert and for a long time there was no food or water. Many people died and for a long long time there was darkness.

“(My Nanna used to say, and this was back in the ’80s) We’ve been through the apocalypse already so we’ll know what to do and how to survive because we’ve been through it already” – Rosie Kalina

“You’ve gotta let spirit rest so that it can come back again…everything will come back as long as you don’t cause confusion.” – Uncle Larry

The ancestors emerged from the new trees that sprouted and sang into the mouths of our people, bring language and Law back to the lands. Some of the Sick-People became filled with the Creation Spirit and learnt the languages of the lands. Others were consumed and still wander the earth empty, trying to bring back the darkness.

It’s important to practise the ceremony of the Return of the Rainbow Serpent. In this story, there is healing and medicine and a map of our landscape. When we come together and dance the path of the Rainbow Serpent it is a recollection of our past and a map into the future. The ancestors and spirits are still resting and healing all the damage brought to our countries but when they returned language and Law to us they healed the lands, waters and people.

“We are survivors thanks to our ancestors
reviving our songlines with fingers in the dirt…” – Allara Briggs-Pattison

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Refuge Writers in Residence

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by Claire G. Coleman