The Milky Way
As told to Ted Egan
Narritjan Maymuru, Ted Egan
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978
5-8yrs, Lower Primary, Primary, Upper Primary
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- Art motifs
- Bark painting
- Hunting and gathering
- Stories and motifs
This is the story of how the Milky Way was formed according to Aboriginal Dreaming. The story begins with two children from Arnhem Land on their way to Darwin. They meet an old man who is painting a story on a sheet of bark. Long, long ago, the story begins, there were no stars in the sky and no people on the earth, only birds and animals. The great spirit Barama told two night-birds that they would be changed into two men who would live by the river, Milmooya. They would hunt for fish and animals for food, but were told they must remember these creatures were their friends. Moonaminya and Yikawanga, as these men were named, lived by the Milmooya River.
Other birds and animals asked the spirit Barama to make them people too. They were only to hunt by day though, because there was no light from the sky. So Moonaminya and Yikawanga changed into stars so people could see at night. Every time a fish or animal was caught, a new star was created. As people on earth died, their bodies were placed into log coffins and their spirits were taken up into the sky to become stars.
As time passed people on earth saw a ‘river’ of stars, so bright that the people called it the ‘Milky Way’. Then a giant crocodile went up into the stars where his tail and legs became very bright stars. Thus the Milky Way became the people, animals, birds and fish that were transformed into bright stars. The story continues to explore thunder and lightning which is caused by Moonaminya and Yikawanga singing and dancing and creating more stars.
The illustrations are bark paintings. These reflect the story being told with fish, animals, canoes, paddles, spears and log coffins woven into the Aboriginal patterns coloured in rust, brown, gold and black. The artwork designs use the page size effectively featuring shapes that reflect the story. For example, the giant crocodile features across the length of the double page spread, while the didgeridoo and music sticks fill a vertical-shaped page. The final illustrations review the combined characters and actions as the storyteller points out that as you see the Milky Way, this Dreaming story will be remembered. Ted Egan’s song lyrics, featuring beautiful rhythm and visual images, are included on the page before the story begins. Some other editions of ‘The Milky Way’ include a recording of this song.
Narritjin Maymuru was a Yolngu people artist and activist well known for his bark paintings. He was also a ‘performer, advocate, politician, clan head, ceremonial leader, philosopher and entrepreneur’ (National Museum of Australia entry on Narritjin Maymuru).
Ted Egan is an Australian folk musician whose songs reflect his love of the Northern Territory humour and characters. He worked in remote Aboriginal communities, writing history, entertaining in pubs and served as Administrator of the Northern Territory from 2003 to 2007.
Series title: Aboriginal Australia reading
- Cooee Art, Profile of Narritjin Maymuru https://www.cooeeart.com.au/marketplace/artists/profile/MaymuruNarri/
- National Museum of Australia, Narritjin Maymuru https://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/old-masters/artists/narritjin_maymuru
- NFSA Digital Learning, ‘Ted Egan, Australian Biography’ https://dl.nfsa.gov.au/module/1583/
- Australian Indigenous Astronomy, ‘Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Astronomy’ http://www.aboriginalastronomy.com.au
- Wikipedia ‘Milky Way (Mythology)’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milky_Way_(mythology)
- Geoff Green, ‘Australian Stargazing the Milky Way, 1 in UHD 4K’, 24 November 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SewFzfT9oks