Organized by the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection

Bäru | The Saltwater Crocodile

During the Waŋgarr (ancestral times), there was a woman named Dhamiḻiŋu. She lived with her husband Bäru at a place called Ditjpalwuy. Dhamiḻiŋu made a fire and  a shelter–or aŋulurr before she went hunting for mänyduŋ (snails).


While Dhamiḻiŋu was away, Bäru saw her aŋulurr and went to sleep in it. He knew that aŋulurr and fire belong to Bäru. So Bäru was talking to himself where Dhamiḻiŋu made that aŋulurr and fire. “This belongs to me, it is mine, my important sacred area.”


So Bäru was asleep, waiting for Dhamiḻiŋu in that camp. When Dhamiḻiŋu came back, she saw Bäru in the ŋullur, holding with his hands fire. She came and sat down there. She was cooking mänyduŋ.  As she was eating , she spat on Bäru’s neck and head and threw the hot snail shells at him. Bäru began to get angry, and he threw the fire all over Dhamiḻiŋu. She was transformed into the blue-tongued lizard and Bäru, with the bark from the shelter burning him, became the crocodile. Then Bäru went away to Baygurrdji. As he went along, he said to himself, “this fire will be for Maḏarrpa.” 


One fire dropped into the sea, where the rock is [see Gurtha Dhäwu (1969). There is still fire at Yathikpa, where Bäru dropped it in the sea, where the rock is. And the rock has special names: Wuluwurrthun, Bombi, Walaluna, Dhakalmayi, Marrtjala. These are the important names. And the fire has special names too: Baltjawuma, Ŋuriri, Methuthu, Manatjaltjal, Wawuywayuy.


And Bäru spread the fire to different areas: to Ŋalarrwuy for the Gumatj clan; at the Maṯamaṯa for the Burarrwaŋa Gumatj.



As Bäru traveled, he also spread the fire to different areas belonging to different clans. One of these areas was Garaŋali, the Crocodile’s nest site (see Maḏarrpa Miny’tji [1996]). Eventually, the Ancestral Fire, symbolic of Madarrpa lore, burnt Bäru enough to permanently scar his back. He now needs to stay in the sea water to soothe his scarred back and remains terrified of fire. Garraŋali is a jungle within the flood plain area where the crocodile’s nest. It is protected as a special place of significance for the Madarrpa by the intense heat of the lingering Ancestral Fire and the real presence of crocodiles protecting their nests. During the nesting season your feet will burn trying to cross this black mud plain. This time of year is known as Rarrandarr, meaning “burning feet”.