Jadurru Indigenous Art

How The Frilled Neck Lizard Got His Black Chest

GA NI King of the Lizards by Indigineous Artist Jimmy Deen

A long time ago the frilled neck lizard had a nice clean chest but this was badly burnt which is why it is black today.  Back in the Dreamtime when all the animals were people, there was an enormous flood and the river spread as wide as the eye could see.

The people had been stranded on a small, higher part of land but there was no food and they were frightened because the flood-waters were still rising.  The clans gathered together and had a long discussion and decided that they had to cross the water to find better land that would provide food for them.  The clever men instructed them to tie a smouldering fire stick to the chests of all animals before they commenced to swim so their progress could be seen.  The clever men tried all the animals to get across the water but all without success.

All that was left was old GA NI, the frilled neck lizard.  GA NI was very slow and slept most of the time.  The clever men had to wake GA NI and tell him it was his turn to try and reach land.  The clever men instructed old GA NI to light a fire when he reached land to let them know it is safe to swim across.  GA NI told the clever men to tie a long firestick to his chest, a firestick made of gidgee because gidgee wood smoulders very slowly while the wind movement keeps it alight.  The clever men laughed at old GA NI, but did as he requested.  GA NI began his slow swim across the water, and they could still see the twinkling light, although it was getting smaller.

GA NI’s swim took all night, and when the clever men woke just before dawn, and looked out across the water, they saw to their surprise, a great fire blazing in the distance and knew that GA NI had found land.  Their lives had been saved because old GA NI had been clever enough to survive the water crossing and light the signal fire.  During the long swim, the gidgee firestick had slowly burnt away until it had badly injured GA NI’s chest.  This left a charred, black scar on the chest of this brave frilled-neck lizard.

The clever men promised that whoever found land should become the most superior person in their tribe, and GA NI had saved their lives by showing them land with what remained of his firestick so all the animals swam over and joined him.

They decided to have a corroboree in his honour and all painted up and danced around this tired, old fella.  GA NI was now the king of the lizards and would remain so forever.  Since his epic swim, he has always been treated with respect by both animals and humans.  Even today, frilled neck lizards are often seen standing up straight on their hind legs their heads held back with pride, and this displays the blackness on their chests, that was the reward for great bravery in the past.

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