The Opal That Turned Into Fire and other Aboriginal Dreamtime Stories

For the Indigenous people of Australia, opals like other minerals, have  spiritual value as representations of their Dreamtime ancestors. The  Wangkumara tribe (western NSW) have a Dreamtime story about how their people obtained fire from opal:

The Opal  That Turned into Fire

Long ago in the Dreamtime, the people of the Wangkumara tribe sent a pelican up north to see what was there so that when he returned to his people he could tell them what he had discovered in this new place. He carried a supply of fish in his dilly bag [pouch beneath his beak], which was full of water that kept his fish fresh for him. He needed food because he had been told that he must not stop during his journey of discovery.

 Pelican commenced his journey but after a short while he felt sick and could not continue and landed on top of a hill not all that far from his people. While resting, he looked around at the country spread out beneath him and marvelled at the mixture of glorious colours. This was opal. Pelican could not understand why the ground looked so beautiful and started chipping it with his beak out of curiosity. Although the country was mainly dry and rocky, there was quite a lot of grass. While Pelican was pecking the coloured stones with his beak a spark flew out and lit the dead grass. Flames rose into the air as the fire spread slowly across the arid plains for a long distance. It crept towards a number of his people who were camped near Cooper’s Creek and, for the first time, they could cook their fish and meat.

 This hill that Pelican landed on was a large hill where another Muda [an exceptional gifted being] in the form of a pelican had died. His blood had given the Wangkumara gold and opal and the water in his pouch had made Cooper’s Creek and filled it with fish. Now this second bird had brought them the gift of fire. Without the assistance of these birds, their country would have been flat and barren ground. For a long time the Wangkumara were able to keep three of their possessions a secret. Nobody could hide the Cooper, but for a long time no one else was aware that they owned gold, opal and fire.

 Michael J Connolly
Munda-gutta Kulliwari
Dreamtime Kullilla-Art

We Came From the Land  teaches how areas around the Flinders Ranges were created and the origins of opal. This is a Wirangu story from near Ceduna on the west coast of South Australia as told by M. Miller and W.J. Miller.

A long long time ago, a huge meteorite hurtled towards the earth from the northward sky, and smashed into the ground near Eucla. Because it was so big, a dent appeared in the crust of the earth and the meteorite bounced high into the air and out into the Great Australian Bight where it landed with an enormous sizzling splash. It was hot from its trip through space so it gave off a great deal of steam and gas as it sank through the waves. But this was no ordinary meteorite. It fact, it was the spirit Tjugud.

In the deep water near by, the spirit woman Tjuguda lay asleep. All the noise around her woke her up and she was very angry. She bellowed and the elements roared with her. The wind blew, the rain pelted from the sky and the dust swirled.

From the joining of the two spirits, the Tjugud and Tjuguda, a man was born, but he was no ordinary man, he was of enormous proportions. He rose from the deep water of the Bight to swim through the maze of limestone caves which run through the earth and into the sea. Then, he emerged from the ground through the cave of the Nullabor.

This was the birth of the Wirangu man, a coastal dweller. Wirangu walked towards the east, taking huge steps in keeping with the stature of the man. Each time he stepped, the ground shook and a dent appeared in the earth. These would later fill with water and are the rock holes which can still be seen today. You can clearly trace the journey of this man.

When he reached Coober Pedy, he was very hungry so he found some food and then lit a fire. The fire he built was so fierce it burned with an enormous amount of heat. A lot of water from the body of the man dropped into the ground and was captured by the stones which held a lot of water anyway. The beautiful colours from the raging fire went down into these stones, changing the water into a magnificent display of color. This is the colour of the opal and can be found in the stones still.

(Education Department of South Australia 1992: 32-33)

For more Dreamtime stories about opals, click on the links below:

Fish Moon

The Rainbow Serpent

The Opal that Turned into Fire

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