Our ancestors lived without fences or locked doors; without life guards on the beach or street lights (in fact, without streets) and certainly without mobile phones to let a kid tell Mum he was safe. They had to bring up kids safely in the wide horizons of the interior, the dense bush of the south, the jungles of the tropics and beside the endless beaches of the coastlines.
Each Aboriginal group developed appropriate legends and stories about scary monsters who lurked in dangerous places, or appeared when children misbehaved. These stories helped to keep the kids physically safe and morally on the right path, and taught them the rules of their own particular social cohesive structure.
As a Christian family now, we do not believe in these legends, but we value them as part of our tradition of storytelling that can be "turned around" to help teach our children how to behave properly in our modern society. We are not alone in this. Another Young Writer for CTA, Stephen Urmston, writes that he uses puppets to help relay Bible stories – he finds the entertainment involved in storytelling helps the children to stay focussed, and to learn. (au.christiantoday.com)
Junjari plays with naughty children on the Sunshine Coast
My sister and I shared a room when we were young, and we would always argue and giggle like sisters do, when we were meant to be sleeping. Our Pop or an aunt or uncle would come to the door and say: "If you keep mucking around, that 'Junjari' will come and play with you too. He only comes when he hears kids playing up". We would be so scared that we would go straight to sleep. We probably wouldn't have listened if they just said "get to bed it's a school night" or something like that.
Stories about the 'Junjari' were always in my growing up. He was described as a little short hairy fat creature that probably was up to our knees in height and had arms and hands like a little kid and big flat feet. He had no friends and he would lurk around looking for kids to play games with in the dark. He would come and sit on the bottom of your bed and play with you.
We were soooo scared of him - not because he "looked" scary in our minds - but because he was known to only to visit kids that were mucking up. So, because we would always go straight to bed once we heard the word 'Junjari', of course we never saw him (obviously they were just trying to scare us into behaving and it worked!)
But looking back, a lot of our little 'monsters' were very effective in stopping us from doing dangerous or naughty things such wandering off, playing in dangerous places, going near certain houses, swimming in certain waterholes or beaches, or straying away from the sight of an adult. They also taught us not to steal or lie.
If we did something wrong, like all kids, we would say "I didn't do it" when it fact we did it. Pop would tell us: "If you don't tell the truth The Junjari is going to come and sit on your bed tonight; he loves little kids that tell lies". That would be enough to make us own up to whatever we did, out of fear the Junjari would come. It was very effective.
Other tribes from around my area (Sunshine Coast to the Fraser -Wide Bay-Burnet area) also have their form of the Junjari. Some even call him 'Jimmy Junjari' and have added to his story that he was a little boy that was so so naughty and mischievous that he turned into a hairy monster and never saw his family again and his only friend was the Willy Wagtail.
Willy Wagtail deceives children - all over Australia
Particular birds would also have different meaning when they appeared. The little Willy Wagtail was a playful but evil little bird that worked with the 'Junjari'. Because Junjari only comes out at night, Willy Wagtail will do his bidding in the daytime trying to play around kids and get them to follow him and lead them on a wild goose chase that would take hours and hours until it got dark. The kids would then be led to the 'Junjari' and parents and family members would search and search but be unable to find them.
Still to this day when I see a willy wagtail, purely out of habit, I will shoo him away after having words with him – and I tell my kids to stay away from him. My Nan was led off by a willy wagtail but luckily her brothers found her before it was dark.
Back up north in Eddie's country (Cape York), they also have the willy wagtail story. Other indigenous people I have met from all different areas know to keep their kids away from willy wagtail. That surprised me, to find out they all knew about willy wagtail, because each different area and tribe generally has different stories and different monsters.
Introducing more 'monsters' from different areas
Down in South Australia and in Tasmania, the 'Bunyip' is a more usual legend, with the 'Yowie' common in the high country. Eddie, up in the Cape, grew up knowing the 'Quinkins' which are tall skinny spirits that live in caves.
There are the bad Quinkins that steal kids when they are playing in an area where their parents can't see them and there are the other Quinkins that play tricks on people and laugh at them (for example if you lose something and are tearing your house apart looking for it and then next minute it appears, and the person always says "someone's playing tricks on me")
They also had the 'Yicky Buma' which is just a word for 'scary man' or 'ghost' or somethine else frightening. Eddie currently uses this with our little Nullen (aged three) when he is being naughty or going out of our sight. Eddie yells out in a scared voice "ooowaahh quick - Yicky Buma - quick" and little Nullen will come running back to us. That's just a habit with us because that is what we grew up with, and that's what has always been used whether or not we believe it now. But it definitely made us do the right thing!
The Tall Man is not allowed in our house
Our stepchildren and foster kids came to us with the 'tall man' stories. Out on the mission where they had lived before, the 'tall man' runs rampant around the place; both kids and adults all see him. He is a very evil spirit that comes from "Him down there" (the Devil) and he can turn into a dog or crow. He hovers around bad people and tells them to hang themselves or do bad things.
When our kids first came to us, they would keep looking out the window for a 'tall man'. Simply telling them the 'tall man' wasn't real wouldn't have worked, as they grew up with that belief. So Eddie and I told them that Jesus was in our home and 'tall man' is scared of Jesus, so now they cling to the idea that Jesus stops these bad spirits from coming into our home.
Storytelling is still effective
When I think about it, it is amazing that the behaviour we were taught by these stories are the same as the Bible tells us: do not lie, or steal, or envy others; and honour your elders. Eddie and I will continue to pass our storytelling traditions on to all our kids: it is a very effective way to help them learn appropriate behaviour and moral values.
Tisha Williams is an indigenous home maker and mother on the Gold Coast / Tweed. He husband Edward is an indigenous painter, training to be a carpenter and teaches their children his language and dream time stories which have parallels in the Bible.
Tisha Williams' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/tisha-williams.html