Gundungurra Creation Story of Jenolan Caves
For tens of thousands of years, Jenolan has been part of the culture of the local Indigenous people. This beautiful and mysterious place holds special significance to the Gundungurra people who knew it as 'Binomil' or 'Bin-oo-mur'.
According to Gundungurra Elder, Old Jimmy Lynch, who lived the latter part of his life in the Gully in Katoomba, until his death in 1913, "The old natives knew the caves. They penetrated them as far as the subterranean water, carrying sick people to be bathed in this water, which they belived to have great curative powers. Sick people were carried there from considerable distances."
Gundungurra people's knowledge of the caves goes back a long way, and there is a dreamtime creation story about how this whole countryside came into being. The story describes an almighty struggle between two ancestral creator spirits, one a giant eel-like creature, Gurangatch, an incarnation of the ancestral rainbow serpent, and the other , a large native cat or quoll, Mirrangan.
The scuffle resulted in the gouging out of the land to form the river systems of the Cox and Wollondillly Rivers, much of which is now under Sydney's water storage lake behind Warragamba Dam. In this dreamtime creation story, Gurangatch and Mirragan visited Jenolan as well as Wombeyan (Whambeyan) Caves, which were already part of the landscape.
The Story of Gurangatch and Mirragan
When visiting the Burragorang Valley in 1900-1901, R.H. Mathews, the ethnographer and surveyor, met with Gundungurra people, and recorded their creation story of the rivers in the area. The legend was first published in 1908, in a German anthropological journal.
Gu-rang-atch was one of the Burringilling - Dreamtime spirits. His form was partly fish and partly reptile. One of his camping places was in the large, deep junction of the Wollondilly and Wingeecaribbee rivers. The waterhole and the country around it are called Murrawall, in Gundungurra.
Gurangatch used to lie in the shallow water, near the bank, in the middle of the day, to sun himself. One day, Mirrangan the tiger cat, a renowned fisherman, who used to search only for the largest kinds of fish, happened to catch a glimpse of Gurangatch's eye, which shone like a star through the water. Mirrangan tried to spear him, but he escaped into the centre of the large waterhole, which was very deep. Then, Mirragan went into the bush, cut a lot of hickory bark, or millewa, and stacked it in heaps under the water, at different places around the lagoon. He hoped to make Gurangatch sick, so that he would come to the surface. The poisoned water made Gurangatch very sick, but it was not strong enough to kill him.
A disappointed Mirrangan went into the bush again, to cut more hickory bark, to increase the poison in the water. As soon as Gurangatch saw him going, he suspected what he was doing and began tearing up the ground along the valley of the Wollondilly. This caused the water in the lagoon to flow after him and bear him along. He went on, forming several miles of river channel. Then, he burrowed and tunnelled under the ground, for some distance, at right angles. He came out again, on a high rocky ridge, on one side of the valley, where there is now a spring known as "Rocky Waterhole", or Bir-rim-bun-nung-a-lai, because it contains birrimbunds or sprats. There is a subterranean passage from Rocky Waterhole to Wollondilly. Sprats are found there as well as in the river.
Gurangatch raised his head above the waterhole, and pushed out his tongue, which flashed like lightning. From this ridge, he saw Mirrangan starting out from Murraural along the trail.
Gurangatch then returned along his burrow, or tunnel, to the Wollondilly, where he had previously left off, and continued making a channel for himself. When he reached the junction of Guineacor River, he turned left and made a few miles of the channel of that stream. Coming to a very rocky place, which was hard to excavate, he changed his mind, turned back to the junction and resumed his former course. He had some difficulty getting away from this spot, and made a long, deep bend, or loop, in the Wollondilly, which almost doubles back on itself at that place. When Gurangatch got down to where Jock's Creek joins the Wollondilly, he turned up Jock's Creek, excavating a watercourse for himself. Being a great magician, he could make water flow uphill as easily as downhill. On reaching the source of Jock's Creek, he burrowed under the range, coming up inside of Wambeegang caves, known as Wombeyan these days.
We must now return to Mirragan. When he came back to Murraural and saw how Gurangatch escaped, he followed down the river after him, going on and on, until he overtook him at Wombeyan. Mirragan did not go into any of the passages. He went on top of the rocks, dug a hole as deep as he could go and prodded a long pole down it, as far as it would reach. He wanted to frighten Gurangatch out of his retreat, as we might poke a kangaroo or other creature out of a hollow log. Not succeeding with the first hole, he dug another and still another, shoving the pole down each, as before. There are still several weather-worn pot holes on top of the Wombeyan caves, which are said to be those made by Mirragan.
When Gurangatch saw that his enemy was continuing his pursuit, he started off one morning, at daylight, through his tunnel, or burrow, and returned down Jock's Creek, till he came out into the Wollondilly again. Mirragan's family lived several miles farther down. When they heard Gurrangatch coming, and the water roaring after him like a flood, they ran away, up the side of the hill, in great terror. Mirragan himself appeared on the scene, and his wife began yelling at him for meddling with Gurangatch. She begged him to give up the chase. But he wouldn't listen. He went on after Gurangatch, and overtook him at "Slippery Rock" or Woonggaree. There, they fought for a long time, which made the rock smooth and slippery.
At last, Gurangatch got away and went downwards, making the water flow after him. Every time Mirragan overtook him, Gurangatch hit him with his big club, or boondee, and Gurangatch struck Mirragan heavily with his tail. This continued down to the junction of Cox's River, where Gurangatch turned left, digging out the channel. He went on, till he came to Billa-goo-le Creek, or "Black Hollow". He travelled some distance, but turned back, and resumed his course up the Cox River, to the junction of Kedumbar Creek, now known as Katoomba. He dug up Kedumbar Creek, as far up as Reedy Creek, turning into it a little way. Then, he formed a deep water hole, where he rested.
Then, Gurangatch journeyed back to the Cox River. He worked his way for some distance, and formed the waterhole Karrangatta. To dodge his enemy, he burrowed under ground, coming out on Mee-oo-wun, where he made a very deep canyon. Returning to the waterhole, he made his way up to the junction of Kanangra, where he and Mirragan had another fierce encounter. Gurangatch went on up the Cox River to Harry's Creek.
Then, he excavated the valley of Harry's Creek, till he came to Binomil, the present Jenolan Caves, where he had the good fortune to meet with some of this relatives. Gurangatch was weary from the hard work, and sore from all the blows he had received during his journey. He suspected that his enemy was still pursuing him, and he begged his friends to escort him away. So they took him out of the caves, and led him over the main range, into a deep waterhole, called Joolundoo.
While this was going on, Mirragan had arrived close to Binomil or Jenolan Caves, but he was very tired and lay down on a little hill to rest. After resting, he searched about the caves and found tracks of where Gurangatch had been staying, and also the tracks of where he had been taken away to Joolundoo by his friends. Mirragan was worn out, and when he saw that his enemy was with his family, he decided to get help. He thought it would be wise to block Gurangatch's escape. So he set out to build a wall of rock, Wundakmaloi which is the sandstone escarpment between Jenolan caves and Joolundoo.
Mirragan then hurried away to his friends out West. On reaching their camp, they were eating roasted eels, and offered him one.
Although he was weary and hungry, he answered, "No, no, this is too small a thing for me to eat. I am chasing a great big eel and want you to come and help me."
As this great eel was in a very deep waterhole, he asked for the very best divers in the camp. They selected Billagoola the shag, Gool-a-gwan-gwan the diver, Gundharen the black duck and Gooharring the wood duck. When Mirragan returned to Joolundoo with his divers, the black duck dived into the pool, but returned after a while saying he was unable to get down to the bottom. The Wood duck also dived, but without success. The diver bird, Goolagwangwan was next to go down, and after a considerable time, brought a small eel or Gurangatch to the surface.
He said to Mirragen, "Is this what you have been after?"
Mirrigan replied rudely, "No! that is too small; try again."
Goolagwangwan dived down a second time and brought up an eel, but Mirragan would not look at it. The shag tried to take hold of the eel, but its head and tail was jammed into the crevices of the rock, so that he could not shift it. Being a very strong and expert diver, he pulled a large piece of flesh off the back of Gurangatch and started up again.
On reaching the surface, Mirragan explained with delight, "That is a piece of the eel I was chasing."
When the meat was cooked, Mirragan and his diver friends had a great feast, and they returned to their homes.
Along the course of the Wollondilly, as well as along the Cox, there are big waterholes, which are Gurangatch's resting places. They are still inhabited by Gurangatch's descendants.