By Michael Laurie
Dirrangun was a very powerful old woman.
The story of Dirrangun is such an important part of all three neigh-bouring groups within the Clarence Valley of Northern NSW, the language groups of the Gumbayngirr, Bundjalung and Yaegl people. Dirrangun was a special old woman and she is still here, she is a part of the land wadyarr and the sea aagal.
A long time ago in our Dreaming, Ngarrayaw our ancestors camped along the coast on Yaegl country. In this particular camp ngurha was a family of two young boys as well as their mother and father. The father was Dirrangun’s son. The Dirrangun camped by herself across the estuary and not many people would like to visit her as she was known to be greedy and unkind. It was common that people like the Dirrangun would camp by themselves as they were deemed to be clever and have been gifted with special powers.
Unfortunately, her son’s wife became ill and sadly she eventually died at their camp. This caused great sadness and grief for the family. The boys were missing their mother. Not long after the mother’s passing the father spoke to his sons and told them they were going to visit and stay with their grandmother, despite knowing she was often greedy and unkind. The father and the two boys jumped in their canoe wuulbiny and paddled out into the ocean. The ocean was calmer then and was often flat enough to travel, so the father and his sons proceeded on their journey to Dirrangun’s camp ngurha.
Upon arrival Dirrangun was not the most welcoming to her son and grandsons. She was not pleasant and nurturing to them. She did not show her son and grandsons where things were in her ngurha, such as where the water springs were located, where food sources were and other places of importance. A few days went by and for the father and his sons that feeling of not being welcome was still there. The father said to his son’s that they were going to leave camp and travel north as Dirrangun was not looking after them. The father and his boys walked down to the beach. The father jumped in the middle of the canoe wuulbiny with one son in the front, one in the back, and started paddling north.
During this time the old woman was on the shore yaluuwi of the beach, yelling out for them to stay with her, but the father and the sons continue to paddle north. Some time had passed and the father and his sons were in the waters of Bundjalung Nyanbul country around Ballina. At this time Dirrangun was back at her ngurha thinking how she could get her boys back. Dirrangun grabbed her digging stick and speared into the ground before she started to sing. The old woman was using her powers to sing to the ocean, calling in the waves to make them big in an effort to bring her boys back to her.
The ocean started to get really intense and the father and her grandsons started to feel the Dirrangun’s power through the massive waves. They got caught in the big swell, causing their canoe wuulbiny to capsize. The father and sons couldn’t swim back to safety. The father and his two sons drowned and their bodies sank, turning into a rocky reef on the ocean floor. The canoe wuulbiny was smashed up against the headland by the large swell and broke into small bits and also turned into stone, forming part of the rocky coast around Ballina.
Dirrungan was so upset about what she done to her boys that she would walk up and down the beach, crying and screaming out for them to return. She can still be heard to this day along country during the strong winds at night. A couple of years went by, and the Dirrangun deeply regretted her actions on what she done, so she dived into the water and turned herself into a big reef at the mouth of the Biirrinba (Clarence River) which is called Dirrangun Reef.
The stories our old people share teach us so much. They give us our lore, our way of being, our creation stories of country, our language, our song, our dance, our animals and our connection to Miimi (Mother) earth. When we can connect with Miimi we can start to feel these stories. We absorb those values and lessons and let them enrich our lives. In this lore story there are so many valuable lessons about respect, how to treat each other and ourselves, and not do what Dirrangun did to people in her life. We as people have opportunity to learn from Dirrangun and fulfill our responsibilities and obligations to each other as they are of great importance. In a traditional sense to share and look after people who come into country and our ngurha. Not only nourish our bodies with food and water but walk country together and nourish our spirit through sharing story, dance, song and ceremonies to ensure people feel valued and have a sense of identity and purpose wherever their travels may take them along this beautiful country. How not to abuse power: often people who are in power abuse it and overlook the important things in life such as respect, building and maintaining relationships, and caring for the greater good. This story also teaches respect for the ocean – watching the tides and feeling the winds and what way the swell is going.
This is why Aboriginal people have so many different stories around country. They are filled with knowledge, and different stories are often filled with the same important values. For me when I connect to Miimi I feel them old spirits all around me. When I spend time in my favourite spots I sit, watch and feel country before walking down on the beach and feeling the sand on my feet as I paddle out in the aagal (saltwater). I feel my ancestors around me. I always ask Dirrangun to protect me and other people who connect with the ocean.
I surf with friends who add so much value to my life and the communities we live in. They no doubt feel the power of this story and live by them lessons every day. Even though they may not recognise it, I gently remind them of their positive contribution to country and people in our communities. I often sit on my board and reflect on this old story and let them lessons into my spirit. That’s the beauty of country… spend enough time in it and it will share with you, if you’re open to it through listening and looking. Next time you surf or experience the coast I hope you can feel country and let it be a positive experience that leaves you a better person, a person filled with humility, love, care, gratitude, respect and leave with thoughts on how we can give back to Miimi and look after her.
Our old stories are maybe more valuable in our current times more than ever and hope that people from all walks of life can listen to not only this story but all Aboriginal people’s stories around this amazing country.
My name is Michael Laurie Jnr. I am a traditional custodian and am proud to have links to Yaegl, Gumbayngirr and Bundjalung countries. I am honoured to share this story with you, a story that was shared to me by my old people. Yaarri Yarraang. Farewell