A Fish Story

a fish storyAlthough this story was described as an “Australian” folktale when published in 1910, Australia is too young a nation to have folktales of its own. This is an Australian . Like those of many other ancient cultures, it tries to explain the meaning of every-day things in the world: in this case how fish got into rivers, and why rivers always feel warmer if you swim in them on a cold day.

English Learner Vocabulary Help

The words and expressions in our Elementary level Simplified English story which are not in our 800 word list are: , , , , , , , , , , and .

There is also a word that is in our Elementary word list but has a meaning in the story which is different to the one most commonly used. The fish tribe decide to rest by the steep bank of a river. The word here has nothing to do with money, but means the higher ground along the edge of the river.

General Comments on the Story

lilac fairy bookOur source for the story was The Lilac Fairy Book, one of a series of twelve collections of folk and fairy tales for children edited by Andrew Lang. This is the last book in the series, and was first published in 1910. It can be downloaded as an e-book from Project Gutenberg here. An audiobook is available from Librivox here.

Lang’s wife Leonora rewrote many of the non-European stories in the Fairy Book collection to make them suitable for children. Although Lang did not name his source for A Fish Story, it was almost certainly a story tiled Why Fishes Inhabit the Water. This is attributed to the Kamilaroi aboriginal tribe, and was published in the British Folklore Journal in 1908. We have included a copy above for anyone interested in comparing the two. If you are interested in how well the original story has survived the last 100 years, you can read a modern version titled Thuggai the Yellowbelly here. I haven’t seen any other aboriginal myths that feature Thuggai, but one of the other characters in the story (Ghuddu the Murray Cod) appears quite frequently in aboriginal creation stories.

There are two puzzling aspects to all this. Why did Lang change the title, and why didn’t he acknowledge the source. Lang was so famous by 2010 that he had no need to steal material. Moreover, the original title defines the story quite well; the new title adds nothing. The person who contributed the story to the Folklore Journal was Australian surveyor R. H. Mathews. Although Mathews was a self-taught anthropologist with no university qualifications, Lang is said to have regarded him highly; so much so that in 1903 he had gone on record praising Mathews’s work on tribal marriage customs.


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aborigine(adj: aboriginal) Of or relating to the people and things that have been in a region from the earliest time. Used especially when referring to the native peoples of Australia.
(n: aborigine pl aborigines) 1. A member of the original people to live in an area. 2. A member of any of the native peoples of Australia. 9000

myth(n: myth pl myths) 1. A story based on tradition or legend which continues to have a deep symbolic meaning within a cultural group, especially one dealing with gods, heroes etc. 2. An idea or story that is believed by many people but that is not true. It's a myth that money brings happiness. 5000
(n: mythology, noncount) A collection of myths. We have been studying Greek mythology. 7000

ash(n: ash pl ashes) The soft gray powder that remains after something has been completely burned and destroyed by fire. Cigarette ash. The ashes of a campfire. 4000

(n: bark pl barks) 1. The outer covering of a tree. 2. The loud sound made by a dog when it is angry or excited.
(v: bark, barks, barked, barking) 1. To make a loud sound like that made by a dog when it is angry or excited. The dog barked at the stranger. 2. To shout or say (something) in a loud and angry way. The captain barked orders to his men. 5000

tree bark barking dog

blow(v: blow, blows, blew, blown, blowing) 1. [of a current of air] To be moving. The wind blew more strongly. 2. To cause air or something carried by air to move. Please blow into this tube!
(n: blow pl blows) 1. A hard hit using a part of the body or an object. 2. A sudden event that causes trouble, damage, sorrow, etc. 1000

flame(n: flame pl flames) The hot, yellow colored gas that can be seen when a fire is burning. 3000

glow(v: glow, glows, glowed, glowing) 1. To give out heat or light without any flame. 2. To have pink cheeks because of heat, cold, emotion etc. 3. To look happy or excited about something. 3000

kneel(v: kneel, kneels, knelt, kneeling) To move your body so that one or both of your knees are on the floor. 5000

match(n: match pl matches) 1. A short thin piece of wood with a special tip that produces fire when it is rubbed against something else. He lit a match. 2. Someone or something that is equal to or as good as another person or thing. She has finally met her match at arguing. 3. A contest between two or more players or teams. A soccer match. 1000

rubbing(v: rub, rubs, rubbed, rubbing) To move something [such as your hand or an object] back and forth along the surface of something else while pressing. 2000

steep(adj: steep, steeper, steepest) [of a mountain, hill, stairs etc] Almost straight up and down; rising or falling very sharply. (สูงชัน) 3000

tribe(n: tribe pl tribes) A group of people that includes many families and relatives who have the same language, customs, and beliefs. (เผ่า เผ่าพันธุ์) 6000

(adj: worse) Comparative form of 'bad'. 1. Lower in quality; less pleasant, attractive, appealing, effective, useful, etc. Her second book was worse than her first one. (แย่ลง) 2. More unpleasant, serious or severe. Her first book was bad, but her second one is even worse. Waiting for exam results is worse than sitting the exams. (แย่กว่า) 3. In poorer health than before; not so well. I feel worse today than I did yesterday. (ไม่ค่อยดี) 1000

(n: bank pl banks) 1. A business where people keep their money, borrow money, etc., or the building where such a business operates. 2. The higher ground that is along the edge of a river, stream, etc. 1000

money bank river bank

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