Why Fishes Inhabit the Water – Australian Aboriginal Myth

In olden times there were some people who had the form of different kinds of fish, but they always roamed about and hunted on the dry land the same as other folk. One day they were camped beside the Barwan river, under a shady tree which grew on the top of a steep bank, at the foot of which was a large, deep waterhole. A heavy thunderstorm came suddenly, and almost extinguished their fire. Immediately after the rain, a strong, piercing wind arose, and everybody became very cold. An old man, Thuggai, the yellow-belly, told his children to try and re-kindle the fire. As they did not succeed, he asked Biemuga, the bony fish, to have a try. Then he invited Kumbal, the bream, and some others, but they all failed, because the wood was very wet on account of the recent heavy shower. There was among the people a Ngulamanbu, a little fish about four or five inches long, and he said to the yellow-belly, Thuggai, “Ask my father Guddhu, the cod-fish, to light the fire for us. He is a clever conjurer and I am sure he will succeed.” Thuggai accordingly made the desired request. Guddhu then placed some pieces of bark on the almost extinguished fire, and began to blow the few remaining live coals vigorously with his breath, which caused the fire to show signs of reviving.

All the people immediately crowded close to Guddhu on the windward side, keeping their backs towards the cold wind and their faces in the direction of the fire, in the hope of soon being able to warm themselves. When Guddhu observed this, he asked them to get farther back and give him more room. They then all went round to the leeward side, which allowed the wind to play freely on the smouldering embers; which caused the bark and wood to gradually ignite. Guddhu added plenty of fuel, because he wished to make a good fire which would warm everybody.

On the leeward side there was a very narrow space between the fire and the top of the steep bank already mentioned, which was only of sufficient width to afford standing room for the occupants. At that moment there came a sudden, strong gust of wind which fanned the fire into a large sheet of flame and compelled all the people, including Guddhu himself, to step backwards to escape being scorched, whereupon they all fell headlong down the bank into the water. The strength of the gale increased and swept the fire also down the bank into the river. The people who were swimming about gathered around the fire, which continued to burn under the water, and they have remained there ever since. This is why it is always warmer under the water on a bleak, chilly day than it is in the cold air on the surface.