The Crocodile Dreaming Story, or Awurrapun in the Batyamal language, is one that comes from the Daly River, about 230 kms south of Darwin. It is a subject that sisters, Helen McCarthy Tyalmuty and Kerry Madawyn McCarthy, like to paint. It is a sad story that shows how the salt water crocodile got its skin and it ties both sisters back to their beloved grandfather, the noted canoe maker and fisherman, Harry Limen Morgan.
This is how Helen and Kerry McCarthy tell the story:
Many years ago a man lived at a small creek that runs into the Daly River. He was an excellent fisherman, admired by all in his tribe as he could always be relied upon to bring food into the camp from his fishing trips. He would provide not only for his family with his daily catch but for other tribes as well. All the women admired his hunting skills. His legendary status grew over time and while the admiration remained, jealousies also started to surface. Some men became concerned that their wives held the fisherman in far too high esteem.
One night he went out fishing and was following by some jealous men from the tribe, who had devised a plan to kill him. While he was fishing, the men crept up behind the man and threw his own fishing net over him. The man struggled and rolled, trying to extract himself from the net but the net only wound itself tighter and tighter, and then men tied him in it and threw him into the river. As he thrashed about in the net, big swirls and and bubbles appeared. Eventually, his spirit left his body and the other men hung his body, still wrapped in the fishing net, from a tree. When the fisherman did not return, his wife grew worried and went out looking for him. Eventually, she found him. Overcome with grief, she wrapped herself in her own fishing net and rolled into the river. As she thrashed about the net dug into her skin. Her spirit left her body and she could then join her husband. When the people of the tribe found her body, they hung her next to the body of her husband.
Some of Helen McCarthy Tyalmuty’s paintings of this story show the man and the woman hanging in their fishing nets. One can see where their skin comes through the nets, bulging out in squares, much like the skin of a crocodile. Kerry Madawyn McCarthy’s paintings tend to focus more on the skin patterns made by the husband and wife that became the shapes on the skin of the crocodile. It was in this way that the salt water crocodile came to the Top End. The story goes that the husband did not die, nor did the wife. They turned into salt water crocodiles that continue to reproduce.