The rainbow serpent

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 October, 2011, 12:00am


Long, long ago, at the beginning of the Dreamtime, Earth was a vast plain where nothing grew. It was flat, with no hills or valleys. It was dry and dull, with no rivers or lakes. And everything was brown. The few people who lived on Earth didn't know how to be happy and they never smiled. After all, they had nothing to smile about.

Sometimes they saw bright colours, but these were up in the sky and lasted only a short time. Sometimes after it rained, the sun shone through the last raindrops, making a curved band of colour in the blue sky.

The people down on Earth looked up in envy at the beautiful colours over their heads. But they faded quickly and were gone too soon.

One day, something very strange happened to the bow of colours in the sky. It burst into a shower of coloured sparks that scattered into every corner of the sky. Then the sparks started to form a new shape. The people on Earth watched in wonder.

Soon the colours had taken on the form of a giant serpent. Winding and coiling, its body glowing with colour, the snake twisted its way down to Earth and started slithering along through the flat, empty, colourless landscape.

With every move of his gigantic body, the Rainbow Snake dug deep trenches in the land that would soon fill with water and become rivers. His movements piled up high heaps of land that became mountains. Plants and trees grew on the mountains, and colour came to the land.

Finally, tired out after all this effort, the Rainbow Snake twisted itself around a group of huts and fell asleep.

The next morning, the villagers could not believe their eyes. Their homes were surrounded by a gigantic, colourful, breathing fence - with a head and fangs! When he opened his eyes and saw that the villagers were terrified of him, the Rainbow Snake spoke in his soft, gentle voice and told them they had nothing to fear. He liked these little creatures staring up at him, and he wanted to stay with them and find out more about what they were.

The villagers and the Rainbow Snake were soon great friends. They loved each other's company. The Rainbow Snake taught the humans how to take colours from the Earth and how to paint their bodies and how to make pictures of the things around them. He taught them to sing, to laugh and to dance. For the Rainbow Snake and the people in the village, it was a wonderful time.

Then, one dark night, a dreadful thing happened. The Rainbow Snake was sleeping, his mouth wide open as always. The elderly village chief was wandering around the village looking for a safe place to sleep. He saw a cave, walked inside and settled down in the warm darkness. The Rainbow Snake felt a tickle on his tongue, snapped his jaws tight and swallowed.

The following morning, a search party set out to look for the village chief. The Rainbow Snake stayed silent. His stomach was pleasantly full, but what could he do?

Suddenly, the Rainbow Snake opened his mouth, and the air was filled with birdsong. He opened his mouth wider, and out of his jaws flew a beautiful bird with rainbow feathers. The bird soared into the sky, hung in the air over the village and then flew off over the rivers and over the mountains.

A single feather dropped down into the village. It was all the colours of the rainbow.


1 What was Earth like at the beginning of the Dreamtime?

2 Where was the only place that the people on Earth could see colour?

3 What happened to the rainbow?

4 How were the rivers and mountains on Earth formed?

5 What happened to the village chief?

6 What did the village chief become?


1 The Earth was flat, brown and boring.

2 The only colours were in the sky when a rainbow appeared.

3 It changed into a gigantic snake.

4 They were formed by the Rainbow Snake's movement as it crawled over the earth.

5 The Rainbow Snake swallowed him accidentally.

6 He became a brightly coloured bird.