Moon, Water, Bronzewing and the Origin of Death

October 27th, 2013, 6am

The Common Bronzewing features in a number of Aboriginal Dreamtime stories, perhaps in part because this attractive pigeon is known as a reliable guide to water sources. Certainly, at our place, you can often find a pair in the vicinity of our old birdbath, which we daily fill with fresh water, especially in summer.

[AW Howitt,][1] the Australian Anthropologist, retells the story of Bronzewing’s role in the origin of death. (Interestingly, his source is attributed to the Kulin people via his daughter Mary.) Apparently, Moon, when he was a man who lived on earth, wanted to give some old Kulin a drink of water that would allow them to return to life after death. (Just as Moon himself did regularly.) Unfortunately, Bronzewing refused to allow access to the water, which made the moon very angry.

That’s all Howitt tells us about this dreamtime moment, but I recently ran across a verse by the Australian bush balladeer CJ Dennis, which gives a pretty accurate account of the experience and behaviour of the Bronzewing:


They say I am a shy, wild thing,/ That seeks the wild bush glade./ Quick to be gone on whirring wing,/ Where stangers would invade;/ But well I know what all birds know:/ The voice of friend, the tread of foe;/ And deem it wise to fear the worst/ Till I have knowledge of the first./

Afar my muffled drumming sounds,/ Where tangled dogwood grows;/ But when you tread my feeding grounds/ I am alert for foes./ A flash of iridescent wing,/ And I am but a vanished thing./ Gone to be heard and seen no more,/ In spite of all your forest lore.

1: A. W. Howitt

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David Wade Chambers

Born in Oklahoma: 30 years in US. 6 years in Canada, 40 years in Australia. Academic field: history and philosophy of science. Currently, teach indigenous studies online at Institute of American Indian Arts (Santa Fe, NM) and Brandon University (Manitoba). Come visit our B&B on Australia's Great Ocean Road. Mate's Rates for Hi community! (

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