The Whowie was the terror of the Murray River in the Riverina district of Australia. He was like an enormous goanna, about twenty feet long, with six goanna legs and a huge frog-like head; he was perhaps somewhat like the huge monitor lizards that once roamed southern Australia. While very slow in his movement, he had no reason to be fast, as everyone fleed in terror from him. At night, the whowie would crawl into grounds where people were sleeping, and proceed to devour anyone who couldn’t get away. Thirty to sixty people could disappear down his cavernous mouth during one of those raids. During the day he would sleep in his cave on the Murray River, or bask along the riverbank; his movements created the sandhills of Riverina.
With the passage of time, the depredations of the whowie were starting to take their toll on the inhabitants. The water-rat tribe was first to convene, as they had suffered most from the whowie’s attention. The chief solemnly announced that they had no choice but to flee to a safer land or face certain annihilation. “I shall let you decide what we shall do”, he told his people. It was an elder who stood up and implored his people to stay. “We have lived here all our lives; we have always had plenty to eat, and much to do along the river. Now we dare not go there because of the whowie. Let us think of some other way by which we may be rid of this menace”.
A strict night guard was instated, and the aid of several other tribes was called for. The water-rats searched for the whowie, and found footprints leading into the cave’s one opening. As the whowie’s cave was many miles long, they knew it would take a week for him to return to the outside, and so they had all the time they needed.
Soon help had arrived from all over, from the kangaroo, platypus, eagle, magpie, cockatoo, lizard, snake, opossum and crow tribes, and many more besides. After holding a corroboree and spending a night in celebration, dancing, and storytelling, all of them busied themselves gathering sticks. The sticks were gathered into bundles and piled up halfway in the cave and at the entrance. Then, when they believed the whowie was soon to appear, they set the wood on fire.
Smoke and flames filled the cave, and the whowie roared and coughed angrily – but what good were his teeth and claws against smoke and fire? He struggled upwards through the cave for six days and appeared on the seventh burned, blinded, and gasping for breath. That was when the tribes descended upon him with spears, axes, and nulla-nullas, inflicting mortal wounds on their enemy. The giant lizard could only drag himself back into his cave, and was never seen again.
Now the whowie can still be heard sighing from deep inside the cave on the Murray River. He is dying, or perhaps his spirit has survived underground in some form. But either way he is harmless, and has become nothing more than a bogey with whom parents can threaten their children into good behavior.
Molnar, R. E. (2004) Dragons in the Dust. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
Reed, A. W. (1965) Myths and Legends of Australia. A. H. and A. W. Reed, Sydney.
Smith, W. R. (2003) Myths and Legends of the Australian Aborigines. Dover Publications, Mineola.