The old man and the boy were sitting by the big river.

They both sat there very quietly, looking at the water as it passed them by.

“Pop, where does all this water come from?”

“Oh this water comes from many places and it’s only halfway there.”

“Get out of it Pop. What do you mean it’s only halfway there?”

“It’s on a journey boy. On it’s way down to the sea. This water hasn’t got there yet.”

“What’s it going to do when it gets there?” the boy asked the old man.

The old man answered, “Become an ocean.”

The boy sat back, thinking to himself about all that water in the ocean.

Then he said out loud, “But where is the river coming from before it gets to here?”

“Like I said. It comes from many places.”

The boy growled at him, “How can one river come from many places?”

“Because rivers do. Many rivers make up this river and all those rivers start in different places. You’ve been to Aunty Noony’s haven’t you?”

“Yeah with Dad. Took us ages to get there. She lives by the river!”

“Well that same water there in front of Aunty Noony’s place is in this river, even though her river’s got a different name to this river.”

“You’ve lost me Pop.”

“Look at that gum tree there.

“What’s a gum tree got to do with it?”

“See all them branches on the tree. Follow any one of them down with your finger and they all join up. They’re like little rivers all running into one another until there is only one big river, like that tree’s got only one big trunk.”imgres-2

“That still doesn’t tell me all the places they come from,” said the boy.

“Well most rivers start in the high country. The rain starts them and all the water starts running downhill and across the land. Some rivers just come up from the ground. Bet you didn’t know there are rivers under the ground?”

“No I didn’t.”

The boy thought for awhile about rivers underground and what they might look like.
Then he asked the old man, “But how did the rivers get dug out for the water to run in? Did people do it?”

“No, my boy. A big snake made this river bed.”

“How can a snake make a river?“

“He slithered across the land and made the river to hold the water so we’d have water to drink and fish to eat. That’s why when you see a river from up high it looks like a giant snake.”

The old man scratched the shape of a snake in the dirt with his stick.

The boy remembered hearing about the snake somewhere before and got all excited.

“It wasn’t a brown snake was it Pop! Or a black snake! It was a rainbow snake, wasn’t it Pop! He made the mountains too.”

“That he did.”

“Did you know that even today you can still see that rainbow snake?” Pop asked.

“Where? Is he in a zoo?”

“No, no. No one can catch the rainbow snake. He’s right in front of you.”

The boy jumped. “Where? Where’s the snake?”

The old man replied, “If you look there where the sun hits the water, you’ll see all the colours of a rainbow. See ‘em? That’s him.”

The old man and the boy sat there again very quietly by the big river staring at the sun on the water and at all the different colours.

“Did you see him make them Pop? Did you see the snake make the river beds when you were a boy?”

“No I didn’t see him make the river beds, they were already there. They got made a long, long time ago, long before I was born.”

“That must have been a long time ago Pop.”

“It was my boy, it was. It was a long, long time ago.”

Rights Reserved T J Bishop

11 Responses to “The old man, the boy and the big river.”

  1. Janine

    Love it Tim. I want to use it at uni … permission? I’ll note the source.

  2. Tim Bishop

    Thanks Janine. You’re welcome to the story. I had to be careful with this story, not to be the teller of this river’s creation story. The old man chooses to tell the boy that and we don’t know specifically who this old man is, that’s up to the reader. What I would hope from this story for kids is to encourage the mix of knowledge of natural forces of creation and spiritual beliefs of creation that are worldwide, in the same way the old man encourages the boy to think. And that rivers hold stories. I’d hope from this that kids would seek out more stories, or even create their own. I love the mood of my story. Thanks.

  3. Lily Shearer

    Great story Tim and that’s how the Barwon River, Narran Lake n our underground water holes that make up the bore baths at Lightenin Ridge were made, the Rainbow Serpent. We believe Baiame rested the Rainbow Srpent in the Macintyre River at Moree, as he will be needed again when our country is at it’s lowest ebb, not too far away I would say. Thanks for sharing and love hearing about Aunty Nooney 😉

    • Tim Bishop

      Oh Lily. Thank YOU so much for sharing here with others about your people’s country and your people’s beliefs about your waterways and water holes. Just beautiful to read. Strangely, I had the Barwon River in my mind at the time as I wrote and had the boy going out to Bre with his Dad to visit Aunty Nooney but wasn’t going to assume that this creation belief belonged to this country. Thank you for telling us what you have told. I couldn’t resist though keeping Aunty Nooney in the story. Such a great name and she made a huge impression on me when I met her. Love to all.

  4. Andre@

    A very nice,amazing story. What does a Rainbow serpent look like? In my culture and Tradition, we have different tribe that are The cows tribe, wilder beast, lion tribe and they say that this creature will kill you when you try crossing a river if you are from the cow or wilder beast tribe. And they say if you are from the cow or wilder beast tribe when you cross a river you have to carry along a full bottle of blood and when the creature tries to attack you pour the blood at the spot. And our elderly told me that this serpent has some kind of powers that it uses to stop your boat or canoe. then it hits the boat with its horns then it sucks you into a deep hole at the bottom of the river.

  5. Tim Bishop

    Hi there Andre. Thank you for your response to this story. I really appreciate hearing people’s responses and I’d love to know the culture you are from. This story clearly resonates with you. The cultural story you have told of your river creature is a fascinating one. Understandably I have never seen the rainbow serpent but there are many traditional artworks that depict the serpent. The rainbow serpent is a spirit of creation. The creator of the lands and waters. The rainbow serpent is depicted as a very large snake the colour of all the colours of a rainbow and doesn’t have horns. You may also enjoying reading this story as it talks about dangerous water spirits. Thank you and all the best to you Andre.


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