The Argyle Diamond Origin Story: The Barramundi Dreaming

The Argyle Diamond Origin Story: The Barramundi Dreaming

Image Credit: Shirley Purdie 'Barramundi Dreaming'

What makes Argyle diamonds so easy to obsess over is that the whole Argyle story is so compelling. The most alluring aspect of the Argyle story isn’t the sparkle of the stones or even the million dollar auctions; rather, it’s the ancient spiritual story of how the Argyle diamonds came into existence, known as “The Barramundi Dreaming.” There are a few versions of “The Barramundi Dreaming,” each with slight differences, but the core of the story remains consistent throughout.

The Gija and Miriwoong  people, the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Argyle Diamond Mine operates, each have their own variation of “The Barramundi Dreaming.” The actual location of the Argyle mine is known as Barramundi Gap and is a sacred indigenous women’s site. The following are terminology important to this Dreamtime story:

Ngarranggarni — The Dreamtime. Stories that provide a strong belief system through which Australian Aboriginal people understand their country and their relationship to it.

Daiwul and Jaliwung — Barramundi. A large Australian fish found in freshwater rivers and ocean seas. The freshwater fish is the variety most represented in Aboriginal artworks. Barramundi is found in the northern rivers in the Kimberley, Northern Territory and Queensland.

Kilkayi and Gelganyem — A traditional fishing method using nets made of rolled Spinifex grass.

What follows are the two best known versions of this story.

Gija version: Daiwul Ngarranggarni (Barramundi Dreaming Story), as told by Madigan Thomas:

“A barramundi is being chased by a group of old women and swims into a cave near the area now known as Barramundi Gap. As she enters the cave the women prepare to catch her with nets made from rolled Spinifex grass (a traditional Gija fishing method known as Kilkayi). The barramundi realizes she is trapped in the shallow, muddy waters of the cave entrance and tries to escape by swimming to the other end, towards Nunbung (Wesley Spring). But she cannot find a way out and returns to the entrance of the cave, where the old women are waiting with their nets.

She swims towards the women and jumps over them shedding her scales as she jumps and leaving them behind in the shallow water. The scales become the diamonds of all colours that are found there today. The barramundi then jumps through the gap in the rocks, landing in the deep, clean water of Kowinji. As the barramundi dives she turns into a white stone. Three of the old women who have chased the fish to Kowinji peer into the water to look for her and they too turn to stone, forever becoming a part of the landscape. Today there are three stone formations overlooking the creek. According to the Gija people, barramundi are not found in the area today because of the presence of the Ngarranggarni barramundi in this place.”

Miriwoong version: Jaliwung Ngarranggarni (Barramundi Dreaming Story), as told by Evelyn Hall

“A barramundi lives in the river at Dharram (Bandicoot Bar). One day, a crane fishing for food sees the barramundi and spears it with her beak, but is unable to catch it as the barramundi swims quickly away. The barramundi travels up the Dunham River, past where the Worrworrum Community is today, and on to Mandangala where she scrapes some of her scales as she passes through. Today those scales can be seen near the Mandangala community’s first gate as white rock on the hillside, most clearly visible in the late afternoon. Here the barramundi is spotted by some women who try to catch her using nets made of rolled Spinifex grass (a traditional Miriwoong fishing method known as Gelganyem). But the barramundi flicks her tail and jumps over the trap. She escapes between the two hills of Barramundi Gap. This is where the open pit at the Argyle Diamond Mine is now, and heads down to Bow River, where she comes to rest as a white rock. This rock, which can still be seen today, is quite different from all the others at Bow River.”

Both of these stories have been quoted from the Gelganyem Trust:

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