D.R. Horton, referring to the rainforest aboriginals of the Atherton tablelands, in the Encyclopedia of Aboriginal Australia, asserts "They had dreaming stories, which appear to describe volcanic eruptions and changes in vegetation and sea-level which appears to match findings in current research."
It appears that beneath the veneer of fantasy some myths may provide accurate histories of events in the distant past of the people. There is, for instance, a Ngadjon myth that explains the origin of the three volcanic crater lakes Yidyam (Lake Eacham), Barany (Lake Barrine) and Ngimun (Lake Euramo) * . It is said that two newly-initiated men broke a taboo and angered the rainbow serpent, major spirit of the area (as of most of Australia). As a result 'the camping-place began to change, the earth under the camp roaring like thunder. The wind started to blow down, as if a cyclone were coming. The camping-place began to twist and crack. While this was happening there was in the sky a red cloud, of a hue never seen before. The people tried to run from side to side but were swallowed by a crack which opened in the ground....'
This is a plausible description of a volcanic eruption. After telling the myth, in 1964, the storyteller remarked that when this happened the country round the lakes was 'not jungle - just open scrub'. In 1968, a dated pollen diagram from the organic sediments of Lake Euramo by Peter Kershaw (1970) showed, rather surprisingly, that the rain forest in that area is only about 7,600 years old. The formation of the three volcanic lakes took place at least 10,000 years ago.
A strong case can be made for to the story of the volcanic eruptions, and of the spread of rain forest, having been handed down from generation to generation for something like ten thousand years.
Dixon (1972) p.28
It has now been well established that aboriginal culture has changed and evolved over more than 40,000 years. Aboriginal society has the longest continuous cultural history in the world, its roots being back in the Pleistocene (the period from 2 million to 10,000 years ago) when the Australian continent was both larger and greener than it is today.
Flood (1989) p.16
Walkunder Arch Cave (At Chillagoe) is the oldest human occupation site yet found in North Queensland (occupation goes back more than 18000 years) but some argue that hunters had penetrated the Atherton Tablelands region 45,000 years ago. This assertion is based on the long pollen sequence from Lynch's Crater (near Butchers Creek in the heart of Ngadjonji territory), in which there is a huge increase in the amount of charcoal, a change that can only be explained, according to the pollen analyst, Prof. Peter Kershaw, by the arrival of man with his fire-stick.
Flood (1989) p.83
* Yidyam and Ngimun are Yidinyji place names. Lake Eacham is Wiingina in Ngadjon and Lake Euramo is Nuta .
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