Episode 16 – Cleverman

This week on MYTH, it’s time to head down under for a story from the Australian Aborigines.  In this episode, you’ll learn that creepy caves are always bad, that bones can be magical, and that some parents will go to serious extremes for their kids.  Then, in Gods and Monsters, it’s a very good reason to be afraid of fig trees.  This is the Myths Your Teacher Hated podcast, where I tell the stories of cultures around the world in all of their original, bloody, uncensored glory.  Modern tellings of these stories have become dry and dusty, but I’ll be trying to breathe new life into them.  This is Episode 16, “Cleverman.”  As always, this episode is not safe for work.

  • Looking back over the episodes I’ve done so far, I realized that Australia is the only continent I haven’t covered yet, so it is time.  This particular story comes from the Gundungurra people in south-eastern New Wales in Australia.  It tells of the Jamison Valley at the foot of the Blue Mountains, and a rocky outcrop there known as the Three Sisters, and how they came to be during the dreamtime, the gun-yung-ga-lung (although the term dreamtime may be a mistranslation – it has been argued that eternal or uncreated time is a better translation).  It is a time of power, when gods and heroes walked the formless earth to give it shape.
  • In that long ago time, the land of Godwana was a peaceful place, beautiful and pristine.  There lived Tyawan, a Clever Man of the Gundungurra people.  This was an important position, with the clever man acting as a sort of shaman, a conduit to the power of the dreamtime.  They typically fell into one of three categories: a medicine man, or doctor, tasked with healing the body; a religious teacher and soothsayer, who taught the tribes the things they needed to learn about the forming world; and a spirit man, a judge and executioner, who meted out punishment as needed with the power of underworld spirits.  The story doesn’t say, but based on everything that happens, I suspect Tyawan was a spirit man.  Tyawan had three lovely daughters, whom he treasured above all else, named Meenhi, Wimlah, and Gunnedoo. 
  • Not far from this beautiful rainforest lay a deep valley, where men feared to tread.  The reason for that fear lay in a deep, disgusting hole in the heart of the valley.  A massive bunyip lived there, and everyone was fucking right to be scared of him. 
  • The bunyip is a large mythical creature that lurked in the swamps, creeks, riverbeds, watering holes, and billabongs (or oxbow lake).  The word roughly translates to “devil” or “evil spirit”, with a form that varied wildly depending on the tribe telling the story.  The Moorundi people described as something like an enormous starfish, although it was hard to pin down a description.  The most common description, which works well for this story, is a massive water creature, approximately 13 feet long, with a dog’s face on a crocodile’s head, dark fur, flippers, a horse-like tail, and walrus-like tusks, horns, or a duck’s bill.  It had massive claws, but preferred to grab its victims in a bear hug and crush them to death.  Basically, it’s pants-shitting nightmare fuel out of a Lovecraftian horror.
  • This particular bunyip had developed a taste for human flesh, and in particular, the succulent meat of women and young girls.  It had an ear-shatteringly loud, harsh, and horrible cry that it would sound when closing in on its prey, which is a terrible hunting technique, but I think the bunyip just liked to torture his victims before finally putting them out of their misery.  He was an evil fucker like that.  If you heard his cry, your only hope was to run as fast as you could and hope he caught someone else before he caught you.  Everyone feared the bunyip, and with good reason.
  • Unfortunately, the bunyip’s cave was near a main road, so from time to time, people were forced to pass it. On those shitty days, the unlucky party had to sneak past the hole in the valley wall as quietly as possible and pray to whatever gods might be listening that the bunyip was a heavy sleeper.  Usually, it worked.  Usually.
  • Tyawan was one of the unlucky sons of bitches who had to pass the bunyip’s lair more often than most.  It wasn’t too bad when he was by himself, but it got pretty hair-raising when his daughters tagged along.  His daughters were great and everything, but sneaky they were not.  One day, as they walked carefully down the path, Tyawan could hear the great monster snoring in the cave.  Behind him, the Clever Man heard his daughters start whispering and giggling.  Ahead of him, he could hear the bunyip’s snores becoming ragged.  Shit Shit shit, he’s waking up!  Frantically, Tyawan clamped his hands over two of his daughter’s mouths and gave the third his best “daddy’s pissed off” glare.  All four froze, barely daring to breathe, until the bunyip’s breathing slowed back down. 
  • After that day, Tyawan decided he couldn’t risk bringing his girls with him past the bunyip.  He realized he needed a better plan.  The next time he had to go down that dangerous ass road, he stood at the top of the valley and looked at the path.  There was a cliff overlooking the road where his daughters would be able to see him the whole way.  Better yet, he’d be able to keep an eye on them too.  It was far enough away from the bunyip that their whispering and giggling wouldn’t reach his cave, and the rocky wall of the valley was steep enough that they should have protection.  If their last brush with imminent stupidity was any gauge, they’d need it.
  • Tyawan took Meenhi, Wimlah, and Gunnedoo up to the cliff and told them to wait there, watch for him to come back, and for god’s sake, keep quiet.  They smiled and waved as he went down the path into the valley.  By the time he was halfway down, he couldn’t hear them whispering anymore, and he smiled.  This might just work.
  • He had reached the point where he had to channel his inner Elmer Fudd and be vewy vewy quiet when he heard a commotion from above.  He looked up.  Motherfucker.  Apparently, a centipede had wandered onto their cliff and Meenhi had panicked.  He’d heard her screaming and scrambling for a rock, and looked up just in time to see her hurl said rock at the disgusting insect just trying to get along in the world.  Meenhi didn’t have terribly good aim, so she missed the damned bug and threw the rock careening over the side of the cliff and into the valley below.  It landed on the stony floor of the valley with a resounding CRACK that nearly made the three girls wet themselves.  Tyawan was too busy being afraid of what was about to wake up to be startled by the sound itself.
  • The shattering rock echoed off the valley walls and the stone cliff.  Birds took flight in terror, and everything unlucky enough to be in the valley and unable to fly froze praying that the bunyip wouldn’t awake.  Even the fairies stopped what they were doing to listen and pray that shit was not about to get very, very bloody.  The echo started to fade, and Tyawan felt the tension start to drain from his shoulders as pretty much everything in the forest let out a quiet sigh of relief.  Another large crack shook the valley.  Tyawan looked up at the ledge, ready to curse those daft bitches for dropping another rock and definitely getting his ass killed, but the sight of the cliff stopped him short. 
  • His daughters hadn’t made the new sound.  The falling rock from Meenhi had apparently fallen on a cleavage line in the rock and started a chain reaction.  As he watched, cracks spread up the cliff face, widening quickly, until a section of the rock wall collapsed under its own weight and fell.  The resulting landslide took out most of the cliff the girls were standing on, leaving them with a small ledge backing up to a gaping new hole in the rock face.  Tyawan began racing for the cliff.  That hole had to connect to the bunyip’s cave, and there was no way he was sleeping through all of that racket.  If he didn’t get there first, his daughters were fucked.
  • Before he had gotten far, though, Tyawan heard the ear-splitting roar of the bunyip, clearly pissed the hell off at being awakened.  Then he roared again as he discovered the light coming down into his nice dank cave from the new door above.  He dragged himself up to the light, set on ripping the limbs off whatever had dared to fuck up his shit this way. When he dragged himself through the ragged hole, though, his anger turned to bloodlust.  He stopped, staring at the three terrified girls staring at him from the tiny ledge with nowhere to escape.  His lips pulled back from his sharp, stained teeth and he chuckled evilly.  The girls could smell the rotten meat and old death on his breath, and they cowered together as hard as they could and shook like leaves in a hurricane.
  • Tyawan was less than half way.  He wasn’t going to make it.  “Son of a bitch!  You are not going to eat my daughters, you bloodthirsty piece of shit!”  He really only had one option.  As a Clever Man, Tyawan had been given a magic bone with the power to change the forms of himself and others.  It was a powerful artifact, and he was careful to use it only when he really needed to, but right now he really needed to.  He had gotten far enough up the valley to have a clear line of sight on his three girls without the bunyip blocking his view.  He pointed the bone at the bunyip, then quickly shifted his aim.  The bunyip was a powerful monster, and it wouldn’t be the first time that the magic bone hadn’t worked on something that strong.  He couldn’t afford to just piss it off.  Right now, it was taking its time, savoring the girls’ fear, but if he attacked it and missed, he’d just piss it off and they’d be dead before he could get another shot off. 
  • With a whispered apology, Tyawan triggered the magic bone at his own daughters.  At the speed of thought, the three girls morphed into stone pillars.  He knew that the transformation had hurt, but at least they were safe from the bunyip.  The bastard couldn’t eat stone, so he would probably leave the pillars alone, and Tyawan could just come back later and change them back after the bunyip had gone to sleep again.  Tyawan hadn’t counted on just how murderously angry the bunyip was at being woken up and then promptly tempted with and denied a delicious meal of the screaming, bloody corpses of three young girls.  The bunyip stalked towards the three pillars, and Tyawan feared that he would rip them apart and scatter them across the valley just to be a dick.  He couldn’t let that happen.
  • Tyawan fired a shot at the bunyip.  It roared with pain and spun around.  Tyawan could see the creature’s flesh crawling in a deeply unsettling way, but as he had feared, it had resisted the bone’s magic.  With another roar, the bunyip leapt off the cliff ledge after Tyawan.  “Shit shit shit shit shit!”  Like a shot, Tyawan raced off into the valley, the bunyip hot on his heels. 
  • He dashed down the path, and almost immediately realized that the bunyip was a hell of a lot faster than he was on a straightaway, so he turned abruptly off the path and into the underbrush.  It wasn’t as lush as the rainforest, but the growth quickly became thick.  It slowed Tyawan down, but he hoped it would slow the bunyip more.  If he was very lucky, maybe he could lose the monster and circle back out of the valley unscathed. 
  • It soon became apparent that Tyawan was not, in fact, lucky.  The bunyip was a fucking bloodhound, and none of Tyawan’s tricks were working.  He’d tried crossing a stream, he’d tried back tracking, he’d tried crossing animal tracks.  The bunyip stayed hot on his ass and by the sound of it’s hunting roar, it was getting closer.  Suddenly, Tyawan burst out of the forest’s edge at a huge cliff.  He hadn’t realized he’d gone this far back up the mountain in his panic.  He turned to try and dash back into the forest, but another roar sounded from the bunyip.  If Tyawan went back in there, he was a dead man.  With a shudder, Tyawan drew his magic bone again, and pointed it at himself.  The transformation was pure agony and seemed like it took an eternity.  As the pain subsided, he saw the bunyip burst out of the underbrush near by. 
  • With a squawk, Tyawan leapt off the cliff just ahead of the monster’s reaching claws and soared off on the wings that his new form, the Lyre bird, gave him.  He felt relief begin to well through him, but then he heard a clattering behind him.  He pulled a tight turn and saw the bunyip scrabbling at the edge of the cliff where it had nearly tumbled over in its blind rage at Tyawan.  In doing so, it had kicked the magic bone, which Tyawan had forgotten to grab in his pain and panic fogged mind, off the edge of the cliff.  He watched in despair as it tumbled down in a long arch to vanish into the rainforest.
  • Tyawan circled the area for almost two hours before the bunyip finally gave up and went back to his cave, frustrated and hungry.  He waited another ten minutes to make sure he was really gone, then Tyawan glided down to the forest floor.  He hopped around, pecking and scratching at the underbrush and fallen leaves, searching desperately for that damned magic bone. 
  • To this day, the little Lyre bird can be seen in the rain forest near the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney.  He spends every day searching for the lost bone, calling up to the petrified forms of his three daughters to let them know he hasn’t given up yet, and eating any insects he can find to keep up his strength while he searches.  From up on the mountain peak, the Three Sisters stand silently watching the valley.  If you listen closely to the wind through the mountains, you can almost hear the three girls telling their father to keep looking, to find the bone and turn them back into girls again.
  • As is often the case with myths, there is another version of this story, though I like the first one better.  In this version of the story, the three sisters are still named Meenhi, Wimlah, and Gunnedoo, but the similarity pretty much ends there.  Once, long ago, the three sisters fell in love with three men that their father forbade them to marry.  That’s right, all three sisters decided to go all Romeo and Juliet at the same damn time.  The three men were upset about being forbidden to marry the women who definitely weren’t just using them to piss off daddy.  Sticking with their shakespearean trope, the three men kidnapped the three sisters to marry them without their father’s  permission. 
  • As should have surprised no one, this kicked off a tribal war.  Their father hired a witch doctor to change his three little girls into mountains to keep them safe during the war, which worked more or less.  Unfortunately, the witch doctor wasn’t as safe as Meenhi, Wimlah, and Gunnedoo, and he was killed by the angry young men who didn’t realize that they needed the old geezer.  Without the magic man’s help, no one could turn the sisters back into real people.  The three young men weren’t as diligent as Tyawan.  They gave up pretty much immediately, and left the Three Sisters to keep their silent vigil as they went on to marry other women, and basically never gave another shit about the poor girls.
  • I personally love this story.  Tyawan is a classic mythic hero who somehow manages to get himself out of and then back into trouble because of his own cleverness.  Well, in the first version anyway (or as I like to think of it, the good version).  I like that the exact nature of the bunyip isn’t really explained in the story beyond “he’s big, bad, and wants to eat your ass.”  It makes him a lot more terrifying when he’s left up to the listener’s imagination; as we all know, humanity’s imagination can come up with some weird shit.
  • And as a case in point, it’s time for Gods and Monsters.  This is a segment where I get into a little more detail about the personalities and history of one of the gods or monsters from this week’s pantheon that was not discussed in the main story.  This week’s monster is the Yara-ma-yha-who, and it’s an odd one.  Picture a vampire.  Really, imagine one.  I’m guessing most of you imagined an old-world count from eastern Europe with a wicked widow’s peak, a long black cape, and one arm hiding his face.  Some of you may have imagined the sparkling abomination from the Twilight books (and shame on you for destroying the poor monster’s dignity that way).  One thing I feel pretty confident about is that you all imagined this blood-sucking monster having teeth.  It seems kind of integral to that whole “I vant to suck your blood!” thing, right? 
  • Yara-ma-yha-who begs to differ.  He’s the Aborigine answer to the vampire, and he’s usually described as a short, red demonic-looking creature with a massive head, odd suckers at the ends of its fingers and toes, and a huge, gaping, toothless mouth.  So how exactly does a monster go about draining your blood from your body with such a massive disadvantage to the whole carnivore game?  Great question, glad I asked. 
  • The Yara-ma-yha-who likes to surprise its victims by hiding in fig trees until some unsuspecting idiot wanders by without looking up in a continent full of all of the deadliest fuckers in the animal kingdom.  Once someone pauses long enough under his tree, he drops from the branch he’s been hiding on and latches on to his victim with the suckers on his hands and feet, like a leech.  Once he has sucked out as much blood as he can, he picks up the withered husk and swallows it whole.  It can take a lot out of you to be a demonic hell-beast, so after it devours a person, it drinks deep of any water nearby (and if there’s fig trees, there’s probably water), and takes a nap. 
  • After sleeping off the big meal that used to be your insides, Yara-ma-yha-who wakes up, stretches, and pukes its victim back up.  The poor bastard who got chomped is usually still alive at this point, although shorter than before and with a reddish tint to his skin.  If he’s very, very lucky, the victim can make a break for it and escape to leave a full life as a shorter, redder person.  If not, the Yara-ma-yha-who latches back on, drains more blood, and eats the body again.  This process is repeated several times, eventually resulting in the victim becoming a new Yara-ma-yha-who himself. 
  • According to the myth, this particular vampire bucks tradition again and is only active during the day.  Since you have to be alive to have blood to drink, Yara-ma-yha-who only eats living victims, which leaves you a couple of ways to stay alive.  First, play dead until sunset and hope it doesn’t realize you’re faking it; second, only travel at night (although with the absurd number of deadly, deadly animals in Australia, that might be its own death sentence); and third, stay the fuck away from fig trees.
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That’s it for this episode of Myth Your Teacher Hated.  Keep up with new episodes on our Facebook page, on iTunes, on Stitcher or on TuneIn, or you can follow us on Twitter as @HardcoreMyth.  You can also find news and episodes on our website at myths your teacher hated dot com.  I want to give a special thanks to Bearoderse for the review on iTunes.  These reviews really help increase the show’s standing and let more people know it exists.  If you have any questions, any gods or monsters you’d want to learn about, or any ideas for future stories that you’d like to hear, feel free to drop me a line.  I’m trying to pull as much material from as many different cultures as possible, but there are all sorts of stories I’ve never heard, so suggestions are appreciated.  The theme music is by Tiny Cheese Puff, whom you can find on fiverr.com.

Next time, it’s off to the Emerald Isle for a Celtic god of death with a hankering for beef.  You’ll learn that demon kings make good wrestlers, that old-school birth control sucked, and that the evil eye could be goddamned literal.  Then, in Gods and Monsters, it’s the literal Good God with some very weird magical artifacts.  That’s all for now.  Thanks for listening.