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The Perentie and the Goanna

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Aboriginal Tourism - Indigenous Australia - How the Perentie and Goanna got their Colours
A story from the Pitjantjatjara people of Central Australia describes how the Goanna and Perentie got their looks.

The story can be found published in the ‘Australian Dreaming: 40,000 Years of Aboriginal History’, Jennifer Isaacs, Lansdowne Press, Sydney 1980, originally published by C P Mountford in ‘Nomads of the Australian Desert’, Rigby, 1976.1

This is the story of how the Goanna and Perentie got there looks as told to us by our friend Trephina Sultan (whose people are the Luritja (Southern Dialect community).

How the Perentie and Goanna got their Colours

The perentie (Nintaka) and the goanna (Milbili), agreed to decorate each other for a ceremony. The perentie was a good artist, who took great care with his work. So he painted the goanna with great care and skill, painting fine lines and dots over the goanna's body. When the paint had dried, he turned the goanna over and using the thinnest of brushes and the greatest of care, painted extremely fine lines on his belly.

Now it was the goanna’s turn to paint the perentie. The goanna however was lazy, and because it took so long for the perentie to paint the goanna, and the time for the ceremony was drawing near, the goanna quickly painted the perentie with crude splashes of yellow dots, which he applied with pieces of rolled-up bark.

When the goanna had finished, the perentie asked how he looked. The goanna lied and said he looked beautiful. however, on the way to the ceremony, the perentie walked pass a waterhole and saw his reflection in the water. The perentie was angry with how he looked, and rushed to attack the goanna, but the goanna escaped by climbing to the top of the gum tree.

The perentie cursed the goanna and said that from now on he must live in the branches of trees and take shelter in the tree hollows, while he would use the rocks as his home and shelter.

Today, you can see the two keep to their own habitats, still wearing the designs on their bodies. The goanna with a delicate lace-like pattern on its back, while the perentie’s dark brown skin is covered with large yellow dots and irregular lines.

The Goanna and the Perentie © Trephina Sultan
Juvenile Perentie at Alice Springs Reptile Centre
Juvenile Perentie at Alice Springs Reptile Centre


1 Aboriginal Dreaming Stories and Torres Strait Legends as a Source of Cultural Information (pdf)
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