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Mon Jun 11, 2018, 08:04 AM

The 'mean and ugly' mermaids of Arnhem Land are unlike any other legend

Interesting article to start your week with.

The 'mean and ugly' mermaids of Arnhem Land are unlike any other legend


By Anna Whitfeld for Late Night Live

Updated about 11 hours ago
A blurred image of a woman underwater looking like a mermaid.
Photo: Our fascination with mermaids has transcended time. (Unsplash: Nsey Benajah)
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From seductive sirens in ancient Greece to Disney's Ariel, our fascination with mermaids has spanned centuries and cultures.

But lesser known are the ancient Indigenous mermaid stories from our own country, which still hold meaning today.

Burarra woman Jess Phillips grew up near the Blyth River near Maningrida in Arnhem Land.

She believes there are both saltwater and freshwater mermaids in Arnhem Land.

Audio: Why do mermaids have such universal appeal? (Late Night Live)

Unlike the freshwater Yawk Yawks, the saltwater mermaids, known as Ji-Merdiwa, are more sacred and can't be represented in artworks.

"Every time my grandmother spoke of [the Ji-Merdiwa], she would roll her eyes and say 'yes they are mean and ugly'. They could take different forms, they were tricky," Ms Phillips says.

"The only time you would be able to have a glimpse of them would be down at the beach under moonlight and you might see them bobbing around. And you can hear them talking or crying."

Protecting the sacred

An indigenous painting of mermaids
Photo: A painting by Sonya Namarnyilk, depicting Arnhem Land's fresh water mermaids known as Yawk Yawks. (Supplied: Ingrid Johanson, Babbarra Womens Centre)

Ms Phillips says the Ji-Merdiwa play an important role in looking after sacred sites, and if people don't look after the land then the mermaids will bring sickness to them.

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