When the Earth Began to Breathe – Stromatalites & Thrombolites

clifton lake walkMillions of years ago, when life emerged from the waves it was stromatalites and thrombolites that made it possible. They breathed oxygen into the atmosphere and life eventually moved onto the land once water had begun to fall from the heavens, nourishing the earth. 600 million years ago the ancestors of thrombolites and stromatolites produced the oxygen needed for life on land to exist and their ancient colonies can be found today in only a few rare places around the world.

ThrombalitesThey look like rocks but are really ancient forms of microbial communities that produce energy from sunlight. These ancient forms of life are found in specialized environments around the world. They require water to survive. Stromatalites need saline water and thrombolites require a greater measure of fresh water.

The ancient tribal people of a land, where stromatalites and thrombolites still survive, knew from where air and consequently fresh water originated, long before the scientists of our time realized it. I will tell their story as well as our own as they are both the same.

Thrombolites of Lake Clifton in summer tides

Thrombolites of Lake Clifton in summer tides

Western Australia has some of the most ancient land still above water and still hosts these truly prehistoric colonies at the edge of her deserts. As such stromatalites can still be found in Western Australia within the lowest tide levels at Shark Bay near Broome and in other places in WA. Non-lake dwelling stromatalites can also be found in the Jenolan cave system (nettle cave) just west of Sydney also.

These colonies still here today are estimated to be at least around 2000yrs old and are a remnant of an ancient world. They are as old as religion, and their existence or history goes beyond that of the oldest colonies or life forms existing on earth today. They pre-date animals and plants and they are being threatened by our farming practices today. We are killing them.

Crabbing with nets at Lake Clifton

Crabbing with nets at Lake Clifton

We recently had the privilege of visiting some of these wonderful families and life-forms at Lake Clifton just south of Perth. Here we found an ancient colony of thrombolites, one of the fresh water colonies of these pre-historic forms of life. At Lake Clifton they are easily accessible and can be viewed from a boardwalk. The colony is somewhat largely unknown but I have found a Youtube archive which better explains their very existence. It was a unique experience studying the thrombolites from the comfort of the boardwalk, one that coincided with the opening of the crabbing season across the Clifton Lakes flats and what a treat that was as well!

As life moved onto land in the Dreamtime the Earth progressed through many ages. Ages of ice that drew the moisture from the land and ages of growth where the super continent of Pangaea broke up and moved through the ancient waters. In the southern hemisphere much later, the ancient southern remnant of Pangaea, Gondwana also eventually began to breakup. It was about then that man emerged from the oceans and was carved from his ancient form, known by some as the Inapertwa and by others as ‘Adam and Eve’. Man and Woman then moved out across the ancient lands seeking their tribes. Antarctica began to freeze over locking Man out of this land. Africa and later Australia had been born.

Lake cliftonIn our age Lake Clifton formed as a narrow estuarine lagoon when sea levels were much lower than today. As the last ice age ended 20,000 yrs ago the sea rose and dunes formed isolating this lagoon from the sea and preserving a pre-historic colony of thrombolites. This same event delivered fresh water to the tribal people. But they will tell you of this history in their own way.

The Waugal Serpent of the Nyungars is an important figure in Lore. The Nyungars are the people of an Aboriginal sub-language region of the WA and they lived on the land surrounding Lake Clifton. It was the end of the ice age when they tell their story, a time when there was no fresh water as all the land was dry and hard. This ancient creator spirit emerged from the ocean in the form of a snake. She was one of the many Rainbow Serpents, or perhaps one of the serpents from the ‘Garden of Eden’.

She was the Waugal. She pushed through the sand and dunes along her path creating the inlet at ‘Mandja’ now known as Mandurah. In slithering back and forth she carved out a hollow, which formed the Djilda (Peel-Harvey Estuary) and here she laid her eggs, now known as the thrombolites. Carefully she curled her body around the eggs to protect them and in time the eggs hatched and her young began to appear. The young scattered across the land carving out the major rivers around Perth and Mandurah.

leschenault estThe little ones of the Waugal serpent were fat and they kept going east up into the hills forming rivers and swamps. In their travels they didn’t eat and became tired, starving and growing thinner as they travelled further from their birthplace. When their end came they died and went underground forming subterranean springs on their way back to the Dreamtime.

They left behind water, which was fresh and plentiful and it restored the land. But the Waugal, she went in search of her young going underground and she came up near Noorook Yalgorap (Lake Clifton) and Lake Preston. She searched for her babies all the way to Leschenault Estuary at Australind though she never found them. Instead she burrowed down into the earth and this now is where her mouth is. A spring of fresh water emerges here and it is a place where fish gather and people can catch them and it is here Waugal waits. She is still there waiting for young to return.

The colonists who came to the ancient land now known as Australia in the new age gave Lake Clifton its current name after Marshall Clifton from Australind. Perhaps it was Waugal who inspired them to name the lake after the whitefella from Australind, where Waugal rests. This so that they might care for the place where she waits for her young.

This is one of the many stories of creation and the moulding of the Earth, each is a piece of the puzzle that is life and each has merit. It is not only a history but a prehistory or an account of the tales which are our very creation and the birth of our land.

Travel well

Jan is a Author and writer. You can find out more about her stories on Australian Aboriginal Lore in the Tales of the Dreaming Series, and those of the Spirit Children available in ebook and print.

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2 thoughts on “When the Earth Began to Breathe – Stromatalites & Thrombolites

  1. Pingback: Spirit Creatures of Australian Aboriginal Lore | Jan Hawkins Author

  2. Pingback: Understanding Freecampers – An Aussie Lifestyle | Jan Hawkins Author

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