Traditional Aboriginal people from all parts of Australia regarded the platypus as very special. It was taboo, and therefore not hunted for food as most animals were. This Dreamtime legend explains why. It comes from the folklore of the Wiradjuri people, who lived in traditional times in the area known as Central New South Wales and who are known as the first people to describe the paradoxical animal we know as the platypus.
In the Dreamtime, the Creator made three different types of animal. First, he created Mammals. He told the Mammals they were to live on the land, and he gave them fur to keep them warm.
Next, he created Fish. He told the Fish they were to live in the water, and he gave them gills to help them breathe.
Then he created Birds. He told the Birds they were to live in the sky; he gave them wings to enable them to fly, and he gave the mother birds the ability to reproduce by laying eggs.
When the Creator had made these three different types of animal, he found there were a lot of bits and pieces Ieft over. So he joined these bits and pieces together, and created Platypus.
The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is a semiaquaticmammalendemic to eastern Australia, including Tasmania. Together with the four species of echidna, it is one of the five extant species of monotremes, the only mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth. It is the sole living representative of its family and genus though a number of related species have been found in the fossil record.
The unusual appearance of this egg-laying, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal baffled European naturalists when they first encountered it, with some considering it an elaborate hoax. It is one of the few venomous mammals, the male platypus having a spur on the hind foot that delivers a venom capable of causing severe pain to humans.
Until the early 20th century, it was hunted for its fur, but it is now protected throughout its range. Although captive breeding programs have had only limited success and the platypus is vulnerable to the effects of pollution, it is not under any immediate threat.
We are so lucky to have a colony of platypus living in Lake Elizabeth and many more in the creek systems in The Otways. Precious, shy and eccentric, like frogs, the presence of platypus are a good sign of a healthy ecosystem. Let’s keep it that way.