Spotted Nightjar Eurostopodus argus
Spotted Nightjar Eurostopodus argus

I came across this road-killed Spotted Nightjar (Eurostopodus argus) a hundred or so kilometres up the Tanami Track from my home at Yuendumu just after setting off on my current trip that will take me through the east and western Kimberleys, to Broome (where I am now) and down to the Pilbara, where I’ll be heading tomorrow.

There are Aboriginal stories about the Spotted Nightjar right across Australia – but because I found this one in Warlpiri country I’ll include a couple of references from paintings made by several of the Warlpiri painters that work at the Warlukurlangu Artists centre at Yuendumu.

To the Warlpiri the Spotted Nightjar is known as Yinkardakurdaku.

In common with many naming systems across Australia, many birds in the Warlpiri world-view are named onomatopoeically – thus the name for the Spotted Nightjar in Warlpiri sounds, if you bend your ear and imagination just a little, very much like the main breeding season call used by the bird about this time of year.

I heard my first for the year a few weeks back while walking our dogs a few kilometres outside of town one evening.

To me the call sounds like water flowing out of a narrow-necked bottle, a beautiful succession of fluid sounds ending in an almost joyous climax, though I can imagine that for some unfamiliar with their call that it could be quite a surprise on a dark night – it is a remarkable thing.

You can hear the call of the Spotted Nightjar for yourself here as a QuickTime file: the Yinkardakurdaku’s call.

Courtesy of Warlukurlangu Artists at Yuendumu here are two representative stories for the Yinkardakurdaku from two different locations in Warlpiri country, firstly from Mawurriji:

Yinkardakurdaku Jukurrpa (Spotted Nightjar dreaming) (Mawurriji)

The Yinkardakurdaku (Spotted Nightjar, Eurostopodus argus) ancestor was sitting down and making spears (Jarljarri) at Mawurrji, west of Yuendumu.

When Yinkardakurdaku had finished it stood up and threw the spears to the north (Yatija-rra), south (Kurla-rni), east (Kakarra) and to the west (Karla-rra).

During their flight and upon landing the spears created many important Mulju (soakages) and Warnirri (rockholes) that are still evident in the landscape today.

The water from these Mulju and Warnirri later spread underground to form the river and creek-beds found throughout Warlpiri country.

And also here from Yampirri:

Yinkardakurdaku Jukurrpa (Spotted Nightjar dreaming) (Yampirri)

This print represents the travels of Yinkardakurdaku (Spotted Nightjar, Eurostopodus argus), a large bird (Jurlpu) with a brown breast that was living near to Yampirri, near Kunajarrayi, to the west of Yuendumu and Nyirrpi.

Yinkardakurdaku was an heroic ancestor who was both a bird and man. He flew back and forth – east (Kakarra) to the west (Karla-rra) and back again. He always returned to Yampirri where there is a cave [Pirnki].

He travelled far, visiting a big bloodwood tree near the present site of Yuendumu. He even flew to Kulpurlu, to the east in Alyawarr country.

Yampirri is an important men’s ceremonial site; a place to teach Kajirri (‘high school’) to young men. The circle in the centre of the painting represent Yampirri. The other circles refer to places he visited on his travels. Japaljarri men are also represented. The footprints (Wirliya) of Yinkardakurdaku have also been represented.