The Dreaming means different things to different Aboriginal people but it is often used to describe the period in which the earth, humans and animals were created.
The Dreamtime has been described as the period when...
'...the ancestral spirits came up out of the earth and down from the sky to walk on the land were they created and shaped its land formations, rivers, mountains, forests and deserts. These were created while the ancestors travelled, hunted and fought. They also created all the people, animals and vegetation that were to be a part of the land and laid down the patterns their lives were to follow. It was the spirit ancestors who gave Aboriginal people the lores, customs and codes of conduct, and who are the source of the songs, dances, designs, languages, and rituals that are the basis of Aboriginal religious expression. These ancestors were spirits who appeared in a variety of forms. When their work was completed the ancestral spirits went back into the earth, the sky and into the animals, land formation, and rivers. The ancestors-beings are 'alive' in the spirit of Australian Aboriginals.'
(Muswellbrook Shire Council).
Through the Dreaming, several major groups of people emerged in the Hunter Valley, distinguished by their mother tongues, social customs and spiritual attachment to specific geographical areas. The major groups that are known to have occupied parts of the Hunter region include the Awabakal, Worimi, Gringai, Kamilaroi, Wonaruah, Geawegal and Darkinjung (John Heath, 1984).
These groups each have their own Dreamings and connections with different geographic areas. This Dreaming story is a story of the Awabakal people, traditional custodians of the Lower Hunter and Lake Macquarie areas. There are other stories about the river, which belong to other Aboriginal groups in the Hunter.
Tittalik and how the Hunter River came to be
(Tittalik ngartun kako-ai Coquon bugkulliko kakilliko reproduced from the Awabakal Word Finder and Dreaming Stories Companion, 2004 - edited by John Maynard)
The story of the formation of Coquon (Hunter River) is a story of selfishness and greed. The story is reinforced by the nature of a small frog named Tittalik, who cared little for others and their feelings.
This was a time in the Dreaming when there were no rivers, lakes or rain. The water bubbled up from within the ground collecting in small pools. This was where all the animals gathered to drink. Tittalik through his greed decided to drink all the water in the pool. He began drinking and did not stop until the pool was completely dry. The frog had grown into enormous size with the consumption of all this water. There was not a drop of water left for any of the other animals.
The animals were in a desperate dilemma and called an immediate meeting to discuss their plight. The large gathering came to the conclusion that if they could get Tittalik's mouth open for long enough, all of the water would rush out and they would be saved. There was much discussion with little progress until someone exclaimed 'Let's make him laugh!'.
The entire group of animals agreed that this was a good idea. The emu was the first to step forward and try to make the frog burst into laughter, he sadly failed. He was followed by the kangaroo; who tried every way he could to make the frog laugh, but he also failed. Every animal in the group tried, but none could make the stubborn frog laugh.
The animals were resigned to the fact that they were now facing certain death through thirst. At this very moment the platypus arrived on the scene. He had always been ridiculed and looked upon with a sense of mirth by all of the animals. The platypus, who was also very thirsty, started to climb the hill towards Tittalik the frog. The platypus stumbled over a rock and fell over, and he rolled all the way back down the hill.
The platypus refused to give up, and he pulled himself up and once again began to climb the hill towards the frog. Again the platypus lost his footing and down to the bottom of the hill he rolled. Once more much to the delight of all the animals he again pulled himself upright and began the long climb to the summit of the hill.
The kookaburra could not contain his laughter any longer at the misfortune of the poor platypus. The kookaburra began to laugh hysterically. One by one all of the animals joined the kookaburra and their laughter was infectious. The platypus looked so funny tumbling down the incline. The frog, try as he might, could not contain himself any longer and he slowly began to chuckle.
Tittalik's chuckle turned to laughter, the frog laughed and laughed. The water he had drank burst from his mouth in great torrents and roared from his mouth and cascaded down the hill. The sheer power and torrent of water gouged a deep furrow across the landscape.
When the water finally came to a halt and subsided it had formed a deep gully filled with the running water, which became know to the Awabakal people as Coquon, now known as the Hunter River. This story was passed down by the Awabakal people as a firm lesson in highlighting the evil of greed and selfishness. Tittalik the frog was turned to stone to remind all of those that followed his mistake. He still sits today on the top of a hill near Wollombi.