Yawkyawk (Water Spirit)
Yawkyawk is the Kunwinjku term used for young women but also for female water spirits that have fish tails as shown in this painting. Sometimes they are described as ‘mermaids’ who live in trees and water in special places in Western Arnhem Land.
Yawkyawk start out in a tadpole-like form, as they get older they grow fish tails and spend most of their time in the water but are able to sit on the banks of billabongs. When fully grown they are able to change their tails into legs and walk on land to forage for food. They also change into dragonflies at the end of the wet season, which signifies to the bininj (aboriginal people) the rains have finished.
Yawkyawk are said to have namarnkol (barramundi) as pets and that Ngalyod the rainbow serpent serves as their protector. These spirits are guardians of sacred waterholes.