Religion Beats Science: River Serpent Warnamankura

26 April 2023

2.4 MINS

In the modern world, we all know that science beats religion. Science is supposedly about reality, reason, and sensible progress. Religion is supposedly about unprovable beliefs, irrationality, and ‘stuck-in-the-past’ traditions.

When there’s a dispute between the two, we are all modern intelligent people. Religion is discarded. Science wins.

Except… if it’s an animistic religion practised by some Aboriginal people!

Then, religion beats science!

The Strange Case of a Non-Existent Serpent

The Ashburton River is in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The river was called Mindurru by the local Aborigines, the Thalanyji people.

The Thalanyji people, who supposedly have been custodians of the river for over 60,000 years, believe that it is inhabited by the river serpent Warnamankura.  This mythological snake supposedly created the river, now lives somewhere in the river, and periodically travels along the river’s length.

No one has ever seen Warnamankura. It is not a scientifically verifiable species of snake. It’s a religious myth!

The Ashburton River flows through Minderoo Station, a vast cattle property owned by Andrew and Nicola Forrest.  Mr Forrest’s agri-food business, Harvest Road, which runs numerous stations including Minderoo, proposed constructing a series of leaky weirs on the river. Leaky weirs do not stop water flow, but use natural debris to slow the water down and allow it to rehydrate soil instead of evaporating quickly.

After trialling a weir in 2011 with the support of Thalanyji elders, the proposal was to install nine more weirs, claiming they would have improved freshwater access for both agriculture and the local ecosystem.

But the Buurabalayji Thalanyji Aboriginal Corporation opposed the billionaire mining magnate’s plan. A spokesperson recently said, “The Thalanyji people have been custodians of the river for over 60,000 years, and damage to the river rightfully should not be allowed for the sole benefit of a local pastoralist.”

The Thalaynji people were concerned the weirs could impact the river’s ecosystem and flow, and disturb the water serpent Warnamankura who lives there (so they believe). “Changes to the river that are caused by the weirs might make Warnamunkura angry,” a traditional owner said.  “In the worst case, he might leave the river and we will see fish die and water dry up.”

On Thursday 6 April 2023, the WA State Administrative Tribunal rejected Mr Forrest’s plan, four years after he had first requested approval to build the weirs to drought-proof the cattle station. The Tribunal found the entirety of the river was culturally significant to the Thalaynji, who say it has healing powers and name their women after it.

No weirs! No drought-proofing! No better outcomes for agricultural production!

We must not upset a non-existent mythological serpent!

Religion beats science!

The Strange Dismissal of Truth

It was ironic that the decision by the WA State Administrative Tribunal came just before the Easter weekend.

The events of the first Easter – the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ – are the foundation of the Christian faith.  Yes, those events are ‘religious’, but not religious in the sense of being myth and superstition.  Both the crucifixion and the resurrection are provable historical events that occurred to real people in real time.  There were witnesses who could, and did, testify that those things really happened.

And yet, modern Australians largely ignore that history, and reject that ‘religious’ message.  We’re modern and intelligent; we don’t need that ‘religious’ stuff.  We might be happy to accept the public holidays and devour chocolates delivered by a non-existent mythological bunny.  But science beats religion.


And I would suggest that the more our country moves down the pathway of the Voice, treaties, and so-called truth-telling, the more that we will be required to respect the ‘rights’ of mythological beings and the animistic religion of Aboriginal Australia.


Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

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  1. Jim Twelves 26 April 2023 at 8:18 am - Reply

    Brian, nailed it! Thank you for this most enlightening story. I am not surprised, sadly. I am not shocked, it is simply evidence of the void people experience when they lock God out of their hearts and minds.

  2. Ian Moncrieff 26 April 2023 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    Great article Brian, and I echo JimTwelves comment above.

  3. Kaylene Emery 26 April 2023 at 5:22 pm - Reply

    Thank you Brian.
    This is witchcraft by another name surely. And the implications very serious for any who adopt such practices.

  4. Phillip 11 May 2023 at 11:39 am - Reply

    Thank you for the article Brian

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