The Haunting Legend Behind Australia’s Three Sisters Mountains

The Three Sisters, AustraliaPhoto: PermaCulturedThe Three Sisters, Blue Mountains, Australia, seen through the mist which is common to the valley

Towering over Sydney’s Blue Mountains National Park are three enormous rock formations. Known as Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo, each of these formations rises over 900 meters (3,000 feet) above sea level, looking down on the magnificent Jamison Valley below. Millions travel to see them every year, and they even proved popular with rock climbers before the government banned the practice in 2000.

Scientists will tell you that these imposing formations were carved from the soft sandstone cliffs surrounding the valley, eroded over millions of years by wind, rain and rivers. There are, however, many myths and legends surrounding these rocks, attributed to the Blue Mountains’ oldest human inhabitants, the Aboriginies. Many of these have turned out to be inventions by later inhabitants, but the following story seems to be the oldest and, most likely, truest origin of the Three Sisters name.

The Three SistersPhoto: steganographyThe Three Sisters gaze down on clouds from their lofty perch

The story goes that many, many years ago when Australia was known as Gondwana, there lived a wise witch doctor with three beautiful daughters, Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo. Leaving his daughters at the top of the cliff one morning, the witch doctor reminded them not to make too much noise lest they awaken the Bunyip, a fierce, man-eating creature that lurked in a cave on the valley floor. The sisters nodded absent-mindedly to their father, but as soon as was he out of sight a centipede appeared on the ground before them. Screaming in fright, Meehni picked up a stone and threw it at the centipede. The stone missed and went shooting off the edge of the cliff, where it disturbed even more stones and created a small, noisy avalanche.

The Three SistersPhoto: Corey LeopoldAnother view of the magnificent formations

The noise of the falling rocks disturbed the sleeping Bunyip in his lair. He immediately jumped up and ran out, determined to find the source of the disturbance… and possibly his breakfast at the same time. Fortunately the witch doctor, who had not gone far, heard the commotion and ran back to his daughters, turning them to stone to save them from the Bunyip’s wicked teeth and claws. Outraged at his loss of a meal, the Bunyip turned his ire on the witch doctor, who quickly turned the magic bone on himself and glided out of reach as a beautiful lyre bird.

Meehni sculpturePhoto: Charlie BrewerBronze sculpture depicting Meehni from a tourist attraction near the Three Sisters rock formation.

Sadly the witch doctor realised too late that he had dropped the bone in his transformation and could no longer find it. To this day it is said that lyrebird scours the floor of the Jamison valley, searching for the magic bone so that he and his daughters can return to their true forms.

LyrebirdPhoto: Avia55A lyrebird scours the forest floor… maybe for a magic bone?

Aboriginal stories were often a way of communicating information as well as being educational. In this instance we can see the importance of not disturbing the balance of nature (or throwing rocks off cliffs) which could lead to undesirable, if not supernatural, consequences. A bronze sculpture of Meehnai, Wimlah and Gunnedoo today stands in the car park of a nearby tourist attraction, close to where the Three Sisters themselves can be seen in all their glory.

Sources: 1, 2