The “little people” of Aboriginal folklore are small, hairy, ugly, strong and have a distinct odour, a Larrakia academic who has been studying them has found.
Dr Curtis Roman, from the Charles Darwin University, has collected the stories of people who have seen the little people or had family members who have seen them.
He is preparing to publish his findings as an academic paper.
“There were lots of similarities and consistencies in the stories of little people from Indigenous people from all over Australia,” the Darwin-based academic said.
“I spoke to people from remote communities in the Northern Territory, people from the Torres Strait, people who live in Darwin from interstate and there is a strong consistency in their beliefs, their experiences and their stories.”
Dr Roman said most people agreed on the description of the little people, which have been a part of songs, dances, art and stories for thousands of years.
He said little people were thought to be either good or mischievous, depending on where you sat.
“The general view is that if you are on your traditional land then you probably won’t see them,” he said.
“However, if you are a newcomer to a particular land they will come out and check you out to make sure you do the right things.
“So, if you are catching too much fish and the country is not your country they may come out and appear and scare you or take your stuff or throw rocks at you, make noises in the bushes.
“The belief is if it’s your land then it’s good because they are watching over the land.”
Dr Roman said the little people were also said to be attracted to certain trees and often visible to children.
Some people avoid certain areas at night for fear of little people, others won’t cook meat in the bush at night because it attracts them, he said.
He said there have also been stories of people being taken by little people and coming back changed.
Dr Roman said little women had been spotted living as mermaids in spring water in caves.
Asked if the little people were as important to Australia as the leprechaun is to Ireland, Dr Roman said: “There are stories of little people all over the world and I don’t know how other cultures in other countries regard those stories, but all I know is within Indigenous people there is a common belief that the stories are real.”