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In the telling of the myth, Tiddalik awoke one morning with an unquenchable thirst, and began to drink until all the fresh water was greedily consumed. Creatures and plant life everywhere began to die due to lack of moisture. Other animals conspired against Tiddalik and devised a plan for him to release all of the water he had consumed. This was successfully coordinated by a wise old Owl, when Nabunum the eel made Tiddalik laugh when he tied himself in comical shapes. As Tiddalik laughed, the water rushed out of him to replenish the lakes, swamps and rivers. The legend of Tiddalik is not only an important story of the Dreamtime, but has been the subject of popular modern children's books. In some Aboriginal cultures, Tiddalik is known as "Molok".
The story has been said to describe the Water-holding Frog (Litoria platycephala), from central Australia. The frogs burrow under ground during dry periods, and emerge during the rain to absorb large amounts of water, breed and feed. This allows it to avoid desiccation during drought, a trait not exhibited by most frogs. They were used by Indigenous Australians during times of drought as a source of water.
This story originated with the Aboriginal people of South Gippsland, Victoria but has spread worldwide since first being published. Tiddalik is commemorated in a statue in Warwick, Queensland. Various versions of the story were recorded by amateur ethnographers in the late nineteenth century; originating with the Gunai people near Port Albert, approximately 225 kilometres (140 mi) south-east of Melbourne. In the original story, Tiddalik formed the area's bays, estuaries, inlets and islands. The substance of the story has changed over time, with different animals being able to make Tiddalik laugh, and many of the modern versions being dissimilar to those of the nineteenth century.
The Water-holding Frog (Litoria platycephala) ascribed in modern times to Tiddalik is not found in the area of the legend's origin. It is likely that Tiddalik either refers to a different frog, or is a mythical memory of a time, 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, when the landscape was sufficiently different for the frog's range to extend to the South Gippsland. While the modern story has a happy ending, with water returned for all to use, the original ends in environmental disaster. The flood caused many to drown and others to be stranded on islands. Those stranded were rescued by Borun the pelican, with the end of the tale explaining how the pelican's feathers subsequently changed from all-black to a mixture of black and white.
- Morton, John. "Who is Tiddalik?". The Victorian Frog Group. Retrieved 2007-12-10.
- Adams, L. & G. (1972). Molok the thirsty frog. Riordan, Chris (illust.). Sydney: Artstaff. ISBN 0-574-28165-7.
- Ker Wilson, Barbara (1986). Tiddalik, the frog. Holloway, Jan (illust.). Sydney: Golden Press. ISBN 0-7302-0313-1.
- Morton, John (2006). "Tiddalik's Travels: the Making and Remaking of an Aboriginal Flood Myth". In Aldo Poiani. Floods: Environmental, Social and Historical Perspectives. New York: Elsevier. pp. 139–158. ISBN 978-0-12-373630-7.
- Troughton, Joanna (1977). What made Tiddalik laugh. West Melbourne, Vic.: Thomas Nelson Australia. ISBN 0-17-005213-3.