H2O: Just Add Water and the Aboriginal Mermaid Myth

by anonymous

The show H20: Just Add Water is a children’s show about three teenage girls Emma, Cleo and Rikki (And later, Emma is replaced by Bella) who become mermaids and grow tails as soon as they touch water. The first episode shows their encounter and how they end up taking a boat out for a spin. The boat runs out of fuel and they decide to paddle to the nearest land, Mako Island, where all three of them fall into a crater of a dormant volcano. Their only way out is to dive through the reef. While the girls are in the water, the moon shines over the volcano and the water around them begins to bubble. The next day, after making it out of the crater, the girls grow tails and develop superpowers over water.

Already in the first episode, many Australian characteristics, such as the setting of the series, can be seen. Set on the Gold Coast, the series features a very summery beach and surf aesthetic that non-natives often associate with Australia. Another very Australian feature is the production, including the actors and their distinctive accents. All of this supports the authenticity of the show. But these are not the only aspects. The show also shows a connection to the mermaid myth, also known as the Yawkyawk, of the Aboriginal people.  

The Yawkyawk is a female creature originating from the mythology of Aboriginal people from the northern territories of Australia. Yawkyawk translates to “young girl with a fish tail” and resembles mermaids with seaweed for hair. They are described as freshwater creatures that lived in lakes and rivers. In addition, the Yawkyawk were able to shapeshift into snakes, crocodiles, swordfish, or other animals, and they could manipulate the weather when they were angry. Thus, they played a major role in the indigenous culture and language. Aboriginal paintings depicting the Yawkyawk creatures still hang in Australia’s national museums.

Knowing this myth, one can assume that the show H20: Just Add Water was inspired by it. The main similarities that stand out are the fishtails, obviously, but especially the supernatural powers that the girls develop in the series. Each of them develops a different power, such as freezing, boiling, and moving water. Often these powers are used when they get angry or try to help their friends. Later in the series, weather control also is revealed as a mermaid power. The existence of the myth is also mentioned in the series, when they try to find out more about the origin of the mermaids.

However, there are also many differences between the depiction of the mermaids in the show and in the myth. The Yawkyawk are said to live in the water, while the girls in the series only grow tails when they touch the water. Their superpowers are also different from those of the Yawkyawk in most cases. These differences can be attributed to the fact that it is a children´s show. The myth of the mermaid is found in many different cultures, such as Native Americans, ancient Greeks, Asians, etc., and they are usually associated with negative expectations. In some cultures, the creatures are described as possessors, sirens, or unlucky omens that bring disaster or attract and kill sailors. It is to be expected that these characteristics are not appropriate for a show aimed at a young audience. In summary, despite the differences, the show is a good example of typical Australian culture and emphasizes the reference to Aboriginal mythology. Thus, it raises awareness and brings us closer to the indigenous culture.