According to the aborigines of Australia, the sky at one time in the ages ago was not up high where it is now.
It was down so low that a man could not walk upright. Then, no living thing stood erect. Everything either wriggled without legs at all, or crawled like a lizard or a goanna (iguana).
The reason that snakes and grubs and such like still crawl, is that the great event of lifting up the sky took place in the winter, and the creeping things were then hibernating. Birds that can fly through the air were most awake, and they followed the sky as it went up. In fact, they clung to it, and it was because of their beauty that they were allowed to sprout wings and soar back through the air. And they did that because of their hunger. There was no food up there.
The air itself was that part of the sea that clung to the sky and in falling was powdered, or vaporised, and still floats between the sea and the sky. The wonder to us is that it was not blacks who roamed the beaches and adjacent country that told the tale. It was the tribe that lived on the Murrumbidgee.
A great chief had a very beautiful wife. Though we do not really know, I am of opinion that her name must have been Krubi, for was not Krubi always the name of the most beautiful woman?
And this wife was the most beautiful in her day.
Well, the time for a corroboree had drawn near. Growing young men had not been initiated; that is, they had not been shown what to do in social, industrial, hunting and warlike things.
The beautiful wife of the chief was the one who fixed just where the women were to sit. She it was, too, who would give the signal when they were to retire, and she also was to be on the alert to hear the cry that meant they might come back.
No white man ever heard that cry. No white man ever saw a real corroboree, unless by accident, or more likely, stealth, and perhaps the aborigines were too finished in their bushcraft to allow that ever to happen.
The greatest secrecy was preserved. The keenest watch was kept, and all the whites ever saw was something of a mockery of a corroboree. The dance, even though a ceremonial one, was a different matter.
No native races ever kept their most sacred customs more hidden, nor were more cunning in disseminating false impressions of their real desires and real beliefs, than the Australian aborigines.
Now the place selected by Krubi (we shall call her Krubi) was condemned by the chief. He chided Krubi, and even threatened to cast her off for making the mistake of choosing an unsuitable spot. Krubi was piqued, and she retired to the gunyah, and there beat her breasts in dudgeon.
But her husband was her lord and she had to obey.
He ordered her to go out again and find a proper site, though he took care to indicate so pointedly as to practically tell her just where the best place was. The other women of the tribe knew what was wrong, and there were not wanting those who gloated over Krubi's discomfiture. So when one or two would have accompanied her Krubi waved them off.
She would go alone.
Now it chanced that another chief was not far away. He was a marauder, and he was on the lookout for game belonging to the Murrumbidgee people. Just as Krubi stepped upon a boulder in order to survey the spot this stranger came from behind the tree that hid him.
He was a good-looking black.
He gave the sign that his intentions were friendly and he walked swiftly towards the woman. He, she knew, was not "tabu." He was very far removed in blood. It was the men of the tribe who would have objected to his presence.
The women never concealed themselves from. a member of another tribe. But they were supposed to report his presence.
Krubi did not intend to do any such thing. She had been humiliated before her other women. She was now out of tune with her husband. So she spoke to the stranger and asked him from whence he came. He seemed to not quite understand, so as a test of language he picked up a spray of gum-flowers that had fallen from a tree.
"Mannen," he said.
Now that was just what Krubi called it. It was the flower of the bloodwood or Eucalyptus corymbosa.
Then the man tried another.
He plucked a waratah and said, "Mewah."
The woman nodded.
Then said the man in his own rapid tongue: "I have come from far up on the hills," and he pointed up; "and I have not seen your people. Where are they?"
The woman, told him, and then she pointed to the creek just below.
"We shall go down there," she said.
So they went, and all the while the chief, who had gone into the gunyah to await his wife, grew more and more sullen.
At last he rose and strode out. Everyone backed out of his way for he had become very angry. He walked to the place he had indicated, and stood on the very stone upon which Krubi had stood to survey the place. He gazed all ways, and of course there was no sign of his wife. He jumped high in the air, and came down crash on dry sticks and leaves. Then he searched for the marks of his wife's feet. They were there. In one spot a displaced leaf, in another a fresh-broken twig. Even the flower of the bloodwood that had been handled he noticed, and he knew it had been picked up and thrown down again. There were broken umbels of the flower where it lay. There were broken stamens where it had been picked up. The chief searched around, and at last his eye lighted upon a little tuft of red fur. This was fur from the rock-wallaby, and Krubi had no such rug.
Neither had any of her tribe.
Passing quickly on be came across a foot-mark in a patch of soft, clear earth. It was the big imprint of a man's foot.
And there were, too, many broken twigs just around the fallen spray of bloodwood blooms.
He uttered the cry of battle. All the men of the tribe seized their war weapons and sped to him. Dogs barked, women screamed; children were dumb with terror. This was a sudden call to war! No corroboree so that the young men could be pressed into service! No preparation of any kind!
The need must be urgent; the trespass stealthy.
The chief gave his orders, and the tribe, relieved to find that no invasion in force had taken place, reassured the women and bade them await their menfolk without anxiety. The chase had commenced.
Krubi and her newfound mate had gained a big start. Their tracks were plain at first, but when they knew that they were followed they employed the arts and all the craft of their fathers. They broke off boughs and dragged them on their footprints. That was easily followed, but when they sprang sideways over a ledge of rocks and down into the stream, whether they crossed it or went up it or down it, was not easily determined. As a matter of fact, they went not any of these ways. They sank themselves in a pool and remained motionless, only their noses being above the water.
But before doing this they picked up stones and threw them over the other side, each one just a little beyond the other, so that the leaves and twigs were disturbed just as they would have been had they run there. It was some little while before any of the pursuers discovered the trick, and by that time the two had swum under the water and were at the far end of the hole.
And when we remember that the sky was so low that a man could not stand upright, but was stooped as low as a wombat, and when we visualise the bloodwood not more than a foot high which measurement was its girth and not height as we know it, we can see that all running, and all searching were infinitely more difficult than they are now.
Besides that, it was near to dusk when it began. It was now almost quite dark.
The pursuers gave it up. They knew very well that during the night the fugitives would go far, while they had to return to the camp to see their families; so they gave up all thought of ever catching Krubi or finding out with what stranger she went.
Not so the chief. He was determined to find his wife, and he was no less determined to punish the man.
Therefore, next day he chose one of his sons to act in his place, and he set out to succeed or die. For many days he travelled, and luckily he headed down the stream. Now and then he came across tracks that he felt sure were theirs.
One day he bethought him of the spirits, so he kept a good lookout in order not to miss any signs of the clay with which to draw the marks of the mysticism. Also he killed a white wallaby and plucked off all its fur. When he found the clay he drew the lines on his chest and body and legs, and by sticking the white fur in the clay he was in the proper dress. The Spirit came to him, and during the night he found out what lay before him. He had to follow the creek until it joined the river. Then he had to follow the river until it joined the great sheet of water. That sheet was either the sea or a very great lake. How far from the head waters of the Murrumbidgee the sheet of water lay we cannot guess, but from the manner in which the tale was told it seemed a very long way. It seemed to take longer than one man's life to get there.
But the blacks believed that the Spirit prolonged the lives at least of the three so that the wrong might be righted and the sky might be lifted up.
So the day came when the chief saw the two he was following.
They were camped upon the edge of the lake. No bloodwood grew there, but in the ages before other great trees had grown, only instead of standing upright, they grew horizontally. They were still there. And they were covered with age-long dried slime, showing that the water must have submerged them. They were in hundreds, thousands, millions. Lying about them and amongst them were great bones and great skulls, but everything showed that never had any one walked upright. The length of the bones of the arms showed that the animals had reached out and had crawled, and the shape of the feet, too, was such that they must have pushed themselves forward just as the ones written about were doing.
The chief did not hurry. He reckoned that he had them both at his mercy. There was plenty of food. Sweet roots abounded. Birds and animals were there, and besides, the lake teemed with fish and with molluscs.
The chief knew what was to be done. He chose a sharp stone and set to work hollowing out one of the great logs.
At last it was finished. He pushed it into the water. His wife and the other man saw him from where they lived, and guessing his intention to follow them into the water, they tried to escape by running along the shore and climbing in their stooped fashion over the logs. They soon came to an oozy spot. They could go no further along the shore for they sank deep and had hard work to get out, so they took to the water. They could not see across, but they chanced their power to reach the other side. Then the chief launched his log boat. He shoved it with an oar, and he shoved it so hard that the water rushed over the prow and filled it.
That he knew would not do. He would have to build something to prevent that, so he placed a frame in front that reached up to the sky (which was not high) and he wove twigs and rushes through and about it until no water could get through.
Then he tried again.
But still the water got in. It rushed around the sides of his shield. So he retraced his steps to where he had found the clay, and again he marked his body with the mystic signs.
He found this time that he had to get a certain rod that lay somewhere in the bottom of the lake. It surely was a rod made of gold, for the blacks say that it was very bright and of the colour of gold.
He did not search far before he found it. He lifted it up, and, behold! as it touched the sky, the sky went on and up before it.
And the rod grew. What a change took place then! Some water left the main body and went up clinging to the sky. Birds that were accustomed to hanging to what was before the heavens were loth to leave it and they went up also.
'Possums clung for a little while and then let go. They to-day are the flying opossums and flying squirrels. So the sky went on up as far as the rod grew, and for as long as the chief pushed it. He was so awed at what he was doing that he forgot his quest-forgot to build the shield on the prow of the boat any higher, forgot that he only had wanted to rescue his wife and punish the marauder, and return to his tribe.
What became of the couple no one knows. Even what became of the chief and the rod no one is sure of. Whether they all died, and the rod, having done its work, sank back into the water, they can only guess at. They say that perhaps he is still somewhere pushing up the sky, and that it is when he grows tired and lets the rod down that the clouds cover the ground and fogs hide the world.
Perhaps, they say, that is the sky, and it only changes its colour from blue to white when it is again close to the ground.
Anyway, as soon as people found that they could stand upright they did so, and trees grew high and better.
The birds fly through the air because they could not go on up with the sky for want of food, and yet they do not wish to remain back on earth.
That is the story of the lifting up of the sky as told by the tribe of aborigines who inhabit a part of the head waters of the Murrumbidgee River.