There was a time when Australian animals and Australian birds-the fauna and the avifauna-lived in the greatest harmony, and the thought of vieing one with the other to prove which was the stronger never entered their heads.
But a chief arose amongst the aborigines of the Megalong Valley who always set some one at variance with his neighbours, and, though he never went into battle himself, he caused many a war and much bloodshed. At last a time came when his people refused to quarrel at his behest.
The chief had one great gift. He could make friends with the animals and the birds just as easily as he could cause enmity between the people. He had one beautiful bird that was his especial joy. He taught it to mimic every other specimen of avifauna, and nearly every sound made by everything else. At that time all the other birds just sang or whistled softly, and the only animals other than the native dogs (which are not really Australian, any more than descendants of Irish, English or Scots can be) that made any cry at all were the native cats. The big tiger cats made a dreadful cry, the little spotted native cat miau-ed only; other animals simply murmured. The woolly native bear made no noise at all, and the cry he has now they say, is not his own, but is in imitation of something else.
One day a big tiger cat heard a cry. He took it to be the call of another cat. He answered it and strode through the scrub in search of the relation who uttered it. The sound seemed to come from directly ahead, but when the cat had searched the spot he was amazed and angered to find that the call of what he supposed to be a mate was behind him. Many times he went back and then forward, but all he could see was the chief of the black men and the chief's favourite bird.
He was afraid of that chief. He had many times seen the quarrels and fights amongst the people who were spurred by him to kill one another.
During the searching the big striped cat met a wallaby. He told the wallaby of his dilemma. That animal had met the same thing. His soft murmuring and his occasional heavy grunt had been answered, but all he could find when he searched was the man and his brown bird with the perky head and sharp black eyes, and the wonderful tail.
Then the cat swore vengeance. He said he would follow the bird day and night, and one time or another he would kill it and eat it up.
So the cat fixed his attention on the man and his bird. He very soon found out that the man had taught the bird to mock all the sounds of the bush, and nothing delighted both of them more than to watch the fruitless searching of those they deceived.
One day he sprang upon the mocking-bird, and its struggles did not last long.
The black chief did not mind at all. He waved his arms gently, and purred and called in a strange way. His feathered friends came round him. He threw a nullah at the cat and killed it. He lifted up the clawed and torn mocking-bird and then showed anger, and the other birds became angry too. A pretty little native bear reared up its sleepy head to see what all the fuss was about, and shaking the youngster that clung to her back so that he might take a firmer hold, she slid to the ground. Another cat sprang upon the native bear (koala). The koala was terrified, and it was then that she first cried, for she had heard human beings cry when they were very frightened.
Up high in the branches of a tree sat a greenish bird. He had often heard the mocking-bird giving the calls and the sounds of the bush, and he tried to do it. He imitated the cat splendidly. In the cat's own voice he called it many terrible names, hiding the while behind a limb or crouching unseen in a deep fork. (The cat-bird now calls like a cat and hides behind a limb.) The vulture-crowned leather-head jabbered without ceasing and the chattering of that bird now is the remnant of the jabbering of that day.
A big brown and white bird-the kookaburra sat stolidly until he heard the cat-bird, and then he found that he could really be highly amused. His feelings found vent, and in the most wonderful way he laughed and laughed and laughed again. He enjoyed hearing the cat-bird calling just like a cat.
The kookaburra started the black and the white cockatoos. They screamed. They had never screamed before. They started the little robins and wrens and tits and shrikes, indeed, every bird in the bush. The clamour was awful.
The black chief who was responsible for all this hurled his spear. This was a signal for the rest of his people. They were standing awed or cowering in the thick scrub or behind rocks, but now they emerged and flung weapons, at intervals retiring to the cover again.
A boomerang that was flung stuck fast in the bark of a turpentine tree.
The din was added to when the birds attacked the animals. They had the advantage of being able to fly, and the animals were being defeated, but to their surprise they found that they could follow the birds by climbing. Even snakes wound themselves about small trees and climbed up.
Exhausted birds fell to the ground and were eaten by the sly cats that stayed to pick up just such dainties.
Darkness fell. Flying foxes were hanging to the big turpentine and they and the owls took but little notice of the disturbance until they began to move as is their wont when the daylight was disappearing before the blowing of the Big Man of the East. One big flying fox let go his hold and sank, only to be held by the boomerang that was fast in the bark. But that gave way and the huge bat, letting it go, spread his great leathery wings and sailed swiftly westward after the set sun.
While this struggling between the fauna and the avifauna was going on, and the black men of the tribe and the women and the children cowered again, more frightened than before, and the Bad Chief pretended to be as ignorant as they, the big flying fox reached the sun, and sank into it. A great shaft of light burst forth and returned to the earth. The birds and animals were blinded. They scurried down into dark places. So we have birds that can only see in the night. The sunlight blinds them.
There still are some wallabies and snakes and other ground animals that climb trees.
Also because a beautiful grey gang-gang was bitten by a cat and escaped, allowing some of its blood to stain the top of its head, we see the crimson crested gang-gang cockatoo. All other birds that remained alive, though bitten and bleeding, have now some crimson or pink feathers, such as the corella and the red head and others. Flowers that were below the wounded things and received some drops of their blood are tinged with red. The gang-gang fell into a great Doryanthes, and it is one of the reddest flowers of the bush. Before the bird died it crawled under a flowering burrawang. The seeds soaked up the last drops of blood and they are very red to-day. Drops fell upon the dainty epacris too, and upon the waratah. But there are other stories to account for the reddening of both these flowers.
The blacks of the Burragorang had a very beautiful story of the reddening of the waratah, and as they loved this bloom most of all, they told it often.
It is those of Tuggerall Lakes who told the pretty legend of the reddening of the epacris.