Arrilla was of the Kamilaroi.
He lived principally on the coast, not far from our present village of Coal Cliff-between that and Stanwell Park.
Perhaps he was not any real individual, but only a type-creation. Be that as it may, all that is ascribed to him in this legend is what happened under the circumstances delineated. The story was told as being of one particular man, and yet there is that in the telling of it that seems to indicate a wish to show tradition rather than tell of the actual doings of one person.
He was the cleverest of his tribe.
He was not afraid of the sea.
He roamed as he willed over his country, and even when enemies appeared on the top of the range and a hurried council was called by the King, Arrilla did not hasten to obey the summons if he happened to be studying the inhabitants of the sea, or the denizens of the creeks that came clattering down the slopes and spread out into beautiful lagoons on the beach.
For his country is a narrow strip of sub-tropical country, backed by a jungled range with ironstone scarps for its topmost face scarred by cold creeks and edged by bold promontories and yellow scalloped beaches that bound the limitless expanse of Pacific Ocean.
He never dared to remain away from a summoned council altogether.
And one morning when the sun shone calmly and clearly down through the blue, and the mountain was purpled, and the lower slopes were deep green and dark with the jungle, and the strip of undulating land that lay between it and the beach was bright with the semi-tropical verdure such as the tamarind, and the Archontophoenix and Livistona palms, and the giant Alsophila ferns-Cooperi and australis-and the promontories stood with their shaggy westringias and hibbertias and hardenbergias and white button-flowers all aglow, staring, staring, staring out over the blue lazy ocean, and casting blue and purple shadows across the yellow sand of the beach, even reaching to the masses of white foam that were swept ashore, when the little breakers were dashed to pieces, the enemy was seen on the top, above the dark wall of ironstone, right out on the edge, waving spears, and he was heard shouting to the family of Arrilla down on the beach.
The voice carried far.
Aborigines could be heard at a distance of seven miles.
They made hollows with their hands, and the coo-ee that rang through them was a wonderfully penetrating and floating call.
The King was young.
It was not long since his father was laid in the shallow grave that was scooped out in a grassgrown sandhill.
The spears were buried with him.
They put him sitting with his face towards the mountain and his knees doubled up to his chin and his arms crossed over his stomach.
His three wives still sat and beat their breasts in grief, and the blood that ran from the cuts they made in their thighs was dried on their legs, for they would not wash it off for three moons.
The young King was as stern as his father had been.
He was as straight as a rush, too, and he was fleet and wary.
Above all, he was determined.
So when Arrilla delayed he ordered two strong men to go to the lagoon and seize him.
Now Arrilla was cunning.
He had practised his subtleties on the old King, and that is why he was allowed to respond to a summons as unhurriedly as he wished.
Arrilla asked to be allowed to speak, and the permission being given, he drew himself erect and waited until he saw that the expectancy of the warriors of the family was beginning to make them impatient.
Then he pointed to the highest spot on the range. He told them that in his wanderings there he had seen a spirit. The spirit was not friendly to him, but would be good to any stranger who came over the range at that point. He said that the enemy that then stood on the very spot was receiving his courage from that spirit and there was only one way to overcome it.
It was not by an organised battle. It was by strategy, and he was the only fighting man of the family who possessed the cunning.
And in that way Arrilla tried to palliate the King and to escape the opprobrium that always attached itself to those who disobeyed or were dilatory in answering a call to the councils or an order of the King.
But this time the King was not convinced. He said that the meeting was to be adjourned until night came, and then the further evidence of Arrilla would be taken. There was, he said, no immediate danger from the enemy above. If he were prepared to fight he would have been down before, said the King. He was only seeking to make the people below too angry to fight, and then he might bring his forces down and get the gain he was after.
So the meeting broke up. Arrilla was free. That much he had gained he knew, for he saw very plainly that though he had been always before successful in placating the King, this time he was in deep disfavour and perhaps would be punished.
He had succeeded in making his fellows think he had had communion with a spirit on the top of the range, and with them that belief gave him a great prestige. All aborigines were vain and fond of power, and in that they were no very great amount different from white people.
Arrilla went to the wurley of his wife, and for a little while he played with his two children.
Then he looked into the dilly-bag, and finding that there was not much in it, he decided to go out in search of some food. He had noticed women putting things within reach of his wife, but he had been too busy with his own interests to see that his larder was so empty.
Taking up a spear and a shield he strode into the scrub. There was, at first, a thick tangle of boronia-Boronia mollis-and its scent was not pleasant to him. Bracken fern, rank and tall, Chorizema and snake vine, Bauera with the always blooming pink flowerets, and Tetratheca, with the layer of tangled twigs, made the going difficult. Prickly wild raspberries made the way even more hard for him. Then he entered the dark jungle itself. Its edge was a mass of myrtles interwoven with the rubus and flowering tecoma and clematis. These vines lay thick on the top of lantana, and through them grew up the Lillypilli and Rapanea and the fluffy-flowered Callicoma. Xylomelum pyriforme or native pear trees with their wooden fruit and unpleasant odour, and the Goodenia ovata with its dark serrated leaves and yellow flowers and the Pittosporum and Sassafras were all clasped together and held close by native jasmine, and up through it all the cabbage and bangalow palms and the Eucalyptus microcorys or tallow wood and the Swamp Mahogany or robusta of the eucalyptus genus stood into the humid air.
Big cold boulders were lying undeil the deep shade of the scrub and ferns and the clustered true and false sarsaparilla, and they were covered with moss and lichen, and attached to them were dendrobiums and big aspleniums or bird's-nest fern.
It was always dark in there.
The lyre-bird darted under the thick moss and the carpet of Randia and tiny wild violets overlaid with the tough and thick-leaved Smilax australis.
Its nest was placed on a flat ledge of the biggest rock and it had in it a furry youngster that sat as still as the rock itself, its eye of black fire fully taking in the cautious Arrilla.
Right in front the mountain reared, still clothed with the jungle, with giant rocks fast to the sides, and the vines, especially the tough monkey vines, clinging to big gums-the turpentine, the woolly-butt, and the spotted gum and the wild fig with its mass of roots between which men could hide and wallabies often had their lairs.
Arrilla sought the wallaby. The rufus-necked scrub variety was in plenty here. Arrilla only had to stand still with poised spear and an unsuspecting marsupial hopped into view.
It was like a dart of lightning.
Then Arrilla "twooped" like a beautiful wonga pigeon, and he whistled like the king parrot, and those birds came to what they supposed was a calling mate.
He very soon had a fine collection of game for his food and the meat of his family. He was a snake man and only reptiles were tabu to him.
It grew night again.
The rest of his people were scattered about on the clearer and lighter land, nearer the beach-some idling and some fashioning weapons. Some indeed were making cradles, but not on rockers as are our cradles. They had strings attached and could be fastened round the neck of the mother.
A few had made a poison from the acacia for their fishing, and yet others were wading in pools in the rocks seeking mussels and shell-fish.
Beyond, the lazy sea just heaved and sparkled and sent its messengers of breakers to be broken on the sand.
By this time a black band had spread along the horizon, for night was approaching.
What had become of the gesticulating blackfellow on top of the range no one knew.
No cooking fires were lighted. Little heaps of sticks lay about-all gathered by the fathers and the children. Suitable stones were collected too, but the order had gone out that everyone must eat either raw or cold food, and a big council would be held on the low, flat, grassy patch down near the lagoon.
Only after nightfall did the sea begin to moan.
The little crash of the breaking waves in the daytime was quite cheerful, but in the darkness it seemed to ring with a different tone-one of sadness and pessimism.
The council sat in the dark. Only the fighting men and the priests were in it after all.
Arrilla was there.
The discussion did not last long, and it all centred upon the tale that Arrilla had told.
He was a frightened Arrilla when he found that he was expected to climb to the highest point of the range and ask questions of the spirit to whom he said he had spoken.
He dared not disobey.
When the meeting was over and the men had retired to their wurlies and their families, Arrilla sat for a long time arranging in his mind how he would proceed as soon as it was light.
He determined not to go by the way he had gone before. He would go a long way round.
He knew of a gully up which it was easy to climb and which would allow him to approach the enemy by a flanking manoeuvre, and then he could spy upon him and perhaps use his spear.
So in the morning he said "good-bye" to his wife, and having received a sacred stone from the priest for placing in his hair above his ear for good luck, he again crossed through the boronia and leptospermum and bracken undergrowth, and entered the jungle. He went to the rock on which was the lyre-bird's nest, and then turning to the right he passed close to a giant nettle tree and a Stenocarpus, and that way the going was easy. He was still under the big trees and hidden from anyone's sight unless someone were very close.
The scent of the dendrobiums came to him, and as he passed lilly-pillies he broke off a few clusters of the white and juicy fruit and ate them. He picked up ripe and luscious black apples, and here and there he gathered the little red berries of the Rubus parvifolius. The wild raspberry he made a detour for, but it was not growing in that part. Occasionally he tore up a leaf from the bird's-nest fern and at the end there is a crisp and succulent part which he chewed.
He reached the upper part of the creek that formed the lagoon down below on the beach, and as he was gradually ascending the lower slope and using the maximum of precaution, he came to a spot high on the mountain side from which he could look out through the branches and over the heads of the tall shrubs and high gums to the sea.
The sun was well up and the morning was becoming warm.
The sea was still lazy though a little glitter on its surface showed that it was under a disturbance, slight enough, but discernible.
Then he turned his back to that view and the climb proper commenced. It was steep. He hoisted himself by grasping the stems of the callicomas and the rapaneas and the myrtles that grew sparsely here, and sometimes he was lucky enough to find a monkey vine hanging to a tree and that gave him a splendid lift. Though he was somewhat afraid of his errand and quite alone, he was not anxious to lose time; yet the temptation to swing on a monkey vine was too strong, and finding one that had a big loose bight in it he seized it and pushed himself off with his feet. Out he swung over the steep side and above the undergrowth and through the lesser limbs of the Pittosporum that grew just beneath, and then he had a clear and uninterrupted sight of the country at the base, and of the beach and the sea. The vine gave a little twist and returned, and the swing was exhilarating.
But he only did it once, and letting the vine go he faced the escarpment and went on with his climb. He secured precarious footing on the stones and exposed roots and in the moss. Sometimes a loosened stone went bounding and crashing down until it struck the foot of a tree and lodged there.
Arrilla now looked up. He had reached a spot where the big trees did not grow, and the only verdure was rock fern and dianella rush with its tiny blue and yellow flowers and its blue fruit.
Above him the blue sky was unclouded and a great lazy sea-eagle floated serenely.
He had disturbed many birds in his climb. The coach-whip had darted from him. The wonga pigeon and the little brown fantail and the woodpeckers and the honey-eaters and the diamond sparrows and white-eyes and silver-eyes all had paused to watch him go by. Satin birds and catbirds and parrots sat in the branches or darted through them as he passed under, and in the wild figtrees the beautiful flock and topknot pigeons clattered and scrambled for fruit.
A small colony of flying foxes hung like a giant swarm of bees in a fire-tree, but Arrilla did not see them. This fire-tree is a Brachychiton, and it is of the same genus as the Queensland bottletree. It sheds its leaves and its brilliant flamelike flowers cover the twigs and blaze out before any of the new season's leaves come. It is rightly named "fire-tree," though some people call it "flame-tree," and apply this -name also to the Erythrina or coral tree of Queensland.
He was in the narrow cleft, between the sides of which the water raced in rain-time, and he was near to the top.
When reached it, and before he had climbed over the ledge, he was in a bracing upper air. The verdure, he could see as he peered, was different. The Epacris and the Boronia pinnata and Boronia serrulata, and also Star-hair made a pink carpet.
Arrilla was out of breath and perspiring when he heaved himself over and stood upright in that upper air with its scents of new flowers.
On damp and mossy and heathy patches the Blandfordia bloomed. On drier parts the false sarsaparilla or Hardenbergia monophylla clambered over the stones and boulders and clefts, and hung its blooms in purple clusters.
Here and there a big yellow Podolepis acuminata glowed and the white fur from the stems was detached and lay on the ground.
Box-trees-the Eucalyptus bicolor-and stunted Banksia serrata, and Callistemon lanceolatus tried to find sustenance.
Mustering all his caution Arrilla advanced along the edge of the mountain. Heath abounded, hard rock-fern clustered thickly, stunted callitris scrub, Olearia or mountain musk' dwarfed eucalypts, honey-flower or Lambertia formosa, little casuarinas, wild currants, or Leucopogon richei and bracken fern, were matted with kennedya, well out in crimson and black flowers, and here and there rising through them stood the gorgeous crimson waratah.
As Arrilla quietly crept along the edge he could see down over the verdure to his people near the beach, and he noticed that many were looking anxiously in the direction of the point on which he had seen the enemy native the day before.
He had all their love for the representative flower of his race-the waratah-and he plucked one in order to render himself immune from fire should that occur.
Suddenly he cast himself into a rigid statuesque figure of a man.
He heard the breaking of twigs and the footfall of someone. lie moved not a muscle. His spears were in the hand that held the shield.
The noise ceased.
Then the air darkened. There were no clouds, but a great deep shade spread all over the earth.
Arrilla looked to the sun.
It was disappearing.
He grew mightily afraid.
He had almost persuaded himself that he really had spoken some time or other to a spirit up there, and this terrible fading out of the sunlight came to show that he was even then trespassing on the country of it. The place surely was sanctuary and tabu.
So making the sign with his hand that he had seen the priests make he softly whispered a magic word.
The strange shade grew rapidly deeper and then Arrilla became conscious that another aborigine was standing just as frightened as he and was looking at him fixedly.
Arrilla made a friendly sign and the other advanced. He was an utter stranger but his language was much like Arrilla's. They could well understand one another.
He told Arrilla that he was in country strange to him, and his story was a long one. He had never before seen the sea, and he did not know what it was. He believed it to be a great sky, and beyond it there was, a very bad country. He said that the sky had fallen down and that it was slowly creeping on and on and eventually would cover the whole world. In his country he had heard some such tale about it. It was that a great ancestor had left the earth and had gone up into the sky. He went so fast that he drove right through it and he had seen the very bad country that is beyond it. He tried to return but the hole that he had made was closed up. Yet he did not give up hope, and by beating upon it he loosened it and it fell. It had as much life as a man, and it very much wanted to return from whence it had fallen. The ancestor was always with it, floating upon it. And when it tried to rise up to return the ancestor beat it back and it could do nothing but sink down and break itself on the beach. However, it was surely growing and spreading, and the time must come when it would cover the earth.
He had heard all these things and he had determined to see for himself, and that is why he had made the journey in the direction his people had pointed out as the one where the great sky lay.
Arrilla was delighted to hear this story. Though he had been born near the sea and lived there all his life he had no story of what it is, nor how it comes to be there, nor why the waves beat on the shore.
He advised the strange man to wait until he had gone back and communicated the news to his people, and said that when the signal fire was made he might come down and be received by the King. But Arrilla told him to say that a spirit gave him all this information about the sea and the waves, and that while it was being told Arrilla was present.
Both forgot their fears of the strange darkness that had come over, and down below his people still wondered what had caused it. They thought it was because Arrilla had met the spirit and was talking to it, and as the shade passed and the sun came out bright again and the gladness that is usual to the sunshine spread again all were in high glee. There was nothing wrong, they said, and Arrilla would return with news and the spirit he had seen and spoken with would assist them if they had to fight with any trespassing tribe or family group.
Soon after Arrilla joined his people again, having come down the way he went up, and he told the story of the sea as he had heard it from the stranger, though he said it was told him by the spirit.
Fires were lighted, and when the man came to them he said he was very hungry, and he told the story just as Arrilla had.
A wife was found for him from amongst the women-girls and he lived there for the rest of his days with that family.
The sea grew rough when the wind blew, and he said that he had heard that that was the impatience of the sea. It was angry and impatient because of the great delay occasioned by the ancestor who refused to let it go back to where it had fallen from.
The roar is the voice of the ancestor who always refuses to go back. When the calm came again it was because the sea was worn out and very tired, but nothing could stop it from ever creeping further and further over the land. The winds, be said, were the spirit friends of the sea, and they tried to assist it to regain the place that it had lost.
The Kamilaroi people always believed that the day would come when the sky would go back and the earth would be quite dry and life could not exist, but they were not afraid, for they said that the day was yet a long way off.