The whole George's River tribe were camped on the flat between the bouldered cliffs that stand up high on each side of the stream. The weather had been very dry. Hot winds brought the yellow dust from the and regions of South and Central Australia and they wilted the vegetation of New South Wales and parched the people. One of those droughts, so well known to us, was withering the land. Though the happening took place many thousands of years ago, and though the story may have been altered in the telling by so many fathers right down the line, the story of the drought is the same as that we can tell of such a dry time.
The river had not been in flood for many moons, or, perhaps, years. Fish and eels were scarce. Only the big holes had them. Those holes are very deep, especially in that part of the river that has great flat rocks lying athwart it and stretching out on each side of the bed. Seventy feet is considered to be the depth at many places.
Most of the people were lolling in the shade. Only the hardiest stood motionless on the rock bottom with poised spear, while the hidden baiters gently scattered fine pith from the cabbage palm or chewed up seeds of the macrozamia, to attract the fish and bring them to the surface.
Warmeela, the son of the King, was the hardiest of all, and Krubi, his lubra, was never done warning him about the risks he took in war and in the hunting. Even now she stood under the myrtles, and with a waratah that she held in her hand she beckoned Warmeela to come to her.
Warmeela took no notice. Instead, he glanced to the west, for away over there great thunderclouds swelled slowly but surely up, and the faint zephyr that swung softly down the ravine ceased altogether. The hot air stood still. The only movement was the thrust spear as with a zip it pierced the water, and the quick kick of the impaled fish as he was suddenly lifted out and dropped into a crevice that prolonged his life for a little while, but in the water of which he soon struggled his last.
Then came the roll of thunder. The clouds blotted out the sun. A shade like the blackened haze of an eclipse spread over the river. One of the baiters went back to the myrtle scrub. Warmeela remained. Then the other went, and only Warmeela still stood by the hole. The tribe was moving back to a huge cave they knew of that had been formed by the rolling together some time long since, of several boulders. There was shelter for every man, woman, and child.
Warmeela's spear was poised. Like the cracks of millions of whips at the one time the first crash came and with it a frightful jagged fork of lightning. Warmeela was struck. His spear was hurled from his hand over the water, and stuck quivering many feet deep in a soft place on the opposite bank. There was a charred mark down its whole length, and the bone point was wrenched off. Warmeela lay prone amongst his struggling fish. A brother rushed to him and bore him back to the tribe.
Rain poured down. Roll after roll, crash after crash; thunder and lightning shook the hills. The wind came tearing through the giant gums and swirling amongst the shrubs.
Warmeela was unconscious of it all. He knew nothing of the consternation of his tribe. His old mother chafed his hands and the king gazed stupidly. Krubi, his pretty wife, held his head on her arm.
The storm rolled off again as quickly as it came, and then Warmeela opened his eyes. They were now useless. A print of a gumtree lay across his face, and the limbs were marked over his eyes. His sight was gone. A white streak appeared in his jet-black hair and one arm hung paralysed at his side. The next morning he tried to walk, and it was seen that he had a terrible limp.
Now Warmeela was most fond of the honey of the waratah. The great Doryanthes excelsa produced much honey, but ants and gnats got that. Seldom did any aborigine regale himself with the juice of that flower, because he did not like the taste of ants nor the stings of flies. The waratah was different. Its honey, though less, is sweeter, and mostly there were no insects in the flower at all. But though it may seem strange to us, the bloom of the waratah was at that time very soft.
That was the statement of a broken-hearted native, whom the white called Griffiths, to the pioneer out Taralga way about sixty years ago. His real name was Coomerkudgkala.
Poor Warmeela. He had been so strong, so agile, so big hearted and so high-spirited. He now stumbled amidst the rocks. He would suffer none but Krubi to lead him. And often Krubi had to engage herself with those things that women did, but always before she was half through the task, Warmeela called her. If she did not come at once he went off by himself.
The waratahs were blooming again, for a year had gone by, and Warmeela often put out his hand hoping to feel one.
He still hated to be handed anything. He wanted to feel and fetch and carry for himself.
Two flowers bothered him. The big yellow Podolepis acuminata and the flower of the native Musk (Olearia argophylla) often deceived him, and once some other flower poisoned him.
One day Krubi, his beautiful wife, came upon him when his heart was sad and he was ill and depressed. She asked plaintively the reason for his sadness. Warmeela felt for her hand and answered slowly, saying that he did not know one flower from another. He said he would drink of the honey of the waratah, but he could not find it. He too often mistook others for it.
Krubi promised that she would find a way so that Warmeela should always know the flower he wanted so much.
She led him to the place where the lightning had struck. She found a mark of it on the rock and she followed it knowing not why. Warmeela was willing to hold her hand and be led. The mark lay straight on over the flat rocks and the boulders, to the eroded bank. It showed on the bare root of a gumtree that it had split. Krubi looked up at the shape of the tree and she saw that it was the one printed on her husband's face. She sat beside the gum and there she was inspired. She spoke, and Warmeela did not understand the words. No one knows what she said. After a time she got up, and bidding Warmeela to wait, she sped over the rocks and logs until she found the beautiful red waratah. She returned with it and held it close to the crack in the gumtree. The soft pistils were drawn up and they stiffened. Krubi held the flower to Warmeela, and when he felt the difference he clasped his big hand over it. He clasped too hard. He bent the red pistils. In that moment a big red light lit the sky. A red ball descended, lighting up the firmament in such a way as to startle all who saw it. Some screamed and rushed about.
Not so Krubi nor Warmeela. They knew what no one else knew. The prayer of Krubi had been answered and thenceforth Warmeela would have no difficulty in distinguishing the flower he loved.