One still, hot day in the alcheringa, the people of a tribe that inhabited the same part of Australia as those written of in the preceding story were so prostrated with the intense heat as to be unable to eat. They lay in whatever of shade they could find and awaited the thunderstorm that sometimes came on such days and proved their salvation. Without such coolings of the air very few people could survive. The trees and shrubs were wilting. Eucalypti turned their leaf-edges to the sun to save the blades. Other leaves grew limp. Whatever else of vegetation was there showed the baleful effects of the extreme temperature. A rocky gully had the waratah, and it, too, was as discomfited as the rest of the scanty flora.
But no great cumulus clouds rolled up from the west, and the night fell upon a tired earth and a tired vegetation, and a tired people. No one could sleep. There were mosquitoes to prevent sleep, even if their weariness would send them into slumber. The little children were fretful, and the dogs occasionally hitched themselves closer to some person as if they got a little comfort from such companionship. The sun had gone over the horizon a red ball, and flaming streaks seemed to betoken another day of furnace-like heat to be ready to follow.
Then the sky moved.
In the darkness, with just a shred of the red of the burning west left, and with the stars showing brightly, and a rising moon putting an inquisitive edge over the haze of the east, the sky heaved and billowed arid tumbled and tottered. The moon rocked. The stars tumbled and clattered and fell one against the other. The Milky Way-the "pukkan" or track up which departed spirits often reached the world to which they went-also billowed and it split, and in some places is never joined together again, leaving blank spaces that we call "Magellan's Clouds." These "clouds" to the aborigines are pitfalls set to trap the unworthy spirit travellers, and are also places through which spirits may drop back to earth to assist relatives, or to return in human form.
The great star-groups were scattered, and many of them, loosened from their holds, came flashing to the earth. They were heralded by a huge mass, red and glowing, that added to the number of falling stars by bursting with a deafening roar and scattering in a million pieces which were molten.
The people were too seared to move. The disturbance continued all night. When the smoke and the clamour had died away and morning had dawned it was seen that the holes had been burnt into the earth, and great mounds were formed by the molten pieces, and many caves were made. The burning was still going on, for molten masses and flame were being belched forth.
Certain of the plants received the red pieces of the bursting masses, and they are the red flowering ones. The Waratah is one of them.