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Why Blackfellows Never Travel Alone

A Legend of the Wallaroo and Willy-Wagtail

Alone, on a rocky ridge high in the mountains, a wallaroo made his camping-ground beneath the shady boughs of a mountain ash. He was very old and infirm, and too weak to hunt for food, so he sat by his camp fire all the day and lashed the ground with his strong tail. The low, rhythmic thud-thud-thud of its beating could be heard above the song of the birds. One day a paddymelon was passing close by the camp when he heard the beating of the wallaroo's tail. After following the direction of the sound, he came to the camp, and asked the wallaroo if he was in trouble. "I am very sick," the wallaroo replied. "Many times have I seen the snow on the mountains, and I am growing too old to hunt. My brothers have gone to the river beyond the hills to spear fish for me, but they have not returned, and I am very hungry." The paddymelon was sorry for the old wallaroo, and offered to go to the river in search of the fishermen. He walked a short distance from the camp when the wallaroo, called after him: "You had better take my boomerang with you, as you may meet some game on your way." The paddymelon turned around and said: "All right, I shall take it. Throw it to me!" The crafty wallaroo picked up the boomerang, and, taking careful aim, threw it with all his strength. It struck the unfortunate paddymelon a terrible blow and killed him. The wallaroo took the fur from the dead animal and prepared the body for cooking. He dug a hole in the ground, lined it with stones, placed the meat in it, and covered it with flat stones. He then built a fire over it, and in a short time had cooked a tasty meal.

When the paddymelon did not return home, his relatives became very anxious about him. At last an iguana offered to go in search of the missing member of the tribe. He followed the tracks of the paddymelon through the bush, and they led to the camp of the wallaroo. When the iguana approached the camp the wallaroo was beating his tail on the ground. The iguana asked him if he needed any assistance, and, in a plaintive voice, the wallaroo told him the same tale that had been told to the unlucky paddymelon. The iguana was sorry for the old wallaroo, and offered to seek his relatives for him and tell them of his plight. When he turned to go, the wallaroo asked him if he would take a spear with him in case he met with any game on his way. The iguana said, "I will take it; throw it to me." The wallaroo had been waiting for this opportunity, and he hurled the spear so swiftly that it transfixed the iguana before he could jump aside. The wallaroo then prepared another meal as before.

One day passed, and yet another, but the iguana did not return to the hunting ground of his tribe. They sent a bandicoot in search of the iguana, but he met the same fate at the hands of the wallaroo. After waiting anxiously for the return of the bandicoot, the head-men of the tribe called a great council. When all the members were assembled together a headman said: "Many moons ago our brother the paddymelon left the camp before the sun was over the hills, and when night came he did not return, and his shadow has not darkened the ground for many days. The iguana went in search of him. He is a great hunter, but he has not returned. Yesterday the bandicoot followed in their tracks, but I fear the shadow of death has fallen over them. We must find them." Many suggestions were placed before the council, but none of them seemed practical. Then the willy-wagtail, who was a clever medicine man, spoke: "Long have we waited for the return of our brothers, and yet we do not hear their call. I shall follow their footsteps even to the shadowy hunting ground of death, but I shall return to you." The council consented to the willy-wagtail's proposal, but they were afraid that he would walk to the Land of Silence and never return.

Before dawn the willy-wagtail started on his dangerous and lonely journey. When he reached the summit of the mountain, he could see, far in the distance, the grey smoke of the camp fires wreathing slowly above the trees. With a sad but brave heart he continued his journey. After travelling for some time he heard the sound of the wallaroo beating his tail on the ground. At first he thought it was a wallaroo hopping through the bush, but, as the sound did not grow louder or fainter, he became suspicious, and approached the camp very cautiously. The wallaroo saw him approaching, and, calling to him, told him the same story as before. The willy-wagtail offered to seek his relatives for him, and, with this intention, started on his way. When he had gone a short distance the wallaroo offered him a boomerang. The willy-wagtail was very suspicious about his intention, and said: "Throw it to me; it will save me the trouble of walking back to the tree."

The wallaroo then threw the weapon with all his strength, but the willy-wagtail was prepared, and, as soon as the boomerang left the hand of the thrower, he jumped quickly aside. When the wallaroo saw he had missed his mark, and that his evil intentions were known to the willy-wagtail, he became furious, and threw all his spears and nullanullas at him, but failed to strike him. Then the willy-wagtail took the boomerang and threw it at the old wallaroo. It struck him a heavy blow on the chest and killed him. He then skinned him, and prepared to cook his flesh, but he was too old and tough to eat. He now took the skin and returned to the camp. When he told the tribe of the fate of their brothers they were sorely grieved, but their grief was turned to joy when the willy-wagtail showed them the skin of their enemy. The wagtail was rewarded by being made a headman of the tribe.

The headmen now decided that blackfellows should never travel alone. As a mark of remembrance, wallaroos have always had a strip of white fur on their breasts. It is an indication of the boomerang wound that killed the old wallaroo of Mountain Ridge.

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