Sacred Texts  Australia  Index  Previous  Next 


Away in the Kowmung and around the rugged peaks under which lie the great lodes containing the silver of Yarranderie, roamed a tribe of blacks who have their own tale of the first kangaroo.

These people said that one day a woman hid from her husband. This man was a very clever food-getter. His unerring boomerang brought down every goanna. The boomerangs that he fashioned for playthings only, would spin away out on their farthest boundary, and would return and spin again and again above the head of the thrower before swiftly landing at his feet, and that which he made as a weapon and, of course, would not return, was always the heaviest and most deadly, whether in hunting or in war.

He could deftly turn over the porcupine and could not miss a bird if he tried to bring it down. Therefore the bag of his wife was always filled with goanna tails, with great porcupines and birds and grubs, though the wife herself got the grubs as well as the fern roots. The grubs were the beautiful white ones that lie in interstices in old logs and are called "nuttoo."

The first kangaroo was said to be a great beast and was not innocent of eating small black children. Should a picaninny endeavour to crawl away from its rug or its sheet of bark its mother always threatened it with the calling of the giant kangaroo.

Now the heavily-laden wife one day rebelled. She threw away the heavy bag and ran off. She was fleet of foot, too, for no one could catch her.

Around that part of the country are many swampy patches, and these patches are mostly densely wooded with the Melaleuca Maideni and were similarly overgrown in the far-off days of the first kangaroo.

The fugitive wife hid behind the trunk of one of the biggest of these trees. Its bark is white, and in broad patches, soft and paper-like and irregular. It will peel off in huge scales.

Her husband often ran close to her, and she had to be very, very quick in her darting from the cover, and racing on.

Days went by and still she was not caught. But she was growing tired, and she began to think that carrying a heavy bag of tainted flesh was not so terrible a task as that of playing the grim game of hide and seek for life, in which she was obliged now to indulge continually.

Had she not been one of the women who had learned secrets that were supposed only to be possessed by the men, she would never have dared to rebel. If things came to the worst she could invoke the aid of the spirit, and something would happen in her favour. She knew where the necessary clay was to be found. The only trouble was that she was unaware of the whereabouts of her people. However, she chanced everything, and scaling the precipitous side of the mount she saw the smoke from the camp fire.

She was overjoyed to perceive that it was away towards the mountain now called "Werong," whereas when she escaped it was under "Alum Rocks." And between her and Alum Rocks was a deposit of red, and yellow, and white pipeclay. Thither she went, and soon she was correctly marked, and she even stuck the wild cotton in the lines of the clay to make sure that she would get the aid she needed.

By that time it was night, and she slept.

In the morning food came to her. The nuttoo grub poked its head from the trunk of the grass tree, and she had no difficulty in drawing him right out; and, roasted, he was very sweet. The taste of the nuttoo made her long for the grub that may nearly always be found in wattles.

It is well known that a very large number of very destructive insects inhabit wattles. The coolibah, too, is another host for pest grubs. And wattle and coolibabs grew in plenty, therefore in less than two hours she had collected a bagful, and then she sought a place to make another fire.

This fire was her undoing. The smoke was observed by her husband. He had never ceased to watch and to search for her.

With all his cunning he approached the little blue curling threads.

The woman was by no means unmindful. Her ears were alert, and distinctly she detected the distant crack of the broken twig, and the rustle o' disturbed dead leaves. The woman called upon the spirit, beating her breasts the while. Between her and the stealthily creeping man was a tea-tree stump. The top had been torn out by a gale and lay dead on the ground. She crept to it, and straightening up she clasped her arms around it, beseeching the spirit at the same time to protect and guide her.

The tea-tree stump became animated. It pulsed with life. It had almost parted from its roots before, for it was long since the branched top had been wrenched from it.

The man saw it quite plainly. It was only a tea-tree stump. The great flakes of bark were quite plain to him.

Therefore he did not watch it particularly. On he came until he could see the smouldering fire, and his nostrils told him of the cooking meal. There was no sign of his wife.

Well, he thought, never mind, this time. He would eat her meal and then he would spy out her tracks and follow her.

He passed within a few yards of the tea-tree stump, and just as he was quite off his guard and was about to begin the meal, the stump bounded off. He threw a glance up to it. Surprise held him paralysed. There, clinging to the stump as it went, was his wife.

He caught a glimpse of the white lines of the sign, and he gave up the idea of following.

Therefore ever since that time it is hard to tell a kangaroo from a stump. As he stands still in the bush one can easily imagine the black woman, plastered with clay and wild cotton, on his back. The dark forepaws of the kangaroo are her arms. His dark back is her body. His dark head is her face. But his white shaggy front is the ti-tree stump.

His one fault is his desire for black babies, and that was born of the woman who caused his being. Some believed that he ate them, but others deny that, and so they say it will never be known.

Even if not believed, the black mothers frightened their children by saying that he did.

Next: The Struggle For Supremacy Between Birds And Animals