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The natives of the Urana district in Riverina had a little story about falling leaves.

No doubt other tribes had a legend about the same thing, for in most places there were legends about nearly all natural phenomena.

That those who were accustomed to the deep leaf-carpets of the coastal jungle, the masses of fallen leaves in the Dorrigo, of the gullies of the Liverpool Range, in the Hunter River Valley, the tract of sub-tropical bush under the Illawarra Range, in the back country of Gippsland, and on the south-western corner of West Australia, must have attributed the falling of the leaves to some obscure agency-magical and fearful and at the command of the doctors or the priests-goes, I say, without question.

The flora of the Urana district is as different from that of the other districts named as it well can be. In summer-the roasting, scorching summer-there is little but wilted grass and pathetic looking gums. The Murray Pines (Callitris) give a deep green relief to the depressing balance, and even they seem to cluster together for mutual protection. The quartz ridges produce a few miserable hakeas; the sandhills have a few rushes such as the dianella and the Juncus paucilorus if there happens to be a leakage or a soakage, and some stunted banksias and occasionally a zamia of some sort and perhaps a Richea and a little colonema giving out its strong lemon-like scent when broken; but of rich trees or matured shrubs or pretty flowers there are almost none.

In winter and spring this country is different. The rains of the cold season, if at all copious, make it possible for a wealth of grasses to grow, and happy are the horses and cattle and the sheep of the people out there who have broad acres. The Murray pines are aglow then, and the gums are fresh, and the few clusters of leaves on the stark branches rejoice with the people.

It is there that there is the story of the falling leaves. Why it should be there is a puzzle.

A great ancestor was named Wingaree. He is, so the aborigines I am now writing about say, the ancestor of brown snakes, goannas, water-fowl and all flying insects, and of those human beings whose totems are the mentioned creatures.

Where Wingaree lived there was a depression that was a lake in rainy times, and it was filled with wild fowl and many snakes and goannas by this Wingaree. The ancient gum-stumps that stood all worn and broken are weird in the extreme, and Wingaree still can be seen in some of them, and comes out when the water rises and fills the hollow. This is at the time of heavy rains.

During the rain great numbers of insects-gnats and termites and others-may be seen flying from them. When dry the lake was a rough mass of grey mud, and often duck eggs might be found sticking in it, the water evaporating before the eggs hatched. All round the depression and stretching as far as the eye could reach, the flat country is just as I have described, and when the haze danced and the mirage formed and rolled, it was an unreal and magic land.

There had been a long dry period. Wingaree, away back in the times of the beginnings of the worlds, lived in a tree that grew where the lake now is. He bad many children like himself, but he also had others that were not like him. The water-fowl and the huge goannas and the brown snakes and the insects were different. Black snakes were the children of his first wife, who had been married before.

Now there was much water in another lagoon not far from Wingaree's tree, and somehow a hole had come in the ground and the water had all gone down in it and had left the place dry. No rain came to fill it up again and Wingaree was as thirsty as everything else. His children left him. The waterfowl flew away to a far distant river, the goannas went underground to search for the water that used to be in the other lake, and the snakes crawled further still to a very big lake that always had water in it.

Wingaree was, however, very clever, and he believed that he could make rain. But he was afraid to put his powers to the test, for if he made any mistake the rain would be bad water or it would be too much and even he might be drowned.

So he at last decided to go where the rain came from and search out the spirit that was there; and one hot night when the moon was full and the air was scorched and the ground was baked and the grass was all burnt off and the trees were withered, he decided that he could go up into the sky.

A long cloud lay on the horizon, and Wingaree imagined that he could hide behind it and watch until the rain spirit came into view, and then he could step out and show his great respect and ask just how to make some rain for himself.

Wingaree left his tree and soared up into the sky and reached the place behind the cloud. There he sat watching until the rain spirit appeared.

It was too angry to speak. Wingaree tried all the ways that he knew to please and to persuade the spirit to tell him what to do. But it was all in vain.

However, the rain spirit stamped in his anger and that stamping so shook the cloud that it became rain, and the noise of the tramping travelled through the world, and a fire flew from his heels and shot down to the earth. Gradually then the cloud melted until there was none of it left, and Wingaree had no protection, and on one of the streaks of fire he came back down to his tree.

The great storm lasted for many days. The rain changed to hail and there was so much of that, that the place where stood the tree in which Wingaree lived was all filled up and he had to come out into the storm. The ground all around this tree was a thick mass of hail and it piled up until Wingaree was obliged to climb into the highest branches.

Then the storm ceased.

The snake children were safe. Many of the goanna children were drowned, but some came up out of the holes and they climbed the tree.

The water fowl had to fly in the air amid the rain and the hail because the lake to which they went became a raging sea, for the wind blew there. But when the storm ceased and the sun came out again the hail melted, and that which lay all about the tree became a water hole.

Wingaree came down into the water. As soon as he touched it the hail began to fall again. The sun was blotted out by a great cloud, and soon there was just as much hail as before. It splashed into the new lake and it piled up against the tree and it made the whole country a white mass.

Wingaree was unable to get any shelter. Water fowl still flew in the air, snakes still remained safe as before, but many goannas climbed the tree and clung to the trunk in such a mass that there was no room for Wingaree. He was their ancestor and he could not take their place nor could he destroy them while they did nothing that was against the rules.

Then one of the birds came to him. It had the white down on its breast that men get when they are about to worship, and priests get when they are going to perform any sacred rite. It was a special bird, and long afterwards the natives were very happy when they found out which one it was and they could get the soft, white down with which to decorate their bodies and thus please the ancestor who got so much good from the same bird.

It was the brolga.

The brolga made many bows and much obeisance before Wingaree. It stepped forward and then back. It swung round with its wings just a little open, and bowed again. It bent its long neck into a graceful bow and it lifted its feet one after the other in perfect time and almost in tune.

Eventually Wingaree was obliged to notice so graceful and respectful a, creature, especially as he had brought it into being in the days long before those when all this that I am telling happened.

The brolga gave Wingaree some advice. It was that he must divide himself up into very many parts and each part must be able to fly. That, Wingaree did, and that is how it is that he is the ancestor of all flying insects. He was, however, as badly off as before, for the hail was still falling and much of him was being destroyed by it. He asked the brolga what he should do next.

Even while he asked there were very many insects being driven down to the ground and into the water. If that went on for long there would be nothing of him left, and all his children would be without an ancestor. Therefore the brolga called to all the water birds and they heard the call. They came flying in a great mass just as they do now in that part of the country when the rains come. The insects that were formed out of Wingaree spread all over the country and were still being beaten to death. So the brolgas set the other birds to biting the leaves of all the trees, especially the gums, and nipping them at their petioles, and they fell. Insects had taken refuge under the leaves, and as they fell those, parts of Wingaree were carried down and to safety. Hail might strike the leaves but the insect was still safe. And so, if one searched, there might be found an insect beneath every fallen leaf. The fowl had done their work in full, and since that time they did not go into trees, but the custom has been passed on to other birds.

Insects themselves, before they have wings, provide for their safety in their winged life by doing it. Then when they fly and the rain comes, they crawl under the fallen leaves.

And one of the strange things about this tale of the aborigine is that it is in such great part perfectly true.

Myriads of flying insects do come out of old stumps just before rain begins to fall and during the downpour, and it is also true that under all fallen leaves in the outback part of this country insects hide. They may be seen under each fallen leaf, having no doubt gone there to escape the terrific heat.

Next: At Low Tide