Sacred Texts  Australia  Index  Previous  Next 


Away on the South Coast of South Australia there is a very interesting natural spring. It emerges from between two limestone rocks. In very wet times the flow is much less than during a period shortly before rain comes. Especially is this so when a drought is on the point of breaking. The surrounding district is very swampy, and great shallow reedy lakes stretch out over the land. There is the haunt of millions of wild fowl-ducks, cranes, spoonbills, herons, bustards, pipers, and swan, with an occasional pair of pelicans, and floating overhead the great lazy sea-eagle and many hawks.

The water teems with eels.

Just over the long lines of sand dunes at the back of the broad beach the flat sea sails leisurely in, coming on in small breakers which curl and foam and climb over receding ones. Far out on the level horizon floats a dark haze. Seldom is a boat of any sort seen.

Along the beach on the right or westward is a headland nearly out of sight, and to the left, looming above the water, is another.

This was the home of thousands of aborigines of the Boonadick Tribe. Inland, over the rushes of the lakes and the patches of tea-tree and stunted box, can be discerned the blue top of Mount Gambier. Mount Schanck is nearer, but it is not more than 700 feet high, and cannot be seen from the spring. The immediate surroundings of the spring are densely scrubbed. Banksias, melaleuca, leptospermum make a thick bush, and eucalypt-like mallee, with their twisted stems and tangled branches, shut out the glare of the sun. The spring itself is bubbling away day and night, week after week, year after year, century after century.

There are many springs. The whole coastline gives evidence of a leaking away of the great subterranean waters that ever flow from the thousands of miles inland towards the Great Southern Ocean.

The water is as clear as crystal.

Sandy bottoms, white and shelly, are as plainly seen as if the surfaces of the waterholes were just a sheet of beautiful glass. There is a faint greenish tinge owing to the presence of magnesia and gypsum. From Central Australia this artesian flow percolates through hard sponged cells; it falls into abysmal underground chasms; it runs swiftly down undulating tunnels that are deep down; it slides in subterranean tubes; it lies in places still as age-long death, though there must be current somewhere in it, for at last it emerges somewhere on the coast and joins the sea on the south-east.

The spring we are writing about is called the Bubbling Spring.

It does not "emerge." It gushes and gushes upwards. Many others gush, but none so interestingly as this.

To the Boonadicks the spot was tabu.

No Boonadick tribesman would go near it. Though the water gushes up, it does so in a fashion that has to be seen to be believed. There is no word that properly portrays the manner of the gushing. It assumes a wonderful shape. It swells out cask-like and then gradually becomes narrower until the highest level is reached, when it rolls over the edges and slithers downward over itself, making a form like a cask, and a cask of sparkling, greenish, undulating globules that remind one of the gems that are said to ornament a Buddhist temple, or that are decking the Madonna bust in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem.

The aborigines would not look at it. They would sit just outside the dense patch of scrub with their backs to it and listen, and even chant a strange dirge; in keeping with its tone, but they would not push through the bushes and brambles and look at it.

They bad their legend, a weird tale, and no one knew whence it came nor when. It is the agonised breathing and struggling of a woman.

Great seals, beautiful and sleek, often came out of the sea and lay on the sands, especially during moonlight nights.

There was a time when the Bubbling Spring was not tabu.

Indeed, the water of its pool was medicated, and blacks who suffered aches and pains-probably rheumatism, used to drink there, and would allow the tumbling water to dash upon the affected part.

Now the Krubi of this tribe was a wayward child. Her mother knew that the girl's beauty was such that when the old Krubi died there would be no one to dispute that the place of a Krubi would be the place of her daughter, and it is probable that she was duly spoilt. Though the actual mother did not have a great deal to do with the rearing of children after a certain age, still she could make her presence felt, and this one did to the detriment of the little one. When she should be near in order to do the work that should be her lot, she was mostly away by herself seeking her own amusement, and in all matters fending for herself. Once she was away four days, and when she returned, though she was beaten she refused to tell where she had been and what she had done. She it was who discovered that far out on the rocks there was another Bubbling Spring. It was nearly always under water. The sea water covered it at most high tides, but when it was very calm the bubbling could be seen. Occasionally a little crustacean would be caught in its upward flow, and he would come up like a shot, clawing, clawing, and sometimes twisting and turning until he was nearly to the top, when the force would be spent, and he would flounder and float and sink down away to one side of the bubbling.

He had had a lesson. He now knew of the strange thing, and for the rest of his life of a thousand years he avoided that strange stir and was never again caught in its fresh water.

For him that was the trouble. The water was fresh and he felt choked. There was nothing in it that was in the salt water, and that was life to him.

The young Krubi had seen all this before she told anyone else, and for a time the under-water spring was unknown. Then when she apprised the rest of the fact, it became something of surpassing interest, and little sea animals were captured and confined in grass nets and lowered into it and watched until death put an end to their sufferings.

One beautiful moonlight night Krubi was minded to wander off. Most of her people were asleep. Only a few prowlers, perhaps, with a disposition much like her own, were astir. They heard the quacking of the wild ducks and watched the bobbing floats of their fishing nets-bobbing that told of a plentiful haul of rush-meshed fish. Krubi avoided them, and gaining the beach she hastened along in the shadows of the sand-dunes towards the long low point away in the east. After walking for some time she espied a figure half-way up the sand and many yards from the fine light line of slowly swirling foam. She stood still for a moment, and then cautiously approached. The figure lay apparently asleep, for the girl went close enough to touch it. It was like a long, sleek, legless kangaroo. Its dark fur lay close, and glistened. Its sweeping lines, graceful and clear from its head over its shoulders and tapering to its flat tail, were perfect examples of the delineator's art. Its huge fore flappers were pressed into the sand, and though its broad head and whiskered snout stood up somewhat, it was undoubtedly asleep. It seemed to be black, but its colour was brown-a beautiful dark and rich brown.

Krubi recognised it to be the animal we call a seal. She knew that it lived on fish, and she knew that a small store of fish was placed under a vine not far away from the Bubbling Spring. So she hastened noiselessly back and gathered it up.

The seal still lay asleep, and even when Krubi stooped and placed the fish within its reach it did not stir until the fish-smell, drawn into its nostrils, awakened the desire to eat, and then it sniffed and awoke.

Krubi held a fish up to its mouth and it ate. She pushed the heap a little closer, and the desire of the seal to hurry off was overcome by its wish for food. And Krubi was able to pat it gently, and as it ate it looked at her with an expression that only a big seal has. There was wondrous intelligence shown in its eyes, and wondrous appeal in the poise of its head. Krubi was captivated, and when the seal was finished and awkwardly ambled on its flappers round and back to the water for the purpose of diving and playing, Krubi went out knee-deep in the tumbling waves and watched. Sometimes the seal came gambolling around her, brushing her legs with its sleek, slippery body, and playfully snorting as if asking for more fish. Krubi had no more, and wending her way slowly back, she noiselessly crept in amongst her sleeping people and went into the Land of Sleep with them.

The next night she sought the seal again. Night after night she watched, but it did not reappear.

Krubi always saved a little of the catch of fish that she was expected to cook, and at last one other clear moonlight night the seal was again on the beach. With it was another, even bigger. Krubi ran swiftly down the sands, throwing the meal of fish before her. The moon and the stars gave all the light that was necessary, and Krubi had no hesitation in running right up to the animals, and they had no fear. The first that came even flapped up to her and ate rapidly and ravenously. The mate was not so forward nor so friendly. He blared and he showed great sharp teeth.

She did not care for the newcomer. She gave all the fish. She would much rather her old friend had come alone. When the meal was finished the new one coaxed the other away, and she felt disappointed and angry. Then, to make matters worse, the loud blaring of the seal had been heard, and Krubi saw that several of the men of her people were hastening along the beach and others were lining the top of the sand-dunes with poised spears.

She sped past them and home.

Next day there was quite a noise about it, and Krubi's mother and her aunts scolded and the chief gave orders to them that Krubi was to be kept more under surveillance, and a couple of jealous women were set to watch her. So for many days and nights Krubi could not search the sands for the seal. She somehow missed it too, and she only waited until the vigilance was less by the spiers growing weary. Then she slipped away in the night again. Both seals were on the beach. She went down with a bag of fish. Both animals besieged her.

Suddenly a spear came swishing through the moonlight air and her pet was transfixed by it. The strange one was more fortunate. He turned and in his best fashion galloped into the sea. Fortunately for him the bottom shelved at the point and the water was fairly deep; therefore he was safe. There he could evade any spear. His hearing was so acute, his eyesight so keen and his movements in the water so quick that not only did he know when a spear was coming, but he could be so swift in his turning and his diving that he could not be hit.

And Krubi?

She was hit. A spear drove through her thigh. Because of the pain she rushed after the seal, and, becoming faint, she fell. Then a strange thing took place. The seal sped to her rescue. He dived so that he could get below Krubi and instinctively she dashed her arms about him and he bore her off. The men were much afraid. They hastened back and they awoke the chief. The whole tribe turned out and they waited on the sand-dunes or patrolled the beach in the hope of catching a sight of Krubi.

No one touched the stricken seal. It lay there until the tide grew bigger and it rolled out into deep water.

In the morning Krubi was seen. She was near the spring that swelled and spurted out amongst the rocks and under the sea. Plainly she was caught in it. Her mother scolded the men, saying that they were cowards and should brave anything to bring her in. The man who hurled the spear that struck her was clubbed to death. The chief ordered the flagellation and he was borne unconscious to the camp to recover if the spirit willed. The spirit must have decreed otherwise for he died.

After that two young men waded out into the sea. The tide was flowing and every minute the water was pouring deeper.

Of a sudden then the sky grew black. A great shaking took possession of the whole world. Hot ashes and hot stones rained down. The blue mount that lay away inland was coughing up fire and the earth all about rocked and was horribly shaken. For a moment the sea swirled backwards, and the rocks opened. Krubi disappeared, and the rescuers were carried out to be seen no more. The earthquake (for that it was, though there are those who declare that the blacks have no knowledge of any such happening) was something of only a moment.

Years later it was discovered that the tops of the distant mountains had fallen in, and the same clear, greenish-blue water that was in the swamps and in the Bubbling Spring filled the great holes, and it is there till this day.

But what of Krubi?

The great seals were spirits in that form. By an underground passage she had been taken inland. Once she was seen in the lakes of Mount Gambier. Afterwards she was heard in the waters of the swamps. Now she is beneath the Bubbling Spring. Any night she may be seen. The spot where she is trying to make her way up and out is the spring, and the noise of it is her breathing and her gurgling and her spluttering.

It is the Bubbling Spring.

The apparently dead seal disappeared, and sometimes on moonlight nights it too may be seen lying on the beach half way between the dunes and the tide.

Next: The Salt Lakes