The Dreaming

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How Bats and Shags Were Made

Flying Fox

Buthera, a strong, proud warrior who possessed magical powers, was travelling up the coast of Queensland. He had not gone far on his way, and was resting early in the day, when a man walked into the glade where he was sitting.

'Who are you?' asked Buthera.

'My name is Mudichera. I am the leader of Bats. What are you doing in my land?'

Buthera sprang to his feet, his brows drawn down in a frown. 'This is still my territory. I allow no man to intrude on it.

'The stranger took his waddy from his belt.

'Good!' Buthera said. 'I am glad to see you are a man and not something blown here by the west wind.

'They circled round each other warily. Buthera did not deign to use his waddy or war spear, but held a flint knife in his hand. Mudichera swung his waddy lustily, but Buthera avoided it, jumping from side to side, and throwing himself flat on the ground as it whistled over him. Mudichera began to grow tired. His blows lost their force and he had difficulty in raising his weapon over his head. Buthera gathered himself together and swung his knife so viciously that Mudichera was cut in two pieces, the upper part of his body falling in one place and his legs in another.

There was a flapping of leathery wings, the two parts of his body rose in the air, and two bats escaped from under Buthera's hand. The chief grinned, picked up his weapon and resumed his journey. He covered many miles that day, but the sun grew hotter and the sweat trickled down his back. He felt sick, and when he came to a fertile valley with many water holes, where a large tribe was camped, he stopped.

'Here comes Buthera', the people cried.

'How do you know my name'?

'Oh, we know all about you. We know how you fought with Mudichera, how you cut him in two, and how he changed into a bat.'

'Two bats. But how do you know all this?'

'Willy wagtail told us.'

Buthera was angry to think that they knew so much about him. He took his magic spear and pointed it in front of him. A long tongue of flame shot from the point and set fire to the scrub. He swung it round him until he was in the centre of the fire, which spread rapidly outwards, driving the screaming people in front of it. The only places where they could escape the flames were in the water holes. Buthera looked across the smouldering bushes and saw them peering apprehensively at him, with their bodies submerged in the water. He grinned again, pointed another spear at them, and had the satisfaction of seeing them all transformed into shags.

Shortly afterwards he met another warrior, but this time he met his match. Larna was young and vigorous, and before long Buthera lay dead at his feet. He picked Buthera up, lifted him above his head, and was on the point of throwing him into a lake, when the Bats who had once been Mudichera flew down and beat their wings round Larna's head, until he was forced to lower the body. Some of the power that had belonged to Mudichera when he was a warrior lingered in the Bats, and they turned Larna into a stone which they left by the side of the lake as a memorial to Buthera the warrior.

A.W. Reed, Aboriginal Fables & Legendary Tales (Aboriginal Library)


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