The Dreaming

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Black Clay & Red Ochre


There were many skilled hunters in the tribe, but none so daring as Kudnu and Wulkinara. The men were close friends and usually went in search of game together. It is said that they could think each other's thoughts. There is no doubt that constant practice enabled each to know what the other was thinking. Thus they could work and hunt together with greater success than other men. A time came when the ability to work together was the saving of the whole tribe.

Into the territory of Ngardjuri there came an old woman with angry eyes, fingers like the talons of a bird, and sharp pointed teeth that could tear the throat out of a man before he had time to defend himself. Alone she would have struck terror into the hearts of men, but with her two dogs, one red and the other black, she was able to roam where she wished and none dared oppose her. The dogs were like their mistress, unafraid of man or beast, and as eager as she for the taste of human blood. When several men had been torn limb from limb trying to stop the bloodthirsty trio, the whole tribe packed their possessions and began to move southward.

'Where are you going?' Kudnu demanded. 'Do you think you can escape the woman by shifting to a new water hole?'

'Will you leave your territory to her simply because she lifts her lip and snarls at you?' Wulkinara asked. 'Doesn't the land that belonged to your fathers mean more to you than this?'

'You haven't seen her,' one of the warriors replied shamefacedly. 'I would rather face a bunyip alone and in the dead of night than that old woman.'

'Her dogs are monsters,' another said. 'If you fought with one, the other would leap on your back and crush your head in its jaws.'

'I know!' a third interrupted as Kudnu was about to speak. 'You are going to say that if you fought with one of the dogs, Wulkinara would guard your back...but what of the woman herself? No one can overcome her.'

'Well, we shall see,' Kudnu said with a bitter laugh. 'You had better hurry or you won't catch up with the women.'

The two friends looked at each other. There was no need to discuss the matter. They knew what they had to do. They emerged from the scrub and stood in full view on the plain. From far away there came a distant sound of barking and two tiny dots moved towards them, rapidly growing larger as they covered the ground with huge bounds.

'Hurry up,' said Wulkinara and helped his friend into the branches of a tree, and then hid behind a low bush. Kudnu shouted as the dogs ran past the tree. They wheeled round and scrabbled at the trunk, jumping up and falling back. Wulkinara clung firmly to the branches, looking down into their open throats, marvelling at the contrast in the colour of their fur. One was a vivid red, the other jet black.

With their attention concentrated on Wulkinara, Kudnu stepped out of the hiding place with two boomerangs in his left hand. He took one in the other hand and threw it unhurriedly but with great force at the red dog. The whirling stick severed the dog's head and set it rolling over on the sand. The black dog whirled round, caught sight of the hunter, and leapt at his throat. Wulkinara had no time to throw his weapon, but he brought it down on the dog's body with all his might, and broke the back of the black beast. The force of the blow cut the dog in two. For a moment the separate halves balanced on their front and hind legs and then collapsed.

There was rustling in the scrub. Wulkinara turned and saw the old woman leaping at him, her face contorted with rage. The man had no time to lift his boomerang, but the woman faltered in mid-air and crashed onto her back with the shaft of Kudnu's spear quivering in her throat.

The friends exchanged glances. There was no need for them to speak. Together they had done what they set out to do, and the ancestral territory was safe for their people once more. The body of the old woman was burnt, but the dogs were buried. Do not forget them, for the place where they were interred was later known because of the vast deposits of red ochre and black clay which are used by men to paint their bodies.

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


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