The Dreaming

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The Frog Food of the Bunyip


Down in the billabong a head was concealed among the reeds. It remained so still that none of the wild creatures noticed it. Three ducks paddled past. In the darkness there was sudden movement. Two hands shot out and seized their legs, pulling the ducks under water and twisting their necks so quickly and silently that the third duck drifted away without knowing what had happened to the others.

The Frog man stood up, shivering a little in the cool night breeze. He tied the ducks to his girdle and was about to wade ashore, where his wife was waiting for him, when he saw a vast grey shape loom out of the swamp. It was a Bunyip, the dreadful monster of marsh and billabong.

The young man did not waste his breath in shouting. He waded through the shallow water in frenzied haste towards the bank. His wife had also seen the Bunyip.

'Give me the ducks,' she called as he came closer. He handed them up to her, scrambled on to the bank, and lay down, panting for breath.

'There's no time to wait here,' she said. 'The monster is getting closer.'

'Wait till I get my breath,' he gasped.

'Come on,' she urged him. 'The Bunyip will get us if you don't hurry.'

She pulled him to his feet, but as she did so the Bunyip stretched out his long arm, and his claws closed round her body. Her husband caught her by the arm and tried to save her, but the Bunyip lifted her up, tucked her under his arm, and disappeared into the darkness.

The man was desperate. He plunged into the water and waded through the rushes, but they had closed behind the monster, leaving no trace of his passage.

As soon as it was light next morning the Frog man gathered a supply of the little creatures who were his totem and tied them to a long pole which he stuck in the mud. They cried and croaked miserably, waving their arms and legs in a struggle to free themselves.

'That will fetch the Bunyip,' the Frog man thought. He was crouching among the reeds with his war spear beside him, ready to thrust it into the Bunyip as soon as it appeared. The hours passed slowly. The only thing he could see was the wriggling of the frogs' legs. The daylight faded, and through the night the croaking of the frogs grew fainter. By morning they were all dead. Sadly he untied them, caught some more, and tied them to the pole. The air was filled with the fresh babble of sound as he went to his camp to sleep.

When he returned that night the frogs were gone, and the pole lay on its side among the reeds. With fresh hope he caught a further supply, erected the pole again, tied the frogs in place, and sat down to wait.

Morning after morning the Frog man baited his trap, but never once did he catch sight of the Bunyip. It was only when he could not keep his eyes open for lack of sleep that they were taken. But at length his patience was rewarded. It was early morning. The young husband was about to end his lonely vigil when a huge shape parted the veils of mist, and the Bunyip reached out his claws to take the frogs. Behind it the young woman followed with vacant eyes, dirty and unkempt, with her hair straggling down her face.

'Keep away,' her husband shouted, and threw his spear at the monster. It sank into the soft flesh so that only the end of the handle was showing. The Bunyip groaned and threw the frogs at its aggressor. One of them hit the Frog man in the eye, blinding him for a moment. He still had his throwing stick. He hurled it at the Bunyip, and had the satisfaction of seeing it disappear into one of the Bunyip's eyes. The creature turned round shrieking with pain, and blundered back the way it had come.

'Come to me, wife,' the Frog man implored. 'You will be safe with me.'

To his astonishment the young woman took no notice but followed the Bunyip into the mist. Her husband ran after her. There was no mistaking the trail now. With only one eye, the Bunyip slipped and fell, picked itself up and staggered on, leaving a trail of crushed vegetation behind it. The woman followed close at its heels, for the Bunyip had cast a spell over her which bound her closely to him.

They reached the far side of the billabong. The Bunyip heaved itself out of the water and began to climb a gum tree. It reached the top, sat on a branch, and glared down at the Frog man with its single baleful eye. The young woman stood at the foot of the tree as though petrified.

'You are safe now,' her husband said, holding out his arms. 'Come with me and we will return to our camp.'

She put out her arms, but could not move her feet, which appeared to be frozen to the ground. He took a step towards her, and suddenly stood still. He had come within the circle of the power that bound his wife to the Bunyip, and was unable to move.

Day turned to night, night to day, rain storms swept across the billabong, the water rose and fell with the changing seasons, but still the little tableau remained by the gum tree. The petrified bodies of the Frog man and his wife stood like gaunt stumps of trees, with arms stretched out towards each other in longing, while far above them the single eye of the Bunyip glared from the leaves of the tree.

Then came a great storm which overthrew the gum tree. The eye remained where it was, but the spell was broken, and at last the couple were reunited. Their descendants will never touch the little frogs again. They leave them as food for the Bunyips so that the monsters of the swamp will not molest them.

And where the Murray River now flows, the blackfellas say that the moon is the eye of the Bunyip that once stole the wife of a Frog man of their tribe.

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


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