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Goanna and His Stripes

Dhirrabang Dhullyn (Goanna Dreaming)
artwork © Rhonda Nicholls

Again it was in the days when animals walked on two legs and were in every way as human beings. There were two tribes, which lived together, Mungoongali the Goannas, and Piggiebillah the Porcupines. It was an uneasy association, for their ancestors, who came from distant lands in the west, had been of different types. The Goannas were born thieves, while the Porcupines were a much more self-reliant tribe, and were expert hunters.

In the eastern plain to which the two tribes had migrated, the Piggiebillahs occupied themselves in hunting, but the food of the Mungoongalis was confined to the sugarbags of the native bees, which they gathered by climbing trees, and to food which they stole from the stores of the Porcupines.

It is sad to relate that their depredations went further than this, for the unprotected children of the Mungoongalis were killed and eaten in secret.

On one occasion the Goannas invited their neighbours to join them on a hunting expedition. The Porcupines laughed scornfully.

'Have you become expert in the chase since yesterday, or the day before?' they asked. 'Thank you for your offer, but we will do much better without you.'

'Please come with us,' they begged. 'We know that we cannot hunt, but while you are busy we will gather sugarbags from the trestle,' one of the younger Porcupines said to his people, 'that might be different. Shall we join them?'

'In view of the fact that you are notoriously unsuccessful in climbing trees, I suggest that you are showing more than your usual sagacity,' the oldest Porcupine observed sarcastically.

The men of the two tribes went out together. The Porcupines made a great killing, but by the end of the day the Goannas had not gathered a single sugarbag. Although they were adept at tree climbing, they were too lazy to exert themselves in the hot sun. Whenever they saw they were being watched, they pretended to cut footholds in the tree trunks, but as soon as the Porcupines' backs were turned, they lay down and went to sleep.

'Never mind,' the Goannas said at the end of the day. 'Honeybags are scarce this year. Now it is time for you to rest. We will cook the food. Go to sleep. We will call you when the food is ready.

'The firelight flickered on the leaves of the trees and on the sleeping forms of the Piggiebillahs. Now and then one of them would turn over and ask drowsily, 'Is supper ready yet?'

'Not yet. Go to sleep. We will wake you when it is ready.'

When the food was cooked the Mungoongalis scampered up the trees and hid in the foliage. One of them remained behind and threw the roasted bodies of the animals one by one to his companions. While doing so he passed too close to the fire, knocking against a burning log so that it fell on to one of the Piggiebillahs. The Porcupine woke with a scream. The others jumped to their feet and saw the food vanishing into the trees.

One of the Piggiebillahs snatched a burning stick from the fire and belaboured the Mungoongali. The strokes fell across his golden body, burning the flesh and leaving a pattern of black and yellow stripes, which has since been the distinctive coloration of the Goannas.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the Mungoongalis and the Piggiebillahs studiously avoided each other after that, nor that they entertain the most uncharitable thoughts about each other.

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


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