The Dreaming

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Koala and Bunyip


Who could ever imagine that the little Native Bear would ever have made friends with the cold, repellent monster of the swamps which the Aborigine call the Bunyip? But look closer and you will see strange markings in its fur. See how tightly its baby clings to its back. You may think that these things add to its quaintness, and show its lovable nature, but that is because you do not know how a single Koala once endangered a whole tribe.

The little Bear lived on the top of a mountain. Every night she came down to drink, and there she met the Bunyip who lived in the deepest, dreariest part of the swamp. Koala was not afraid of Bunyip. She was a cheerful little fellow.

'Hullo,' she said when she first saw the Bunyip. 'I thought you were part of the mountain, but when you moved I knew that you must be a creature like myself. What are you doing here?'

Bunyip did not answer Koala's question, but asked, 'Where do you come from, little Bear? I have never seen you before.'

'I come down from my home every night to drink water. Would you like to come and see where I live?'

'Anything for a change from this awful swamp,' Bunyip said in a hollow voice, and he followed Koala up the steep mountainside. Trees snapped under his heavy tread, and large boulders crashed through the scrub. He sank down exhausted while Koala danced round him excitedly.

'It is the first time that a Koala has ever been visited by a Bunyip,' she said. 'We must celebrate the occasion,' and she offered him delicacies from her food store. They disappeared quickly into Bunyip's capacious maw. His mouth split open in a cavernous grin, and the two animals talked together until the eastern sky paled. As the sun rose Bunyip lumbered down the mountainside and hid in the swamp.

It became a nightly occurrence, and the strange pair became firm friends. The other Koalas were uneasy, however, and remonstrated with the Koala who lived on the mountain top.

'It is not right to be friendly with a horrible Bunyip,' they said.

'Why not?' Mountain-top Koala asked truculently.

'We'll tell you why. We are all friends of Man, but Man is afraid of Bunyip. If he finds that one of us is fraternising with him he will hate us instead of loving us.'

'Why do we want Man to love us? I don't care whether he loves me or whether he hates me.'

'But we do! Man hunts wallabies, and kangaroos, and wombats, and lizards, and eats them, but he loves Koalas. If he hated us he would want to eat us too.'

'You'd better be careful, then,' Mountain-top Koala laughed, and raced away to meet her friend Bunyip.

The other Bears continued their discussion.

'We will have to do something to bring her to her senses before it is too late,' they said. 'Let us see if we can learn anything from Man himself.'

They crept away and climbed quietly into the branches of the trees round the camp site of Man. It was evening, and they could not be seen among the leaves, but they kept their eyes nearly closed so that they would not gleam in the firelight.

Soon the medicine man came into the circle of Men who were squatting on their haunches. He was painted with stripes of white and yellow clay to which tufts of cotton were clinging. He danced round the circle, waving his spear and using words that the Koalas could not understand.

In the morning they looked at each other sleepily.

'The magic is in the markings on his body,' one of them said. 'You must help me to put clay on my body in the same patterns, and then the Spirit of Man will come to our aid.'

Before dusk the strangely marked Bear went up the mountain and found a little Koala waiting for its mother to return with Bunyip. Painted Koala picked it up and held it in his arms until a rumbling sound told him that the mother was coming home with her Bunyip friend. As soon as she appeared he put the baby firmly on her back and whispered in its ear, 'Hang on tight. Never let go.

'The magic in the taboo markings was so effective that the baby hung tightly to its mother. Every effort she made to dislodge it failed. Bunyip grew tired of waiting while Mountain-top Koala tried to get rid of her offspring. He had been hoping for a good meal and pleasant, dreamy conversation. After a while he got to his feet and went back to the swamp in disgust.

Painted Koala faced Mountain-top Koala.

'I am doing this for your own good as well as for the benefit of all our people,' he said. 'You will not easily get rid of your baby. To show how important this lesson really is, the marks that have been painted on me will always remain on the faces of our people, and on the fur of their heads.

'He turned and ran back to his people and, as he had said, Mother Koala could not get rid of her baby, nor could she wash out the strange coloured marks that had appeared there while Painted Koala had been speaking. They are a reminder to every generation of Koalas that, if they value their lives, they must not associate with Bunyips.

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


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