The Dreaming

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Laughing Jackass
and the Sun Fire

Laughing Jackass

There was a time when the only light in the world came from the moon and stars. Even when the moon was full and sailed across the sky like a gigantic silver ball, black shadows lurked under the trees. When the moon was a small sliver of light, the huge animals who lived before man was born could only grope their way through the gloom. And when clouds covered the sky, or when there was no moon, the world was still and every living thing slept. It was but a shadow world, gloomy and mysterious, where birds and animals fought constantly amongst themselves.

Under a cloudy, moonless sky, Dinewan the Emu and Brolga the Native Companion were fighting. There was no purpose in their quarrel, but they tried to kill each other. Dinewan sent the smaller bird head over heels in the sand and raked his body with strong claws. Brolga struggled to his feet and ran to Emu's nest. He picked up the largest of the eggs and with a quick jerk of his beak tossed it into the air.

Instead of rising in a curve and falling back, the egg went up until it reached the sky, where it smashed into a pile of firewood which the spirits had built. The egg broke, the yellow yoke flowed over the wood and burst into flame. The sky glowed in the light of the flames, and, for the first time since the world was created, it glowed with colour. Warmth crept into the cold valleys, the lakes steamed gently, and all the animals basked in the unaccustomed heat.

The sky spirits were entranced with the beauty of the world that was revealed to them, and they agreed to light such a fire every day. During the hours of darkness each night they gathered firewood ready for the morning. To their surprise the animals often continued to sleep after the light flooded the world.

'They need to be told, so that they will be ready to see the fire as soon as it is lit,' they decided, and they hung a bright morning star as a sign that the fire would soon be kindled.

But still the lazy animals slept on.

'Light is evidently not enough,' they said. 'We need someone to make a noise that will wake them up,' and even as they spoke they heard a merry voice that rang out from the trees far below.

'Goor-gour-gaga! Goor-gour-gaga!'

'That is Goor-gour-gaga,' they exclaimed. 'He can do just what we want!'

They flew down and found him sitting on a branch, laughing and chattering.

'Goor-gour-gaga!' they said, 'we want you to help us.'

Laughing Jackass chattered with his bill, and then sat and listened.

'Do you like the big fire we light every morning? The fire that gives warmth and light, and which we call the sun?'

'I do—Goor-gour-gaga, Goor-gour-gaga,' he replied. 'But what has that got to do with me?'

'All you have to do is laugh, just as you were doing then,' they told him. 'We want you to wake up when the evening star grows pale. That is when we light the fire. There is only a tiny flame at first, so small you can hardly see it—but you are clever, Goor-gour-gaga.'

Jackass puffed out his chest and agreed with them.

'If you laugh, you will wake every one up, and they will be ready for the work of another day.'

'And if I won't do it?'

They looked at him sorrowfully.

'Then we will not light the fire, and the world will be dark and cold as it has always been. It will be the same for you as for all the other birds and animals, Goor-gour-gaga.'

'Of course I will do it. I like to hear my own voice as much as you do.'

They hid their smiles, and commended him. 'But remember, if you do not laugh at dawn, we will not light the sun fire.'

Every day begins with Goor-gour-gaga's laughter. The fire of the sun is kindled by the spirits of the sky, and as the wood catches fire, the flames grow higher. By midday the blaze is at its fiercest, but during the afternoon it dies down, and when evening comes, only the embers remain. They glow hotly, and their red gleam is often seen after sunset. A few of the embers are saved by the sky spirits, who wrap them in fleecy layers of cloud and keep them alive ready to light the fire the following morning ... the morning which the Laughing Jackass will herald with his raucous, exuberant cry of 'Goor-gour-gaga!'


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