The Dreaming

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The Miserable Mopoke

Owl Dreaming

© Malcolm Jagamarra

Owl (Mopoke) Dreaming

There was a bad-tempered man who was so surly, and who disliked other people’s company so much, that he went away to live by himself. He was frightened that if he stayed with the tribe he would be expected to help with all kinds of jobs, whereas by himself he had plenty of time to do the things he wanted. After he had lived alone for some years he had a magnificent collection of spears, boomerangs, nullanullas, and kangaroo and possum skin rugs. The name of this man was Mooregoo, the Mopoke.

One night Bahboo, the Moon, came down to earth. He was cold and hungry, and walked for a long way without finding anywhere to shelter. Presently he saw a gleam of firelight in the distance. It was Mooregoo’s campfire. Bahloo hurried towards it.

‘Will you give me something to eat, please?’ he asked Mooregoo.

‘No,’ said the solitary man grumpily. ‘I have only enough food for myself.’

‘Well, at least you can let me warm myself by your fire.’

‘There is only enough fire for me.’

‘But you have some fine rugs. If you won’t let me stay by the fire, I will wrap myself up in one of them.’

‘You leave the rugs alone,’ Mooregoo shouted. ‘I made them for myself, not for idle fellows who are not prepared to help themselves.’

Bahloo turned away and went over to a tall gum tree. Mooregoo looked at him curiously as he took his flint knife and cut a notch in the trunk of the tree, and then another a little higher up. One after the other Bahloo cut the notches in the tree trunk and used them as steps to climb up to the first branches. He did not stay there, but went on until he came to a comfortable fork where two branches met. Still using his knife, he stripped a large piece of bark from the tree and covered himself with it.

By this time the sun had risen. Bahloo chanted incantations and muttered magic spells. The wind came up, driving the heavy clouds before it, until the sun was covered. Then the rain began to fall.

Mooregoo took shelter in his humpy, but before long the river began to rise and covered the whole of his camping ground. It swirled between the trees and washed away his spears and nullanullas and boomerangs and his precious skin rugs. Then it surged round the humpy and washed that away too. Mooregoo rushed from one tree to another, trying to climb up the smooth trunk, but he could not find a foothold. The waters rose higher still, and he was carried away in the flood.

Bahboo smiled grimly as he heard the man’s voice dying away in the distance. Mooregoo was changed into a Mopoke, but he still cries with a mournful voice. When the blackfellows hear it, they say to their friends, ‘Don’t be a Mopoke,’ because they remember what happened to bad-tempered, surly Mooregoo in the days when Bahboo came down to earth.


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