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The Rainbow Serpent


Rainbow Serpent



The two boys had been chosen to accompany the men when they left on their long journey to the sea to catch fish. The boys had never been away from the inland hunting grounds before. The crossing of the mountains, through the densely bushed valleys and over the bare pass where the clouds settled in a heavy mist, had been filled with new and exciting experiences.

Camp was made in a sheltered valley. The boys were up early the next morning. They fanned the embers of the camp fire into a blaze and heated stones ready for the morning meal, but their hopes were dashed to the ground when the elders told them that they must stay in camp.

'But we wanted to come with you for the fishing,' they said. 'We have never seen the ocean.'

'You must be patient and wait until you are older,' they were told. 'We are going to leave our food and weapons here, and someone must stay in camp to look after them.'

The boys concealed their disappointment and pretended to be proud of the responsibility that had been given to them. 'Perhaps we could go down for a little while, just to watch,' one of them said. 'We could go one at a time so that the camp would not be left unguarded.'

'You will both stay here all the time,' the leader said sternly. 'Do not leave the camp. If you go into the bush you may be attacked by wild dogs. If you go to the beach you would be in danger from Thugine, the great snake that lives in the sea.' The boy was about to say something, but he changed his mind. As soon as the men had gone and their voices had died away, he turned to his friend and said, 'I don't believe what they say about Thugine. Snakes don't live in the sea. It's only a tale to scare us so that we won't follow them. I'm going down soon. We didn't come all this way to be scared by a yarn that only women would believe.'

'I'll come with you,' his friend said. 'I'm not going to stay here alone.' They waited for a while and then went stealthily through the trees, which thinned out as they came close to the seashore. They stopped and stared at the sight that met their eyes. The sand was white, and as far as they could see the white waves hissed across the flat, wet beach. Farther out the sea was a deeper blue than the sky, and white waves curled over it. Seagulls wheeled overhead, their mournful cries blending with the song of the waves. Far away they could see the little black dots which were the men of their tribe.

'Come on!' the older boy shouted. They raced down to the water and plunged in, shrieking with delight as they were tumbled about by the waves. Before they realised what was happening they were caught by the undertow and swept out of their depth. Cloud shadows raced across the water, and below them another shadow, long, sinuous, menacing, followed them. It was Thugine. He wrapped his body round the struggling boys and dragged them to his lair beneath the waves.

In the late afternoon the men returned to camp, burdened with their catch. Nothing had been disturbed, but there was no sign of the boys. The men shouted and searched. Darkness fell and the search was abandoned, but early the following morning they trailed the boys down to the beach. The footsteps led to the water and were lost to sight.

'They have been taken by Thugine,' the leader said. 'I warned them against him, but they disobeyed my orders.' He looked out to sea. Two rocks projected above the water, their sides lashed by the waves. 'There they are,' he said sadly. 'Thugine has turned them into barren islands. And there is Thugine himself!'

A brilliant bow was arched across the sky, embracing both rocky islands. If sometimes you see it for yourself, you will know that Thugine is the Rainbow Snake who lives in the sea and who sometimes arches his multicoloured body far into the sky.

Flinders Ranges Dreaming

  

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