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The Black Swans


Black Swans



When Wurrunna returned to his tribe after one of his walkabouts he brought with him some weapons never before seen by men. These, he said, were made in a country where there were only women, and they had given them to him in exchange for his possum-skin rug, saying, "Go, bring us more rugs, and we will give you more weapons."

The tribes were delighted with the weapons, and agreed to go as far as the women's country with him on his next expedition to Oobi Oobi, the sacred mountain, taking rugs for purpose of ceremonial exchange.

Wurrunna, when they started, warned his companions that there were unknown dangers on that plain, for he was sure the women were spirits. They had told him there was no death in their country, nor was there any night; the sun shone always.

He said, "When the dark rolls away from our country it does not go into theirs, which is where Yhi, our sun, being a woman, goes to rest. The dark just rolls itself under the earth until it is time to come back here. We shall do well to smoke ourselves before we go out of the darkness on to that plain."

Wurrunna arranged that he would go round to the other side of the plain and make another fire to smoke them directly they came away, so that no evil would cling to them and be carried back to their tribe. And in case they were staying too long, he had a plan for warning them to leave.

He would take his two brothers with him. By his magic, for he was a great wirrinun, or clever man, he could turn them into two large water birds. As there were no birds on the lake they would quickly be noticed. As soon as he had the smoke fire ready he would send his brothers swimming opposite the women's camp. Seeing them, the women would in their wonder forget the men, who were to go onto the plain and get what they wanted.

He told every man to take an animal with him, and, should the women interfere, to let the animal go. There were no animals on the plain, and the women's attention would be taken off again. Then the men must hasten to make their escape back into the darkness, where these women of the country that was always light would fear to follow them.

Each man found an animal, and then started. Among them they had possums, native cats, flying squirrels, various kinds of rats, and such. When they reached where the darkness was rolled up on the edge of the plain they camped. Wurrunna and his two brothers sped through the scrub, skirting the plain until they reached the far side. Then Wurrunna lit a fire, produced a large gubbera, or crystal stone, from inside himself, and, turning to his two brothers, crooned a sort of sing-song over them.

Soon they cried "Biboh! Biboh!" changing as they did so into large, pure white birds, which the Daens call baiamul, the swans.

The men on the other side of the plain, having lit their fire, were smoking themselves in it. The women saw the smoke curling up towards their plain and ran toward it, armed with spears, crying "Wi-bulloo! Wi-bulloo!"

One of them gave a cry of surprise, the others looked round, and there on the lake they saw swimming two huge white birds. The smoke was forgotten; they ran toward the new wonders, while the men rushed to the deserted camp for weapons.

The women saw them, and returning from the swans, came angrily toward them. Then each man let go the animal he had. Far and wide on the plain went possums, bandicoots, bkandis, and others. Shrieking after them went the women. The men dropped the possum rugs and loaded themselves with weapons, then started toward Wurrunna's smoke signal, now curling up in a spiral column.

Having caught one of the animals, the women remembered the men, whom they saw leaving their camps laden with weapons. Screeching with anger, they started after them, but too late. The men passed into the darkness, where they smoked all evil of the plain from them in Wurrunna's fire.

On the women came, until they saw smoke, then cried again, "Wi-bulloo! Wi-bulloo!" They feared a fire as much as they feared the dark, both unknown in their country. Failing to get their weapons, they turned again to where the strange white birds had been. But they had gone.

The women were so angry that they began to quarrel, and from words they got to blows. Their blood flowed fast, and freely stained the whole of the western sky, where their country is. Ever since, when the tribes see a red sunset they say, "Look at the blood of the Wi-bulloos; they must be fighting again."

The men returned to their own country with their weapons, and Wurrunna travelled on alone toward the sacred mountain, which was to the north-east of Wi-bulloo land. He forgot all about his brothers, though they flew after him, crying "Biboh! Biboh!" to attract his attention, that he might change them back to men. But heedlessly on went Wurrunna, up the stone steps cut in the sacred mountain for the coming of Baiame to earth.

The swans, tired of flying, stayed on a small lagoon at the foot of the mountain. As the eagle hawks, the messengers of the spirits, were flying to deliver a spirit's message, they saw in their own lagoon two strange white birds. In their rage they swooped down, drove their huge claws into the swans, and flew far away from the sacred mountain, over plains and over mountain ranges, away to the south.

Every now and then, in savage rage, they stopped to pluck out a handful of feathers, white as ash of gidya wood. These feathers fluttered down to the sides of the mountains, lodging in between the rocks, blood dripping beside them.

On flew the eagle hawks until they came to a large lagoon near to the big salt water. At one end of the lagoon were rocks; on these they dropped the swans, then swooped down themselves, and savagely started to pluck out the few feathers the birds had left. But just as they were tearing out the last ones on the wings, they recollected that they had not delivered the message of the spirits, so, fearing their anger, the eagle hawks left the swans and flew back to their own country.

The poor Baiamul brothers crouched together, almost featherless, bleeding, cold, and miserable. They felt that they were dying, far away from the tribe.

Suddenly, softly fell on them a shower of feathers, which covered their shivering bodies. Gaining warmth, they looked about them. High on the trees overhead they saw hundreds of mountain crows, such as they had sometimes seen on the plains country, and had believed to be a warning of evil.

The crows called to them, "The eagle hawks are our enemies, too. We saw you left by them to die. We said it should not be so. On the breeze we sent some of our feathers to warm you and make you strong to fly back to your friends, and laugh at the eagle hawks."

The black feathers covered the swans all but on their wings, where a few white ones had been left. Also the down under the black feathers was white. The red blood on their beaks stayed on there forever.

The white swan feathers that the eagle hawks had plucked out when crossing the mountains took root where they fell, and sprang up as soft white flowers which you call flannel flowers.

Baiamul, the swans, flew back over the camp of their tribe. Wurrunna heard their cry, "Biboh! Biboh!" and knew it was the voice of his brothers, though, looking up, he saw not two white birds, but black ones, with red bills.

Sorrowful as he was at their sad cry, Wurrunna had no power to change them back to men. His power as a wirrinun had been taken from him for daring to go, before his time, to Baiame's sky camp.

K Langloh Parker, Australian Legendary Tales

  

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