The Dreaming

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How the Waratah Became Sweet

As the waratah flower became the symbol of undying love, so the name Krubi was reserved for girls who possessed beauty of face and character.

Only one woman of the tribe was allowed to bear the coveted name. It was not until one Krubi died that it could be conferred on a new baby. When that time came there was great competition amongst young mothers to win the privilege of naming their own girl baby after the lubra who had become the first waratah.

Because there was so much jealousy on these occasions, it happened that the spirit of love and devotion that surrounded the name was sometimes lost to sight.

The Krubi of the time of our story was a very old woman, and her powers were failing. When the tribe moved to a new camp in search of game, she found it increasingly difficult to carry the bag that contained her few personal possessions. Krubi was frightened.

In spite of her great age she enjoyed the busy life of the camp, and she feared that when her husband saw her frailty, he would put her away and leave her in the care of their youngest daughter, Woolyan.

When that time came she knew that she would be subjected to many indignities, and would lose the respect of her friends. When the camp was shifted she clutched her dilly bag with trembling fingers, and willed her feet to carry her emaciated body, but the effort was too much for her, and she sank down with a groan.

Woolyan had been following her mother. A cruel smile curved her lips when she saw that the old woman was helpless. She made no attempt to assist her, but stood looking down at her mother.

'Help me up,' Krubi begged. 'My husband must not see me like this.'

'You will have to help yourself,' Woolyan replied. 'My baby will soon be born. It is enough for me to carry her in my body without dragging you along too.'

The old woman looked up at her daughter with a pleading expression, but Woolyan hardened her heart. She hoped that her baby would be a girl, and that she would be allowed to call her Krubi. But she knew that while her mother lived she would not be allowed to do so, and that if the child was given another name, the opportunity would be lost forever.

Krubi read her thoughts. A gust of anger shook her body. She scrambled to her feet, seized her bag, and with a fresh access of strength plodded resolutely along the path and eventually caught up with her husband.

Woolyan bit her lip until the blood trickled down her chin. Her heart was filled with unreasoning anger. That night she looked closely at her mother in the light of the camp fire and realised that the fright that Krubi had received had given her new life.

An evil thought came into her mind. She remembered the occasions when the men had pointed the bone at an enemy and had sent the spirit away from his body.

'If only I could do that to old Krubi!' she thought. She did not realise that this power was given only to men who had earned the right to use it through years of training, and by subjecting themselves to prolonged ordeals. She knew that the privilege was forbidden to women, but the desire to confer the wonderful name on her unborn child was so great that she became reckless.

She found a bone, polished it until it was smooth, and went to seek her mother. It was dark, but she could see the old woman lying asleep in her miamia. Taking the bone from where she had hidden it, she pointed it at the defenceless woman and began to mutter spells she had been taught when she was initiated to womanhood; but they were powerless, and the bone dropped from her fingers.

Krubi woke up, and in a moment of enlightenment realised what her daughter was doing. Fear gave her strength. She bounded to her feet, snatching the bone from Woolyan as the young woman bent to pick it up. Clutching it desperately in her gnarled hands, she used it to beat her daughter over the head, until Woolyan cried for mercy.

Her cries roused the camp. The men rushed to Krubi's miamia, separated the two women, and listened to what the old lady had to say. There was a shocked silence when they realised that Woolyan had tried to kill her mother with a pointing bone.

Late into the night the elders debated the terrible deed that Woolyan had done, and passed sentence on her.

'You are to go into the bush,' they said. 'Wait for us there until we come to you.'

Woolyan knew that she was to be killed. Slowly she left the camp and went into a glade where the waratah trees were in full bloom. They seemed to smile at her in the darkness, and the scent was heavy on the night air. Like water it washed away her evil thoughts. She knelt at the foot of the trees and sobbed with relief as the flowers of love drove the bitterness and jealousy from her heart. And as she knelt there, her baby was born.

When the men came to put her to death, a strange radiance filled the grove, and they felt the atmosphere of serenity. The baby was gurgling contentedly. Woolyan stood up and faced them.

'I am ready,' she said quietly. 'I have done wrong, and you have come to punish me. Please look after my baby. When she grows to womanhood, bring her to this place and tell her that her mother repented of the wicked things she had done.'

The leader of the men said abruptly, 'Bring Krubi here.'

The old lady was brought into the grove. She saw her daughter standing in front of the trees, and her granddaughter lying on the grass. Impetuously she ran forward and put her arms round Woolyan. Their tears mingled and dropped one by one on the red flowers.

The chief threw away his club and went up to them. The scent of the waratah blooms attracted his attention. He lifted one of the flowers and put it to his lips. A delighted smile spread over his face. The tears of repentance and forgiveness had flavoured the flower, which tasted of honey.

Perhaps the baby girl was called Krubi when her grandmother died. We do not know; but we do know that since that dark night when passions were released and dispersed by the scent of the flowers, the waratah blooms have been as sweet as the honey of bees.

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


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