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Fishing by Night .. ..
The Water Trees .. ..
Hunting in Dry Lands .. Hunting in Coastal Lands
This book is a supplementary reader incorporating the words used in the Bush Book Series. The four stories it contains have been adapted by the Commonwealth Office of Education from aboriginal legends recorded by W. E. Harney.
Fishing by Night comes from Groote Eylandt. The setting is in the area between Winchelsea and Upramudjee Island.
The Water Trees is a story about the Mudbara Tribe and its setting is beside the Marinji track. '
Hunting in Dry Lands deals mainly with the way of life of the Wailbri people, particularly in the Central Mount Wedge area not far from Yuendumu.
Hunting in Coastal Lands does not refer tc. any particular part of the coast. ,
. Illustrations by Mary Gillham.
When the nights were cold, hundreds of fish came to the reefs of rock that run out from the beach. Many people were camped near the beach waiting for the fish.
While they were waiting, the men tied some sticks together at one end to make torches. Soon many of these torches were burning brightly and could be seen moving over the reefs.
It was always a happy time for the children of the tribe when they were fishing by torchlight. The sea was dark blue and the stars were bright in the clear sky. When the children looked up at the stars, they could see the strange things they had heard about in their tribal stories.
This night was the first time that little Bill had been fishing and he kept close to his father. His uncle had made him a torch. Bill held the torch up high so that it would burn brightly in the wind.
The water was clear. In the holes of the reef Bill could see many strange things.' Fish of many colours were swimming in the light of his torch. Once he took hold of his father’s arm when he saw a long sea-snake swimming under the water.
Then Bill heard something splashing. Suddenly, before he could ask what it was, there were hundreds of fish swimming around him. The fish had come in to feed. They were splashing about and making a lot of noise. The water, which had been blue, was now white. The torches moved about quickly as the hunters speared
and gathered the fish. Some hunters called out for canoes so that they could throw the fish into them.
Bill climbed into one of the big canoes. Sitting on a seat at the back, he could see all over the reef. Bright torches moved about like the fire-flies, that gather, in the swamps during the rain-time. By the light of the torches men were bringing the fish in to the beach. Next day they would have a big feast.
Then the fish left just as suddenly as they had come. Bill asked why this was so. His father told him that the fish came in with the tide and went to other feeding grounds when the tide went out.
<c It is all part of nature,” said his father. cc The Star of the Hunter comes with the dawn,” he said as he pointed to the sky. “The star warns us that the . fish are coming in from the sea. Like us, they go on a walkabout. When the star warns us, we come here to wait for the fish.”
Next morning, when Bill was eating some of the fish, he thought about the things his father had told him. He was glad that his people knew' about such things as the warning of the star, the movement of the tide, and the coming of the fish from the sea.
The camp was near a ridge of brown rock. Tall water trees grew upon the ridge. In their shade little Jim played with the other children of the tribe.
There were no springs or wells in this part of their tribal land. The only water came from the tall water trees. Little Jim had often watched his mother pull out a little wooden plug from a hole near the base of a tree. The water used to run out into her wooden dish. She always used to put the plug back carefully so that no water would be lost on the ground.
One day Jim’s uncle was looking for new trees with water in them. He put his ear on one side of the trunk and tapped the other side.
cc Water trees growing on ridges of brown rock are always hollow/’ he told Jim. ccThey fill with water during the rain-time, just as holes in the rocks fill with water. Our people learned these things long ago; they are part of our way of living and we must never forget them.”
After Jim’s uncle had tapped a few more trunks, he told Jim a story about the water trees.
CCI was working on a cattle station,” he began. “One day a message came. It said that a man was lost in the thick scrub of our tribal land. The manager of the cattle station asked the head stockman to get horses and men on his tracks.
“ Soon we were on our way, with food and water in our packs. A policeman came with us to help.
We moved fast and soon found the man’s tracks. They were going into the dry land where the water trees grow. I could tell he was lost because his track wandered over the ground first this way and then that way.
“After we had ridden for a few miles, we found his shirt where he had rested in the shade of a bush. I knew then that he was dying of thirst. Then the sun went down and we had to camp for the night. I saw the policeman’s look of surprise when I tapped a tree near our camp and got water from it. The water ran into a bag and we gave the horses a drink.
“Next morning we were off once more. As I followed the dying man’s tracks I was sad to see that he had passed by many more water trees. We found him at last where he had fallen against a big tree that had a wooden plug in its base. When he fell his arm must have just missed the plug. He had died of thirst close to the water.
. “ If that man had known the things that our people know about this dry land, he could have lived. He died because he looked for water in springs, wells and waterholes. He didn’t know that the trees which grew all around him had water in their trunks.”
When the story was finished Jim thought his uncle and the other men of the tribe were very wise to know these things. He knew he would never forget them.
The mountain was a dark blue colour in the light of the early morning sun. Little Nell watched her mother and the other women filling their water-carriers with water from the spring. The water was cool because it was in the shade. There was hunting and food gathering to do, and the women had to take water with them to drink. Their water-carriers had been made out of wood by the men. The women put grass in them to stop the water from spilling.
The men had already gone out hunting. Soon the women heard the noise of emus a long way off'. From this noise the women knew that the men were near the emus. The frightened birds were telling other emus that there was danger.
While the men hunted the emus, the women and children looked for other food. People who did not know this country well would think there wasn’t any food there, but the women of Nell’s tribe could find plenty.
From one bush they gathered little black seeds. With these seeds they made flour for dampers. From other bushes they gathered fruit. Goannas were tracked down and dug out of their • holes in the red earth. Roots of bushes were dug up and split open. Nell pulled many white grubs out of the hollow roots. These fat grubs tasted sweet and were good to eat.
Honey-ants were the food that Nell and the other children liked the best. When Nell found a nest, she called the women to help dig it up. They dug with their digging sticks and followed the holes down into the earth until they found the honey-ants.
These ants are about half an inch long and dark in colour. Some of them have fat honey bags. The working ants gather honey from the flowers and take it to the ants with the honey bags. These ants that
keep the honey are too fat to move about. They hang from the earth above the working ants.
As the women dug up the ants they gathered them into their wooden dishes. They ate any that had been broken by the digging sticks. Some of the ants were red and the honey inside was very thick. Others were yellow and their honey was sweet and thin. It ran like water down Nell’s throat. The children laughed as they ate this sweet food.
When the nests had been dug out, the women and children had a drink from the water-carriers. They were careful to drink through the grass so that they did not spill any water. Then they rested in the shade of the trees during the hot part of the day.
As they rested, the women told the children an old story about a man who had lived long ago in the dreamtime. After making many parts of the country, he went into the earth and changed into the honey-ants.
While they told the story the sun went slowly down behind the mountain and the evening winds began to blow through the trees. Then they knew it was time to go back to the camp. The food carriers and the digging sticks were gathered up, and the women and children slowly made their way back to the spring.
The men too came back from their hunting with the birds they had speared.
Soon the smoke from their fires drifted out over the sand and the bushes. They could smell the damper and the cooked emu meat of their evening meal.
The Wet Season. .
Hunting is the same as walkabout to the people of Tom’s tribe. During the wet season, when the long spear grass covers the coastal country, Tom’s people keep to the sandy beaches. The beaches are miles long and there are many of them along the coast of this tribal land.
Hunting is very easy along the beaches. The hunters of young Tom’s tribe go out early each morning. They go before the hot sun makes the shallow water too warm, because when the water is warm the fish swim out into the cooler water.
While the men are gathering food from the sea, the women and children go out hunting for honey-ants, or digging up the big yams that grow in the jungle along the coast. The little children look for turtle tracks that go up the sandy beach. They follow them to the low sandhills and dig the turtle eggs out of the sandy nests. In the swamp they often see the Brolga with his lumpy throat.
One day Tom’s mother said, “Do you know how the Brolga got the lump in his throat ? ”
“No,” said Tom. “What happened?”
“Once a Jabiru had caught a big fish in the shallow water. A Brolga saw this and flew down and took the fish. He was a greedy Brolga. As he flew away, the Jabiru chased him. The Jabiru caught the Brolga, and while they were fighting, the fish slipped into the Brolga’s throat. It stuck there and to this day the Brolga still has a lump in his throat. It is a warning to all greedy people.”
When Tom went out hunting with the men, he heard lots of stories about the birds, the fish and other animals. To the boys, hunting is a school where they learn things that will be useful to them when they are men. As the hunters spear the fish, they tell the young boys the name of each fish and if it is good for food.
Once, when they were out fishing, Tom touched one of the fish. Then, with a loud yell, he jumped about on the sand.
“ Quickly,” said his uncle. “ Rub some sand on the sting. That fish is dangerous. You must not touch the stone-fish or the sea-wasp because they sting.”
The men also tell the tribal stories about each fish. Tom never forgets the story of the hunter who would not believe the teaching of the old men of his tribe. Because of this, he had a fight with another hunter. During the fight, the man who did not believe the old men was changed into a parrot-fish. The other man went into the sky where he lives forever as the moon.
The Dry Season.
When the wet season finishes, the cool south winds dry the long spear grass. Then bush fires cover the land with smoke. Each year the men go on their walkabout over the burnt land.
Tom’s people do not wander just anywhere in the bush. They follow the way their people have gone before. The flowers, birds and animals give them the signs, and their stories tell them where they must go to get food.
When the red flowers open on the trees, the hunters know that the sweet-tasting yams are ready to be gathered in the jungle. When the yellow or red bottlebrush trees come into flower, the people go out to get the sweet honey from the honey-ants. The noise of the yellow pandanus nuts falling on the beach tells them that many turtle eggs can be found in the sand.
At the end of each day the people of Tom’s tribe gather around their camp fires. In the night they often hear noises which they believe are made by the spirits in the bush. These spirits are always ready to help good children and to punish the bad ones. One night, when the call of the curlew was heard near the camp, Tom’s mother said, “That call is a sign that the evil ones are about. They look for children whose tracks show that they have wandered from their people during the day. If they do it again, the evil ones will take them away to the moon man who will eat them. That is why the moon grows fat each month.”
Another night Tom heard the men singing. One hunter was telling the other men the story of his fight with a Podjie-podjie.
“When I was passing a big tree to-day,” said the man, CCI heard a strange noise near me. I turned quickly and was just in time to see one of these clever little men burst out of a tree where he lived. The tree split in half, like a reed. The clever little one was as high as my knee. He had a big head and a beard. I tried to run away from him but he ran around me like a whirlwind. Then, with a loud yell,
20 Geelong Teachers’ Coll«B*
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the Podjie-podjie jumped into; the air, and came down on the kangaroo I was carrying. I ran back to camp without looking behind me. I didn’t see the Podjie-podjie again.”
When the story ended Tom heard other men telling how Podjie-podjies bring luck to those who see them, and how they are able to tell what is going to happen.
Tom listened to the talking and singing until he fell asleep. Soon the'men also fell asleep and all was quiet. Another, day was over.
The next day new signs would tell them where there was food in other parts of their tribal land.