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the borah of byamee.
From Australian Legendary Tales by Mrs. K. Langloh.
Start of Story
Age Rating 6 to 8.
In the morning it was seen that not only were all the dayoorls gone,
but the camp of the Dummerh was empty and they too had gone. When no
one would lend the Dummerh dayoorls, they had said, "Then we can grind
no doonburr unless the Wondah bring us stones." And scarcely were the
words said before they saw a dayoorl moving towards them. At first they
thought it was their own skill which enabled them only to express a
wish to have it realised. But as dayoorl after dayoorl glided into
their camp, and, passing through there, moved on, and as they moved was
the sound of "Oom, oom, oom, oom," to be heard everywhere they knew it
was the Wondah at work. And it was borne in upon them that where the
dayoorl went they must go, or they would anger the spirits who had
brought them through their camp.
They gathered up their belongings and followed in the track of the
dayoorls, which had cut a pathway from Googoorewon to Girrahween, down
which in high floods is now a water-course. From Girrahween, on the
dayoorls went to Dirangibirrah, and after them the Dummerh.
Dirangibirrah is between Brewarrina and Widda Murtee, and there the
dayoorls piled themselves up into a mountain, and there for the future
had the blacks to go when they wanted good dayoorls. And the Dummerh
were changed into pigeons, with a cry like the spirits of "Oom, oom,
Another strange thing happened at this big borah. A tribe, called
Ooboon, were camped at some distance from the other tribes. When any
stranger went to their camp, it was noticed that the chief of the
Ooboon would come out and flash a light on him, which killed him
instantly. And no one knew what this light was, that carried death in
its gleam. At last, Wahn the crow, said "I will take my biggest booreen
and go and see what this means. You others, do not follow me too
closely, for though I have planned how to save myself from the deadly
gleam, I might not be able to save you."
Wahn walked into the camp of the Ooboon, and as their chief turned to
flash the light on him, he put up his booreen and completely shaded
himself from it, and called aloud in a deep voice "Wah, wah, wah, wah"
which so startled Ooboon that he dropped his light, and said "What is
the matter? You startled me. I did not know who you were and might have
hurt you, though I had no wish to, for the Wahn are my friends."
"I cannot stop now," said the Wahn, "I must go back to my camp. I have
forgotten something I wanted to show you. I'll be back soon." And so
saying, swiftly ran Wahn back to where he had left his boondee, then
back he came almost before Ooboon realised that he had gone. Back he
came, and stealing up behind Ooboon dealt him a blow with his boondee
that avenged amply the victims of the deadly light, by stretching the
chief of the Ooboon a corpse on the ground at his feet. Then crying
triumphantly, "Wah, wah, wah," back to his camp went Wahn and told what
he had done.
This night, when the Borah corrobboree began, all the women relations
of the boys to be made young men, corrobboreed all night. Towards the
end of the night all the young women were ordered into bough humpies,
which had been previously made all round the edge of the embankment
surrounding the ring. The old women stayed on.
The men who were to have charge of the boys to be made young men, were
told now to be ready to seize hold each of his special charge, to carry
him off down the beaten track to the scrub. When every man had, at a
signal, taken his charge on his shoulder, they all started dancing
round the ring. Then the old women were told to come and say good-bye
to the boys, after which they were ordered to join the young women in
the humpies. About five men watched them into the humpies, then pulled
the boughs down on the top of them that they might see nothing further.
When the women were safely imprisoned beneath the boughs, the men
carrying the boys swiftly disappeared down the track into the scrub.
When they were out of sight the five black fellows came and pulled the
boughs away and released the women, who went now to their camps. But
however curious these women were as to what rites attended the boys'
initiation into manhood, they knew no questions would elicit any
information. In some months' time they might see their boys return
minus, perhaps, a front tooth, and with some extra scarifications on
their bodies, but beyond that, and a knowledge of the fact that they
had not been allowed to look on the face of woman since their
disappearance into the scrub, they were never enlightened.
The next day the tribes made ready to travel to the place of the little
borah, which would be held in about four days' time, at about ten or
twelve miles distance from the scene of the big borah.
At the place of the little borah a ring of grass is made instead of one
of earth. The tribes all travel together there, camp, and have a
corrobboree. The young women are sent to bed early, and the old women
stay until the time when the boys bade farewell to them at the big
borah, at which hour the boys are brought into the little borah and
allowed to say a last good-bye to the old women. Then they are taken
away by the men who have charge of them together. They stay together
for a short time, then probably separate, each man with his one boy
going in a different direction. The man keeps strict charge of the boy
for at least six months, during which time he may not even look at his
own mother. At the end of about six months he may come back to his
tribe, but the effect of his isolation is that he is too wild and
frightened to speak even to his mother, from whom he runs away if she
approaches him, until by degrees the strangeness wears off.
But at this borah of Byamee the tribes were not destined to meet the
boys at the little borah. Just as they were gathering up their goods
for a start, into the camp staggered Millindooloonubbah, the widow,
crying, "You all left me, widow that I was, with my large family of
children, to travel alone. How could the little feet of my children
keep up to you? Can my back bear more than one goolay? Have I more than
two arms and one back? Then how could I come swiftly with so many
children? Yet none of you stayed to help me. And as you went from each
water hole you drank all the water. When, tired and thirsty, I reached
a water hole and my children cried for a drink, what did I find to give
them? Mud, only mud. Then thirsty and worn, my children crying and
their mother helpless to comfort them; on we came to the next hole.
What did we see, as we strained our eyes to find water? Mud, only mud.
As we reached hole after hole and found only mud, one by one my
children laid down and died; died for want of a drink, which
Millindooloonubbah their mother could not give them."
As she spoke, swiftly went a woman to her with a wirree of water. "Too
late, too late," she said. "Why should a mother live when her children
are dead?" And she lay back with a groan. But as she felt the water
cool her parched lips and soften her swollen tongue, she made a final
effort, rose to her feet, and waving her hands round the camps of the
tribes, cried aloud: "You were in such haste to get here. You shall
stay here. Googoolguyyah. Googoolguyyah. Turn into trees. Turn into
trees." Then back she fell, dead. And as she fell, the tribes that were
standing round the edge of the ring, preparatory to gathering their
goods and going, and that her hand pointed to as it waved round, turned
into trees. There they now stand. The tribes in the background were
changed each according to the name they were known by, into that bird
or beast of the same name. The barking Mahthi into dogs; the Byahmul
into black swans: the Wahns into crows, and so on.
And there at the
place of the big borah, you can see the trees standing tall and gaunt,
sad-looking in their sombre hues, waving with a sad wailing their
branches towards the lake which covers now the place where the borah
was held. And it bears the name of Googoorewon, the place of trees, and
round the edge of it is still to be seen the remains of the borah ring
of earth. And it is known as a great place of meeting for the birds
that bear the names of the tribes of old. The Byahmuls sail proudly
about; the pelicans, their water rivals in point of size and beauty;
the ducks, and many others too numerous to mention. The Ooboon, or
blue-tongued lizards, glide in and out through the grass. Now and then
is heard the "Oom, oom, oom," of the dummerh, and occasionally a cry
from the bird Millindooloonubbah of "Googoolguyyah, googoolguyyah." And
in answer comes the wailing of the gloomy-looking balah trees, and then
a rustling shirr through the bibbil branches, until at last every tree
gives forth its voice and makes sad the margin of the lake with echoes
of the past.
But the men and boys who were at the place of the little borah escaped
the metamorphosis. They waited long for the arrival of the tribes who
At last Byamee said: "Surely mighty enemies have slain our friends, and
not one escapes to tell us of their fate. Even now these enemies may be
upon our track; let us go into a far country."
And swiftly they went to Noondoo. Hurrying along with them, a dog of
Byamee's, which would fain have lain by the roadside rather than have
travelled so swiftly, but Byamee would not leave her and hurried her
on. When they reached the springs of Noondoo, the dog sneaked away into
a thick scrub, and there were born her litter of pups. But such pups as
surely man never looked at before. The bodies of dogs, and the heads of
pigs, and the fierceness and strength of devils. And gone is the life
of a man who meets in a scrub of Noondoo an earmoonan, for surely will
it slay him. Not even did Byamee ever dare to go near the breed of his
old dog. And Byamee, the mighty Wirreenun, lives for ever. But no man
must look upon his face, lest surely will he die. So alone in a thick
scrub, on one of the Noondoo ridges, lives this old man, Byamee, the
mightiest of Wirreenun.