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the borah of byamee.

From Australian Legendary Tales by Mrs. K. Langloh.
Age Rating 6 to 8.

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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, 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 never came. 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.


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