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FOLK-LORE OF THE NOONGAHBURRAHS
MRS. K. LANGLOH PARKER
WITH INTRODUCTION BY
ANDREW LANG, M.A.
FRONTISPIECE BY A NATIVE ARTIST,
AND A SPECIMEN OF THE NATIVE TEXT
DAVID NUTT, 270-271, STRAND, LONDON
MELVILLE, MULLEN & SLADE, MELBOURNE
* * * * * * *
ABELA PUBLISHING, LONDON
Australian Legendary Tales
Typographical arrangement of this edition
© Abela Publishing 2010
This book may not be reproduced in its current format in any manner in any media, or transmitted by any means whatsoever, electronic, electrostatic, magnetic tape, or mechanical ( including photocopy, file or video recording, internet web sites, blogs, wikis, or any other information storage and retrieval system) except as permitted by law without the prior written permission of the publisher.
KING OF THE NOONGAHBURRAHS
The Publisher acknowledges the work that
Mrs K. Langloh Parker
did in compiling this unique collection of
Australian Legendary Tales
in a time well before any electronic media was in use.
* * * * * * *
33% of the net profit from the sale of this book
will be donated to charities .
A NEIGHBOUR of mine exclaimed, when I mentioned that I proposed making a small collection of the folk-lore legends of the tribe of blacks I knew so well living on this station, "But have the blacks any legends?"--thus showing that people may live in a country and yet know little of the aboriginal inhabitants; and though there are probably many who do know these particular legends, yet I think that this is the first attempt that has been made to collect the tales of any particular tribe, and publish them alone. At all events, I know that no attempt has been made previously, as far as the folklore of the Noongahburrahs is concerned. Therefore, on the authority of Professor Max Müller, that folk-lore of any country is worth collecting, I am emboldened to offer my small attempt, at a collection, to the public. There are probably many who, knowing these legends, would not think them worth recording; but, on the other hand, I hope there are many who think, as I do, that we should try, while there is yet time, to gather all the information possible of a race fast dying out, and the origin of which is so obscure. I cannot affect to think that these little legends will do much to remove that obscurity, but undoubtedly a scientific and patient study of the folk-lore throughout
Australia would greatly assist thereto. I, alas! am but an amateur, moved to my work by interest in the subject, and in the blacks, of whom I have had some experience.
The time is coming when it will be impossible to make even such a collection as this, for the old blacks are quickly dying out, and the young ones will probably think it beneath the dignity of their so-called civilisation even to remember such old-women's stories. Those who have themselves attempted the study of an unknown folk-lore will be able to appreciate the difficulties a student has to surmount before he can even induce those to talk who have the knowledge he desires. In this, as in so much else, those who are ready to be garrulous know little.
I have confined this little book to the legends of the Narran tribe, known among themselves as Noongahburrahs. It is astonishing to find, within comparatively short distances, a diversity of language and custom. You may even find the same word in different tribes bearing a totally different meaning. Many words, too, have been introduced which the blacks think are English, and the English think are native. Such, for example, as piccaninny, and, as far as these outside blacks are concerned, boomerang is regarded as English, their local word being burren; yet nine out of ten people whom you meet think both are local native words.
Though I have written my little book in the interests of folk-lore, I hope it will gain the attention of, and have some interest for, children-of Australian children, because they will find stories of old friends among the Bush birds; and of English children, because I hope that they will be glad to make new friends, and so establish a free trade between the Australian and English nurseries--wingless, and laughing birds, in exchange for fairy godmothers, and princes in disguise.
I must also acknowledge my great indebtedness to the blacks, who, when once they understood what I wanted to know, were most ready to repeat to me the legends repeating with the utmost patience, time after time, not only the legends, but the names, that I might manage to spell them so as to be understood when repeated. In particular I should like to mention my indebtedness to Peter Hippi, king of the Noongahburrahs; and to Hippitha, Mätah, Barahgurrie, and Beemunny.
I have dedicated my booklet to Peter Hippi, in grateful recognition of his long and faithful service to myself and my husband, which has extended, with few intervals, over a period of twenty years. He, too,
is probably the last king of the Noongabburrahs, who are fast dying out-, and soon their weapons, bartered by them for tobacco or whisky, alone will prove that they ever existed. It seemed to me a pity that some attempt should not be made to collect the folk-lore of the quickly disappearing tribe-a folk-lore embodying, probably, the thoughts, fancies, and beliefs of the genuine aboriginal race, and which, as such, deserves to be, indeed, as Max Müller says, "might be and ought to be, collected in every part of the world."
The legends were told to me by the blacks themselves, some of whom remember the coming of Mitchellän, as they call Major Mitchell, the explorer of these back creeks. The old blacks laugh now when they tell you how frightened their mothers were of the first wheel tracks they saw. They would not let the children tread on them, but carefully lifted them over, lest their feet should break out in sores, as they were supposed to do if they trod on a snake's track. But with all their fear, little did they realise that the coming of Mitchellän was the beginning of their end, or that fifty years afterwards, from the remnant of their once numerous tribe, would be collected the legends they told in those days to their piccaninnies round their camp-fires, and those legends used to make a Christmas booklet for the children of their white supplanters.
I can only hope that the white children will be as ready to listen to these stories as were, and indeed are, the little piccaninnies, and thus the sale of this booklet be such as to enable me to add frocks and tobacco when I give their Christmas dinner, as is my yearly custom, to the remnant of the Noongahburrahs.
K. LANGLOH PARKER,BANGATE, NARRAN RIVER, NEW SOUTH WALES,June 24th, 1895.
Dinewan the Emu, and Goomblegubbon the
The Galah and Oolah the Lizard
Bahloo the Moon and the Daens
The Origin of the Narran Lake
Gooloo the Magpie, and the Wahroogah
The Weeoonibeens and the Piggiebillah
Bootoolgah the Crane and Goonur the
Kangaroo Rat, the Fire Makers
Weedah the Mocking Bird
The Gwineeboos the Redbreasts
Meamei the Seven Sisters
The Cookooburrahs and the Goolahgool
Oongnairwah and Guinarey
Narahdarn the Bat
Mullyangah the Morning Star
Goomblegubbon, Beeargah, and Ouyan
Mooregoo the Mopoke and Bahloo the Moon
Ouyan the Curlew
Dinewan the Emu and Wahn the Crows
Goolahwilleel the Topknot Pigeons
Goonur, the Woman-Doctor
Deereeree the Wagtail and the Rainbow
Mooregoo the Mopoke and Mooninguggahgul
the Mosquito Bird
Bougoodoogahdah the Rain Bird
The Borah of Byamee
Bunnyyarl the Flies and Wurrunnunnah the Bees
Deegeenboyah the Soldier-bird
Mayrah, the Wind that Blows the Winter Away
Wayarnbeh the Turtle
Wirreenun the Rainmaker
AUSTRALIA makes an appeal to the fancy which is all its own. When Cortes entered Mexico, in the most romantic moment of history, it was as if men had found their way to a new planet, so strange, so long hidden from Europe was all that they beheld. Still they found kings, nobles, peasants, palaces, temples, a great organised society, fauna and flora not so very different from what they had left behind in Spain. In Australia all was novel, and, while seeming fresh, was inestimably old. The vegetation differs from ours; the monotonous grey gum-trees did not resemble our varied forests, but were antique, melancholy, featureless, like their own continent of rare hills, infrequent streams and interminable deserts, concealing nothing within their wastes, yet promising a secret. The birds and beasts--kangaroo, platypus, emu--are ancient types, rough grotesques of Nature, sketching as a child draws. The natives were a race without a history, far more antique than Egypt, nearer the beginnings than any other people. Their weapons are the most primitive: those of the extinct Tasmanians were actually palæolithic. The soil holds no pottery, the cave walls no pictures drawn by men more advanced; the sea hides no ruined palaces; no cities are buried in the plains; there is not a trace of inscriptions or of agriculture. The burying places contain relics of men perhaps even lower than the existing tribes; nothing attests the presence in any age of men more cultivated. Perhaps myriads of years have gone by since the Delta, or the lands beside Euphrates and Tigris were as blank of human modification as was the whole Australian continent.
The manners and rites of the natives were far the most archaic of all with which we are acquainted. Temples they had none: no images of gods, no altars of sacrifice; scarce any memorials of the dead. Their worship at best was offered in hymns to some vague, half-forgotten deity or First Maker of things, a god decrepit from age or all but careless of his children. Spirits were known and feared, but scarcely defined or described. Sympathetic magic, and perhaps a little hypnotism, were all their science. Kings and nations they knew not; they were wanderers, houseless and homeless. Custom was king; yet custom was tenacious, irresistible, and as complex in minute details as the etiquette of Spanish kings, or the ritual of the Flamens of Rome. The archaic intricacies and taboos of the customs and regulations of marriage might puzzle a mathematician, and may, when unravelled, explain the less complicated prohibitions of a totemism less antique. The people themselves in their struggle for existence had developed great ingenuities. They had the boomerang and the weet-weet, but not the bow; the throwing stick, but not, of course, the sword; the message stick, but no hieroglyphs; and their art was almost purely decorative, in geometrical patterns, not representative. They deemed themselves akin to all nature, and called cousins with rain and smoke, with clouds and sky, as well as with beasts and trees. They were adroit hunters, skilled trackers, born sportsmen; they now ride well, and, for savages, play cricket fairly. But, being invaded by the practical emigrant or the careless convict, the natives were not studied when in their prime, and science began to examine them almost too late. We have the works of Sir George Grey, the too brief pamphlet of Mr. Gideon Lang, the more learned labours of Messrs. Fison and Howitt, and the collections of Mr. Brough Smyth. The mysteries (Bora) of the natives, the initiatory rites, a little of the magic, a great deal of the social customs are known to us, and we have fragments of the myths. But, till Mrs. Langloh Parker wrote this book, we had but few of the stories which Australian natives tell by the camp-fire or in the gum-tree shade.
These, for the most part, are Kinder Märchen, though they include many ætiological myths, explanatory of the markings and habits of animals, the origin of constellations, and so forth. They are a savage edition of the Metamorphoses, and few unbiased students now doubt that the Metamorphoses are a very late and very artificial version of traditional tales as savage in origin as those of the Noongahburrah. I have read Mrs. Parker's collection with very great interest, with "human pleasure," merely for the story's sake. Children will find here the Jungle Book, never before printed, of black little boys and girls. The sympathy with, and knowledge of beast-life and bird-life are worthy of Mr. Kipling, and the grotesque names are just what children like. Dinewan and Goomblegubbon should take their place with Rikki Tikki and Mr. Kipling's other delightful creatures. But there is here no Mowgli, set apart in the jungle as a man. Man, bird, and beast are all blended in the Australian fancy as in that of Bushmen and Red Indians. All are of one kindred, all shade into each other; all obey the Bush Law as they obey the Jungle Law in Mr. Kipling's fascinating stories. This confusion, of course, is not peculiar to Australian Märchen; it is the prevalent feature of our own popular tales. But the Australians "do it more natural:" the stories are not the heritage of a traditional and dead, but the flowers of a living and actual condition of the mind. The stories have not the ingenious dramatic turns of our own Märchen. Where there are no distinctions of wealth and rank, there can be no Cinderella and no Puss in Boots. Many stories are rude ætiological myths; they explain the habits and characteristics of the birds and beasts, and account in a familiar way for the origin of death ("Bahloo, the Moon, and the Daens"). The origin of fire is also accounted for in what may almost be called a scientific way. Once discovered, it is, of course, stolen from the original proprietors. A savage cannot believe that the first owners of fire would give the secret away. The inventors of the myth of Prometheus were of the same mind.
On the whole the stories, perhaps, most resemble those from the Zulu in character, though these represent a much higher grade of civilisation. The struggle for food and water, desperately absorbing, is the perpetual theme, and no wonder, for the narrators dwell in a dry and thirsty land, and till not, nor sow, nor keep any domestic animals. We see the cunning of the savage in the devices for hunting, especially for chasing honey bees. The Rain-magic, actually practised, is of curious interest. In brief, we have pictures of savage life by savages, romances which are truly realistic. We understand that condition which Dr. Johnson did not think happy-the state from which we came, and to which we shall probably return. "Equality," "Liberty", "Community of Goods," all mean savagery, and even savages, if equal, are not really free. Custom is the tyrant.
The designs are from the sketch-book of an untaught Australian native; they were given to me some years ago by my brother, Dr. Lang, of Corowa. The artist has a good deal of spirit in his hunting scenes; his trees are not ill done, his emus and kangaroos are better than his men and labras. Using ink, a pointed stick, and paper, the artist shows an unwonted freedom of execution. Nothing like this occurs in Australian scratches with a sharp stone on hard wood. Probably no other member of his dying race ever illustrated a book.
DINEWAN the emu, being the largest bird, was acknowledged as king bythe other birds. The Goomblegubbons, the bustards, were jealous of the Dinewans. Particularly was Goomblegubbon, the mother, jealous of the Diriewan mother. She would watch with envy the high flight of the Dinewans, and their swift running. And she always fancied that the Dinewan mother flaunted her superiority in her face, for whenever Dinewan alighted near Goomblegubbon, after a long, high flight, she would flap her big wings and begin booing in her pride, not the loud booing of the male bird, but a little, triumphant, satisfied booing noise of her own, which never failed to irritate Goomblegubbon when she heard it.
Goomblegubbon used to wonder how she could put an end to Dinewan's supremacy. She decided that she would only be able to do so by injuring her wings and checking her power of flight. But the question that troubled her was how to effect this end. She kn ew she would gain nothing by having a quarrel with Dinewan and fighting her, for no Goomblegubbon would stand any chance against a Dinewan, There was evidently nothing to be gained by an open fight. She would have to effect her end by cunning.
One day, when Goomblegubbon saw in the distance Dinewan coming towards her, she squatted down and doubled in her wings in such a way as to look as if she had none. After Dinewan had been talking to her for some time, Goomblegubbon said: "Why do you not imitate me and do without wings? Every bird flies. The Dinewans, to be the king of birds, should do without wings. When all the birds see that I can do without wings, they will think I am the cleverest bird and they will make a Goomblegubbon king."
"But you have wings," said Dinewan.
"No, I have no wings." And indeed she looked as if her words were true, so well were her wings hidden, as she squatted in the grass. Dinewan went away after awhile, and thought much of what she had heard. She talked it all over with her mate, who was as disturbed as she was. They made up their minds that it would never do to let the Goomblegubbons reign in their stead, even if they had to lose their wings to save their kingship.
At length they decided on the sacrifice of their wings. The Dinewan mother showed the example by persuading her mate to cut off hers with a combo or stone tomahawk, and then she did the same to his. As soon as the operations were over, the Dinewan mother lost no time in letting Goomblegubbon know what they had done. She ran swiftly down to the plain on which she had left Goomblegubbon, and, finding her still squatting there, she said: "See, I have followed your example. I have now no wings. They are cut off."
"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed Goomblegubbon, jumping up and dancing round with joy at the success of her plot. As she danced round, she spread out her wings, flapped them, and said: "I have taken you in, old stumpy wings. I have my wings yet. You are fine birds, you Dinewans, to be chosen kings, when you are so easily taken in. Ha! ha! ha!" And, laughing derisively, Goomblegubbon flapped her wings right in front of Dinewan, who rushed towards her to chastise her treachery. But Goomblegubbon flew away, and, alas! the now wingless Dinewan could not follow her.
Brooding over her wrongs, Dinewan walked away, vowing she would be revenged. But how? That was the question which she and her mate failed to answer for some time. At length the Dinewan mother thought of a plan and prepared at once to execute it. She hid all her young Dinewans but two, under a big salt bush. Then she walked off to Goomblegubbons' plain with the two young ones following her. As she walked off the morilla ridge, where her home was, on to the plain, she saw Goomblegubbon out feeding with her twelve young ones.