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Magpie and Children

Gooloo was a very old woman, and a very wicked old woman too, as this story will tell. During all the past season, when the grass was thick with seed, Gooloo had gathered much doonburr (a grass seed), which she crushed into meal as she wanted it for food. Gooloo used to crush the doonburr on a big flat stone (called a dayoorl) with small flat stones. Gooloo ground a great deal of the doonburr seed to put away for immediate use, the rest she kept whole, to be ground as required.

Soon after Gooloo had finished her first grinding, a neighbouring tribe came along and camped near where Gooloo was. One day the men all went out hunting, leaving the women and the children in the camp. After the men had been gone a little while, Gooloo the magpie came to their camp to talk to the women.

Gooloo said, "Why do you not go hunting too? The wurranunnahs (wild bees) have many nests around here, and which are thick with honey. There are many ripe bumbles hanging on the bumble trees (a fruit-bearing tree, sometimes called wild orange and sometimes wild pomegranate tree); red is the fruit of the grooees (handsome foliaged tree bearing a plum like fruit, tart and bitter, but much liked), and opening with ripeness the fruit of the guiebets (a thorny creeper bearing masses of a lovely myrtle like flower and an edible fruit somewhat resembling passion fruit). However, you sit in the camp and hunger, until your husbands return with the dinewan (emu) and bowrah (kangaroo) they have gone forth to slay. Go, women, and gather of the plenty that surrounds you. I will take care of your little Wahroogahs (children)."


"Your words are wise" the women said. "It is foolish to sit here and hunger, when near at hand yams are thick in the ground, and many fruits wait but the plucking. We will go and fill quickly our comebees (bag made of kangaroo skins) and goolays, but we will take our children with us."

Gooloo said, "You would be foolish to take your children with you. You would tire the little feet of those that run, and tire yourselves with the burden of those that need to be carried. No, take your empty comebees and goolays, that you may bring more back. There are many spoils that wait only the hand of the gatherer. Look, I have a durrie (bread made from grass seed) made of fresh doonburr seed, cooking on that bark between two fires; that your children can eat, and I will make them another durrie. Your children can eat and be full while their mothers are out of sight. See, your children come to me now, they hunger for durrie, and I will feed your children. Go in haste, that you may return in time to make ready the fires for cooking the meat your husbands will bring. Your husbands will be glad when they see that you have filled your goolays and comebees with fruits, and your wirrees (a small canoe shaped piece of bark) with honey. Go in haste I say, and do well."

Having listened to the words of Gooloo, the women decided to do as Gooloo said, and leaving their children with Gooloo, the women started forth with empty comebees, and armed with comeboos (stone tomahawk) with which to chop out the bees' nests and opossums, and with yam sticks to dig up yams.


When the women had gone, Gooloo gathered the children round her and fed them with durrie, hot from the coals. Gooloo gave the children honey too, and bumbles which she had buried to ripen. When the children had eaten, Gooloo hurried the children off to her real home, built in a hollow tree, a little distance away from where she had been cooking her durrie. Gooloo hurriedly thrust the children into her house, followed quickly herself, and made all secure. Gooloo fed the children again, but the children had already satisfied their hunger, and now the children missed their mothers and began to cry.

Their crying reached the ears of the women as they were returning to their camp. As the women quickened their steps, they thought that the spoils that lay heavy in their comebees would soon comfort their children. The mothers would feel happy when they fed the Wahroogahs with the dainties which had gathered for them. The women soon reached the camp, but, where were their children, and where was Gooloo the magpie?

"The children are playing waligoo" (A game like hide-and-seek) they said, "and have hidden themselves."


The mothers hunted all round for their children, and called aloud the names of their children and Gooloo, but they found no trace of their children and Gooloo. Every now and then they heard the sound of children wailing, but they could not find their children. The mothers themselves then wailed loudly for their lost Wahroogahs, and still wailing returned to their camp to await the return of their husbands.

When their husbands returned the mothers' hearts were heavy, and their faces were sad. The mothers told their husbands how Gooloo had persuaded them to go hunting, promising that if they did go hunting, that Gooloo would feed the hungry Wahroogahs, and care for them while the women were away, and the women wailed again for their poor Wahroogahs.

The women told how they had listened to Gooloo's words and gone. Gooloo had told the truth of the plenty around them, and their comebees and goolays were full of fruits and spoils they had gathered, but they came home with laden comebees and goolays only to find their children and Gooloo gone without a trace, but at times they heard a sound as of children wailing.


The men said: "What kind of mothers are you to leave your young with a stranger, and that stranger a Gooloo, who are a treacherous race? Did we not go forth to obtain food for you and our children? Did you ever see your husbands return from the chase empty handed? Then why, when you knew we were hunting, did you leave our helpless ones to a stranger? Evil indeed is the time that has come when a mother forgets her child. Stay in the camp while we go forth to hunt for our lost Wahroogahs. Heavy will be our hands on you women if we return without them."


The men hunted the bush for miles, but found no trace of the lost Wahroogahs, although at times the men too heard a noise of children's voices wailing.

Other than the wailing which echoed in the mothers' ears forever, no trace was found of the children. For many days the women sat in the camp mourning for their lost Wahroogahs, and beating their heads because they had listened to the voice of Gooloo.


Collected in 1897 by Mrs. K. Langloh Parker.