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The Fire Makers

In the days when Bootoolgah the crane, married Goonur the kangaroo rat, there was no fire in their country. They had to eat their food raw or dry it in the sun. One day when Bootoolgah was rubbing two pieces of wood together, he saw a faint spark sent forth and then a slight smoke. "Look" he said to Goonur, "see what comes when I rub these pieces of wood together, smoke. Would it not be good if we could make fire for ourselves with which to cook our food, so as not to have to wait for the sun to dry it?"

Goonur looked, and seeing the smoke, she said: "Great indeed would be the day when we could make fire. Split your stick, Bootoolgah, and place in an opening with bark and grass so that even one spark may kindle a fire." Hearing wisdom in her words, Bootoolgah did as Goonur had said. After much rubbing, from the opening came a small flame, because as Goonur had said it would, the spark lit the grass, the bark smouldered and smoked, and so Bootoolgah the crane, and Goonur the kangaroo rat, discovered the art of fire making.


Bootoolgah and Goonur said "We will keep this a secret from all the tribes. When we make a fire to cook our fish we will go into a Bingahwingul (needle bush, a tall thorny shrub) scrub. There we will make a fire and cook our food in secret. We will hide our firesticks in the open mouthed seeds of the Bingahwinguls; one firestick we will carry always hidden in our comebee (bag made of kangaroo skins)."

Bootoolgah and Goonur cooked the next fish they caught, and found the cooked fish very good. When they went back to the camp they took some of their cooked fish with them. The men noticed that their fish looked quite different from the usual sun dried fish, so they asked: "What did you do to that fish?"

"We let the fish lie in the sun" said Bootoolgah and Goonur.

"Not so" said the men.

Bootoolgah and Goonur persisted that their fish was sun dried. Day by day passed, and after catching their fish, Bootoolgah and Goonur always disappeared, returning with their food looking quite different from that of the others. At last, being unable to extract any information from Bootoolgah and Goonur, the tribe determined by to watch them. Boolooral the night owl, and Quarrian the parrot, were appointed to follow Bootoolgah and Goonur when they disappeared, to watch where they went, and find out what they did.


Accordingly, after the next fish were caught, when Bootoolgah and Goonur gathered up their share and started for the bush, Boolooral and Quarrian followed on their tracks. Boolooral and Quarrian saw Bootoolgah and Goonur disappear into a Bingahwingul scrub, where Boolooral and Quarrian lost sight of Bootoolgah and Goonur. Seeing a high tree on the edge of the scrub, Boolooral and Quarrian climbed up the high tree, and from the high tree Boolooral and Quarrian saw Bootoolgah and Goonur throw down their load of fish, open their comebee and take out a stick, which when they had blown upon it, they laid in the midst of a heap of leaves and twigs. At once Boolooral and Quarrian saw a flame leap from the heap of leaves and twigs, which the fire makers fed with bigger sticks.

Then, as the flame died down, Boolooral and Quarrian saw Bootoolgah and Goonur place their fish in the ashes that remained from the burnt sticks. Boolooral and Quarrian, went back to their tribe's camp with the news of their discovery. Great was the talk amongst the men, about how to get possession of the comebee with the fire stick in it, when Bootoolgah and Goonur came into the camp.

At length, it was decided to hold a corrobboree on a scale not often seen, probably never before by the young of the tribes. The grey beards proposed to so astonish Bootoolgah and Goonur as to make them forget to guard their precious comebee. As soon as Bootoolgah and Goonur were intent on the corrobboree and off guard, someone was to seize the comebee, steal the firestick and start fires for the good of all.

Most of them had tasted the cooked fish brought into the camp by the fire makers and, having found cooked fish good, hungered for it. Beeargah the hawk, was told to feign sickness, to tie up his head, and to lie down near wherever Bootoolgah and Goonur sat to watch the corrobboree. Lying near Bootoolgah and Goonur, Beeargah was to watch Bootoolgah and Goonur all the time, and when Bootoolgah and Goonur were laughing and not thinking of anything but the spectacle before them, Beeargah was to steal the comebee.


Having arranged their plan of action, the tribe prepared for a big corrobboree. The tribe sent word to all of the surrounding tribes, asking them to attend the corrobboree. The tribe especially begged the Bralgahs (native companion bird) to come, because the Bralgahs were celebrated for their wonderful dancing, which was so wonderful as to be most likely to absorb the attention of the fire makers.

All of the tribes agreed to come, and soon all were engaged in great preparations. Each determined to out do the other in the quaintness and brightness of their painting for the corrobboree. Each tribe as they arrived gained great applause; never before had the young people seen so much diversity in colouring and design.

Beeleer, the Black Cockatoo tribe, came with bright splashes of orange-red on their black skins. The Pelicans came as a contrast, almost pure white, only a touch here and there of their black skin showing where the white paint had rubbed off. The Black Divers came in their black skins, but these polished to shine like satin. Then came the Millears, the beauties of the Kangaroo Rat family, who had their home on the morillas (pebbly ridges).

After the Millears came the Buckandeer or Native Cat tribe, painted in dull colours, but in large variety of patterns. Mairas or Paddymelons came too in haste to take part in the great corrobboree. After them, walking slowly, came the Bralgahs, looking tall and dignified as they held up their red heads, painted so in contrast to their French grey bodies, which they deemed too dull a colour, unbrightened, for such a gay occasion. Amongst the many tribes there, too numerous to mention, were the rose and grey painted Galahs (a French grey and rose-coloured cockatoo), the green and crimson painted Billai (crimson-wing parrot); most brilliant were they with their bodies grass green and their sides bright crimson, so afterwards gaining them the name of crimson wings. The bright little Gidgereegahs (a species of small parrot) came too.


Great was the gathering that Bootoolgah and Goonur found assembled as they hurried on to the scene. Bootoolgah had warned Goonur that they must only be spectators, and take no active part in the corrobboree, because they needed to guard their comebee. Obedient to Bootoolgah's advice, Goonur seated herself beside him and slung the comebee over her arm.

Bootoolgah warned Goonur to be careful and not forget that she had the comebee, but as the corrobboree went on, Goonur became so absorbed that she forgot the comebee, which slipped from her arm. Happily, Bootoolgah who saw the comebee slip, replaced the comebee, and bade Goonur take heed, in the process baulking Beeargah, who had been about to seize the comebee.

Beeargah's vigilance was unceasing, and deeming him sick almost unto death, Bootoolgah and Goonur took no heed of him. Beeargah crouched back, moaning as he turned, but keeping an eye on Goonur. Beeargah was soon rewarded. It came the turn of the Bralgahs to dance, and every eye except Beeargah's was fixed on the Bralgahs as they slowly came into the ring.

First the Bralgahs advanced, bowed and retired, then the Bralgahs repeated what they had done before, and again, each time getting faster and faster in their movements, changing their bows into pirouettes, craning their long necks and making such antics as they went through the figures of their dance, and replacing their dignity with such grotesqueness, as to make their large audience shake with laughter, they themselves keeping throughout all their grotesque measures a solemn air, which only seemed to heighten the effect of their antics.

Beeargah's chance came. In the excitement of the moment Goonur forgot the comebee, as did Bootoolgah. They joined in the mirthful applause of the crowd, and Goonur threw herself back helpless with laughter. As Goonur did so the comebee slipped from her arm. Then up jumped the sick man from behind her, seized the comebee with his Comeboo (stone tomahawk), cut it open, snatched forth the firestick, set fire to the heap of grass ready near where he had lain, and all before Bootoolgah and Goonur realised their loss.


When Bootoolgah and Goonur discovered that their precious comebee was gone, they jumped up. Bootoolgah ran after Beeargah, but Beeargah had a start and was fleeter of foot, and out distanced his pursuer quickly.

As Beeargah ran he fired the grass with the stick he still held. Bootoolgah, finding he could not catch Beeargah, and seeing fires everywhere, retired from the pursuit, feeling it was useless now to try and guard their secret, because fire had now become the common property of all the assembled tribes.


Collected in 1897 by Mrs. K. Langloh Parker.