An ancient story retold

This is not an attempt to copy the joyous art I was privileged to see in the rock-shelter somewhere beyond the
Blue Mountains; that masterpiece is imbued with 60,000 years and more of knowledge and tradition and
is there to commemorate a momentous event, the breaking of a monstrous drought. If any of my Indigenous
friends and readers are offended, please tell me and I will take it down.

I first came across this wonderful legend in Mrs Eve Langloh-Parker‘s Australian Legendary Tales, first published in 1896. I have read and heard abbreviated versions and been shown sites associated with the legend. There are many stories connected to this drought, and various reasons for it. In some versions Tidda-link (the Frog) and Coola (the Koala) are named as two beings who stole the water, and many and various were the ruses by which they were tricked into returning it. In retelling this story, I have added snippets of what I heard. Mrs Parker’s transcript of the version she was given all those years ago is wonderful and worth reading. Despite the criticism she has received, I believe she had a genuine interest in the lore of the people she encountered in her daily life and treated their philosophy and artistry with far more respect than did some of the early reviewers of her work. Some of my Indigenous friends agree with me. You can decide for yourself.

Mulla-mulla photographed in the arid country around Menzies, Western Australia, where my maternal
great-grandparents settled when they came out from Wales.—Photo courtesy Brooke Collins

Drought is a fact of life in Australia and studies have shown that one such event, recent in geological terms, lasted for about 1000 years; this beautiful story from the central west of NSW no doubt recalls that time. Set in the time after the hero, Baiame (or Bayamii), had finished his work on Earth and returned with his wives to his home along the great river that we call the Milky Way, it speaks of the interconnection between all living things, the joy the Indigenous peoples find in flowers, and the importance of social cohesion. Our climate-denialist politicians need to listen to the wisdom in these ancient stories and learn the lessons they impart.

BAYAAMII’S LAST TASK on Earth had been to carve his mark on three giant gums, telling the Bagiin, the Clever Men, that the Bee people who lived among them were never to be raided for their sugar bag, the dark, thin, delicious honey so loved by his people. “No matter what,” he told them, “these are always for the Bees in times of need, for without them many of the flowers will never grow and a time may come when the Bees are needed.”

Bayaamii had gone, taking his wives with him. South-east wind, their earthly relative, missed her kinfolk and began to sulk, causing the rain-bearing winds to cease. As the country dried, so the flowers gradually disappeared until the Bees – sacred to Bayaamii – had only tree sap and the occasional blossom from which to make honey to store in their comibii, their bags.

As the generations passed, the young people became angry with their elders the Lawmen, and scoffed at their stories about a time when the south-easterly brought spring rains and the land was covered in flowers; stories about the delicious sugar bag that could be found in rock overhangs, tree hollows and, in exceptionally good seasons, even in cracks in high ground.

“You are lying,” they would say. “Prove it’s true by letting us raid Bayaamii’s trees for their sugar bag.”

“We must not,” their elders would say, “It is the Law.”

But as the long, bitter years passed, the younger generations became even less inclined to listen to advice and, fearing that the injunctions would be overturned, the Bagiin consulted the Yuurii, the little hairy people who have links to the secret Other World. Feeling the people’s plight and knowing the consequences of breaking Law, the Yuurii pleaded with Bayaamii who told them they could guide a group of Bagiin from every corner of the land up to his home on the great river where he would tell them what to do.

The Bagiin were led to the sacred mountain – where even today you can see the steps Bayaamii cut when he returned to his home – and up to the ancient, sacred Bora, the ceremonial ground, on its summit.

There, the Bagiin and Yuurii danced a great Borraa, driving away obstacles and preparing the path to Bayaamii’s home. As the dancing reached its peak, the men were dragged upward by a great wind, twisting and whirling, sucking them up to the great river. When they had recovered the courage to open their eyes, they found themselves standing on river flats covered in all manner of beautiful flowers stretching away as far as they could see.

Bayaamii’s great voice spoke to them from somewhere along the river: “Go now,” he thundered, “and gather all the flowers you can carry and I will send you with them back to your home in my country on Earth. When you get there, you must give them to the women, who will place them on the ground. Do not,” his voice grew louder, “stop the children in whatever they might do, for you know they are special to me and my wives.” The magic of Bayaamii entered the Bagiin and they collected flowers in huge bundles, enough to cover the land it seemed, but they kept at it until another giant buuli, a willy-willy, swept them and their precious cargo up, returning them to Earth, each to his own country.

Hakea near Menzies, WA —Courtesy Brooke Collins

Back on Earth, the women cried with joy to see the beauty the Bagiin had brought with them and dashed to and fro placing the flowers in great bunches all over the ground.

The children were amazed. Never before had they seen such colours, nor smelled such sweet scents. “It’s true,” they yelled, “what the Old Ones tell us must be true.” Filled with joy, the children leaped and danced and as they did so their feet kicked the bunches of flowers in all directions. So happy was the sound of the youngsters, that the South-East women caused the rain- bearing winds to blow steady and strong, bringing the warm, spring rains to the land. Wherever a particular flower lay, there its children grow to this day.

The dance of the children is remembered for what it returned to the land. Some people will tell you that if a grown-up has a pain in the binjii– a belly ache – it’s because they have been unkind to their children and Bayaamii’s wives are punishing them.

If you visit the sandstone country behind the Blue Mountains, there is a sacred mountain with huge steps cut in one side and with its summit flattened by Bayaamii’s Great Borraa. This is the place where the Bagiin were lifted into the sky.

In the same general area, there is a large rock overhang in which is painted a line of women, 15 or more metres long. Facing the viewer, they are holding hands and dancing with joy at the beauty of their world. Some of this country is in constant danger of disappearing into a great pit.

And last, but not least, all over Australia are old place names commemorating this great event. In the greater Sydney area and again near Tenterfield, NSW, there are localities named Girraween – the place where the flowers returned.

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