Old Stories

For many years, non-Aboriginal people have been recording and transcribing the old stories of the Bundjalung country. It is not clear what the interest is in these stories, but the Bundjalung are also interested in tracing these stories back to country, where they belong, to map them to country. For each story is designed to explain how the country is formed, how it self-generates and where we need to provide special care or support of regeneration. With the strict protocol of inheritance of knowledge, many stories have died with the teller, and can be reclaimed through these text transcriptions.

The Mountain Beings

Reference 14

The caste-aboriginal Alexander Vesper, of the Guljibul tribe, the narrator of this story, has the best knowledge of tribal lore that I have encountered in New South Wales. Alex is now seventy years old, a tall, upright, hard-working man with a shock of white hair. He still works at all kinds of bushwork- fencing, clearing and so on. He is deeply religious, both in the tribal sense and in the Christian sense, and will not be parted from an old leather-bound bible which he always has with him. I stay at Alex's cottage whenever I visit the settlement at Woodenbong.

IN THE early days of my people, the fleshy trunk of this palm, which we call wallum, was used by them to make a kind of damper, or bread. The old people used to chop it up on a big slab of bark. The women would be crouching down on their knees in a circle beating and mashing up the wallum. They would pour water over it in order to extract the poison. They would taste it and pour water over it and taste it until all the poison was out. When all the poison was out, the wallum would be like dried potato with butter on it.

They would take a certain amount and bake it. When they had baked it, it became bread second to no bread made from wheat at the present time. When the season came to do this, all the groups of the Gullibul would be baking the wallum in the neighbourhood. When the baking of the wallum was complete, they would divide it among themselves. There might be the Casino tribe and the Ettrick tribe there, they'd take the whole lot of the wallum and divide it. There was a family, the centre family of the Gullibul. The head of this family was a wee-un, a clever-feller. He was a divine person. He was much feared and recognized by his tribe because of his divine power. He had his camp about a mile and a half away from the main camp. His bungin, his mia-mia, was always built with the opening towards the main camp. In his bungin he had his bora, that's a magic rope, and all his magic things. The aborigines obtained the magic rope when they prospected for divine power in mountains and springs. All these magic things would be hung inside his bungin.

If any man came to this wee-un's camp, his law was that the man had to walk backwards because his camp was so sacred. The man had to stand about fifteen yards away, and when the wee-un called him, he could turn round and face the camp. If any man did not obey the order, there was only one sentence, that was death.

During the time of the baking of the wallum, this wee-un would stand on one leg, with his other foot resting on his knee, just watching the baking of the wallum. If a man was coming from fifty miles away, this wee-un would say, 'Poor feller; poor feller. There's a man coming from far away. Better get everything ready for his family. Tomorrow he'll be here.'

The tribe would prepare wallum, fish, possum and other foods. The next day the wee-un would say, 'Look, over the brow of that spur. He's coming now.' He'd name the man, his life and his family. Then the tribe would be ready to receive them.

This wee-un had a grandson who was a buloogan. Any man who is good-looking, kind-hearted, well-mannered, willing to do anything for anyone, we call a buloogan.

The tribe of this wee-un received a message from Warwick that a war had been declared against them. As soon as the two messengers came to tell them that war had been declared, the tribe sent two more messengers on to tel another tribe. When these messengers get near a camp, they stand and hit their shields with a stick. As soon as the men in the camp hear this, they stand up and shout out, 'Deerr! Deerr! War! War! ' The tribe would then get their shields and hit them and send the message on. The messengers would call, 'They have declared war on you in such and such a place!' The message would be sent from tribe to tribe. The tribes would mobilize then.

When the armies came to the battlefield, they went into camp opposite one another. They were all strong and vigorous men who were well trained. When the armies met they would have a trial battle. The first fight started about three o'clock in the afternoon, and there were armour-bearers there to hand out new weapons when they were needed. The elders and the women were at the sides of the battlefield singing sacred songs to protect the armies from harm. When the evening battle was finished, they would hit their shields and turn back to camp to prepare for the main battle next day. The two armies corroboreed together that night. They danced the jungara, the shakey-leg, and there was always a biarbung, a kind of clown, who was a very good dancer. He danced in front, on his own, making fun of the other dancers.

After the corroboree was finished, the elders would telI the people that each side must give a song to see who could sing the best. After that, they returned to sleep. The fulI-day battle came now. They fight for the victory. As soon as anyone is kilIed, the battle is broken up. They fight no more.

On the third day, after the main battle was over, the challenges for the championship fights were made. These were for single combat championship with ten to twenty single-handed fights on each side. After that there was the corroboree for three nights, and then they parted.

The young grandson of this wee-un was sent to see this battle up at Warwick. While the fighters were resting and settling tribal marriages and differences, this young man, this buloogan, went out hunting. On the side of a mountain he found a tree with jumblung, native-bee honey, in it. He said, 'I'll cut this.' He put a cut into the tree and cut the tree open. When he opened the tree, there was a mass of solid comb-honey inside, and there were no young bees in it. It was pure honey. He put it in a water-bag made out of the leaf of the bungalow-palm. Gullai, we call this bag.

While the young man was doing this, the nyimbun belonging to that mountain-a nyimbun is a supernatural being living in a mountain-this nyimbun came and took the young man and put him in the heart of the mountain. The mountain belonged to that nyimbun and the honey belonged to him, too.

Well, when the day was far spent, all the men came back to the camp. The buloogan's cousin and uncle were expecting him to be home. At sunset there was much concern for him. After some hours of the night had passed, they began to think that something had happened to him.

They sent a wee-un, a clever-feller, to see where he was. The wee-un's clever powers brought him right to the mountain. Soon as the wee-un came to the mountain, the nyimbun, who was extra clever, chased him back. The wee-un, after flying through the air, landed alongside the camp. They take a deep breath as they land.

When the wee-un had transformed himself back to a man, he drew a deep breath as if he had been running. The other fellers asked, 'What's up ?' He told them that the nyimbun had taken the buloogan right into the heart of the mountain 'And he's pretty savage. When I came near the mountain he chased me back,' the wee-un said.

Soon as this was reported to the camp, all the men grouped together .. They formed a team of all the wee-uns to have a go at the nyimbun. But, being a supernatural being, the nyimbun overpowered them all. But the wee-uns continued with their attempts to have the buloogan freed, even though the tribes men who belong to that mountain had been told all about it And at last even these tribesmen of the mountain had to go to try and free the buloogan.

From the camp they sang out to their nyimbun to let the buloogan go. But the nyimbun wouldn't respond or listen to them. For three days they sang to the nyimbun. After three days, the grandfather of the buloogan was contacted by his barnyunbee, a wonga-pigeon, to tell him that his grandson had been taken by the nyimbun.

The grandfather goes for this nyimbun now. The grandfather mastered the nyimbun and killed him. Well, the grandfather was extraordinary powerful. He's killed a mountain bloke now. He took his grandson out of the mountain, back to Nyamin at Grady's Creek, the junction of Grady's Creek and the Richmond River where the railway station, The Risk, is now.

He takes him back safe and sound. Straight away, the owners of the mountain declared war against the man who had killed their nyimbun.

Well, the grandfather's tribe get the message. The grandfather sends a message to the other tribes to be ready to fight. Then he sends a message to the tribe who had declared war. 'If it's only a war, you'll be allowed to have it, war,' the message said. 'But if it's a girravul, a raid (in a girravul they sing sacred songs to paralyse the man they intend to kill), well, if it comes to a girravul, I'll finish the lot of you.' So the mountain men accepted the war on the condition that there wouldn't be a girravul.

So the tribes came together and had another war. And after this war was finished, they came to a term of peace.

And they called this place where the battle was fought Booarjun, the place where they declared peace. This place is the Risk railway station now. There the tribes corroboreed together and the mountain men returned to their own country. The old grandfather, the wee-un, took all his family to the place of the wallum. There he opened the ground. As soon as he opened the ground, he closed his family and him self into the heart of the earth. He covered himself and his family over with the earth. That was at the foot of Mount Lion. He owns the mountain there now. He is the nyimbun of that mountain.

The nyimbun and his family now live in the heart of that mountain as everlasting beings. And they will live there forever until God himself brings all the dead out of the earth to give a full account of themselves. Also Jigai, that's another story, is buried on the top of that mountain.

just before jigai gave up the ghost he said, 'Bury me on the top of the mountain.' And they took him to jigai, that's his own place. And as they prepared the top of the mountain for his grave, as the corpse was laying down, he sang out, 'Jigai!' And they said, 'He doesn't want to be buried here.'

They carried him to the next mountain called Boorabee That's the name of the native bear. And as they had the place ready, he sang out, 'Jigai!' again. They took him to Wathumbil Mountain. They prepared a place, had it all leveled out, and they thought, 'This is the place where we're going to bury him.' All the birds of the scrub were talking among themselves because jigai was keeping quiet at last. Then when they were just about to sink the grave, he called out, 'Jigai!' again. They took him to another mountain. This is now jigai Mountain which is called Mount Lion. It is approaching the Loop and Loop of the Brisbane-Sydney railway. The birds there prepared the place for jigai's burial. They sank the grave, and they buried him. His tomb is there to this day to be seen by anyone who goes to the top of the mountain. There's a cleared space on the mountain-top with stones all round. Then all the birds went back to their own tribal places. They all belong to the Main Scrub, the coastal scrub we call Woorbeh.

The Myth and the Mountain

Reference 14

The aboriginal patriarch, Eustan Williams, of the Githavul tribe, was the husband of Charlotte Williams. He was a well spoken aboriginal, with a rich, deep voice. He once took me out to Tooloom, which is the source both of the Clarence River and of the myth of Dirrangun. I had followed this myth up from the coast along the 24s-mile river. The next four stories are all concerned with it.

Look at the mountain jalgumbun standing up. Look how it goes straight up on all its sides. No man can climb that mountain. Look at its head, look now through the mist, covered with trees.

I worked with Phinny McPherson, the surveyor, right along this range, and when we come to jalgumbun, he says to me, 'Now, Eustan, let me see them steps you say are cut out In this mountain.' And as I pointed out them steps, he stood there. writing down the story of the mountain that I told him

That mountain Jalgumbun was once a tree. A man Went after honey in that tree. He climbed up with the vine-rope round himself and round the tree. And as he climbed he Cut out foot-holds with his stone-axe. And his wives were waiting in the forest down below.

'Where are you 1' they called out. And he called back, 'I'm chopping out the honey.' Then these women wanted to come closer, but again the man sang out, 'No, wait there where you are, ' and went on chopping, chopping out the honey.

At last he called out, 'Here it is!' and he rolled the piece of wood with all the honey in it down to the butt and big roots of the tree. They sat down in their camp and ate the honey, and traveled then away out on the range.

That night there was no moon. The women looked out into the night and spoke together, 'Oh, look, what is that 'something' over there 1 . . . Oh, it is like a shadow ... See, that 'something' over there is blocking out the stars.' And in the morning when they woke and looked out from the ranges where they'd camped, they saw the mountain that was never there before, Jalgumbun, standing up against the sky.

Well, there's a tree called Jalgumbun that grows here in the ranges. It has a real soft skin. The fellers from the mill at Urbenville come with their tractors, jinkers and their gear, and fell and lop them trees and drag them now, out from the ranges of their native home.

Dirrangun at Tooloom

Reference 14

As with The Myth and the Mountain, I heard this portion of the myth of Dirrangun from Eustan Williams, of the Githabul tribe.

Some people say that Dirrangun is a witch, that she's mean and cunning and brings you all the mischief in the world. Others say that she's friendly. But she's a very old woman and she has long hair down to her knees. Dirrangun had two married daughters and a son-m-law. This son-in-law was a buloogan, a well-built, handsome man. The daughters of the Dirrangun were his two wives. As far as I can make out from the old people, these two daughters quarreled with their mother and the buloogan took the quarrel up and sided with his wives. They starved the old woman; they didn't pass her anything to have a feed.

Dirrangun's camp was under a big fig-tree, here at this waterfall which is the source of the Clarence River. There was a basin here, a hollow in the rock, which contained the water. Dooloomi was the name of the pool. It was the jurraveel, the home of the spirit of the water. Tooloom now is the white man's name for this waterfall. Tooloom is the nearest he could get to saying Dooloomi.

While the son-in-law and his two wives were out hunting and gathering food, Dirrangun drained the water out of the pool with a bark coolamon. Some people say that she put the fire out, too, so that there was no fire in the world. When the buloogan and his two wives came home in the evening, there was no water. The two wives were running about all over the place looking for water. But there was no water. Dirrangun had put leaves and bark over the empty basin hole In the rock so that the place was hidden. For two or three days the buloogan and his wives could not get a drink of water.

Dirrangun was pretending to cry for them. Some people say that Dirrangun was sitting on this coolamon of water in her camp, hiding it. These people say that when the buloogan found this out, he got angry and cried, 'Well, you're not going to have all the water! I'll let it out!' He thrust his spear into that coolamon, biggi we call it, and let it out. Others say that when Dirrangun, the buloogan and his two wives went to sleep, the buloogan's two dogs, who were thirsty, found the water which Dirrangun had hidden in the coolamon. You see those two mountains? They were called Dillalea and Kalloo-Guthun. They are named after those two dogs.

In the night those two dogs returned to the camp of the buloogan and stood over him. And the water dripped from their mouths. When the buloogan felt this he woke up. He followed the two dogs back to where Dirrangun was asleep with the hidden water. When the buloogan saw where the water was hidden, he was angry. He made a big rain, a big pour-down rain. The hollow rock-basin began to fill. The water rose and rose and backed up where this creek is now .

Some say that when the water began to rise Dirrangun climbed into the fig-tree and made a platform in the boughs. But the water rose and swept her and the fig-tree away an.d left this hollow beneath these cliffs where the waterfall is now.

Dirrangun was holding on to the fig-tree as she was swept away. She was swept over the second fall, which we call Ngalumbeh. At the bottom of this fall she was whirled round and round, still holding on to the fig-tree, In a whirlpool for half a day.

The water was getting stronger and stronger. The buloogan had cursed the water to make it unmanageable. It took her and the fig-tree away down into the Clarence River. From time to time Dirrangun would sit in the torrent with her legs wide apart trying to block the water, but each time the flood would bear her away.

Where the South River comes into this river, Dirrangun sat with her legs outspread. The water rose and went up and made the South River. There she sat until the flood rose and swept her and the fig-tree on again.

Below Grafton on the river there IS a fig-tree growing. Many old men would see that fig-tree and say, 'Oh, look! Dooloomi borrgunt' This means, 'That fig-tree belongs to Tooloom!' Those old men would say, 'Dirrangun. She's away down there, but she belongs up there at Tooloom.' And I'm told that Dirrangun is still in that fig-tree below Grafton

Dirrangun at Yamba

Reference 14

Bella Laurie, of the Yeayirr tribe, was an aboriginal woman Who lived at Yamba, at the mouth of the Clarence River. She was . the wife of a well-known sculler and athlete the aboriginal Rocky Laurie. I was fortunate to meet Bella for she was the only aboriginal could find at Yamba who could give me the important link that made it possible for me to trace this myth of the river

A LONG time ago in the early days there was a tribe on this side of the river in Yamba and a family, just a family at Iluka, straight across the river from here. The tribe from here was invited to go over the river and visit this family. And this old Dirrangun, she was a cranky old lady, she was the mother of this family.

And when the tribe from here went over to Iluka to have a day with this family, Dirrangun wouldn't offer them anything to eat, she was that cranky. And she had a daughter-in-law and one son and a daughter. Everyone that went there found that she would never offer them anything to eat. This old woman was terrible wicked and mean.

Her son had two little boys, and the daughter died and the daughter-in-law died and left her there with the son and two grandsons. That's the old Dirrangun I'm talking about. And then, they tell us that the sea was calm then, at that time. And the son made up his mind to go away with the two boys and leave his mother.

So he got to work and made a canoe. When he had finished the canoe he took it down to the beach. He put one boy at the back of the canoe and one in front. Then he got in and started to paddle away.

The mother followed him to the beach and she didn't want the son to go. But he wouldn't stop, he took no notice of her. She sang out after they got a good bit out on the water in the canoe. She called out and told them not to leave her on her own.

She had a yam-stick with her and, when he didn't take any notice, she started to hit the water. And she started to corroboree, sticking the yam-stick in the ground and cursing. She started to tell the waves and sea and the water to be rough, the wind to come and the water to rise. And she cried and coo-eed for them to come back, but they took no notice. So she watched them until they got out of sight. The canoe was on its way to Ballina. And just when they turned the little canoe to go into Ballina, the waves came up and the canoe sank and went under with the two little boys and the father.

And today they say you can still go to Ballina and they can show you that canoe with the two boys, one in front and one at the back, and with the father holding on to the paddle in the middle. They were turned into rock.

Then, two or three years after, the Dirrangun jumped into the river and drowned herself. There you'll hear that roar of the sea, that noise. That's supposed to be Dirrangun looking for her son and two grand-boys. You'll hear that sound at Eungarri and Shelly Beach and it works right back to Ballina. That's her under the water, and she's turned into a big rock. You might have heard of those white men blasting that stone, in the mouth of the river at I1uka. That's her. They can't touch it. They can't interfere with it. They tried, but they can't.

And the white people asked my father if it would be right if they blew that stone up. My father said, 'No. If they did, all the sea water would rush in.' She's supposed to block it. That's the true thing that the old people told us. My father, he used to get all us children and tell us. He said, 'Whenever you hear the roar of the sea, that's Dirran. gun. She's looking for her son and two grandchildren.' My father told the white people, 'Don't touch that rock.' The white people tried and it rained and rained and wouldn't allow any boat to go out to sea. They had to leave that stone and it's still there to this day.

The Man who sold his Dreaming

Reference 14

Bob Turnbull is a caste-aboriginal who lives at the settlement of Purfleet, on the north coast of New South Wales. During my visit, heavy ram confined us to Bob's cottage where he told me several stories and sang me several Bunjalung son e The Bunjalung tribal .country includes Evans Head, on the coast, and the townships of Casino and Coraki.

You know that water-hen with the red beak? He sings out 'Kerk, and Kerk, and Kerk', well, that bird is my totem. Every dark feller has a totem. It's his spirit. It looks after him and warns him of any danger. In my tribe, the Bunjalung tribe of the Richmond River, his name is geeyarng. And our native name for a totem is barnyunbee.

I want to tell you about a totem that belonged to a dark feller named Frank Jock. Frank Jock had a totem that was something like a little bantam rooster. Everyone would hear this bird singing out. They'd go to look for him, but they could never find him.

Away on the mountain in the lantana he'd be, singing out. He was sort of minding that place, looking after it you'd say. Well, the mayor of Coraki wanted to make a quarry in that mountain. There was the best kind of blue-metal there. He sent the men of the council to that place. They put three charges, one after the other, into the rock. But not one of those three charges would go off.

There was a dark feller in the gang by the name of Andrew Henry. He told the mayor of Coraki that he'd have to go and have a talk to Frank Jock. The mayor would have to ask Frank if he could do something so that they could blow up this mountain and make a quarry in it.

The mayor sent for Frank Jock, he said he wanted to see him. 'Look,' the mayor said to Frank, 'can you let us blow this mountain up?'

All right, Frank said, but you'll have to pay me. So the mayor gave Frank five gold sovereigns and two bottles of rum to let the council blow up the mountain. The council men went back to the mountain and there they put in one big charge. When it went off, it blew the side right out of the mountain. That explosion shook Coraki. A big spout of black water rushed up out of the mountain-side. The council had to wait a long time until all the water cleared away before they could work that quarry.

The little bantam rooster, he disappeared. He didn't sing out any more. Jurraveel, that's what we call a place belonging to a totem. A dreaming, you say. That's right. That's another name for a jurraveel. I can see you know all about this blackfellers' business.

Well, after the mountain was blown up, Frank Jock, the owner of that jurraveel, began to get sick. In three weeks he was dead. You see, like it says in the bible, he'd sold his birth-right. It was the same as killing him. He'd sold his jurraveel to the mayor of the town.

That's why we call it in our language Gurrigai, meaning 'blowing up the mountain.' That's how Coraki got its name You know. I've been looking for years for a feller like you to write these stones down. These stories are dying out. They're lost to the young people. I'd like to think that one day the young people will read these stories and say 'These stories belong to us.'

The Man who killed the Porpoise

Reference 14

This story is also from Bob Turnbull.

In the winter-time, the tribes all along this coast used to camp in the hills and caves in the mountains where there was plenty of firewood and plenty of tucker, wallaby, porcupine, possum and all that.

Summer-time, they'd make down to the beaches for a feed of fish. They'd change their food. That's when they'd get the porpoises to help them.

The porpoises were the old people's friends. When the season of the sea-mullet was in, the old people would go down to the river and beat their spears on the water. The school of porpoises would come and chase the schools of sea-mullet right into the shallow water, ankle deep, where the old people used to get just enough for two or three meals without wasting any. The old people used to tell us that when We went fishing we should spear just enough fish for our needs without wasting any.

Another thing, when the old people wanted to cross the river in canoes, or by swimming across, the porpoises would always be there to chase away the sharks.

The old people used to make a little net out of kurrajong bark. They'd go down to the beach and beat the water. They'd call on the porpoises. All the porpoises would come and chase the fish into the bay. Then the old people would shoot the net around the fish and catch them.

One day, two men went down to the beach with their net. They got too greedy. When they ran the net around the fish, they got a porpoise in it. One of these fellers was curious about this porpoise. He wanted to know how it came to be so clever. Well, out of curiosity, he killed the porpoise and cut it open on the beach.

A good while after this, some of the people of another tribe went down to the beach to net some fish. They beat on the water, they called to the porpoises, they sang them, but the porpoises wouldn't appear.

Those people couldn't get any fish. They wondered what was the matter. They couldn't make out why the porpoises had let them down.

They thought to themselves, 'There's something wrong.' They went to the oldest man of the tribe. They wanted to know why the porpoises wouldn't come to hunt the fish for them.

Well, this old-man went to see another old-man, one belonging to the tribe whose fisherman had killed the porpoise. These two old-men met and talked together. 'Well' said this second old-man, 'I don't know anything about it, but I'll find out.'

This old-man soon found out that one of his men had killed a porpoise when he had caught it in the net.

They took this feller who had killed the porpoise and killed him with a boomerang. They used the boomerang like a tomahawk to kill him. Then they took this man and threw him into the sea and threw the boomerang in after him.

That man, when he was thrown into the sea, turned into a porpoise. Next time when you see a porpoise jumping and turning over, you have to look, you'll see a boomerang on his side. . . , .

Killing this feller did no good. It didn't make the porpoises come back.

Those two tribes had a fight over the killing of that porpoise, but it stilI didn't do any good. From that time the porpoises would never help those people with the fish no more. No matter how they called on the porpoises to come and help them, the porpoises stopped coming. They never came back no more.

The Song of the Vine

Reference 14

This piece of prose-poetry was given to me by Charlotte Williams of the Gindavul tribe, an old caste-aboriginal woman who lives at the Native Settlement at Woodenbong. was an explanation and translation of one of her tribal songs. Mrs Williams, who is fluent in her tribal language, has sung for me many tribal songs which I have tape-recorded. Her tribal country is the mountainous area around Woodenbong

There was a vine that was the spirit of a man. These forest-vines, they were the spirit-people's vines. They were not made by men. And someone cut this vine, and there this man is struggling to be alive. Ngaranbul, this is my own grandfather's song. The vine is this man's spirit, it is his life and there he is, struggling to be alive. 'I am here' the song says, 'I am this vine. My life is going away. It is going up into the sky. It is going up into the sky form this place, this ground, this dust. My ears are ringing. Gaungun, the spiritwomen, is making my ears no good. My ears are ringing. I'll never see this world no more'.

And one man came along and saw this vine struggling to be alive. He covered it with dust. When I think of my old people, how they would sit down and sing their songs to me, I could cry.

The Sacred Mountain

Reference 14

This story was given to me by Ethel Gordon. of the Bunjalung tribe, at Baryulgil, a little settlement on the upper Clarence River in the New England Range of New South Wales. I came to Baryulgil when I was following the myth of the Clarence River up from its mouth. The sacred mountain. Yillin. is not far from Baryulgil.

THERE'S A mountain out here called Yillin. That mountain is supposed to be the place of my father's spirit, his jurraveeI. That jurraveel is the fire-spirit. But everyone thinks that the jurraveel is the gold in the mountain, and not the fire at all. But the old people said that the fire was the real spirit. My father never used it, but his father did. And his father said to him. 'Don't you ever use this spirit. It's wicked, it kills everything, burns everything.' When I was a little girl. my father gave me something like a stone in a bag. I was just little and he was carrying me. (cont p102)