Of the Noongahburrah Tribe of the Narran
Weedah the Mocking Bird Original Engraving
Artist: Tommy McRae (c. 1835-1901)
A Wahgunyah man of the Kwatwat people
Australian Legendary Tales
WEEDAH was playing a great trick on the black fellows who lived near him. He had built himself a number of grass nyunnoos, more than twenty. He made fires before each, to make it look as if some one lived in the nyunnoos. First he would go into one nyunnoo, or humpy, and cry like a baby, then to another and laugh like a child, then in turn, as he went the round of the humpies he would sing like a maiden, corrobboree like a man, call out in a quavering voice like an old man, and in a shrill voice like an old woman; in fact, imitate any sort of voice he had ever heard, and imitate them so quickly in succession that any one passing would think there was a great crowd of blacks in that camp. His object was to entice as many strange black fellows into his camp as he could, one at a time; then he would kill them and gradually gain the whole country round for his own. His chance was when he managed to get a single black fellow into his camp, which he very often did, then by his cunning he always gained his end and the black fellow’s death. This was how he attained that end. A black fellow, probably separated from his fellows in the excitement of the chase, would be returning home alone passing within earshot of Weedah’s camp he would hear the various voices and wonder what tribe could be there. Curiosity would induce him to come near. He would probably peer into the camp, and, only seeing Weedah standing alone, would advance towards him. Weedah would be standing at a little distance from a big glowing fire, where he would wait until the strange black fellow came quite close to him. Then he would ask him what he wanted. The stranger would say he had heard many voices and had wondered what tribe it could be, so had come near to find out. Weedah would say, “But only I am here. How could you have heard voices? See; look round; I am alone.” Bewildered, the stranger would look round and say in a puzzled tone of voice: “Where are they all gone? As I came I heard babies crying, men calling, and women laughing; many voices I heard but you only I see.”
“And only I am here. The wind must have stirred the branches of the balah trees, and you must have thought it was the wailing of children, the laughing of the gouggourgahgah you heard, and thought it the laughter of women and mine must have been the voice as of men that you heard. Alone in the bush, as the shadows fall, a man breeds strange fancies. See by the light of this fire, where are your fancies now? No women laugh, no babies cry, only I, Weedah, talk.” As Weedah was talking he kept edging the stranger towards the fire; when they were quite close to it, he turned swiftly, seized him, and threw him right into the middle of the blaze. This scene was repeated time after time, until at last the, ranks of the black fellows living round the camp of Weedah began to get thin.
Mullyan, the eagle hawk, determined to fathom the mystery, for as yet the black fellows had no clue as to how or where their friends had disappeared. Mullyan, when Beeargah, his cousin, returned to his camp no more, made up his mind to get on his track and follow it, until at length he solved the mystery. After following the track of Beeargah, as he had chased the kangaroo to where he had slain it, on he followed his homeward trail. Over stony ground he tracked him, and through sand, across plains, and through scrub. At last in a scrub and still on the track of Beeargah, he heard the sounds of many voices, babies crying, women singing, men talking. Peering through the bush, finding the track took him nearer the spot whence came the sounds, he saw the grass humpies. “Who can these be?” he thought. The track led him right into the camp, where alone Weedah was to be seen. Mullyan advanced towards him and asked where were the people whose voices he had heard as he came through the bush.
Weedah said: “How can I tell you? I know of no people; I live alone.”
“But,” said Mullyan, the eagle hawk, “I heard babies crying, women laughing, and men talking, not one but many.”
“And I alone am here. Ask of your ears what trick they played you, or perhaps your eyes fail you now. Can you see any but me? Look for yourself.”
“And if, as indeed it seems, you only are here, what did you with Beeargah my cousin, and where are my friends? Many are their trails that I see coming into. this camp, but none going out. And if you alone live here you alone can answer me.”
“What know I of you or your friends? Nothing. Ask of the winds that blow. Ask of Bahloo the moon, who looks down on the earth by night. Ask of Yhi the sun, that looks down by day. But ask not Weedah, who dwells alone, and knows naught of your friends.” But as Weedah was talking he was carefully edging Mullyan towards the fire.
Mullyan, the eagle hawk, too, was cunning, and not easy to trap. He saw a blazing fire in front of him, he saw the track of his friend behind him, he saw Weedah was edging him towards the fire, and it came to him in a moment the thought that if the fire could speak, well could it tell where were his friends. But the time was not yet come to show that he had fathomed the mystery. So he affected to fall into the trap. But when they reached the fire, before Weedah had time to act his usual part, with a mighty grip Mullyan the eagle hawk seized him, saying,
“Even as you served Beeargah the hawk, my cousin, and my friends, so now serve I you.” And right into the middle of the blazing fire he threw him. Then he turned homewards in haste, to tell the black fellows that he had solved the fate of their friends, which had so long been a mystery. When he was some distance from the Weedah’s camp, he heard the sound of a thunder clap. But it was not thunder it was the bursting of the back of Weedah’s head, which had burst with a bang as of a thunder clap. And as it burst, out from his remains had risen a bird, Weedah, the mocking bird; which bird to this day has a hole at the back of his head, just in the same place as Weedah the black fellow’s head had burst, and whence the bird came forth.
To this day the Weedah makes grass playgrounds, through which he runs, imitating, as he plays, in quick succession, any voices he has ever heard, from the crying of a child to the laughing of a woman; from the mewing of a cat to the barking of a dog, and hence his name Weedah, the mocking bird.
Australian Legendary Tales
Folk-Lore of the Noongahburrahs as told to the Piccaninnies
Collected by Mrs. K. Langloh Parker
With Introduction by Andrew Lang, M.A.
Illustrations by a Native Artist [Tommy McRae], and Speciment of the Native Text
London, David Nutt, 270-271, Strand
Melbourne, Melville, Mullen & Slade
Recording by “Magdalena” Courtesy: Librivox