Alone, on a rocky ridge high in the mountains, a wallaroo made his camping-ground beneath the shady boughs of a mountain ash. He was very old and infirm, and too weak to hunt for food, so he sat by his camp fire all the day and lashed the ground with his strong tail. The low, rhythmic thud-thud-thud of its beating could be heard above the song of the birds. One day a paddymelon was passing close by the camp when he heard the beating of the wallaroo's tail. After following the direction of the sound, he came to the camp, and asked the wallaroo if he was in trouble. "I am very sick," the wallaroo replied. "Many times have I seen the snow on the mountains, and I am growing too old to hunt. My brothers have gone to the river beyond the hills to spear fish for me, but they have not returned, and I am very hungry." The paddymelon was sorry for the old wallaroo, and offered to go to the river in search of the fishermen. He walked a short distance from the camp when the wallaroo, called after him: "You had better take my boomerang with you, as you may meet some game on your way." The paddymelon turned around and said: "All right, I shall take it. Throw it to me!" The crafty wallaroo picked up the boomerang, and, taking careful aim, threw it with all his strength. It struck the unfortunate paddymelon a terrible blow and killed him. The wallaroo took the fur from the dead animal and prepared the body for cooking. He dug a hole in the ground, lined it with stones, placed the meat in it, and covered it with flat stones. He then built a fire over it, and in a short time had cooked a tasty meal.
When the paddymelon did not return home, his relatives became very
anxious about him. At last an iguana offered to go in search of the
missing member of the tribe. He followed the tracks of the paddymelon
through the bush, and they led to the camp of the wallaroo. When the
iguana approached the camp the wallaroo was beating his tail on the
ground. The iguana asked him if he needed any assistance, and, in a
plaintive voice, the wallaroo told him the same tale that had been told
to the unlucky paddymelon. The iguana was sorry for the old wallaroo,
and offered to seek his relatives for him and tell them of his plight.
When he turned to go, the wallaroo asked him if he would take a spear
with him in case he met with any game on his way. The iguana said, "I
will take it; throw it to me." The wallaroo had been waiting for this
opportunity, and he hurled the spear so swiftly that it transfixed the
iguana before he could jump aside. The wallaroo then prepared another
meal as before.
One day passed, and yet another, but the iguana did not return to the
hunting ground of his tribe. They sent a bandicoot in search of the
iguana, but he met the same fate at the hands of the wallaroo. After
waiting anxiously for the return of the bandicoot, the head-men of the
tribe called a great council. When all the members were assembled
together a headman said: "Many moons ago our brother the paddymelon left
the camp before the sun was over the hills, and when night came he did
not return, and his shadow has not darkened the ground for many days.
The iguana went in search of him. He is a great hunter, but he has not
returned. Yesterday the bandicoot followed in their tracks, but I fear
the shadow of death has fallen over them. We must find them." Many
suggestions were placed before the council, but none of them seemed
practical. Then the willy-wagtail, who was a clever medicine man, spoke:
"Long have we waited for the return of our brothers, and yet we do not
hear their call. I shall follow their footsteps even to the shadowy
hunting ground of death, but I shall return to you." The council
consented to the willy-wagtail's proposal, but they were afraid that he
would walk to the Land of Silence and never return.
Before dawn the willy-wagtail started on his dangerous and lonely
journey. When he reached the summit of the mountain, he could see, far
in the distance, the grey smoke of the camp fires wreathing slowly above
the trees. With a sad but brave heart he continued his journey. After
travelling for some time he heard the sound of the wallaroo beating his
tail on the ground. At first he thought it was a wallaroo hopping
through the bush, but, as the sound did not grow louder or fainter, he
became suspicious, and approached the camp very cautiously. The wallaroo
saw him approaching, and, calling to him, told him the same story as
before. The willy-wagtail offered to seek his relatives for him, and,
with this intention, started on his way. When he had gone a short
distance the wallaroo offered him a boomerang. The willy-wagtail was
very suspicious about his intention, and said: "Throw it to me; it will
save me the trouble of walking back to the tree."
The wallaroo then threw the weapon with all his strength, but the
willy-wagtail was prepared, and, as soon as the boomerang left the hand
of the thrower, he jumped quickly aside. When the wallaroo saw he had
missed his mark, and that his evil intentions were known to the
willy-wagtail, he became furious, and threw all his spears and
nullanullas at him, but failed to strike him. Then the willy-wagtail
took the boomerang and threw it at the old wallaroo. It struck him a
heavy blow on the chest and killed him. He then skinned him, and
prepared to cook his flesh, but he was too old and tough to eat. He now
took the skin and returned to the camp. When he told the tribe of the
fate of their brothers they were sorely grieved, but their grief was
turned to joy when the willy-wagtail showed them the skin of their
enemy. The wagtail was rewarded by being made a headman of the tribe.
The headmen now decided that blackfellows should never travel alone.
As a mark of remembrance, wallaroos have always had a strip of white fur
on their breasts. It is an indication of the boomerang wound that
killed the old wallaroo of Mountain Ridge.