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Book No. 47

To first story in the book press: 2199

To last story in the book press: 2239

Australian Legendary Tales

Parker K. Langloh

Australian Legendary Tales, K. Langloh Parker, 1897


Legendary Tales















[All Rights Reserved]


At the Ballantyne Press





This is still one of the best available collections of Australian Aboriginal folklore. It was written for a popular audience, but the stories are retold with integrity, and not filtered, as was the case with similar books from this period. That said, the style of this book reflects Victorian sentimentality and, an occasional tinge of racism that may not sit well with some modern readers.

K. Langloh Parker (the K. stands for 'Katie') [1856-1940] lived in the Australian outback most of her life, close to the Eulayhi people. The texts, with their sentient animals and mythic transformations, have a sonambulistic and chaotic narrative that mark them as authentic dreamtime lore. The mere fact that she cared to write down these stories places her far ahead of her contemporaries, who barely regarded native Australians as human.

This was the first book Parker wrote. She write four books, three of native folklore and one an ethnography of the Eulayhi tribe. This was also one of the first texts added to sacred-texts after it was launched to add coverage of traditional cultures. This was also the first text donated by sacred-texts to Project Gutenberg.

Parker has some odd connections with modern popular culture. She was rescued from drowning by an aborigine at an early age. This incident was portrayed in the film 'Picnic at Hanging Rock', directed by Peter Weir. The song They Call the Wind Mariah was based on a story from this book. (And the pop singer Mariah Cary was reputedly named after this song).--J.B. Hare


A NEIGHBOR of mine exclaimed, when I mentioned that I proposed making a small collection of the folk-lore legends of the tribe of blacks I knew so well living on this station, "But have the blacks any legends?"--thus showing that people may live in a country and yet know little of the aboriginal inhabitants; and though there are probably many who do know these particular legends, yet I think that this is the first attempt that has been made to collect the tales of any particular tribe, and publish them alone. At all events, I know that no attempt has been made previously, as far as the folklore of the Noongahburrahs is concerned. Therefore, on the authority of Professor Max Müller, that folk-lore of any country is worth collecting, I am emboldened to offer my small attempt, at a collection, to the public. There are probably many who, knowing these legends, would not think them worth recording; but, on the other hand, I hope there are many who think, as I do, that we should try, while there is yet time, to gather all the information possible of a race fast dying out, and the origin of which is so obscure. I cannot affect to think that these little legends will do much to remove that obscurity, but undoubtedly a scientific and patient study of the folk-lore throughout Australia would greatly assist thereto. I, alas! am but an amateur, moved to my work by interest in the subject, and in the blacks, of whom I have had some experience.

The time is coming when it will be impossible to make even such a collection as this, for the old blacks are quickly dying out, and the young ones will probably think it beneath the dignity of their so-called civilisation even to remember such old-women's stories. Those who have themselves attempted the study of an unknown folk-lore will be able to appreciate the difficulties a student has to surmount before he can even induce those to talk who have the knowledge he desires. In this, as in so much else, those who are ready to be garrulous know little.

I have confined this little book to the legends of the Narran tribe, known among themselves as Noongahburrahs. It is astonishing to find, within comparatively short distances, a diversity of language and custom. You may even find the same word in different tribes bearing a totally different meaning. Many words, too, have been introduced which the blacks think are English, and the English think are native. Such, for example, as piccaninny, and, as far as these outside blacks are concerned, boomerang is regarded as English, their local word being burren; yet nine out of ten people whom you meet think both are local native words.

Though I have written my little book in the interests of folk-lore, I hope it will gain the attention of, and have some interest for, children-of Australian children, because they will find stories of old friends among the Bush birds; and of English children, because I hope that they will be glad to make new friends, and so establish a free trade between the Australian and English nurseries--wingless, and laughing birds, in exchange for fairy godmothers, and princes in disguise.

I must also acknowledge my great indebtedness to the blacks, who, when once they understood what I wanted to know, were most ready to repeat to me the legends repeating with the utmost patience, time after time, not only the legends, but the names, that I might manage to spell them so as to be understood when repeated. In particular I should like to mention my indebtedness to Peter Hippi, king of the Noongahburrahs; and to Hippitha, Mätah, Barahgurrie, and Beemunny.

I have dedicated my booklet to Peter Hippi, in grateful recognition of his long and faithful service to myself and my husband, which has extended, with few intervals, over a period of twenty years. He, too, is probably the last king of the Noongabburrahs, who are fast dying out-, and soon their weapons, bartered by them for tobacco or whisky, alone will prove that they ever existed. It seemed to me a pity that some attempt should not be made to collect the folk-lore of the quickly disappearing tribe-a folk-lore embodying, probably, the thoughts, fancies, and beliefs of the genuine aboriginal race, and which, as such, deserves to be, indeed, as Max Müller says, "might be and ought to be, collected in every part of the world."

The legends were told to me by the blacks themselves, some of whom remember the coming of Mitchellän, as they call Major Mitchell, the explorer of these back creeks. The old blacks laugh now when they tell you how frightened their mothers were of the first wheel tracks they saw. They would not let the children tread on them, but carefully lifted them over, lest their feet should break out in sores, as they were supposed to do if they trod on a snake's track. But with all their fear, little did they realise that the coming of Mitchellän was the beginning of their end, or that fifty years afterwards, from the remnant of their once numerous tribe, would be collected the legends they told in those days to their piccaninnies round their camp-fires, and those legends used to make a Christmas booklet for the children of their white supplanters.

I can only hope that the white children will be as ready to listen to these stories as were, and indeed are, the little piccaninnies, and thus the sale of this booklet be such as to enable me to add frocks and tobacco when I give their Christmas dinner, as is my yearly custom, to the remnant of the Noongahburrahs.



June 24th, 1895.


Australia makes an appeal to the fancy which is all its own. When Cortes entered Mexico, in the most romantic moment of history, it was as if men had found their way to a new planet, so strange, so long hidden from Europe was all that they beheld. Still they found kings, nobles, peasants, palaces, temples, a great organised society, fauna and flora not so very different from what they had left behind in Spain. In Australia all was novel, and, while seeming fresh, was inestimably old. The vegetation differs from ours; the monotonous grey gum-trees did not resemble our varied forests, but were antique, melancholy, featureless, like their own continent of rare hills, infrequent streams and interminable deserts, concealing nothing within their wastes, yet promising a secret. The birds and beasts--kangaroo, platypus, emu--are ancient types, rough grotesques of Nature, sketching as a child draws. The natives were a race without a history, far more antique than Egypt, nearer the beginnings than any other people. Their weapons are the most primitive: those of the extinct Tasmanians were actually palæolithic. The soil holds no pottery, the cave walls no pictures drawn by men more advanced; the sea hides no ruined palaces; no cities are buried in the plains; there is not a trace of inscriptions or of agriculture. The burying places contain relics of men perhaps even lower than the existing tribes; nothing attests the presence in any age of men more cultivated. Perhaps myriads of years have gone by since the Delta, or the lands beside Euphrates and Tigris were as blank of human modification as was the whole Australian continent.

The manners and rites of the natives were far the most archaic of all with which we are acquainted. Temples they had none: no images of gods, no altars of sacrifice; scarce any memorials of the dead. Their worship at best was offered in hymns to some vague, half-forgotten deity or First Maker of things, a god decrepit from age or all but careless of his children. Spirits were known and feared, but scarcely defined or described. Sympathetic magic, and perhaps a little hypnotism, were all their science. Kings and nations they knew not; they were wanderers, houseless and homeless. Custom was king; yet custom was tenacious, irresistible, and as complex in minute details as the etiquette of Spanish kings, or the ritual of the Flamens of Rome. The archaic intricacies and taboos of the customs and regulations of marriage might puzzle a mathematician, and may, when unravelled, explain the less complicated prohibitions of a totemism less antique. The people themselves in their struggle for existence had developed great ingenuities. They had the boomerang and the weet-weet, but not the bow; the throwing stick, but not, of course, the sword; the message stick, but no hieroglyphs; and their art was almost purely decorative, in geometrical patterns, not representative. They deemed themselves akin to all nature, and called cousins with rain and smoke, with clouds and sky, as well as with beasts and trees. They were adroit hunters, skilled trackers, born sportsmen; they now ride well, and, for savages, play cricket fairly. But, being invaded by the practical emigrant or the careless convict, the natives were not studied when in their prime, and science began to examine them almost too late. We have the works of Sir George Grey, the too brief pamphlet of Mr. Gideon Lang, the more learned labours of Messrs. Fison and Howitt, and the collections of Mr. Brough Smyth. The mysteries (Bora) of the natives, the initiatory rites, a little of the magic, a great deal of the social customs are known to us, and we have fragments of the myths. But, till Mrs. Langloh Parker wrote this book, we had but few of the stories which Australian natives tell by the camp-fire or in the gum-tree shade.

These, for the most part, are Kinder Märchen, though they include many ætiological myths, explanatory of the markings and habits of animals, the origin of constellations, and so forth. They are a savage edition of the Metamorphoses, and few unbiased students now doubt that the Metamorphoses are a very late and very artificial version of traditional tales as savage in origin as those of the Noongahburrah. I have read Mrs. Parker's collection with very great interest, with "human pleasure," merely for the story's sake. Children will find here the Jungle Book, never before printed, of black little boys and girls. The sympathy with, and knowledge of beast-life and bird-life are worthy of Mr. Kipling, and the grotesque names are just what children like. Dinewan and Goomblegubbon should take their place with Rikki Tikki and Mr. Kipling's other delightful creatures. But there is here no Mowgli, set apart in the jungle as a man. Man, bird, and beast are all blended in the Australian fancy as in that of Bushmen and Red Indians. All are of one kindred, all shade into each other; all obey the Bush Law as they obey the Jungle Law in Mr. Kipling's fascinating stories. This confusion, of course, is not peculiar to Australian Märchen; it is the prevalent feature of our own popular tales. But the Australians "do it more natural:" the stories are not the heritage of a traditional and dead, but the flowers of a living and actual condition of the mind. The stories have not the ingenious dramatic turns of our own Märchen. Where there are no distinctions of wealth and rank, there can be no Cinderella and no Puss in Boots. Many stories are rude ætiological myths; they explain the habits and characteristics of the birds and beasts, and account in a familiar way for the origin of death ("Bahloo, the Moon, and the Daens"). The origin of fire is also accounted for in what may almost be called a scientific way. Once discovered, it is, of course, stolen from the original proprietors. A savage cannot believe that the first owners of fire would give the secret away. The inventors of the myth of Prometheus were of the same mind.

On the whole the stories, perhaps, most resemble those from the Zulu in character, though these represent a much higher grade of civilisation. The struggle for food and water, desperately absorbing, is the perpetual theme, and no wonder, for the narrators dwell in a dry and thirsty land, and till not, nor sow, nor keep any domestic animals. We see the cunning of the savage in the devices for hunting, especially for chasing honey bees. The Rain-magic, actually practised, is of curious interest. In brief, we have pictures of savage life by savages, romances which are truly realistic. We understand that condition which Dr. Johnson did not think happy-the state from which we came, and to which we shall probably return. "Equality," "Liberty", "Community of Goods," all mean savagery, and even savages, if equal, are not really free. Custom is the tyrant.

The designs are from the sketch-book of an untaught Australian native; they were given to me some years ago by my brother, Dr. Lang, of Corowa. The artist has a good deal of spirit in his hunting scenes; his trees are not ill done, his emus and kangaroos are better than his men and labras. Using ink, a pointed stick, and paper, the artist shows an unwonted freedom of execution. Nothing like this occurs in Australian scratches with a sharp stone on hard wood. Probably no other member of his dying race ever illustrated a book.



Editor and Publisher have gratefully accepted a suggestion made by Dr. E. B. Tylor, that the philologist would be thankful for a specimen of these tales in their native form.


Dinewan boorool diggayah gillunnee. Nahmerhneh boorool doorunmai. Goomblegubbon boolwarrunnee. Goomblegubbon numbardee boorool boolwarrunnee Dinewan numbardee. Baiyan noo nurruldundi gunnoonah burraylundi nurreebah burri bunnagullundi. Goomblegubbondoo winnanullunnee dirrah dungah nah gillunnee, Dinewandoo boonoong noo beonemuldundi.

Goomblegubbondoo winnanullunnee gullarh naiyahneh gwallee Dinewan gimbelah:

"Wahl ninderh doorunmai gillaygoo. Baiyan noo winnanunnee boonoong gurrahgoo, wahlneh burraylaygoo. Wahl butndi naiyah boorool gillunnah boomahleegooneh naiyah butthdinen woggee gwallee myrenay boonoong gillundi."

Illah noo nurray Dinewan nahwandi. Goomblegubbon lowannee boonooog noo wunnee wooee baiyan nurrunnee bonyehdool. Baiyan boollarhgneh gwalleelunnee. Goomblegubbondoo gooway:

"Minyah goo ninderh wahl boonoong dulleebah gillunnee? Gunnoono diggayah burraylunneh. Wahl boonoong ninderh doorunmai. Myrenay boonoong gillunneh Gunnoogoo nunnahlah doorunmai gimbehlee." Dinewandoo gooway "Gheerh ninderh boonoong bayyi."


Nahnee Dinewan noonoo meer gullahgeh. Baiyan boollarhneh budtnah ginnee. Boonoong butndi nullee gurray wahl Goomblegubbon doorunmai giggee.

Dinewandoo gooneejayn gooway cooleer noo noo boonoong gurrahlee goo comeboo goo.

Baiyan noo gaiathah noonoo boonoong gurray. Baiyan, neh bunnerhgahoonee Goomblegubbon. Dinewan gooway Goomblegubbon:

"Boonoong nayr gurray." Goomblegubbon gindabnunnee, barnee, bunna gunnee dirrah gunnee numerhneh. Boonoong beeyonemay, baiyan noo gooway Dinewan.

"Dungneemay ninnerhneh nayr byjundool boonoong. Mayerboo nay, nay boonoong, gurrah wahl dunerh. Wombah ninderh byjundool boonoong." Dinewan bunna gunnee boomahlee-goo Goomblegubbon, baiyan Goomblegubbon burrunnee. Narahgahdool myrenay boonoong. Baiyan Dinewan eelaynerhginnee nahnee illah nayahe ninnernah gullahrah gimbehlee. Illah lah noo noo winnanunnee. Baiyan noo doorimbai birrahleegul boollarhyel nuddahnooway booroolah binnamayahgahway. Baiyan neh moorillah die gahraymo noo-noo, boollarh noo garwannee. Baiyan neh woggee goo nahnee. Goomblegubbondoo birrahleegul oodundi gunoonoo garwil. Baiyan boollarhgneh gwallannee. Dinewan gooway Goomblegubbon."

"Minyah goo ninderh booroolah birrahleegulgah gillunnah. Wahl ninder booroolah goo garwil ooday. Tuggil ninderh boollarhyel gargillay baiyan boollarhgnah, booral giggee, wahl ninderh booroolah goo gooloon marlday." Goomblegubbon buthdi ginnee nalmee.

"Gullarh nayr nay birrahleegul boorool luggeray Dinewan? Boollarhyel nay gillundi yahmerh boollarhgnah boorool giggee luggeray Dinewan."

Winnanunnee noo dungeway. Baiyan noo nurray Dinewan, nurray noo boorool.

Baiyan noo gooway:

"Boomahlee doo gunnoono boollarhyel nayr gurrahwulday. Dinewan wahl doorunmai gillay woggee goo. Goomblegubbon weel gillay doorunmai. Goomblegubbon boorool giggee luggeray Dinewun, boonoong gunnoo goo gurrahwulday. Baiyan noo boomay gunnoono birrahlee gul boollarhyel noo gurrahway. Baiyanneh durrahwallunee nummerh nayr Dinewan doo duldundigoo. Dinewandoo guggay."

"Minyah ninnoo birrahleegul?"

"Gunnoono nayr boomay boollarhyel gargillunnah."

"Wullundoo youlloo ninderh boomay! Booroolah nay birrahleegul, gooloonmul dunnerli nayr gunnoonoo. Booroolah gunnoonoo. Nurraleh noill doowar yu booloobunnee. Nurraleh boonboon. Nummerh nayr bayah muldunnerh nay birrahlee gulloo."

"Boollarhyel ninnoo birrahlee garlee."

"Booroolah boollarh nay. Nayr di gargee ninnoonderh nurranmullee goo."

Dinewan bunnagunnee binnamayahgoo nayr noo doorimbundigoo birrableegul. Baiyan naiyah durrabwullunee, dirralabeel ginnee noo boobootella, gwallandy, "Boom, boom." Birrahleegul noo noo bunna gairlehwahndi, beweererh nurrahwahndi, weeleer, weerleeer, Tuwerh munneh doorundi, baiyanneh eelay nurrunnee. Baiyan noo gooway.

"Geeroo nayr ninnunnerh gooway. Gunnoono nayr nay birrahleegul gurrahwuldunnerh. Nurullah Numerh nayr ninnoo nurragah birrahleegul! Boomay ninderh ninnoo birrahleegul, ninderh nunnoo dung eemai! Tuggil nayr lahnylay nayr boonoong ninderh boomah boollarhyel birrahleegarlee gargillay. Gurrahwuldare ninnoo boonong nayr luggeeroo, gurrahwulday nay birrahleegul."

Mrs, Parker writes: "The old black woman who first told me the tale is away, but I got another old woman of the pre-white era to tell it again to me yesterday; it is almost the same, minus one of the descriptive touches immaterial to the story as such; in fact, to all intents and purposes, the same."


Bahloo, moon.

Beeargah, hawk.

Beeleer, black cockatoo.

Beereeun, prickly lizard.

Bibbee, woodpecker, bird.

Bibbil, shiny-leaved box-tree.

Bilber, a large kind of rat.

Billai or Billay, crimson-wing parrot.

Bindeah, a prickle or sinall thorn.

Bingah wingul, needle bush, a tall thorny shrub.

Birrahgnooloo, woman's name, meaning "face like a tomahawk handle."

Birrahlee, baby.

Birrableegul, children.

Boobootella, the big bunch of feathers at the back of an emu.

Boolooral, an owl.

Boomerang, a curved weapon used in hunting and in warfare by the blacks; called Burren by the Narran blacks.

Bootoolgah, blue-grey crane.

Borah, a large gathering of blacks where the boys are initiated into the mysteries which make them young men.

Bou-gou-doo-gahdah, the rain bird. Like the bower or mocking bird.

Bouyou, legs.

Bowrah or Bohrah, kangaroo.

Bralgahs, native companion, bird.

Bubberah, boomerang that returns.

Buckandee, native cat.

Buggoo, flying squirrel.

Bulgahnunnoo, bark-backed.

Bumble, a fruit-bearing tree, sometimes called wild orange and sometimes wild pomegranate tree. Capparis.

Bunbundoolooey, brown flock pigeon.

Bunnyyarl, flies.

Burreenjin, magpie, lark, or peewee

Budtha, rosewood-tree, also girl's name.

Byamee, man's name, meaning "big man."

Comebee, bag made of kangaroo skins.

Comeboo, stone tomahawk.

Cookooburrah, laughing jackass.

Coorigil, name of place, meaning sign of bees.

Corrobboree, black fellows' dance.

Cunnembeillee, woman's name, meaning pig-weed root.

Curree guin guin, butcher-bird.

Daen, black fellows.

Dardurr, bark, humpy or shed.

Dayah minyah, carpet snake.

Dayoorl, large flat stone for grinding grass seed upon.

Deegeenboyah, soldier-bird.

Decreeree, willy wagtail.

Dheal, the sacred tree of the Noongahburrahs, only used for putting on the graves of the dead.

Dinewan, emu.

Dingo, native dog.

Doonburr, a grass seed.

Doongara, lightning.

Dummerh, pigeons.

Dungle, water hole.

Dunnia, wattle.

Durrie, bread made from grass seed.

Eär moonän, long sharp teeth.

Euloo marah, large tree grubs. Edible.

Euloo wirree, rainbow.

Galah or Gilah, a French grey and rose-coloured cockatoo.

Gayandy, borah devil.

Gidgereegah, a species of small parrot.

Girrahween, place of flowers.

Gooeea, warriors.

Googarh, iguana.

Googoolguyyah, turn into trees.

Googoorewon, place of trees.

Goolahbah, grey-leaved box-tree.

Goolahgool, water-holding tree.

Goolahwilleel, top-knot pigeon.

Gooloo, magpie.

Goomade, red stamp.

Goomai, water rat.

Goomblegubbon, bastard or plainturkey.

Goomillah, young girl's dress, consisting of waist strings made of opossum's sinews with strands of woven oppossum's hair, hanging about a foot square in front.

Goonur, kangaroo rat.

Goug gour gahgah, laughing-jackass. Literal meaning, "Take a stick."

Grooee, handsome foliaged tree bearing a plum-like fruit, tart and bitter, but much liked by the blacks.

Gubberah, magical stones of Wirreenum. Clear crystallised quatty.

Guddah, red lizard,

Guiebet, a thorny creeper bearing masses of a lovely myrtle-like flower and an edible fruit somewhat resembling passion fruit.

Guinary, light eagle hawk.

Guineboo, robin redbreast.

Gurraymy, borah devil.

Gwai, red.

Gwaibillah, star. Mars.

Kurreah, an alligator.

Mahthi, dog.

Maimah, stones.

Maira, paddy melon.

May or Mayr, wind.

Mayrah, spring wind.

Meainei, girls.

Midjee, a species of acacia.

Millair, species of kangaroo rat.

Moodai, opossum.

Moogaray, hailstones.

Mooninguggahgul, mosquito-calling bird.

Moonoon, emu spear.

Mooregoo, motoke.

Mooroonumildah, having no eyes.

Morilla or Moorillah, pebbly ridges.

Mubboo, beefwood-tree.

Mullyan, eagle hawk.

Mullyangah, the morning star.

Murgah muggui, big grey spider.

Murrawondah, climbing rat.

Narahdarn, bat.

Noongahburrah, tribe of blacks on the Narran.

Nullah nullah, a club or heavy-headed weapon.

Nurroo gay gay, dreadful pain.

Nyunnoo or Nunnoo, a grass humpy.

Ooboon, blue-tongued lizard.

Oolah, red prickly lizard.

Oongnairwah, black divcr.

Ouyan, curlew.

Piggiebillah, ant-eater. One of the Echidna, a marsupial.

Quarrian, a kind of parrot.

Quatha, quandong; a red fruit like a round red plum.

U e hu, rain, only so called in song.

Waligoo, to hide. A game like hide-and-seek.

Wahroogah, children.

Wahn, crow.

Wayambeh, turtle.

Waywah, worn by men, consisting of a waistband made of opossum's sinews with bunches of strips of paddymelon skins hanging from it.

Weedall, bower or mocking-bird.

Weeownbeen, a small bird. Something like a redbreast, only with longer tail and not so red a breast.

Widya nurrah, a wooden battleaxe shaped weapon.

Willgoo willgoo, pointed stick with feathers on top.

Wirree, small piece of bark, canoe-shaped.

Wirreenun, priest or doctor.

Womba, mad.

Wondah, spirit or ghost.

Wurranunnah, wild bees.

Wurrawilberoo, whirlwind with a devil in it; also clouds of Magellan.

Wurranunnah, bee.

Wurrunnah, man's name, meaning standing.

Yaraan, white gum-tree.

Yhi, the sun.

Yuckay, oh, dear!

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