Australia: The Land Where Time Began
Baiame and How Swans Became Black
Baiame the Great Spirit lived on a mountain at the end of the world, and beyond that mountain was a land that was inhabited only by women who were skilled weapon makers, spears, boomerangs and nullanullas. In this land there was no animals so the women traded the weapons for food and skins with men. The transactions always took place in the same fashion, the men piled skins and meat and skins on the edge of a deep lake on the far side of a wide waterless plain. They did this because they were forbidden to cross the lake. When the left the waters edge the women paddled across the lake and took the food and skins, leaving weapons in their place that the men then returned to collect. The men continued to trade in this manner, in spite of the difficulty of reaching the lake, because the weapons were of such high quality that any man owning such weapons gained prestige.
Wurrunah was a man who decided not to conform to the traditional ways of his people and defy the rule of not crossing the lake. He told his 2 brothers that they shouldn't have to take just what the women gave them, as they were only women men should be their masters. He dicided to show them how women should be treated. "Men are always more clever than women," he continued, "if a man is weak and not determined women weaken him with their wiles, but a strong, determined man will always win."
He decided to gather a number of men he could trust, then taking only life animals they had tied up they carried them across the plain to the edge of the lake. Wurrunah led the way with his brothers, followed by the other men, each carrying a live animal on their back. Wurrunah gave instructions when they reached the lake's edge. His plan was to turn his 2 brothers into white swans who would swim out onto the lake. When the women saw them, not having seen anything like them before, previously having seen only wahn (crows) that lived on the sides of Baiame's mountain, they would get into their canoes and try to catch them. As this was happening, he would go around the lake and collect all the weapons in the women's camp.
He conjured up all his magic and turned his brothers into swans and they set out across the lake. On seeing them the women jumped into their canoes and tried to catch them. When Wurrunah reached the women's camp he gathered up all the weapons and head back with his heavy load. At this point the women saw him and headed for the shore as fast as they could paddle. He shouted loudly to the men on the far side of the lake to release the animals, which they did, and as he expected, the women headed for the far dise of the lake, jumpingout of the canoes to chase all these animals they had never seen before. The tricked worked exactly as Wurrunah had planned and he distributed the weapons to the men who each headed back to his own country.
Wurrunah was so elated at his success conquering the women with his cleverness he felt power flowing through his body. He looked up at the mountain peak where Baiame was said to live and in a mood of defiance started climbing up the sacred slopes. Before he got very far dark clouds gathered and around the peak and lightning flashed. A spear-point of light struck him, causing him to fall back to earth, bruised and weakened. His hard-earned power drained away, and with it his magic, leaving no one who could change his brothers back to men. Unable to help his brothers he gasped for breath as he wearily headed for the wide plain on his way back to his country.
As this was going on, Mullian the eagle-hawk soared above him and spotting to the 2 white dots on the lake he swooped down to investigate. He was so enraged that they had invaded Baiame's preserves he attacked the swans tearing their feathers out their feathers. They cried out to their brother as they drifted along. The crows, the birds called wahn, had nested on the slopes of the sacred mountain, under the beaks of the eagle-hawks, their enemies, heard the swans calling for help as they sank in the water. As they had also rebelled against Baiame, they took pity on the swans and plucked feathers from their own bodies and spread them over the swans until they could float and swim again, and they swam ashore.
Baiame was amused by the temerity if the crows and because of their kindness to the swans, allowing the swans to live and decreeing from that time all Australian swans would be black.
Reed, A. W., 1965, Myths & Legends of Australia, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Sydney, Wellington, Aukland
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