5. Gooloo the Magpie, and the Children

Gooloo the magpie was a very old woman, and a very wicked old woman too, as this story will tell. Every season, when the grass was thick with seeds, she had gathered a great many seeds, which she crushed into flour for food. She used to crush it on a big flat stone with small flat stones—the big stone was called a dayoorl. Gooloo ground a great deal of the doonburr seed to put away for immediate use, the rest she kept whole, to be ground as required.

Soon after she had finished her first grinding, a neighbouring tribe came along and camped near where she was. One day the men all went out hunting, leaving the women and the children in the camp. After the men had been gone a little while, Gooloo the magpie came to their camp to talk to the women. She said, “Why do you not go hunting too? There are many bees nests round here, and the honey is thick in them. There are many bumble fruit opening with ripeness. Yet you sit in the camp and hunger, until your husbands return with the emus and kangaroos they have gone to hunt. Go, women, and take the plenty that surrounds you. I will take care of your children.”

“Your words are wise,” the women said. “It is foolish to sit here and hunger, when yams are thick in the ground, and many fruits wait to be plucked. We will go and fill quickly our bags and nets, but we will take our children with us.”

“Not so,” said Gooloo, “it would be foolish to do that. You would tire the little feet of those that run, and tire yourselves with the burden of those that have to be carried. No, take your bags and nets empty, that you may bring back more. Look, I have bread made of fresh doonburr seed, cooking just now on that bark between two fires. Your will children eat that, and then I shall make them another. They will eat and be full before their mothers are out of sight. See, they come to me now, they hunger for bread, and I will feed them well. Hurry then, that you may return in time to make ready the fires for cooking the meat your husbands will bring. Your husbands will be glad when they see that you have filled your bags and nets with fruits, and your bowls with honey.”

Having listened to the words of Gooloo, the women decided to do as she said, and, leaving their children with her, they started out with empty bags, and armed with axes, with which to chop out the bees’ nests and with yam sticks to dig up yams.

When the women had gone, Gooloo gathered the children round her and fed them with bread, hot from the coals. She gave them honey and bumbles too. When they had eaten, she hurried them off to her real home, built in a hollow tree, a little distance away from where she had been cooking her bread. Into her house she hurriedly thrust them, followed quickly herself. Here she fed them again, but the children had already satisfied their hunger, and now they missed their mothers and began to cry. Their crying reached the ears of the women as they were returning to their camp. They quickly came at the sound. As they quickened their steps they thought how soon the food that lay in their bags would comfort their children. The mothers, would feel happy too when they fed the children with the food they had gathered for them. Soon they reached the camp, but, alas! Where were their children? And where was Gooloo the magpie?

“They are playing hide and seek,” they said, “and have hidden themselves.”

The mothers hunted all round for them, and called aloud the names of their children and Gooloo. But could they hear no answer and could find no trace. And yet every now and then they heard the sound of children wailing. But as hard as they looked they could not find them. Then the mothers wailed loudly themselves for their lost children, and, wailing, returned to the camp to wait the return of the men. Their hearts were heavy and their faces sad when their husbands returned. They hurried to tell the men when they came, how Gooloo had persuaded them to go hunting, promising if they did so that she would feed the hungry children, and care for them while they were away, but—and here they wailed again for their poor children. They told how they had listened to her words and gone. She had told the truth about there being plenty of food around. Their bags and nets were full of fruits and other food they had gathered, but, alas, they came home with them filled only to find their children gone and Gooloo gone too. And they could find no trace of either, though at times they heard a sound like children wailing.

The men were furious, saying, “What mothers are you to leave your young to a stranger, and that stranger a Gooloo, ever a treacherous race? Did we not go out to obtain food for you and our children? Have you ever seen your husbands return from hunting empty handed? Then why, when you knew we were gone hunting, did you have to go out and leave our helpless ones to a stranger? Oh, evil, evil indeed is the time that has come when a mother forgets her child. Stay in the camp while we go out to hunt for our lost children.”

The men hunted the bush round for miles, but found no trace of the lost children, though they too heard at times a noise like children’s voices wailing.

But the wailing echoed in the mothers’ ears for no trace was ever found of the children. For many days the women sat in the camp mourning for their lost children, and beating their heads because they had listened to the voice of Gooloo the magpie.