8. Weedah the Mocking Bird

Weedah was playing a great trick on the people who lived near him. He had built himself a number of grass shelters, more than twenty. He made fires in front of each, to make it look as if someone lived in the shelters. First he would go into one shelter, 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 people in that camp. His aim was to lure as many people 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 person into his camp, which he very often did, and then by his cunning he always gained his end and the man’s death. This was how he did that. A man, probably separated from his friends 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 make him come near. He would probably peer into the camp, and, only seeing Weedah standing alone, would walk towards him. Weedah would be standing at a little distance from a big glowing fire, where he would wait until the man 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. I heard many voices but I only see you.”

“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 kookaburra you heard, and thought it the laughter of women and mine must have been the voice of men that you heard. Alone in the bush, as the shadows fall, a man sees and hears what is not there. 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 number of the people living round the camp of Weedah began to get thin.

Mullyan, the eagle hawk, was determined to fathom the mystery, for as yet the people had no clue as to how or where their friends had disappeared. When Beeargah, his cousin, didn’t return to his camp, Mullyan made up his mind to find his track and follow it, until at last he solved the mystery. After following the track of Beeargah, as he had chased the kangaroo to where he had slain it, he followed his homeward trail. He tracked him over stony ground, 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 where the sounds came from, he saw the grass humpies. “Who can these be?” he thought. The track led him right into the camp, where Weedah alone was to be seen. Mullyan advanced towards him and asked where the people whose voices he had heard as he came through the bush were.

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 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? I see their trails coming into this camp, but none going out. And if you alone live here you alone can answer me.”

“What do I know of you or your friends? Nothing. Ask the winds that blow. Ask Bahloo the moon, who looks down on the earth by night. Ask Yhi the sun, that looks down by day. But don’t ask Weedah, who lives alone, and knows nothing 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, it could tell where his friends were. But the time had not yet come to show that he had understood the mystery. So he pretended 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 everyone 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 man’s head had burst, and where the bird came out.

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.