Deegeenboyah The Soldier-bird

: Australian Legendary Tales

Deegeenboyah was an old man, and getting past hunting much for himself;

and he found it hard to keep his two wives and his two daughters

supplied with food. He camped with his family away from the other

tribes, but he used to join the men of the Mullyan tribe when they were

going out hunting, and so get a more certain supply of food than if he

had gone by himself. One day when the Mullyan went out, he was too late

to a
company them. He hid in the scrub and waited for their return, at

some little distance from their camp. When they were coming back he

heard them singing the Song of the Setting Emu, a song which whoever

finds the first emu's nest of the season always sings before getting

back to the camp. Deegeenboyah jumped up as he heard the song, and

started towards the camp of the Mullyan singing the same song, as if he

too had found a nest. On they all went towards the camp sing joyously:

Nurdoo, nurbber me derreen derreenbah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah.

Garmbay booan yunnahdeh beahwah ah, ah, ah, ah, ah.

Gubbondee, dee, ee, ee, ee.

Neah nein gulbeejah, ah, ah, ah, ah."

Which song roughly translated means:

I saw it first amongst the young trees,

The white mark on its forehead,

The white mark that before I had only seen as the emus moved together

in the day-time.

Never did I see one camp before, only moving, moving always.

Now that we have found the nest

We must look out the ants do not get to the eggs.

If they crawl over them the eggs are spoilt.

As the last echo of the song died away, those in the camp took up the

refrain and sang it back to the hunters to let them know that they

understood that they had found the first emu's nest of the season.

When the hunters reached the camp, up came Deegeenboyah too. The

Mullyans turned to him, and said:

"Did you find an emu's nest too?"

"Yes," said Deegeenboyah, "I did. I think you must have found the same,

though after me, as I saw not your tracks. But I am older and stiff in

my limbs, so came not back so quickly. Tell me, where is your nest?"

"In the clump of the Goolahbahs, on the edge of the plain," said the

unsuspecting Mullyan.

"Ah, I thought so. That is mine. But what matter? We can share--there

will be plenty for all. We must get the net and go and camp near the

nest to-night, and to-morrow trap the emu."

The Mullyan got their emu trapping net, one made of thin rope about as

thick as a thin clothes line, about five feet high, and between two and

three hundred yards long. And off they set, accompanied by

Deegeenboyah, to camp near where the emu was setting. When they had

chosen a place to camp, they had their supper and a little corrobborce,

illustrative of slaying emu, etc. The next morning at daylight they

erected their net into a sort of triangular shaped yard, one side open.

Black fellows were stationed at each end of the net, and at stated

distances along it. The net was upheld by upright poles. When the net

was fixed, some of the blacks made a wide circle round the emu's nest,

leaving open the side towards the net. They closed in gradually until

they frightened the emu off the nest. The emu seeing black fellows on

every side but one, ran in that direction. The blacks followed closely,

and the bird was soon yarded. Madly the frightened bird rushed against

the net. Up ran a black fellow, seized the bird and wrung its neck.

Then some of them went back to the nest to get the eggs, which they

baked in the ashes of their fire and ate. They made a hole to cook the

emu in. They plucked the emu. When they had plenty of coals, they put a

thick layer at the bottom of the hole, some twigs of leaves on top of

the coals, some feathers on the top of them. Then they laid the emu in,

more feathers on the top of it, leaves again on top of them, and over

them a thick layer of coals, and lastly they covered all with earth.

It would be several hours in cooking, so Deegeenboyah said, "I will

stay and cook the emu, you young fellows take moonoons--emu spears--and

try and get some more emu."

The Mullyan thought there was sense in this proposal, so they took a

couple of long spears, with a jagged nick at one end, to hold the emu

when they speared it; they stuck a few emu feathers on the end of each

spear and went off. They soon saw a flock of emu coming past where they

were waiting to water. Two of the party armed with the moonoon climbed

a tree, broke some boughs and put these thickly beneath them, so as to

screen them from the emu. Then as the emu came near to the men they

dangled down their spears, letting the emu feathers on the ends wave to

and fro. The emu, seeing the feathers, were curious as to how they got

there, came over, craning their necks and sniffing right underneath the

spears. The black fellows tightly grasped the moonoons and drove them

with force into the two emu they had picked One emu dropped dead at

once. The other ran with the spear in it for a short distance, but the

black fellow was quickly after it, and soon caught and killed it

outright. Then carrying the dead birds, back they went to where

Deegeenboyah was cooking the other emu. They cooked the two they had

brought, and then all started for the camp in great spirits at their

successful chase. They began throwing their mooroolahs as they went

along, and playing with their bubberahs, or returning boomerangs. Old

Deegeenboyah said, "Here, give me the emus to carry, and then you will

be free to have a really good game with your mooroolahs and bubberahs,

and see who is the best man."

They gave him the emus, and on they went, some throwing mooroolahs, and

some showing their skill with bubberahs. Presently Deegeenboyah sat

down. They thought he was just resting for a few minutes, so ran on

laughing and playing, each good throw eliciting another effort, for

none liked owning themselves beaten while they had a mooroolah left. As

they got further away they noticed Deegeenboyah was still sitting

down, so they called out to him to know what was the matter. "All

right," he said, "only having a rest; shall come on in a minute." So on

they went. When they were quite out of sight Deegeenboyah jumped up

quickly, took up the emus and made for an opening in the ground at a

little distance. This opening was the door of the underground home of

the Murgah Muggui spider--the opening was a neat covering, like a sort

of trap door. Down though this he went, taking the emus with him,

knowing there was another exit at some distance, out of which he could

come up quite near his home, for it was the way he often took after


The Mullyans went home and waited, but no sign of Deegeenboyah. Then

back on their tracks they went and called aloud, but got no answer, and

saw no sign. At last Mullyangah the chief of the Mullyans, said he

would find him. Arming himself with his boondees and spears, he went

back to where he had last seen Deegeenboyah sitting. He saw where his

tracks turned off and where they disappeared, but could not account for

their disappearance, as he did not notice the neat little trap-door of

the Murgah Muggui. But he hunted round, determined to scour the bush

until he found him. At last he saw a camp. He went up to it and saw

only two little girls playing about, whom he knew were the daughters of


"Where is your father?" he asked them.

"Out hunting," they said.

"Which way does he come home?"

"Our father comes home out of this;" and they showed him the spiders'


"Where are your mothers?"

"Our mothers are out getting honey and yams." And off ran the little

girls to a leaning tree on which they played, running up its bent


Mullyangah went and stood where the trunk was highest from the ground

and said: "Now, little girls, run up to here and jump, and I will catch

you. jump one at a time."

Off jumped one of the girls towards his outstretched arms, which, as

she came towards him he dropped, and, stepping aside, let her come with

her full force to the ground where she lay dead. Then he called to the

horror-stricken child on the tree: "Come, jump. Your sister came too

quickly. Wait till I call, then jump."

"No, I am afraid."

"Come on, I will be ready this tirne. Now come."

"I am afraid."

"Come on; I am strong." And he smiled quite kindly up at the child,

who, hesitating no longer, jumped towards his arms, only to meet her

sister's fate.

"Now," said Mullyangah, "here come the two wives. I must silence them,

or when they see their children their cries will warn their husband if

he is within earshot." So he sneaked behind a tree, and as the two

wives passed he struck them dead with his spears. Then he went to the

trapdoor that the children had shown him, and sat down to wait for the

coming of Deegeenboyah. He had not long to wait. The trap-door was

pushed up and out came a cooked eniu, which he caught hold of and laid

on one side. Deegeenboyah thought it was the girls taking it, as they

had often watched for his coming and done before, so he pushed up

another, which Mullyangah took, then a third, and lastly came up

himself, to find Mullyangah confronting him spear and boondee in hand.

He started back, but the trap-door was shut behind him, and Mullyangah

barred his escape in front.

"Ah," said Mullyangah, "you stole our food and now you shall die. I've

killed your children."

Decgeenboyah looked wildly round, and, seeing the dead bodies of his

girls beneath the leaning tree, he groaned aloud.

"And," went on Mullyangah, "I've killed your wives."

Deegenboyah raised his head and looked again wildly round, and there,

on their homeward path, he saw his dead wives. Then he called aloud,

"Here Mullyangah are your emus; take them and spare me. I shall steal

no more, for I myself want little, but my children and my wives

hungred. I but stole for them. Spare me, I pray you. I am old; I shall

not live long. Spare me."

"Not so," said Mullyangah, "no man lives to steal twice from a Mullyan;"

and, so saying, he speared Deegeenboyah where he stood. Then he lifted up

the emus, and, carrying them with him, went swiftly back to his camp.

And merry was the supper that night when the Mullyans ate the emus, and

Mullyangah told the story of his search and slaughter. And proud were

the Mullyans of the prowess and cunning of their chief.