The aborigines sometimes kept birds and animals as pets, but in all instances that may be enquired into it is found that the pet by some mischance or peculiar trait or impulse strayed into a camp and stayed there. However, this had nothing to do with the belief in an "affinity." Nor yet the belief in and recognition of a "totem." That possibly originated in a knowledge of evolution-in the settled idea that during the ages everything has changed in form-and no outstanding fact of Nature escaped being considered the beginning or the dwelling-place of an ancestor or an originator.
But something of a parody of this fundamental belief is the acceptance of an affinity in the shape of a bird or an animal that knows of its being related to a human and who acts as a protector of those of whom it is a family part. In this way the last full-blooded woman of the Cammaray people believed in the snake. She says that the black snake always indicates to her whether or not an undertaking of hers is to be successful, when a calamity is about to happen or has just happened in her immediate family, when she is personally threatened with great loss and whether or not the time be propitious for the doing of any important thing.
She tells many weird tales of warnings shown to her by her affinity. The lyre-bird, she tells, was the affinity of a man of her people away back in the time before history, and he had one as a pet. He was very proud of the fact that his bird mimicked so marvellously, and he arranged a competition. People who belonged to such birds as parrots, black cockatoos, wattle birds-those with a clear, distinctive call-assembled, and they listened to the lyre-bird not only imitating, but excelling each in its own song.
One bird was not claimed by anybody, and it sat disconsolately on a limb, apparently taking no notice of the proceedings; and then, just before dark, it made its effort.
The lyre-bird, nothing loth, imitated it perfectly. But the other bird was not finished. In another key it performed again, and still in another, until the lyre-bird was bewildered. It failed to follow; therefore we may now hear the great bird mimic as we stand, say, at Echo Point in the Blue Mountains, or under the hills of the Snowy or the Cann, going through all its repertoire, imitating not only every other bird, but every sound it has ever heard. But when it comes to the laugh of one it fails. The bird it cannot properly mock is the kookaburra. The lyre-bird man of the story was discredited, and therefore in later years such men were never of much account in the eyes of their compatriots, while those of the kookaburra, though it is recognised as an affinity of a much later date, are always people of great importance.
And by some strange coincidence we have taken the kookaburra to our hearts, and we picture him much more as the bird-representative of Australia than the emu which figures as such officially.