AT the boy manufactory, Boomayahmayahmul, the wood lizard, was the principal worker, though Bahloo from time to time gave him assistance.
The little blacks throw their mythical origin at each other tauntingly. A little black girl, when offended with a boy friend, says:
'Ooh, a lizard made you.'
'Wah! wah! a crow made you,' he retorts.
Up to a certain age boys are trained as are girls--charms sung over them to make them generous, honest, good swimmers, and the rest; but after that they are taken into the Weedegah, or bachelors' camp, and developed on manly lines.
When he is about seven years old, his mother will paint her son up every day for about a week with red and white colourings. After that he would go to the Weedegah Gahreemai, bachelors' camp. He would then be allowed to go hunting with boys and men. He would see, now when he was out with the men, how fire was made in the olden time, almost a lost art now when wax matches are plentiful.
No boy who had not been to a Boorah would dare to try to make fire.
The implements for fire-making are a little log about as thick as a man's arm, of Nummaybirah wood--a rather soft white wood--and a split flat piece about a foot long and three inches wide. The little log was split open at one end, a wedge put in it, and the opening filled up with dry grass broken up. This log was laid on the ground and firmly held there; the fire-maker squatted in front, and with the flat piece rubbed edgeways across the opening in the log. The sawdust fell quickly into the opening. After about a minute and a half's rubbing a smoke started out. After rubbing on a little longer the fire-maker took a handful of dry grass, emptied the smoking sawdust and dry grass into it, waved it about, and in three and a half minutes from starting the process I have seen a blaze. Sometimes it has taken longer, but just under five minutes is the longest time I have ever seen it take.
They use pine too, I believe, but whenever I timed them it was Nummaybirah they were using.
The boys pick up the woodcraft of the tribes when they begin going out with the men. As the boys began to grow up, when a good season came round, and game and grass were plentiful, the old men were seen to draw apart often and talk earnestly.
At length there came a night when was heard a whizzing, whirling boom far in the scrub. As the first echo of it reached the camp, the women, such as were still young enough to bear children, stopped their ears, for should any such hear the Gurraymi, the women's name for the Gayandi, or Boorah spirit's voice, that spirit will first make them mad, then kill them.
The old women began to sing a Boorah song. To deaden the sound of the dreaded voice, opossum rugs were thrown over the children, none of whom must hear, unless they are boys old enough to be initiated; the sound reveals the fact to such that the hour of their initiation is at hand.
The men all gathered together with the boys, except two old wirreenuns, who earlier in the evening have seemingly quarrelled and gone away into the scrub.
The men and boys in camp march up and down to some distance from the camp. The old women keep on singing, and one man with a spear painted red with a waywah fastened on top, walks up and down in the middle of the crowd of men, holding the spear, with its emblematic belt of manhood, aloft; as he does so, calling out the names of the bends of the creek, beginning with the one nearest to which they are camped. When he gets to the end of the names along that creek and comes to the name of a big river, all the men join him in giving a loud crow like
'Wah! wah! wah!'
Then he begins with the names along the next creek across the big river, and so on; at the mention of each main stream the crowd again join in the cry of
'Wah! wah! wah!'
All the while, closer and still closer, comes the sound of the Gayandi, as the men call the Gurraymi, or bull roarer.
At length the two old wirreenuns come back to the camp and the noise ceases, to recur sometimes during the night, when I expect, did any one search for them, the old wirreenuns would be found missing from the camp.
After the first whirling of the bull roarers and calling of the creek names, the Gooyeanawannah, or messengers, prepare for a journey, and when ready, the wirreenuns start them off in various directions to summon neighbouring tribes from hundreds of miles round to attend the Boorah. The messengers each carry a spear with a waywah (or belt of manhood) on the top, seeing which no tribe, even at enmity with the messenger, will molest him. When a messenger arrived at a strange camp, he was not asked his business but left to choose his own time for telling. He would squat down a little way from the strangers' camp, food would probably be brought to him which he would cat.
He would find out who was the chief wirreenun of the tribe, then take him apart, give to him his Boorah message-stick as guarantee of his good faith, and tell him where and when the Boorah was to be held. After having given all necessary information, the Gooyeanawannah would return to his tribe; the wirreenun to whom he had given the Doolooboorah, or message-stick, would send it on by the messenger of his tribe, and so with others, until all were summoned, each tribe letting it be known that a Boorah summons had been received by sounding the Gayandi, which would carry its own tale to those in the camp.
Should young boys be chosen as messengers, they were held in high honour; Woormerh they were called.
While the messengers were away, the old men of the tribe in whose Noorumbah, or hereditary hunting lands, the Boorah was to be held, prepared the sacred grounds.
They cleared a big circle, round which they put a bank of earth, and from the circle was cleared a path leading to a thick scrub; along this path were low earthen embankments, and the trees on both sides had the bark stripped off, and carved on them the various totems and multiplex totems of the tribes. Such carvings were also put on the trees round the Bunbul, or little Boorah ring, where the branches were also in some instances lopped, and the trunks carved and painted to represent figures of men, amongst whom were supposed to be the sons of Byamee's wives. Two of these sons had been made young men at the first Boorah Byamee instituted in this district, the ground of which is pointed out to this day.
In the middle of the Bunbul a large heap of wood was placed ready for the Yungawee, or sacred fire.
When the preliminary preparations were over, the camps were moved to just outside the Boorah, or big Boorah ring. By that time the other tribes began to arrive. First came from each tribe the boys to be initiated and the Munthdeeguns, or men in charge of them. The men were painted, and had leafy twigs tied round their wrists and ankles, as had the boys also, and all carried in their hands small branches of green. Those especially in charge of boys held, too, a painted spear with a waywah on top of it.
As they approached the place of gathering the head man, with the painted spear, began calling out all the names of the places along the creeks from whence he came; at the name of each big watercourse they all cried together
'Wah! Wah! wah!'
They were met at some distance from the camp by the men who had summoned them, and who had made a round brush yard where they were to meet them. Here the older women were singing Boorah songs. Some held their breasts as a sign they had sons among the initiates; others put their hands on their shoulders, which showed they had brothers going to be made young men. All the women had leafy twigs tied round their wrists and ankles as the men had. The newcomers and the men who met them walked round the yard at a measured beat, lifting one leg and throwing up one arm each time the cry of 'Wah! wah! wah!' was given, for here too the enumeration of geographical names went on.
When the Boorah song was over, the men marched out of the yard; closely behind them the two oldest men with the tufted spears; the Boorah boys closely after them. The women followed, carrying bunches of leafy twigs with which they pelted the boys until they reached the camp.
Matah and I had been watching the whole performance, and followed in the wake of the women.
The whole scene impressed us as picturesque-the painted figures of the men and boys, with the peculiarly native stealthy tread, threading their way through the grey Coolabah trees; the decorated women throwing their leafy missiles with accurate aim into the ranks of the boys, who did not dare to look at their assailants. A Boorah boy must give no evidence of curiosity; the nil admirari attitude then begun clings to a black man through life. The women of the tribe express voluble surprise, but a black man never except by the dilation of his eyes.
Every night after this a corroboree was held. The fully initiated of each tribe, as they arrived, help in the preparation of the inner sacred ground, while the younger men collected game and other food.
The old men cut out of the ground along the narrow path leading to the Bunbul, and round it, huge earthen animals, their various totems, such as crocodiles, kangaroos, emus and others, all of a colossal size. These they plastered over with mud and painted in different colours and designs. On the right of the Bunbul they made an earthen figure of Byamee--this figure was reclining holding in each hand a Boondee. On the other side was the huge figure of a woman-this represented Birrahgnooloo, the favourite wife of Byamee; she held two spears. There was a third figure not so large as the other two but like them, apart from the figures near the path and the Bunbul; this was Baillahburrah, according to some, Dillalee according to others, the supernatural son of Byamee--or as some say, brother--not born of woman, having lived before the human race existed, before Byamee travelled as Creator and culture hero through Australia.
Of the Gayandi, the Boorah spirit, sometimes called Wallahgooroonboooan, there was no figure, because he was always present at Boorahs, though invisible. His voice only gave evidence of his presence.
The wirreenuns said it was he who had placed in the forks of trees round the big ring heaps of dry wood, which they said, when the ceremonies began, he would light, making a dazzling illumination of the scene.
In the middle of the Boorah ring was placed a mudgee, a painted stick on- spear, with a bunch of hawk's feathers on the top. Every night was heard at intervals the Gayandi, and immediately the younger women and children stopped their ears, while the old women shrieked their brumboorah.
As each fresh batch of blacks arrived the volume of sound was increased, for the old men with their Gayandi would go into the scrub and whirl them. These bull roarers sound curiously uncanny-1 did not wonder the uninitiated accepted the spirit theory as to their origin.
The bush of Australia is a good background for superstition; there is such a non-natural air about its Nature, as if it has been sketched in roughly by a Beardsley-like artist.
The function of the Gayandi is to inspire awe, and it fulfils it. Byamee himself made the first. It was some time before he got quite the effect he wanted. At first he desired to give the Boorah spirit a form as well as a voice, to inspire awe; he also wished it to knock out the front tooth of an initiate.
He made a stone figure in the image of man, having a voice. This spirit, known variously as Gayandi, or Darramulun, went to the Boorah, but when he was to knock out the front tooth, he began to eat the boys' faces. He was too strong; he would not do to preside over, Boorahs. Byamee transformed him into a large piggiebillah-like animal, though instead of being covered with spines, thick hair grew over him; he has since been known as Nahgul. He went away into the bush, where he has been a dreaded devil ever since; for if he touches a man's shadow even, that man will itch all over and nothing can cure him of it. He haunts Boorah grounds.
Next Byamee made a stone bull roarer sort of thing, but this was too heavy to make the noise he wanted. One day he was chopping a big Coolabah tree close to Weetalibah water-hole, which tree, much to the horror of our blacks, was burnt down a few years ago by travellers.
As Byamee chopped, out flew a big chip. He heard the whizzing sound it made, gave another chop, out flew another; again the whizzing sound.
'That is what I want,' he said I'll make a Gayandi of wood.'
He cut a piece of mubboo, or beefwood, and shaped it; he tied a piece of string to a hole in one end; he hung it up in the big Coolabah tree. Then he went and cut one out of Noongah or Kurrajong, tied a string on to that and put it beside the other on the tree, and left them swinging there.
One day he came back and was camping near; his wives, came along to the big tree. There the Gayandi swung, making a whirring noise.
'What's that?' said the women. 'We'll have a look what it is.' Seeing Byamee they said, 'We heard voices in that big tree over there.'
Whereabouts?' he said.
In that Coolabah tree. Such strange voices, such as we never heard.'
'You two go" he said, 'to our camp and make a fire. I'll go and see what it is.'
When the women were out of sight he went to the tree and took the pieces of wood down. He was satisfied now they would answer his purpose. He carefully hid them until he made a Boorah. And since then such pieces of wood have been the medium for the Gayandi's voice, and are kept carefully hidden away from all but the eyes of wirreenuns.
At length all the expected tribes had arrived, preparations were finished, and a signal was given for a move to be made that the real ceremonies might begin.
The fully initiated men went away after their midday meal, and about sundown came in single file along the banked-in path each carrying a firestick in one hand, a green switch in the other. When they reached the mudgee in the middle of the big ring and corroboreed for a little round it, the old women answered with a Boorah song, and all moved to the edge of the ring. At this stage men often tried to steal each other's boys, and great wrestling matches came off. One man would try to pull up the mudgee, out would rush one of another clan to wrestle with him. First the boys would wrestle, then the elder men, each determined his clan should prove victorious at this great Boorah wrestling.
The skill of the eeramooun, or uninitiated boys, would be tried in sham fights too. They were given bark shields, and their attackers had bark boomerangs; great was the, applause when the boys ably defended themselves. Previously they have been tried with boomerang and boodthul throwing, and other arts of sport and warfare, boys of each tribe trying to excel those of the others. If a boy comes well out of these trials the men say he is worthy to be a yelgidyi, or fully initiated young man.
When the wrestling and sham fights are over, corroborees begin. All night they are kept up, and sometimes there are day performances too.