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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Wayarnbeh The Turtle

Oolah, the lizard, was out getting yams on a Mirrieh flat. She had three of her children with her. Suddenly she thought she heard some one moving behind the big Mirrieh bushes. She listened. All of a sudden out jumped Wayambeh from behind a bush and seized Oolah, telling her not to make a noise and he would not hurt her, but that he meant to take her off to his camp to be his wife. He would take her three children too and look after them. Resistance was useless, for Oolah had only her yam stick, while Wayambeh had his spears and boondees. Wayambeh took the woman and her children to his camp. His tribe when they saw him bring home a woman of the Oolah tribe, asked him if her tribe had given her to him. He said, "No, I have stolen her." "Well," they said, "her tribe will soon be after her; you must protect yourself; we shall not fight for you. You had no right to steal her without telling us. We had a young woman of our own tribe for you, yet you go and steal an Oolah and bring her to the camp of the Wayambeh. On your own head be the consequences." In a short time the Oolahs were seen coming across the plain which faced the camp of the Wayambeh. And they came not in friendship or to parley, for no women were with them, and they carried no boughs of peace in their bands, but were painted as for war, and were armed with fighting weapons. When the Wayambeh saw the approach of the Oolah, their chief said: "Now, Wayambeh, you had better go out on to the plain and do your own fighting; we shall not help you." Wayambeh chose the two biggest boreens that he had; one he slung on him, covering the front of his body, and one the back; then, seizing his weapons, he strode out to meet his enemies. When he was well out on to the plain, though still some distance from the Oolah, he called out, "Come on." The answer was a shower of spears and boomerangs. As they came whizzing through the air Wayambeh drew his arms inside the boreens, and ducked his head down between them, so escaped. As the weapons fell harmless to the ground, glancing off his boreen, out again he stretched his arms and held up again his head, shouting, "Come on, try again, I'm ready." The answer was another shower of weapons, which he met in the same way. At last the Oolahs closed in round him, forcing him to retreat towards the creek. Shower after shower of weapons they slung at him, and were getting at such close quarters that his only chance was to dive into the creek. He turned towards the creek, tore the front boreen off him, flung down his weapons and plunged in. The Oolah waited, spears poised in hand, ready to aim directly his head appeared above water, but they waited in vain. Wayambeh, the black fellow, they never saw again, but in the waterhole wherein he had dived they saw a strange creature, which bore on its back a fixed structure like a boreen, and which, when they went to try and catch it, drew in its head and limbs, so they said, "It is Wayambeh." And this was the beginning of Wayambeh, or turtle, in the creeks.

Australian Legend


  1. Very convincing, like Grimm's collection and like Italo Calvino's collection (which follow different criteria). It would be interesting to examine other versions, which certainly exist. But this one already offers so many aspects worth to be considered, that I will turn back to this legend one day on my own blog. Here I want to mention only some of them. The confrontation with the lizard (vulnerable and therefore quick) is typical like in the greek story of Achilles and the turtle. Striking is Wayambeh's entering, as jumping out of the bush. He then wasn't yet what we call a turtle, he was quicker than a lizard. "You had no right to steal her without telling us." This sentence contains many things, like the root of ethnocentrism, balanced nationalism and the reasonable preponderance of community sense over individualism.

    This legend is also the story of anticonformism (leading back to and the necessity in case of protecting oneself as anticonform (leading back to

    The turtle is a symbol of exactly the opposite condition to the condition the whole world got into through the degree of current tecnology: extreme vulnerability, this is our condition (since 1918 "sicurity" became the obsession not of loosing powers, but of the victors).

    This legend would be worth to be completed, outdesigned and outpainted with details fitting our time (zeitgemäß, unzeitgemäß und zeitlos) and could become the libretto for a great composer.

  2. “And this was the beginning of Wayambeh, or turtle, in the creeks”.

    I would like to hear the sequel of that story. It is quite promising, particularly with regard to Oohla´s three children. There must be a reason for their rather dispensable but early implementation to the story.