Story and Digital Cosmics by Warrigal Mirriyuula
In the Dreaming, before time, before space, before country and the people, the great creator spirit Baiame awakes and begins to move through the impenetrable blackness to the place of purpose.
While all places are just potential harmonies in the songs of the great creation plan, he knows when he has arrived. This is the place. Baiame opens his powerful hand revealing Gan, the Creator Snake.
Gan, being both design and cause, knowing too purpose and moment, slides smoothly into the darkness as all creation quickens and the cosmos explodes into its endless flight through space. Galaxies, stars and planets, the constellations of the lore and all the spirits of all the creatures that will ever live, awaken at the dawn of creation and are witness to the raising of the mountains and the flowing of the rivers onto the extended plains.
Yirri the sun, and Giwang the moon, rise for the first time over Nguurumbang, the home of the people. Gilgie the yabby, spirit of the bilabang finds a sunken hollow log and watches Marrkara, the Yellow Belly, his coeval in the bilabang, swimming back and forth.
All of the animal spirits: Guulang the wombat in his hole, Mabi the quoll hunting in the trees, Barrandhang the koala snoozing as always, Wambuuwayn the grey kangaroo proud in the new grass, and Yuugi the dingo, all come into being and follow the lore of creation.
In this moment of no time all the other spirits of earth awaken, including Guudhamang the snake neck turtle and Mirriyuula the ghost dog.
Time begins to flow inexorably for the people, the Wirrayjuurraay, the people who say “wirray” for “no”. They live a life of the lore and in time come to cover a great area encompassing the rolling slopes and plains, the river floodplains and marshes and dry flat ground all the way from the mountains to Barkindji country on Barka, the great river.
But the passage of time is not for the great spirits of the earth. Time is for mortal men.
For Mirriyuula there is only forever.
Time passes, the people grow strong.
Mirriyuula has taken the form of a Bageeyn, a wise and powerful manipulator of the creation energies. He is master of the land and sky and has the power to shapeshift, assuming the form of anything imaginable; but here in his cave high in the Bethungra hills Mirriyuula the Bageeyn has grown old and lonely and despairs of ever being able to pass on the powerful knowledge and wisdom he has amassed. He formulates a desperate plan. He will kidnap a suitable boy and invest in him all that he knows of the lore, creation and his own very particular abilities.
On the appointed night Mirriyuula assumes the shape of a great striped dog, fearsome of fang and fleet of foot.
Bounding powerfully through a sleeping camp he picks up the boy he hopes to train and leaps beyond the fire’s light. The camp is in uproar and a brave friend of the stolen boy, grabbing a burning brand from a dying fire, chases after Mirriyuula and his struggling charge. He throws the brand. It hits Mirriyuula on the head and sets fire to his possum skin headband, the flames blinding him.
Mirriyuula, frustrated, angry and raging in great pain, drops the boy and flies off, unable to continue with the kidnapping. He knows he has broken the lore and there will be consequences, but for now he must salve his wounds and coax his sight back. Assuming the Bageeyn form, he sits waiting by his fire at the mouth of the cave in the hills.
As expected Mirriyuula the Bageeyn is summoned before a Council of the Elders to explain himself. The elders, very wise themselves, can understand the yearning need Mirriyuula has for an apprentice but they are equally aware that kidnapping, no matter the circumstances, is a heinous crime against the lore and Mirriyuula must be banished to the underland for his transgression.
However, in their wisdom they acknowledge the greatness Mirriyuula once gathered around himself and, as a concession to this greatness and Mirriyuula’s special status as an earth creation being, they allow that Mirriyuula may choose one night each year in which he will be allowed to seek and take an apprentice if he can.
Of course Mirriyuula chose the longest night of the year. And every year thereafter, on that longest night, Mirriyuula rises up from the underland to search again.
As midwinter approaches each year the adults and older children prepare for what they know will come. Younger children are ushered into the gunyahs. The Mirriyuula story is told again and they are warned that silence is their only hope to avoid the jaws of the fearsome ghost dog. Mirriyuula can’t tolerate fire so great piles of wood are collected at every gunyah and the campfires are stoked to a fierce spitting blaze.
As the evening of the longest night falls, the mournful call of Guuribang, the Stone Curlew, floats out over the marshes. The children in the gunyahs shiver in fear but they remain quiet. They know the curlew can’t be trusted. Even the elders don’t know if the curlew’s call is a warning to the people or whether it is a clarion call to the great ghost dog, Mirriyuula, who even now must be readying himself for the night ahead.
Nearly all the animals have abandoned the area. In her tree hollow Bubuk the owl alone has stayed. She sharpens her beak and talons for she knows she has a role to play on this longest of nights and she will play that role as she has always done.
The spectacle commences with an onrush of the harbingers of the mayhem to come. Ngarradan, the bat spirit and his army of black leathery winged night fliers swarm from every hollow tree and cave. More bats than there are stars in the sky, in a great rolling curtain of darkness. Bubuk throws herself up into the night sky to do battle with the forces of darkness. She fights bravely, her skill on the wing bringing down many of Ngarradan’s minions; but in the end there are simply too many of the darkling bats and she is overcome and withdraws. She has battled for time, precious time; and in that she has won. She has taken up time that Mirriyuula needs to complete his search.
Without Bubuk to cull their numbers the bats blot out the whole sky and the last fugitive silver beams from Giwang are obliterated. Inevitably, the deepest of all that is dark flows down on the land. It is the inky darkness that the ghost dog Mirriyuula needs.
Across Nguurumbang there is total, impenetrable black and only the crackle and hiss, the explosive pops and snaps of the protective fires can be heard, but so deep is the brutal gloom that even the campfire light is absorbed.
Suddenly the horizon blazes up into a bright, blinding light that resolves itself into the two burning, flame bright eyes of the ghost dog Mirriyuula, come again and at last.
The Ghost Dog looms up from the underland, ominous and inimical. His ears are pricked for the faintest heartbeat, his eyes burn holes through the blackness, his great head is lowered, swinging from side to side, he sniffs out the land, quickly flying to any spot where his senses tell him he may be successful. He prowls the camps, growling, his incendiary eyes seeking his apprentice. The children huddle together, cowering in the gunyahs while the adults stoke the protective fires to an implacable blaze.
Guudhamang the snake neck turtle spirit, giver of life and protector of the people in Muttama country, knows from his dreaming that he has a destiny and that should Mirriyuula turn up in one of the camps under his protection he will have to take physical form for a final battle to the death with Mirriyuula. But not on this night.
An aching, anguished cry of frustration rends the air as the first faint intimations of the dawn slip over the horizon. In moments Yirri has washed the land with light and the great ghost dog Mirriyuula, thwarted and again without his apprentice; being unable, like all ghosts, to stand the sunlight; fades back into the underland. His faint last howls lost in the bright trilling, cawing, warbling, whistling birdsong of a new dawn.
In all the camps there is great joy. The longest night has come and gone. Now the weather will warm and the days grow longer and the children will be safe and grow strong in the light.
Deep in the underland time and space are irrelevant but Mirriyuula, serving out his punishment, senses a shift. A ripple moves through the underland. A wave of change is coming in, combing to the break.
At first it’s just an uncertain warming sensation, then a lofting sense of building potential, the electric buzz of crackling black fire, then the tumbling chaos of the shockwave!
Instantly Mirriyuula finds himself back where it started all those eons ago. He senses Gan slinking smoothly through the darkness to enfold him; then just as suddenly and inexplicably he is again with Baiame, resting in that formidable and wondrous hand.
At once Mirriyuula is taken into the heart of creation and without words, without ceremony, Baiame redraws the map of Mirriyuula’s spirit. Mirriyuula apprehends his past life in a greater context and understands completely the hubris of that attempted kidnapping all those years ago, the endless similarity of the punishment days of forever, the frustration that has thwarted his true potential. He would cry out at the futility and waste except that he finds in that same moment that he has forgiven himself. Even for creation beings self-knowledge and self-forgiveness are the first steps to redemption and rehabilitation.
Mirriyuula now understands how entirely changed he has become and senses that his life will be very different from now.
“A life you shall certainly have Mirriyuula. For though you transgressed the lore, you have always stayed true to the dreaming and the dreaming is in trouble.”
The portent of Baiame’s words, not so much heard as experienced directly in both Mirriyuula’s mind and in his spirit, lands like a blow and roars through his being. He is to be freed! At another time he might have exalted at such news, filled with pride, but he can find nothing but thanksgiving in his heart.
Baiame continues; “The people are broken, the lore is lost and forgotten, irreparable, and Nguurumbang has been pillaged by the ghosts from across the sea.”
Mirriyuula’s eyes well with tears and his new heart, so suddenly full of love is now laid low with loss. How can this have happened? Why did it have to happen?
“The human mind is a fallible thing, uncertain of where its best interests lie. Humans lack the long view and in satisfying their petty desires they have lost the balance and brought themselves low. They are not “as I made them”, for that was never the purpose. I gave them only a beginning. They are as they have made themselves and their very continued existence is in their own hands.”
While these words were incising on Mirriyuula’s consciousness, his mind’s eye was torn open and filled with bitter visions of all the mistakes, grand and petty, all the infidelities and broken promises, the wanton stupidity and outright evil of humankind. He saw the spoiled lands and poisoned rivers; the filthy gritty air and the oceans become great sumps for the waste and detritus of profligate humankind. He thought his heart might break, such sustaining beauty worn down to a toxic, all consuming hallucination.
Mirriyuula imagined the sorrow might crush him; so much pain, so much indescribable horror; and he imagined that his life, this new life that Baiame would release him to, might be just as bleak, just as blighted as that non life, that living death he had known for uncountable years in the underland.
“I know your question and the answer is as it has always been. A choice between being and nothingness, but the freedom of being is in knowing the limits of that freedom. They have chosen for themselves as they were meant to do, as you did Mirriyuula. But I fear they have exceeded those limits and they may so devastate the very thing that nurtures them that they may never be able to come to a real understanding of who they are.”
“For you Mirriyuula, true self knowledge will come from service and companionship. Let go of your fear Mirriyuula and see your true path. You will exercise your significant abilities in the service of the people. I am sending you back to Nguurumbang and from there you will know the way.”
With these words settling in his consciousness Mirriyuula found himself once more enfolded in the generative heart of Gan. He fell into a deep sleep.
Jimmy Pike dozed easily by his campfire, the charcoal and bits of stick crackling quietly, accompanied by Jimmy’s slumbering snores and the breeze whispering through the Casuarinas.
The last golden rays of the sun broke through the trees, gently crossing Jimmy’s closed eyes in soft beams of saffron brilliance. He awoke from a deep dream resonant with now fleeting meaning. He was feeling better than he had in a long while. Life on the long paddock was hard and it got no easier as he grew older.
He dragged his cracked and hardened hands across his dark leathery face and scratched at his grizzled grey stubble.
“Time for a billy, I reckon,” Jimmy grabbed his battered and blackened old billy and wandered down to the creek.
Pulling the full billy from the stream Jimmy stood up, straightening his back with an old man’s groan. He looked as if for the first time along this beautiful stretch of Muttama Creek, the pebbles and sandbar on the turn, the Casuarinas leaning lazily over the stream, their needles piled in soft brown mounds at their feet. Jimmy sighed at the beauty and walked back up the bank.
Throwing a bit of tea in the boiling billy, Jimmy reckoned he better get his swag out and rig some cover a bit further up the bank. It might rain and the creek could swell.
He’d finished his tea and was getting his gear together when he noticed the dog for the first time, about a half a mile down stream and just coming along at a loping trot. By the time Jimmy rigged his cover, set his new fire and was going to get a light from the dying embers of the old one, the dog had arrived and was just sitting on the sand and pebbles by the old fire watching Jimmy with an intelligent look, his head inclined to one side. He looked like he had some dingo in him and looking closer Jimmy imagined he might have had all sorts in him. No collar.
Was he hungry? Did he just want the warmth and companionship of the fire? He’d apparently brought a few more sticks. Jimmy noted the slobber on the bits sitting at the dog’s feet.
“Funny dog”, Jimmy thought.
“Well, you’re a good mate. Bringin’ y’ own wood f’ the fire.” Jimmy picked up the sticks. The dog didn’t move. It just kept a close eye on Jimmy and when Jimmy had thrown the few sticks on the fire, the dog came up the bank and sat across from him while Jimmy got the fire ready to cook some tucker. The dog, still with that look, the head still to one side, just watched Jimmy.
“Ya hungry dhirribang?” He might have said “old man”, but the half remembered family word came to his lips. The dog looked healthy enough, well fed by the look of him. Looking again, Jimmy noticed that the dog was in fact very powerfully built, much bigger than a dingo. His head and muzzle looked more like a shepherd, and he had stripes. Jimmy couldn’t remember if he’d ever seen a striped dog before.
“So, where ya comin’ from?” Jimmy asked, “Ya welcome to share a rabbit wi’ me. Snared ‘em ‘is arvo, coupla does, no disease, should be good eatin’.”
The dog stood and shook himself out, trotted over to where the two skinned and gutted rabbit carcases were stretching on some old fence wire stuck in the sand. The dog took both stretchers in his mouth and trotted back to Jimmy and dropped one on the grass at his feet. He paused as if waiting for Jimmy’s permission. Jimmy was fascinated by this odd dog.
“G’ on then dhirribang. That one’s yours.”
To Jimmy’s astonishment the dog violently shook the stretcher, separating the wire and the rabbit; the wire falling to the ground as the carcase flipped and landed securely between the dog’s sharp white teeth. In a few crunching chomps, the whole thing disappeared, whereupon the dog simply settled down by the fire licking his lips and grooming. Jimmy shook his head in bemused wonder.
Sorting his rabbit out onto an makeshift spit, Jimmy heaped the coals into a glowing pile to slow roast the thing. He wandered off down to the creek and filled his billy again. Looking back up the bank Jimmy saw that the dog hadn’t moved but his eyes never seemed to leave Jimmy. Whenever he looked, the dog was looking back.
As Jimmy sucked the last of the goodness off a thighbone, the declining light of the day had faded to that final penumbral gloaming. The new full moon was out early, silver in the darkening sky. Curlews nesting on a pebbled terrace above the creek began their mournful calling. The dog was instantly alert, his ears pricked, a low grumbling growl emanating from his powerful chest. He stood, ran a few short stiff steps in the direction of the Curlew calls and barked twice; two very loud and authoritative ‘woofs”, growled again and, as he returned to the fire, the Curlews silent, Jimmy would have sworn that the dog made a distinct “hurrumph!”
“Well I’ll be blowed!” Jimmy exclaimed, looking in open amazement and some perplexity at his new companion. “I never known anythin’ shut Curlews up like that!” The dog, settling down again by the fire, made a noise that once again Jimmy would have sworn was a dismissive “hmph”. As if to say, “…bloody Curlews!” Well Jimmy didn’t like Curlews either; he couldn’t really remember why, he just didn’t.
He lay out his swag, wondering about the dog. He was happy for the company. It wasn’t often that Jimmy kept company and he thought for a moment that there was something about the dog, something different.
Lying down he pulled his harmonica out of his pocket, slapped it against his palm a few times to knock out the sand and dust, then, as if finally deciding what he might play, he put the thing to his mouth and blew a quiet haunting melody full of contemplative loneliness and introspection.
The reedy sound hung over the darkening waters of the creek. The dog was settled but from time to time moved a little, seeking that final comfort. As Jimmy played the dog sounded, in his sleep, to be humming a kind of low resonant droning harmony and Jimmy thought again, ”I’ll be blowed!”
Nearly falling asleep on his elbow, Jimmy put his harmonica in his swag then rolled over and in no time was fast asleep.
The peaceful creek babbled through the night as the moon rode it’s appointed path, the snoring of the man and the dog occasionally broken by the night call of a Bubuk, “whoohoo”, “whoohoo”, as she hunted the woodland to feed her nestlings.
Tomorrow would be another day. The last conscious thought Jimmy had that night was to hope that the dog would still be there in the morning.
Deep in the night such dreams as Jimmy had never had, visited a vision on him that was both searing and salving in its revelation.
Jimmy was a young man again, but no young man he had ever been. He stood naked but for a handsome possum cloak. His chest bore the keloid scarring of initiation, his body straight and strong, his long wiry hair and full beard bristling black, his bright, penetrating eyes a lighter brown than the rich dark earthen brown of his skin and his mind was clear and alive to the world around him.
In a wave of knowing the names of things came to him; their relationships and meanings were opened to him and his own dreaming became a powerful reality; and all in the old language, the true language of Jimmy’s people. He understood it all, though he had never before known more than a few words, a few phrases of Wiradjuri. At once the lore that Jimmy had only rarely heard spoken of when he was a boy became a palpable body of truth, a spiritual ontology for sustaining the people and achieving transformation; and Jimmy understood then that the loss of language, the glory of any people and foundation of their culture was perhaps the saddest loss of all.
Jimmy knew he was dreaming, and he knew too that this young man was himself. Yet he was separate, set apart, and Jimmy was just his witness. It was a curious dream, filling Jimmy with both apprehension and hope.
The young man looked across the landscape and Jimmy saw through his eyes the unspoiled country and clear life giving creeks and rivers. He saw the animals and birds, the grasses, herbs shrubs and trees and knew their names, their places and their songs. He saw his people, the Wiradjuri, following the lore and leading a happy life all across Nguurumbang.
This was the young man’s country, Jimmy’s country; his home, he thought with a powerful rush of recognition and identification; though it was no home he’d ever seen before. This was Nguurumbang before it became the whitefellas’ New South Wales. This was Nguurumbang before the whitefellas had even come, before they carved up the land for their mutton and beef invasion, before they’d dammed the streams and stripped the trees from the landscape, before Yurinigh, Windradyne and a host of others including the sadly misguided Jimmy Governor, had given everything to hold onto what was left. It was before the killings that began to break and fragment the people, before the ironically named Protector of Aborigines had begun taking the children from their families; dissolving the future and breaking the last chance for the people to remain proudly themselves. The whitefellas had done all this in almost perfect ignorance of the damage they were doing. They just didn’t know and their certainty of the moral force and superiority of their culture and praxis was laughable in the face of millennia of the lore of the Wiradjuri.
Jimmy began to understand the unending shame, the corrosive self doubt of responsibility denied that had plagued the whitefellas in their relations with the Wiradjuri ever since. In the long years of wearing colonial attrition the whitefellas had been broken too, and when it seemed over, when there were no longer all that many blackfellas around, the whitefellas told themselves they’d won, and swapped heroic narratives of how they’d wrested the harsh unproductive land from the idle hands of filthy murderous savages.
It was all lies to cover their guilt, and you can’t build anything on a lie. It will always come back to shame you. This was stolen land and the wealth wrung from it, no matter the hard work and good intentions of those early colonists, was smeared with blood and washed in tears, both black and white.
Yet, in the end, many of the old whitefellas had still wished the few blackfellas that seemed to be left would just go away, disappear, die off. They were a pest, a constant admonishment, a reminder to the whitefellas of their ignorance, their wanton violence and the wilful self-serving stupidity of assimilation without reconciliation.
In his bedroll, still deep in the dream, his eyes darting under his closed lids, Jimmy was overcome with a sadness born of this loss, this tearing down of eons of learning and understanding; realising in his sleep that this had happened to him too.
He remembered the gabas coming to his family’s simple weatherboard cottage on the creek flats a few miles from Cootamundra. His dad had been gone for months, working with the cattle on a place out near Bourke and his mum had been alone when they came for Jimmy and his little sister. They’d grabbed them both but Jimmy had wriggled away, kicked one of the whitefellas on the shin and run off into the bush. His little sister wasn’t so lucky. They held onto her, telling his mother it was for her own good as they tried to tear the crying child from her arms.
Jimmy watched with frightened incomprehension from his cover in the scrub. When the gabas had gone away in their dusty black car he had tried to comfort his mother but she was inconsolable. For weeks she had wandered listlessly about the place crying. Soon after that he’d been sent to live with an aunty out near Brewarrina. His mum thought he would be safer there. She died the next winter of pneumonia and a broken heart and Jimmy had never seen his father or his sister again.
Jimmy was alone and in time his loneliness had become his companion. He’d lived apart, a wandering witness, keeping himself to himself. He stopped thinking about himself as a blackfella. It was too painful sometimes. He became a hard worker, admired for his quiet nature and sobriety by the white folk he worked for, but he’d never had a friend, someone who understood him, who he was. The lesson Jimmy had learned on that fateful day had set the mold for the rest of his life. Work hard, be a friend to all, but trust in no one but yourself. His long solitary life had been the price he paid.
Tears began to flow from Jimmy’s sleeping eyes and in the silver blue moonlight all the night animals of the woodland began to gather around Jimmy’s bedroll on the creek bank.
In the dream the young man was gladdened to see gathering around a host of the Wiradjuri; the old people from before, strong and proud; as well as those left to make their way in the modern white world. They were all looking at the young man and through his eyes Jimmy felt their hopeful gaze on him.
In an instant of transformation Jimmy became the young man, no longer separate, no longer just a witness. These were his eyes gazing at his people. He was a Wiradjuri man, he had his names, not just his whitefella name, but all his names; his skin name from his mother, his public and private ceremonial names, and through his names he knew his place and understood his obligations. At last and for the first time Jimmy’s world made sense to him.
An old man in a battered but beautiful possum cloak and a charred headband stepped out from the host and laid a gentle hand on Jimmy’s shoulder.
“You are changed and made ready and soon you will wake.” He squeezed Jimmy’s shoulder and smiled impishly. “It’ll be hard work.”
Jimmy’s face broke into a broad smile, he was used to hard work. The old man just nodded and smiled to himself, shaking his head as if to say, “you’ll soon find out.” He turned and walked back into the host of gathered Wiradjuri.
Sensing the passing of the moment they all turned toward their own country and, with smiles and waves, began to move away as Jimmy stood in quiet contemplation of all he had learned in the dream. In time he grew tired and thought to lie down and have a little sleep.
The dawn chorus greeted the new day as Jimmy woke on the creek bank. The dog too was awake, alert to Jimmy’s every move, already eager to get on. At the water’s edge a snake neck turtle was taking the final steps back to its liquid domain; its head craned around to look back up the bank at Jimmy and the dog.
“Guudhamang!” Jimmy shouted, recognising his spirit animal as the turtle slipped below the water.
“An’ I know you too dhirribang,” he said, looking at the dog with a knowing smile. “C’ on Old Man. We got work t’ do.”
The dog barked excitedly as Jimmy broke camp. In a short while Jimmy and the Old Man had set off along Muttama Creek towards Cootamundra.
Jimmy’s head was so full of new knowledge and bursting with such ideas and plans that he hadn’t noticed his hands. They were the strong hands of a young man. Uncertain, Jimmy reached inside his shirt and ran his hand over the scars on his chest.
“Well I’ll be blowed!” Jimmy exclaimed.
The dog just barked and ran on while Jimmy began to think about how he might bring everything he now knew of the language, of country and the lore, back to the Wiradjuri; how he might help the whitefellas heal themselves and the land, become true brothers to the Wiradjuri.
It’d be hard work, but they’d get it done, him and the Old Man; and he now knew he had all the time in the world to do it.
But first, if he could, he was going to find his sister.