Baiame and Marmoo

In the earliest Dreamtime, all was not well in the world that Baiame had made. Hills and valleys, stark mountain ranges, crystal-clear streams and rivers, and bare plains that slipped over distant horizons paid tribute to the patient hands of the master architect. Flowers of a thousand colours and shapes had been planted ready for the coming of man, while butterflies fluttered over the shaggy carpet of trees and reeds and grass. Wind played with clouds, sending vagrant patterns of light and shade across the land, where animals romped and sought their food. By day the goddess Yhi smiled as plants lifted their heads and young grasses reached towards her from the dark earth; by night Bahloo, the Moon god, sailed serenely across the darkened sky.

The wishes that had been transformed to thought and the thought to action should have brought pleasure to the heart of the Great Spirit, but when dark clouds were torn by lightning and the wind blew chill and fierce down the mountain gorges, sweeping like a scythe through the riotous vegetation, Baiame was aware of the dark thoughts of Marmoo, the Spirit of Evil, the antithesis of all that was good.

And with good reason. Marmoo was talking to his wife, the flame of jealousy hot within him.

"Pride," he said fiercely. "Baiame sits there, remote in the sky world, preening himself on his cleverness, because he has created a world full of living things. It's rough and unkempt and no credit to him. I could have made such a world in half the time and to much better effect."

"Then why didn't you?" the spirit woman asked. There was little love between her and her husband. "If you are so clever, why don't you make a world? Then I shall believe that you are as powerful as Baiame."

"It is easy to build something out of nothing," Marmoo said, "but more difficult to destroy, once it is there. That is my task."

Seeing the look on his wife's face, he said harshly, "Keep watch. I shall begin from this moment," and strode away without another word.

Working in secret, he fashioned the tribe of insects, ugly as himself in their nature. Some were beautiful to look at, but with poisonous stings, others harmless but capable of walking, crawling, burrowing, or flying. There are some who say that it was Yhi who brought life to the animal and insect creation of Baiame; but there are others who believe that after Marmoo had used his evil imagination to create insects, he breathed life into them and sent them out of the cave where he had hidden them, out of sight of Baiame and Yhi, in vast swarms. The sky was dark with flying insects, the ground a heaving mass of crawling and burrowing grubs, worms, and beetles.

The grass was eaten down to the bare earth. Flowers collapsed, their petals falling like raindrops. Fruit tumbled from the trees and was devoured by the hungry hoardes. The music of streams and waterfalls was drowned by the buzzing of wings, the hiss of fighting insects, the clicking of mandibles, as the army flowed on, leaving a trail of desolating.

Looking down on the world, Baiame was dismayed to see the steadily advancing tide of destruction, aware that his enemy had taken this method of challenging his authority. Confident in his own power, he sent one of his winds roaring across the land, hoping to weep the insects into the sea. It was too late. The hordes of Marmoo were well fed and prepared for anything that Baiame might do. Some burrowed under the earth. Others took refuge in caves or under stones, while the winged destroyers clung to the bark of the trees they had killed. There they waited patiently for the wind to die away, as every wind must some time do, before resuming their march of devastation.

There was only one thing left to do. Baiame came to earth to enlist the aid of good spirits he had left on earth to guide its inhabitants. He travelled quickly to Nungeena, the pleasing spirit who lived in a waterfall in a secluded valley. Even here, Baiame was dismayed to observe, the pleasant dells were dry and bare, every vistige of plant life devoured, the stream choked with the dead bodies of insects that had gorged themselves and lost their footing. The army had passed on, but the smell of death lay heavy in the valley.

"Come with me," the All-Father said. "You can see what the insects have done to your pleasant home. The evil tide sent by Marmoo rolls on. Soon there will be no living creature left and the world will be bare and desolate."

Nungeena called to her attendant spirits, who came from far and near at her bidding.

"What have you seen?" she asked.

They had a sad story to tell of the ravages of Marmoo's brood. Not one part of their domain had been spared, and still the tide rolled on. When they had finished Nungeena, the Mother Spirit, smiled.

"We shall overcome!" she said confidently. "Look, Father Baiame. The flowers are not all lost. Some I have kept in the shelter of the fall as it cascades over the cliff. None of Marmoo's little people dared come too close to me, and so I was able to preserve them."

While she was speaking her fingers were at work, deftly weaving the long stalks into a pleasing pattern.

"There!" she said at last with a sigh of satisfaction, setting the beautiful flower arrangement gently on the ground.

Baiame exclaimed with delight.

"The most beautiful of all birds!" he said, and breathed life into a lyre-bird, which spread his plumage and strutted proudly before him. Then the Great Spirit's brow clouded. "But it doesn't solve the problem of saving the world," he said gently.

"But that is why I made it," Nungeena said wonderingly. "Look."

As she spoke the bird began scratching among the dry leaves and twigs and rubbish left behind by the insect plague, searching for any that mught have been left behind.

"I see," Baiame said thoughtfully. "We must make more of them, many more," and with the deftness of one who had created so many of the wonders of nature, he fashioned birds that flew from his hands as they were completed, and sped in pursuit of the now distant army of insects.

Nungeena followed his example. The attendant spirits, who were much younger, tried to imitate them. They lacked the skill of the older god and goddess, producing butcher-birds and magpies which had little of the grace of other birds, but were equally effective as insect destroyers. The spirits who cam from the watery regions made birds that could swim or wade in swamps and rivers. The spirits of coastal lands made gulls who delayed satisfying their appetites with fish while they gorged themselves on insects. The night spirits, whose task was to close the flowers as daylight faded, made mopokes and nightjars. There were birds swift in flight, fantails, and swallows and flycatchers. The sound of snapping beaks and beating wings rose above the hum of insects as they were caught in flight.

"They are so beautiful they should have voices to match," Baiame said, and gave them the gift of song. But their sweet music was drowned by the harsh cry of the crows and the raucous laughter of the kookaburras.

The few survivors of the army of Marmoo had been routed. Still singing, the birds circled round Baiame and the guardian spirits, and then flew away in search of other predators that might denude the earth of its vegetation.

Never since then have they been so well fed, but they still hope that Marmoo will some day send them another bounteous feast.

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