Baiame the Benefactor

Though far removed from the world in his mountain eyrie or the even more remote Sky-Land, Baiame had a perpetual interest in everything that happened here. In extreme cases he interfered in the hope that he might avert the evils that plagued mankind. This was exemplified in the story of Bullai-bullai, Weedah, and Beereeun.

Bullai-bullai was the idol of the clan, desired by the young men, but most of all by Weedah, the most skilled of the hunters. He was the fortunate one, for Bullai-bullai returned his love and looked forward to the day when she would be given to him in marriage.

But alas! Giving and taking in marriage is not the prerogative of young people.

"You are to be the wife of Beereeun," the young woman was told.

Her heart sank. This was a fate she had feared ever since she had reached puberty. Beereeun was old and ugly, noted for his uncertain tempter, and feared even by the old men, for Beereeun was a medicineman, replete with knowledge gained over many years, crafty and powerful. No secrets were hidden from him, no task beyond his power, no limit to the evil he was able to bring on those who dared confront him.

The marriage day was fast approaching. Concealed in the dense bush that ringed their encampment, Weedah and Bullai-bullai clung to each other, excited yet appalled at the daring plan they had devised. Weedah was to set out on the hunt the next day. It was his usual practice and would not attract attention. Bullai-bullai would go with the other girls to search for yams and witchety grubs. As unobtrusively as possible, she would drift away from the crowd; once out of sight, she was to hurry to a pre-arranged meeting place where Weedah was waiting, and together they would make their way to some far distant region. Where it would be and what it would be like there they could not know but, for good or ill, they would be with each other.

The plan had its drawbacks. Weedah would not be missed until nightfall but it seemed likely that Bullai-bullai's absence would be noted during the afternoon when the women returned to prepare the evening meal. The lovers hoped that she would not be missed until the daylight was too far advanced to permit a search to be made, for the younger and more vigorous men would probably not return to the encampment until night fell.

The best that could happen was for the pursuit to be delayed until the following morning, the worst, that news of Bullai-bullai's disappearance might come to the ears of Beereeun, who would devise a spell to bring a sudden end to their elopement.

On the fateful day, all went well. Bullai-bullai and Weedah met and put a great distance between them and the camp, travelling all day and night until forced to stop for sheer exhaustion. Their departure was not noticed until late in the day, giving the fugitives a clear run.

The hunt was to begin at first light on the following day. No matter how much the young warriors might sympathize with Bullai-bullai, no one dared defy Beereeun by refusing to join in the chase.

The real danger lay not with the warriors, but with the revengeful Beereeun. While remaining in the camp he recited incantations that put many obstacles in the path of Weedah and Bullai-bullai. During the days that followed, they overcame them one by one, though with increasing difficulty.

When their strength was nearly exhausted they came to a deep, wide, swiftly-flowing river, with no means of crossing it. They were too tired to risk swimming to the far bank, and were in despair, when they saw a small bark canoe being paddled towards them by an old man. Goolay-yali was a peculiar person, with a jaw that was half as big as his canoe. At first he refused to convey them across the river, but soon changed his mind when he saw the look on Weedah's face.

"Yes, I will take you over," he said, "but you can see for yourselves that my canoe it too frail to carry three people. It would sink under us and we'd be swept away in the current. Let the man come first and I will return for the woman."

It was their only hope of putting the river between them and their fellow-tribesmen, who by this time could not be far behind.

With Weedah safely on the far bank Goolay-yali the ferryman returned to where Bullai-bullai was waiting. As she was about to step into the canoe, Goolay-yali pushed her back.

"Stay where you are," he said roughly. "I've been without a woman for many years. Do you think I'd let such a fine-looking young woman leave me, now I've got her? Get a fire going while I catch some fish for our meal."

Bullai-bullai looked despairingly at her lover, who had seen what was happening and was waving frantically to her. There was nothing he could do to save the woman he loved.

With tears streaming down her face Bullai-bullai gathered wood, regarding Goolay-yali with loathing. By the time the fire had died down to glowing embers and ash, the old man gave her fish to cook. In desperation she bent down, scooped up a double handful of white ash, and threw it in his face. Goolay-yali staggered back, howling with pain and rage, rubbing his eyes, and hopping from one foot to another. Bullai-bullai turned to run--and found Beereeun blocking her way with a grim smile on his face.

"So you thought to escape me!" he said, seizing her arm in a painful grip. "You and your precious Weedah have sadly underestimated my powers. Now you will pay for running away from your promised husband."

Still holding her in a painful grip, he looked across the river to where the frantic hunter was fitting a spear to his woomera in the vain hope of killing the wirinun. Extending his right arm Beereeun chanted secret words in a high-pitched, unnatural voice. A bolt of lightning seemed to flash from his extended fingers, linking him with Weedah. It lasted only as long as the blinking of an eye, and then there was no sign of Weedah save for his weapons that lay in an untidy heap on the river bank.

"Where is he? What have you done to him?" Bullai-bullai cried in anguish.

"I have done you a great favour," the wirinun replied. "If you had both escaped, the years would have passed quickly and he would have died. Now you will be able to see him every night."

He pointed to a certain point in the sky.

"That is where you will find him--a bright new star I have given to you and to our children in the years to come."

"What shall I do?" she moaned as the tears ran down her face. "Turn me into a star, too, that I may be with him."

Beereeun grinned.

"No, I have other plans. You are my woman now, to work and comfort me in my old age and bear me many children. You have been promised to me by your parents and by the old men. All I am doing is to take what is mine."

He turned her towards him--and at that very moment Baiame, who sees everything, intervened. For a second time there was a flash of lightning, blinding in its intensity--so bright that Bullai-bullai covered her face with her hands. Beereeun and Goolay-yali stumbled into the shelter of nearby rocks and crouched down.

Thunder rolled across hills and plains, shaking the earth; and in the thunder the cowering men and the grief-stricken girl heard the voice of the Great Spirit.

"I can see you, Beereeun," it said. "It is fitting that you should crawl in the crevices of the rocks."

Bullai-bullai peeped through spread fingers. Beereeun was no longer there. In his place was an ugly little lizard whose colour blended with the rocks as he scuttled further into the shelter of the boulders.

Again the voice thundered and re-echoed from the hills.

"Goolay-yali, you who desired a woman who craved mercy from you, the ashes with which you are covered will be the sign of your shame, now and for ever."

Where had been standing there was now a white pelican, covered in white feathers, with thin legs and a huge pouch under his beak that resembled the scuttle-like mouth of the man who had been Goolay-yali.

Then the All-Father's voice softened and spoke words of comfort to the young woman who stood alone by the riverbank.

"I cannot give you back to Weedah," he said gently. "I can create but I cannot turn time backwards. He is happy where he is, looking down at you in wonder, for new beauty has come to you this day, and at night you will be able to look up at him with the eyes of love and see the glory that Beereeun gave him so unwittingly. Now look at yourself, my chosen one, for I have given you robes that will delight your loved one in the heavens, and all men who see you."

Bullai-bullai looked down and saw that she was indeed clothed in garments brighter and more colorful than any that she had ever seen--a soft and shining array of green and red and white--and was comforted.

So, on that day, the All-Father who loves his children and sees that justice is done, created Bullai-bullai the Parrot, Weedah the Star, Beereeun the Lizard, the Goolay-yali the Pelican.

The star Weedah is now known as Canopus.

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