Why Whale Spouts, Starfish Is Ragged And More...
An Aboriginal Legend
Many years ago, when this old world was young, all the animals now living in Australia were men.
At that time, they lived in a distant land across the ocean, and, having heard of the wonderful hunting grounds in Australia, they determined to leave their country and sail to this sunny land in a canoe. They knew that the voyage would be a long and dangerous one; storms would sweep across the sea and lash the waves into a white fury; the wind would howl like the evil spirits of the forest, the lightning flash across the sky like writhing golden snakes, and death would hide in waiting for them beneath the brown sea kelp. It was therefore necessary for them to have a very strong canoe for the journey.
The whale, who was the biggest of all the men, had a great strong canoe that could weather the wildest storm. But he was a very selfish fellow and would not allow anybody the use of it. As it was necessary to have the canoe, his companions watched for a suitable opportunity to steal it and start on their long and lonely journey. But the whale was a cunning creature. He always kept very strict guard over the canoe and would not leave it alone for a moment. The other people were at their wits' end to solve the problem of stealing the canoe, and, as a last resource, they held a great council to consider the question. Many suggestions were put forward, but none was practical. It seemed an impossible task, until the starfish came forward to place his suggestion before the council.
Now, the starfish was a very intimate friend of the whale, so, when he spoke, everybody was very silent and attentive. He hesitated for a moment, and then said:
"Unless we get a very big canoe, it will be impossible to sail to the new hunting-grounds, where the fire of the sun never dies, the sea sand is soft and golden, and there is plenty of food. I shall get my friend, the whale, to leave his canoe and I shall keep him interested for a long time. When I give you the signal, steal silently away with it as fast as you can."
The other men were so excited at the proposal that they all spoke at once and asked: "How will you do it?" But the starfish looked very wise and said, "Your business is to steal the canoe and mine to keep the whale occupied while you do it."
Some days later the starfish paid a friendly visit to the whale, and, after talking for some time, he said, "I have noticed what a great number of vermin you have in your hair. They must be very uncomfortable. Let me catch them for you."
The whale being greatly troubled with vermin in his head, readily agreed to the kind offer of his friend, the starfish. The whale moored his canoe in deep water and sat on a rock. Starfish placed his friend's head in his lap and proceeded to hunt diligently for the vermin. While he was doing so, he told many funny stories and occupied the attention of the whale. The starfish then gave the signal to the men who were waiting, and they seized the canoe and sailed off.
But the whale was very suspicious. For a short time he would forget his canoe, but then he would suddenly remember it and say: "Is my canoe all right?" The starfish had cunningly provided himself with a piece of bark, and, tapping it on the rock in imitation of the boat bumping with the rise and fall of the sea, he would answer, "Yes, this is it I am tapping with my hand. It is a very fine canoe."
He continued to tell funny stories to the whale. At the same time, he scratched very hard around his ears in order to silence the sound of the oars splashing in the water as the other men rowed away with the canoe. After some time, the whale grew tired of his friend's attention and story-telling, and decided to have a look at the canoe himself. When he looked around and found the canoe missing, he could hardly believe it. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. Away in the distance, he could see the vanishing shape of his canoe. Then the truth dawned upon him-he had been tricked.
The whale was very angry and beat the starfish unmercifully. Throwing him upon the rocks, he made great ragged cuts in the faithless creature. The starfish was so exhausted, that he rolled off the rocks and hid himself in the soft sand. It is on account of this cruel beating that, even to the present day, the starfish has a very ragged and torn appearance, and always hides himself in the sand.
After beating the friend who had betrayed him, the whale jumped into the water and chased the men in the canoe. Great white waves rose and fell, as he churned his way through the water, and, out of a wound in his head which the starfish had made, he spouted water high into the air.
The whale continued his relentless chase, and, when the men in the canoe saw him, they said, "He is gaining on us, and, when he catches us, we shall all be drowned." But the native bear, who was in charge of the oars, said, "There is no need to be afraid; look at my arms. They are strong enough to row the canoe out of danger." This reassured his companions, and the chase continued.
The voyage lasted many days and nights. During the day, the hot sun beat down on the men in the canoe, and, at night, the cold winds chilled them. But there was no escape; they must go on. By day and night, they could see the whale spouting in his fury, and churning the sea into foam with the lashing of his tail.
At last land was sighted, and the men rowed very fast towards it. When they landed from the canoe, they were very weary, and sat down on the sand to rest. But the native companion, who was always a very lively fellow and fond of dancing, danced upon the bottom of the canoe until he made a hole in it. He then pushed it a short distance from the shore, where it settled down in the water -and became the small island that is now at the entrance of Lake Illawarra.
When the whale arrived at the landing place, he saw the men on shore and his canoe wrecked. He travelled along the coast and spouted water with anger as he thought of the trick that had been played on him, and of the wreck of his beloved canoe.
Even to the present day whales spout, the starfish is ragged and torn, the native bear has very strong fore paws, and the blackfellow still roams across the wild wastes of Australia.
Sources And Further Reading
Sacred Texts Some Myths and Legends of the Australian Aborigines by W. J. Thomas