Why Emu Has Short Wings And More Tales

An Aboriginal Legend

An Aboriginal Man

An emu with very long wings once made her home in the sky. One day she looked over the edge of the clouds, and down on the earth she saw a great gathering of birds dancing by a reed-grown lagoon. High in a gumtree the bell birds were making sweet music with their silvery chimes; the kookaburra, perched on the limb of a dead tree, was chuckling pleasantly to himself; while the native companion danced gracefully on the grass nearby.

The emu was very interested in dancing, so she flew down from her home beyond the clouds, and asked the birds if they would teach her to dance. A cunning old native companion replied: "We shall be very pleased to teach you our dances, but you could never learn with such long wings. If you like, we will clip them for you." The emu did not give much thought to the fact that short wings would never carry her home again. So great was her vanity that she allowed her wings to be clipped very short. When she had done so, the native companions immediately spread their long wings-which they had previously concealed by folding them close against their backs-and flew away, leaving the emu lonely and wiser than before. She never returned to her home in the sky, because her wings would not grow again. They have remained short and useless ever since. This is the reason why emus run very fast, but never fly.

After wandering alone for a long time the emu reconciled herself to a home on the earth, and reared a large family. One day she was walking through the bush when the native companion-who also had a large family-saw her in the distance. The native companion immediately hid all her chicks in the undergrowth, except one; then she approached the emu in a friendly manner, and said: "What a very weary life you must have feeding such a large family. You are looking very ill, and I am sure you will die. I have only one chick. Take my advice and kill your chicks before they kill you." The foolish emu again listened to the soft words of the other bird, and destroyed all her chicks.

Thereupon the native companion called in a low, sweet voice, "Geralka Beralka, Geralka Beralka," and all her fluffy little chicks came running to her from the bushes in which she had hidden them. The emu was frantic with grief when she realised what she had done; but once again she paid the price of vanity and idle flattery with a sad and lonely heart. The native companion was so eager to call her chicks after the cruel trick she had played on the emu that she twisted her neck, and lost her beautiful voice for ever. And now she can call with only two harsh, discordant sounds.

The seasons passed, and once again the emu had a big clutch of eggs. One day the native companion paid her a visit and pretended to be friendly, but the sight of her old enemy made the emu very angry. The emu made a savage rush at her, but the native companion hopped over her back and broke all the eggs except one. After dancing around for a little while, the native companion made a determined rush, and, seizing the remaining egg, threw it up into the sky.

Sources And Further Reading

Sacred Texts Some Myths and Legends of the Australian Aborigines by W. J. Thomas [1923]

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