Why Flying Foxes Hang From Trees

An Aboriginal Legend

An Aboriginal Man

The Flying Fox and the Striped-tail Lizard were friends. They lived in the same gunyah and hunted together. One day the lizard said: "I will visit a tribe of blacks with whom I am very friendly, and bring back a bundle of spears." The fox was very doubtful about the truth of the lizard's remarks, and said: "I would not like to wait for food until you get the spears." This annoyed the lizard, and, without replying, he set out on his journey. He wandered through the bush all day, but failed to find the blacks. He then followed the winding river for many miles, but without success. Towards nightfall, a storm swept down from the mountains; the wind howled eerily through the swaying trees, and the rain fell in torrents. The lizard was in a sorry plight. Weary and wet, he wandered through the bush and at last arrived at his gunyah. The door was closed, and, when he asked the fox to open it, the fox asked a question. "Have you any spears with you?" he called. Now the lizard knew that if the fox was aware of his unsuccessful journey, he would make great fun of it, so he replied: "I have a big bundle of spears. I met my friends at the land that lies beyond the sunset. Many dangers are there, O my brother. The evil spirits sing soft and low through the trees, like the voice of a maiden calling to her lover, and he who follows the sound of the voices goes on for ever, and never returns. The great Black Bat waits for you in the forest. You are weary with your long journey. Stay with us and rest you awhile; then you can return to your tribe."

Yoonecara was very pleased with the friendly reception he received, but he could not be dissuaded from his journey, and, after bidding them farewell, he continued on his way. Through the trees he could hear the voices of the Dheeyabry people calling to him to return, but he would not heed them. As he journeyed on, the voices grew fainter and fainter until they were lost in the great silence.

After leaving the Dheeyabry, Yoonecara travelled many days and arrived at a place where the March flies and mosquitoes were larger and more numerous than any he had seen before. The buzzing of the mosquitoes was like the sound of the bullroarer. They attacked him savagely, and, try as he would, he could not escape them. When he attempted to sleep, they settled on him in swarms and tormented him with their stings. In desperation, Yoonecara sat by a waterhole and built a fire. Then he considered his dangerous position. "If I cannot protect myself from these insects," he reflected, "my bones will soon be gleaming white in the sun. I have travelled far, but the journey is beyond the strength of man. I will return to my tribe." These were the thoughts passing through his mind. He then considered ways and means whereby he could protect himself against the mosquitoes, and at last discovered an excellent plan. He stripped a sheet of bark from a tree. It was as long as himself and of sufficient width to enclose his body. After tying bushes around his ankles and head, he doubled the bark around his body. With this protection, he journeyed through the Land of the Giant Mosquitoes. And, when he had no further use for his covering of bark he placed it in a waterhole in order to keep it soft, that he might use it on his return journey. After he had braved this danger, his courage returned, and he travelled on.

For some time, his journey was without adventure, but one day he came to the edge of a great boggy marsh known as Kolliworoogla. At the sight of this marsh, he thought further progress was impossible. After carefully examining the edge of the swamp, he discovered what appeared to be the trunk of a fallen tree that lay across it. He ventured along this dangerous bridge and safely reached the far side of the swamp. He then came to a place where there was a very high rock, which was hollowed out on one side like a cave. On approaching it, he found that it was a cave, and in it he could see his ancestor Byama, asleep. At last, Yoonecara had reached his long journey's end. Byama was a man of giant proportions-much bigger than the blackfellows of the present time. At the front of the cave, one of Byama's daughters, Byallaburragan, was sitting at a fire roasting a carpet snake. She offered a portion to the traveller, and said: "Long and weary has been your journey, O faithful one, and many the dangers that crossed your path. Like the light of the sun was the fire of your courage, and this shall be your reward. Your name shall be passed through the ages on the tongues of our people. You shall be honored as the only man who travelled to the home of Byama, and returned; for no man shall ever do the like again."

Around Byama's dwelling the country was very beautiful, and was a dream of delight to the weary traveller. The tall, green trees leaned towards the cave, and their leafy branches gave cool shade on the hottest day, while the song of the birds at sunset was like a mother crooning her baby to sleep. The grass grew high on the plains, and, when the wind blew, it billowed like the waves of the sea. In front of the cave, a stream of water, clear as crystal, ran its course to a deep lagoon. The water of the lagoon teemed with fish, and in the reeds, there were many ducks, swans, and other water-fowl.

After he had rested for some time in this pleasant land, Yoonecara returned to his own tribe and related his wonderful experiences. Soon after his return he died, and, since that time, no man has travelled to the Land of the Setting Sun.

Sources And Further Reading

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

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