Goolayyahlee the Pelican

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At one time the Daens had no fishing nets, nor then had they the stone fisheries which Byamee afterwards made for them, the best model of which is still to be seen at Brewarrina.

In order to catch fish in those days they used to make a wall of poligonum and grass mixed together, across the creek; then go above it and drive the fish down to it, catching them with their hands against the break or wall. Or they would put these breaks across a mubboon or small tributary of the main creek, as a flood was going down, and, as the water ran out of the mubboon, fish would be caught in numbers in the break.

Goolayyahlee the pelican, a great wirreenun, was the first seen with a net. But where he had obtained it from, or where he kept it, no one knew for a long while. When he wanted to fish he used to tell his children to go and get sticks for the ends of the net, that they might go fishing.

“But where is the net?”

“It will be here when you come back. You do what I tell you. Get the sticks.”

Frightened to ask more the children went to break the sticks which Goolayyahlee said must be of Eurah, a drooping shrub growing on the banks of the creeks, or near swamp oak-scrub. This shrub bore masses of large cream bell-shaped flowers, spotted with brown, beautiful to look at, but sickening to smell: where no dheal grew this shrub was used in place of that sacred tree.

When the children brought back the eurah sticks, there on the ground in front of their father was the big fishing net, ten or twelve feet long, and four or five feet wide. Beside it was a small smoke fire of budta twigs, on to which Goolayyahlee now threw some of the eurah leaves, and when the smoke was thick he held the net in it. Then, taking the net with them, down they all went into the water, where two men with the net—through the ends of which were the eurah sticks—went down stream to a shallow place, where they stationed themselves one at each end of the net stretched across the creek between them. The others went up stream and splashed about to frighten the fish down to the net, in which some were soon caught.

When they had enough they would come out, make fires and cook the fish. Every fishing-time the tribe puzzled over the question as to how and where Goolayyahlee had obtained this valuable net, and as to where he kept it, for after each fishing-time he took it away and no one saw it again until they went fishing; his wife and children said he never took it to his humpie.

One day the children thought that when they were sent for the eurah sticks, some of them would hide and watch where their father did get this net from. They saw him, when he thought they were safely out of sight, begin to twist his neck about and wriggle as if in great pain. They thought he must be very ill and were just coming from their hiding place, when all of a sudden he gave a violent Wriggle, contorting himself until his neck seemed to stretch to an immense length; the children were too frightened at his appearance to move; they stayed where they were, speechless, huddled together, their eyes fixed on their father, who gave another convulsive movement and then, to their amazement, out through his mouth he brought forth the fishing net.

So that was where he kept it, inside himself. The children watched him drawing it out, until it all lay in a heap in front of him, then down he sat beside it, apparently none the worse, to await their return.

The children who had been hiding ran to meet the others, whom they told what they had seen. They were so excited at their discovery that they talked much about it, and soon the secret hiding-place of the net was a secret no longer, but as yet no one knew how it was made. At last Goolayyahlee grew tired of having to produce his net so often, for the fame of this new method of fishing had spread throughout the country; even strange tribes came to see the wonderful net. He told the people to do as he had done, and make nets for themselves. Then he told them how to do it. They were to strip off mooroomin, or Noongah bark, take off the hard outside part, then chew the softer part, and work it into twine, with which they could make the nets though he only, he said, swallowed the fibre, and it worked itself up into a net inside him; but that was because he was a great wirreenun; others could not do so.

After that all the tribes made fishing-nets, but only the tribe of Goolayyahlee could work the fibre inside them into nets, which the pelicans do to this day, the Daens say. And the Daens tell you that if you watch the Goolayyahlee or pelicans fishing, you will see that they do not dip their beaks straight down, as do other fish-catching birds; the pelicans put their heads sideways, and then dip their long pouched bills, as if they were going to draw a net. Into these pouches go the fish they catch, and thence down into their nets, which they still carry inside them, though they never bring them out now as in the days of Goolayyahlee, the great fishing wirreenun, who gave all his tribe the deep pouches which hang on to their long yellow bills, to use instead of the net which each carries inside him, though these are very miniature editions of the original Goolayyahlee’s net, but yet big enough to let the tribe still bear his name, which means one having a net.

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