To listen to the stars

Daisy Bates occupied her time in the wide open plains of the west by listening to the stories of the stars, and collating an Aboriginal zodiac.

To love star stories

Here in the bright, still evenings, I studied the skies, astronomy being an old love of mine, and compiled my aboriginal mythologies, many of them as poetic and beautiful as are the starry mythologies of the Greeks.

  Daisy Bates (1859 - 1951) The Passing Of The Aborigines: A Lifetime Spent Among The Natives Of Australia London: Murray, 1938, p. 190

To wander the star tracks

‘These moonless nights’, she wrote, ‘when the stars are at their brightest and even Magellan’s Clouds take on a warmth and a shimmer from their glittering neighbours; when you look up into the worlds on worlds in myriads and try to realise that the earth in which you are but the tiniest atom, is one of the smallest of these twinkling planets. On such nights it is good to wander over these great distances in company with the aborigines and listen and hear their wonderful legends of this and that star… and wander with them along the ‘Yaggin’ (moon) road that was made when the moon was human.

  Elizabeth Salter Daisy Bates: The Great White Queen Of The Never Never Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1971, p. 163

To find a southern mythology

As the other countries of other continents excelled in their own arts, skills, accomplishments, graces, beyond the essentials of living—writers, philosophers, sculptors, musicians, painters—so in Australia, explorers in bark canoes, song-and-dance men, the carving of stone tools, fur and feather craft, murals on cliffs. Those of the south coast were the star-gazers.

Daisy Bates, in a unique line of research, was to find and translate a new mythology of the Southern Hemisphere, close kindred to the Greek and in imagery and in allegory related to all others. She was to find totemic signs of a second zodiac in the moving planets and fixed stars, deities of earth now in heaven, all the camps and countries, cult-heroes and tribes on perpetual walkabout in the map of the night skies. Out of the silence she has saved for us the visions seen, the stories told around the campfires of the Stone Age to a thousand generations, setting down in her written word snatches of songs from the first singers on earth.

  Ernestine Hill Kabbarli: A Personal Memoir Of Daisy Bates Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1973, p. 83

In her scattered volumes of notes, hastily taken, repeated in many versions from different tribes and in different dialects, one is astounded to find new literatures unfold, unknown mythologies, undreamed philosophies, a Southern Hemisphere of thought, imageries of the world’s first poets akin to those of earliest Egypt, ancient Greece.

  Ernestine Hill Kabbarli: A Personal Memoir Of Daisy Bates Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 197

To become a star

A bright particular star in constant orbit, even in the silent bush, she could hold court in a blacks’ camp or in Federal Government House.

  Ernestine Hill Kabbarli: A Personal Memoir Of Daisy Bates Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1973, p. 16

To mourn lost stars

As I dream, the red glow of those fires of fancy grows hard and cold and yellow, regular as the street-lights of a city, and the ranges beyond them are lost in the shadow—even as the last of their people. Of the songs that rang to the stars in the far-off time there is no echo. The black man survived the coming of the white for little more than one lifetime. When Captain Stirling landed on the coast in 1829, he computed the aboriginal population of what he had marked out as the metropolitan area at 1,500 natives. In 1907 we buried Joobaitch, last of the Perth tribe.

  Daisy Bates (1859 - 1951) The Passing Of The Aborigines: A Lifetime Spent Among The Natives Of Australia London: Murray, 1938, p. xviii

To listen to the stars

In the starry nights we climbed the rickety ladder to the withered branch of a bench she called he observatory, to travel the Road of the Dreaming, Dhoogoor Yuara, where all the stars were mustering in to the heavenly waterholes and the Milky Way, the River that Never Dries. At Ooldea she added and completed many major legends from south-central deserts, sitting aloft for a patient hour or two with a few of the Old People sprawled below outside the break-wind. They drew maps with a stick in the sand of Aboriginal constellations, the totemic zodiacal signs, the fixed stars and pilgrim planets—grand march of the skies at night with all the tribes on the move in the glittering dust of nebulae following their cult heroes akin to the Greek gods… Kata, Heads…

Jupiter and Venus, morning and evening star, were Maalu and Kulbir, red and grey Kangaroos, a night between them on the same path. The black void in the Milky Way is Kallaia, Emu, his head in the Coal Sack, as we say, his long neck, wings, legs in the dark lanes of the Greek zodiac, between Aquila and Lyra his nebulous tail. Through all their lives the Emu totem men must never look at him…

Southern Cross is Walja-jinna, the Eaglehawk’s Track, with Dhurding, the Pointers, his Club, near by. Never point at Magellan’s Clouds, Murgaru, O-imbu, the Right-handed and Left-handed Brothers who snatch away the dead. Kogolongo is Mars, Black Cockatoo with red feather in his tail. Altair is Kangga Ngoonju, Crow Mother, with Delphinius, her Crow boys—Vega in Lura is Gibbera, Turkey—Aquarius is Bailgu, the Brush Fence—Antares the Fire Carrier, War-roo-boordina -- and Rigel is Kara the Red-backed Spider at Orion’s right foot.

Orion is N-yeeru-na the Hunter, the giant, the coward of the skies. His impotence and shame are the Awful Example and the moral of the man-corroborees. Night after night through eternity he chases the giggling girls of the Pleiades, little desert devils of the Mingari girls, to be defied, waylaid and kept forever at bay by Kambu-gudha, their elder sister, the V in Taurus, who laughs him to scorn—they double and dodge, throwing the dust into his eyes, mocking him in their jests and songs, sparkling mockery at his rage.

N-yeeru-na, Hunter of Women, but a hunter baffled and shamed by women, in the man-making ceremonies is one of the first great morality plays, an Aboriginal ballet of all the brightest stars in the southern skies. It was for Men Only. If a woman sees it she will die. In the initiation corroborees Kambu-gudha and the Mingari were acted by young men and boys.

N-yeeru-na dances, his body reddened by lust and fire. In feathers, red-ochre, knotted hair-belt and whitened pubic tassel, the red fire of Betelgeuse his club in his left hand, he beckons and waves to the Mingari girls to come to his camp. Returning home from gathering food, they huddle together and refuse. N-yeeru-na stamps and tramples, he strides them down, his gestures and dances angry and obscene. In fear of him they trip and fall, and tremble, hiding under their gnarled dragon humps, spinning like a swarm of bees in silver clouds of pollen to confuse him - in the brilliant Australian skies at night the Pleiades are many more than seven. Nearer comes N-yeeru-na, threatening, snatching—the girls run—

But Kambu-gudha, elder sister, stands naked before him, her feet and legs wide apart, he left foot Aldebaran filled with fire magic; kicking up a dazzle of light to blind him. She dares him with her yamstick quivering fire, exciting him and flaunting, showing contempt in calling a line of puppies between them - -the faint wavy line of stars between Orion and V in Taurus. Soon he is jeered and laughed at by all the neighbouring stars and constellations—Jurr-jurr, Night Owl, Canopus, in his hollow chuckle, Weerloo the Curlew screaming, Rigel, Kara the Red-backed Spider viciously stinging his prancing feet, Maalu and Kanyala, the Pointers, pointing derision, till Babba the Dingo, Horn of the Bull, flings himself at N-yeeru-na, savagely springs upon him and swings now east, now west, by his pubic tassel, till Beera, the comical old Moon, mocks at his shame and failure and all the camps in the sky are ringing with ribald laughter.

Kambu-gudha wins! N-yeeru-na’s fire grows dim, his guts are gone, his manhood and his fame as a mighty hunter. Pale and wan, he limps away to the west with all the Mingari women, screaming their triumph and scorn, hunting him. His name is shame.

  Ernestine Hill Kabbarli: A Personal Memoir Of Daisy Bates Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1973, p. 123