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Main > Australian folktales > Fairy tale "Deegeenboyah the soldier-bird"

Deegeenboyah the soldier-bird

Deegeenboyah was an old man, and getting past hunting much for himself; and he found it hard to keep his two wives and his two daughters supplied with food. He camped with his family away from the other tribes, but he used to join the men of the Mullyan tribe when they were going out hunting, and so get a more certain supply of food than if he had gone by himself. One day when the Mullyan went out, he was too late to accompany them. He hid in the scrub and waited for their return, at some little distance from their camp. When they were coming back he heard them singing the Song of the Setting Emu, a song which whoever finds the first emu's nest of the season always sings before getting back to the camp. Deegeenboyah jumped up as he heard the song, and started towards the camp of the Mullyan singing the same song, as if he too had found a nest. On they all went towards the camp sing joyously:

Nurdoo, nurbber me derreen derreenbah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah.

Garmbay booan yunnahdeh beahwah ah, ah, ah, ah, ah.

Gubbondee, dee, ee, ee, ee.

Neah nein gulbeejah, ah, ah, ah, ah."

Which song roughly translated means:

I saw it first amongst the young trees,

The white mark on its forehead,

The white mark that before I had only seen as the emus moved together

in the day-time.

Never did I see one camp before, only moving, moving always.

Now that we have found the nest

We must look out the ants do not get to the eggs.

If they crawl over them the eggs are spoilt.

As the last echo of the song died away, those in the camp took up the refrain and sang it back to the hunters to let them know that they understood that they had found the first emu's nest of the season.

When the hunters reached the camp, up came Deegeenboyah too. The Mullyans turned to him, and said:

"Did you find an emu's nest too?"

"Yes," said Deegeenboyah, "I did. I think you must have found the same, though after me, as I saw not your tracks. But I am older and stiff in my limbs, so came not back so quickly.

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