Bird stories, Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae)

A story told by Australian aboriginals. Jawayak-wayak (Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike) had a sore foot because it had a boil on it. Wakwak (Torresian Crow) went and burst the boil and, as he did so, pus flew up and into his eyes so that now Wakwak has white eyes. After that, Jawayak-wayak went and killed a kangaroo; but the other birds carried it because he still had a sore foot. They took it back home and set up a roast to cook it. Jawayak-wayak told Detdet (Rainbow Lorikeet) to take a slice of meat from the kangaroo and then fly away. He put a big slice of meat still hot and a bit raw on his back. Juices from the meat ran around onto his chest which became a reddish colour and is still like that to this day. He also told Weley (Red- winged Parrot) to take a piece and put it on his wing, which became reddish and stayed red until even now. When old lady Durrk (Emu) came back she was cranky about the kangaroo being eaten. She had collected munmun grass that she was planning to make into soup for everyone. She was so cranky that she made the munmun grass into her feathers and said that from then on she would never fly again. She put the digging stick into her mouth and down her neck: thats how she came to have a long neck. She also swallowed a big stone that got stuck in her throat near her heart and when she fluffs those feath- ers out you can still see that stone.

A fascinating Aboriginal tale. An Emu was hatching her eggs in close proximity to Dusky Moorhen. By and by, both birds proceeded to walk along the grass in search of something to eat and, in the evening, returned to their respective nests. But on the following morning, the moorhen got up somewhat earlier than usual and went her way. The Emu, seeing her neighbours eggs, shifted from her own nest and sat upon them. As the afternoon drew on, the moorhen returned home and saw the Emu appropriating her eggs but, being so much smaller, she could not turn her away. So she built a large fire and threw the ashes over her opponent, who thus got all her feathers browned; in retaliation, the Emu threw the moorhen into the flames and burned her legs, which resulted in their turning red.

The aboriginals tell this tale. Emu saw that two women had fire. He thought he would steal it to warm himself. He came up, stole the fire and returned to the river, the fire hidden beneath his wings, for Emu then had big wings and could fly. Chickenhawk was coming along and saw Emu making fire. Down he flew, snatched the fire and burned the grass. Emu was burned too, which is why Emus now have small wings and are black, brown and grey.


Tidemann, Sonia and Gosler, A (2010) Ethno-ornithology: Birds and Indigenous Peoples, Culture and Society. Earthscan, London.

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