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Last journey of the old Kangaroo

by Yungari Betty Long Nungarrayi, Lajamanu, 1995


translated from Warlpiri with Barbara Gibson Nakamarra (1995) and edited for the CD-ROM Dream trackers (UNESCO, 2000) by Barbara Glowczewski



Kangaroo is old and blind. His wives make him travel with their children. When it's too hot, they bury him in the ground to cool down his body. They walk at night making bush fires to stay warm. The women hunt for all the family. Sometimes they sleep with no food and cannot find water for days. This long story shows the harsh conditions of the old hunting and gathering days, but it also presents with humor the attachment to one's country of both Kangaroo and his wives, who make him walk to see their country while he complains, wanting to be back in his country. 



Crossing the desert


Wankanyi is a site of the Yawarrangi Kangaroo Dreaming, situated in the east of the country of the Anmatyerre tribe. My parents and a few other Warlpiri went over there to bring back a boy who had come to us on a kurdiji tour. On the way back my mother found herself pregnant with me. People said it was a spirit-child of the Kangaroo Dreaming at Wankanyi. That's why it is my kurruwalpa although I look after the Ngarrka Dreaming in my father's country at Purpalala where I grew up.


Kangaroo is old and blind. He is sleeping at Wankanyi.Two of his wives wake him up, make him get up and take him for a hike. His other wives are coming as well, his whole family, his children and grand-children follow the old man who is being guided by the two Nangala. It is very hot. They stop and build a shelter in the shade with leaves. They have a rest until sunset. Then the weather is cooling down and they keep going at night-time. Arriving at a waterhole, they make the old man sit down and give him something to eat and drink. Then they all go to sleep.


They wake up before sunrise. It is very cold. They light a fire and place Kangaroo in front of it for him to warm up. Poor old man, he is very far away from his country now. But they give him a walking stick in his hands to take him even further. The sun is burning down again.

'Leave me in the shade, I want to sit down for a while...' the old man says.


He sits down under a new bough shade, surrounded by his children and his wives. In the evening they continue their journey, then stop close to another waterhole to quench their thirst. The wives say to the children

'Little ones, you take care of your grandfather, a snake might come, don't leave him alone!'


They take off hunting and bring back some wardapi goannas and small wapirti yams for their old husband. After dinner the sons and daughter build a shelter for their father and go to sleep beside him. They sleep. Poor Kangaroo, he has got no eyes. Early in the morning, the women cook the yams.


'You have to get up and eat,' say the wives to the old man. 'We want to take off as early as possible. If we find a waterhole we'll leave you there and go hunting for game and other food.'


They all take off, carrying their dishes full of water, either in their arms or on their heads. They stop in the shade of a dry tree.

'We must have a rest to refresh ourselves,' says Kangaroo. 'If not, I'll be burnt by the sun!'


They are in the desert; there is no water. They wait till night-time. Then they light the spinifex grass and with torches in their hands they take off, burning the grass on their way to have light and to keep warm. They stop.

'Tomorrow we'll find some water, don't say anything!' says one of the woman.


The next day they find a rockhole. They sit the old man down and moisten his body. Then the women go hunting, leaving him in the care of the children. They dig out big yams, puurda, and after the meal they all keep going.

'We'll never find much game here, we have to walk much further!'


Indeed, much further they find goannas and small pythons which they cook for the old man.

'Have you eaten enough meat now? Are you satisfied?'

'Oh yes!'


The women go looking for more food, leaving the old man in the shade with the children. This time they find ngarlajiyi yams. Kangaroo becomes impatient and says to the children,

'Go and get your mothers, they should already be back!'


The children scan the horizon. Seeing nothing, they start walking to look for their mothers who arrive with lots of yams and big lizards.

'We hunt this meat for you! You have to wait for us, not to look for us!'


Having cooked the meat the wives call the old man

'Come here and eat! You shouldn't sleep like that all day! '

'Where else are you going to take me?'

'Tomorrow we'll leave for Jilka waterhole.'

'You should only make me walk during the night and not when it is hot!'


'Get up, it is night-time, say the wives. We have to go far, we'll stop halfway and leave again early in the morning to reach the waterhole. '


The old man follows them with complaints.

'We have to stop and camp for at least two days. Don't drag me on like this every night, I am tired!'

'We can't stop for long,' say the wives, 'there is not enough food here. If we find a place with enough resources, then we can camp there for a few days.'


Finally they arrive at Jilka, the creek is dry but it has underground soaks. While Kangaroo is resting on the sand in the shade of a tree, the women go hunting and talk about their husband,

'We'll just take him round the waterholes of this creek, then we'll take him back to Wankanyi. He had enough.'


They bring back plenty of lizards and especially pulya pulya perenties. Having cleaned them and grilled them, they give the old man a tail.

'We give you this meat. It's very good, very fat.'

'I know this meat!' says the old man, happy to eat all the fat which covers the white and tender meat. 


In the morning the women explain to Kangaroo,

'Your country ends here, now we'll be going back.'


They hand him his walking stick but, instead of turning back, they drag him even further. 

'You have taken me very far,' complains Kangaroo, 'I have no eyes to see. You'd better take me straight back to Wankanyi!'

'Don't you talk like that. We have to hunt for game,' one wife replies.

'Well, I won't say anything else!'


They walk around a hill and camp close by. The old man complains again

'Why do you make me walk across the rocks, I might fall!'

'Don't worry, we'll help you to climb up. We won't throw you, you are not a dog.'


They follow all the waterholes of the creek that goes through the rocks. At Mount Brakley, Pawu, the country of the Rain Dreaming, they settle for a while. Kangaroo's wives have taken him to the country of their own Dreaming. All day long they go hunting with their grown-up children, leaving their husband in the care of his grand-children.



Coming back


One day the women decide to take Kangaroo back to his country. They cross the mulga acacia trees country. Once again the old man becomes impatient.

'Take me to my country!'

'But that's what we are doing, we are going back for good.'

'Then let's have a rest, I'm tired!'

'We can't stop here, there is no water.'

'You don't think of the children, they will die of thirst in this sun!'

'The children are fine, they can walk. But you are talking too much!'

'Take me back to my country!' Kangaroo repeats endlessly.

'We are getting closer to your country.'

'Well then, find some game. Don't be angry with me, feed me!'


The wives catch some meat but the old blind man is feeling more and more homesick. 

'Where are you taking me?' asks Kangaroo.

'We are taking you to your country as you wanted. We stopped to sleep but there is no water to refresh you.'

'That's it. You are angry with me and the children. You don't love them any longer. You are trying to get us burnt by the sun!'

'The children don't complain at all but you exaggerate! We'll put you in the shade and we'll leave tonight.'


In the evening they are getting ready to leave.

'We'll walk straight on and stop halfway,' the women explain.

'But there won't be any water!'

'Too bad, you are too homesick!'

'No,' objects a son, 'we have to find some water for our father.'


So, they make a new detour to find some water. Kangaroo moistens his whole body and lies down in the shade, sick from the sun. 

'Do you want to stay here?' ask the wives.

'Yes, you can go hunting. The little ones will take care of me.'

'Go, I'll look after him,' says a son.


They come back, their arms full of food.

'Here is goanna meat, yams and yawakiyi black plums, have a good feed, we are going to continue our journey!'

'I am really weak, you have taken me too far. I want to go straight back now!'


'Did you eat enough old man?' asks a son.

'I had enough. But your mothers are driving me crazy walking all the time, I am going to tell them what I think!'

'Let's go!'

'OK, OK. But walk slowly, don't forget that I am blind!'

'We'll guide you, we'll stay close to you,' say all the children.

'We'll lead you across the rocks, don't say anything, stay quiet, otherwise you might fall,' says a wife.

'You have to guide me over the plain, not in the rocks!'


So they make another detour to avoid the rocks. They cross the dunes, slowly climbing up and down over the uneven ground which has been formed by the streaming water of the rain season.

'We have led you over clear ground, are you satisfied?' asks one wife.

'Yes, yes, that's fine. But where is my country?'

'We are getting there.'

'When will we be there?'

'Wait till tomorrow. It's no good to ask like that. We'll lead you there, don't worry.'


Tired, they stop. The wives lay Kangaroo on the ground and massage his legs.

'More!' demands the old man.

'Is that enough now?' they ask after a while.

'Yes, I think you have well straightened up my legs.'

'Try to walk then!' they say, helping him to get up.

'No problem! Guide me into the shade, we'll have a rest together.'

'We'll look after you here,' say the wives, taking him under a tree.

'Yes, stay with me.'


'You have taken him too far,' say the children, 'the poor thing, he is blind!'

'He is our husband, he has to stay with us,' they reply.

'Yes, he has accompanied you, but what can we do? He is old and you have made him sick!'

'We'll take him back to Wankanyi,' one woman says, 'we'll sleep here and then we'll go straight back. We have taken him far, but that was the last time. After this we'll never again move away from his country!'


They go to sleep. In the morning Kangaroo wakes up

'Light a fire for me, a big one, I want to warm myself up!'


They light a fire for him and give him something to eat and to drink. Then they walk in the sun. Poor Kangaroo, he is burnt on the head and the back! They dig a hole, put him inside and cover his body with fresh earth coming from deep layers like we used to do to refresh ourselves in the desert. Kangaroo is buried in the damp sand.

'You have taken me too far. I told you before, now I am sick!'


He falls asleep and wakes up in the night. 

'Give me some water and moisten my body!'


Some pour their water dishes over him and the others moisten him with their hands.

'I am sick, lead me carefully now!'


They take him to Wankanyi, his country. That was in the afternoon. On their arrival a cave opened over there and they all went in. They disappeared under the ground at Wankanyi, in the country of the yawarrangi Kangaroo Dreaming.


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Archives de chercheurs: Barbara Glowczewski [Collection(s) 28]
Audio of stories and songs, Lajamanu, Central Australia, 1984 [Set(s) 709]
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Object(s) ID 70081
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Title/DescriptionJukurrpa; Yawulyu: Marlu (Red Kangaroo) Dreaming continued from tape 2 (Japaljarri/Jungarrayi); Napangardi Pakupaku; Nakamarra Ngapilkiri (recorded 7June 1984); (continued side 2)
Author(s)Betty Nungarrayi
LocationLajamanu, Tanami Desert, Central Australia
Coordinateslat -35.27 / long 149.08
Copyright Barbara Glowczewski
Rank 7 / 83
Filesize ? Kb
Transcription[ See/hide ]
Tape3 side 1
Quote this document Glowczewski, Barbara 1984 [accessed: 2024/5/19]. "Jukurrpa; Yawulyu: Marlu (Red Kangaroo) Dreaming continued from tape 2 (Japaljarri/Jungarrayi); Napangardi Pakupaku; Nakamarra Ngapilkiri (recorded 7June 1984); (continued side 2)" (Object Id: 70081). In Audio of stories and songs, Lajamanu, Central Australia, 1984 . Tape: 3 side 1. ODSAS:
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Annotation layer(s)Elisabeth Ross Nungarrayi   (wanta: transcription)