Aboriginal Culture - Dreamtime Stories

Dreamtime Legends - How the Kookaburras got their Laugh

Told by Aunty Beryl Carmichael

This is another Dreamtime story belonging to Ngiyaampaa and it's called Koockard.

Long, long time ago, two little nephews asked their old uncle to take them out and camp on the river so that he could teach them how to make their spears and woomeras and their boomerangs. Also to teach them to go hunting and how to identify the tracks of the animals.

Old uncle, he tried to put it off because they were too young, he thought, only eight years old. But the two little nephews, they kept pestering old uncle, 'We've got to go, we must go now. Come on, we'll go out tonight.' So old uncle gave in and he said, 'Okay, we'll go out and we'll set up camp on the river bend. Once we get our camp set up, we'll make our brush gunyah, then we'll go for a walk around the river bend and find some nice straight sticks to make your spears out of.'

So when they got out along the river bend and got their gunyah made, old uncle said, 'Come on, we'll go and find our straight sticks. Now remember, don't look for crooked ones, don't run and get any old stick. You must get a nice straight stick to make your spear out of.'

The two little fellas walked around the river bend looking for nice straight saplings to make their spear out of and when they found it, old uncle went up and he chopped it off with his stone axe. He showed the little fellas how to sit down and take all the bark off the saplings and trim them up nice and get all the notches off. He also showed them how to make the woomera, the little stick they needed to sit the spear in so they could spear the kangaroo or emu or whatever they were hunting for.

When they had that done, old uncle said, 'Come on, we'll go back to camp now and tomorrow morning we'll go out hunting.' But the two little boys were really impatient and they said, 'Oh come on uncle, let us go now. Let' us go for a walk around the river bend and see if we can find a kangaroo.' Old uncle said, 'No, wait 'til the morning and I'll go too'. 'No, we'll go, uncle. We'll bring back whatever we find.'

So old uncle said to them when they were ready to go, 'Listen. When you go walking around the river bends, there's something I want you to be very, very careful of. You must promise me that you will never, ever hurt it or harm it.' They looked at one another as much as to say 'what's he talking about?' Uncle said, 'old Koockard, the great big river goanna. If ever you come across him, you must promise you'll never hurt him or harm him in any way.' So the two little boys looked at their uncle and they promised him, 'okay uncle, we won't hurt him or harm him.'

They went off, walking around the river bend, right around the river bend they kept walking. In those times the grass used to grow nice and tall. So they're walking around the river bends, they got around the third bend and they saw the tall grass moving really quickly and then stop. The two little fellas stood back and said, 'that might be a kangaroo over there. Let us creep up and see what's going on, what's making the grass move.'

As they started creeping in towards where the grass was moving, the grass moved again, really quickly, then stopped. They got in a bit further and all of a sudden they came across old Koockard's tail. That big river goanna, his tail was sticking out.

So they backed back, and the two little fellas said to one another, 'remember what uncle told us? If ever we come across old Koockard we mustn't harm him or hurt him.' And they said, 'Yeah, but what if we have some fun with him? You get your spear and creep up right up around this side of old Koockard, to his left arm, level with his left should and you lie down still. I'll get my spear and I'll go around this side, to his right arm. I'll crouch down there and when old Koockard puts his head down to bite the meat that he was eating (because this was what was happening. Koockard was putting his mouth down and biting the dead meat and shaking all the ants off it before he swallowed it and this made the grass move).

The two little fellas said, 'we'll go up there. We'll have some fun with him. When he puts his head down to bite the meat, you tickle him under the arm with your spear. When he's settled down again and he takes another bite, I'll tickle him under this side with my spear.'

The two little fellas agreed to do this, so they snuck up and crouched down and as soon as old Koockard reached down to take a bite of the dead kangaroo, the little fella tickled him under the arm. So Koockard jumped up and he was looking around to see what stuck into him, but he was looking over the top of the tall grass so he couldn't see the little boy lying down in the grass alongside of him.

He settled down again and he took another bite and the little boy on the other side tickled him on that side. Koockard jumped up again and he was looking around, but because the grass was high, he couldn't see.

They kept going. One would tickle him on one side and the other would tickle him on the other side.

Then one little boy, he got a fit of the giggles and he couldn't stop laughing. He rolled over and as he rolled, his spear hit on a log. So Koockard jumped and he spun right around in a big circle and he flattened the two little boys.

Sitting in a gum tree close by were two Kookaburras and up until that time they couldn't laugh. But as soon as they saw what happened to the two little boys, they just looked at one another and burst out laughing.

So that's the Dreamtime story of how the Kookaburras got their laugh.