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Version 1
Gamilaraay only.

Version 2
Gamilaraay and English.

About the Burraalga story

This story is about an Emu mother and a Brolga mother. There are similar stories from many areas of Australia, generally involving Emu, but the other character varies. Common features of the stories are an explanation of how the emu lost its wings and how the other bird came to lay only two eggs. The motivation for the actions vary from story to story. Austin and Tindale list other versions of this story. In this collection there is a Yuwaalaraay version from K Langloh-Parker, where the characters are Dhinawan (Emu) and Gumbulgaban (Turkey).

This text has a complicated history. It was spoken by Harry Doolan and other Gamilaraay men in June 1938 and written down in phonetic script by Norman B Tindale. The men had not been using their language very much and they gradually improved their version of the story over a few days as they had time to discuss and remember. Harry Doolan provided a word by word translation of the story and also a free translation of lines 1-19 plus lines 42 and 43.

The story is in the 'Kamilaroi of the Namoi River.' This Gamilaraay is different in some aspects from other records of Gamilaraay, and shares some features with Wayilwan-Ngiyambaa, which was probably to the south of this Gamilaraay. One such feature is the use of Yaamagara (a greeting), andother is the use of ngurra (camp). However, lack of knowlege abut this version of Gamilaraay and the lack of published material on Wayilwan makes comparison tentative for now. The version of the story presented here has been modified so that it largely consists of known Gamilaraay words and grammar, but a few questions remain.

The story was published by Peter Austin and Tindale in Aboriginal History 1985; 9:1. Austin did an analysis of the text and provided free translation where Harry Doolan had not. Some of that was necessarily speculative, given the limited knowledge of Gamilaraay vocabulary and grammar. The free translation here is largely Austin's but adapted somewhat by John Giacon. More recent studies have clarified some features, but much still remains uncertain. Question marks in square brackets, thus [?], are used to mark sections that are not understood.

As with other stories word-plays are evident here. One example is yaamagarra is Ngiyambaa 'How's things? How are you going?'[Donaldson 1980:272], and there are the similar words yaama, which begins a question and garra-li is 'cut'. In lines 15 and 18 garra is also part of a word that means 'eating'. This use of garra has not been recorded elsewhere.

Sources: Austin, Peter and Norman B. Tindale. 1985. Emu and Brolga, A Kamilaroi Myth. Aboriginal History, 9:1 8-21

Donaldson, Tamsin. 1980. Ngiyambaa, The language of the Wangaaybuwan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Emu and Brolga

The emu went with the Brolga to gather wudhugaa roots. They were digging there. Both of them had many children. One of them [the emu] thought of a trick (to play on the other) as she walked with him/her to camp. Next morning she saw the brolga over the way.

The brolga called out: "Where are your children?"

"Ah, I killed them."


"I was unable to feed them all."

"Poor things, why?"

"I cannot give them food enough. You ask your husband whether you can kill yours also. Then you won't have to feel so many. They take too much food from us."

"Yes, I will tell (told) my husband about it." "Husband, will we kill some of our children? Why are they eating all our food?"

"Oh yes. [we will] Kill most of the children.(The next day the female brolga meets the emu woman again while food gathering.)

"How's things?"

"Oh yes, we killed them, too right. Now I have only two."

"Oh, you really did it? They (my children) must be walking around out there."

"My many children will come to here."

"I will bring my many children over this way."

The brolga went away from there. The brolga stayed far away for a long time. (The brolga was very sad at being tricked into killing her children. She remains away twelve months and returns. She sees the emu walking about gathering food as before.) [wi-y-la-nhi looks like a Wayilwan verb]

"Oh, where were you staying so far away from here?"

"Oh, I went away from here so as not to be thinking of them all the time."(The brolga woman is feeding with her mouth, her arms are hidden behind her back. She is acting a part to trick the emu.)

"Hey, Why are you eating like that?"

"Ah, sister, we've got no wings, we cut them a long time ago."

"What for?"

"This way you can eat better, when you've got no wings."

"All right."

"You could maybe cut off your wings."

"What for?"

"Oh, you might eat better, just like me."

"Yes, I might when I go back later on. Definitely! I'll be brave and ask my husband if he will say 'yes'".

"Yes, sure. We will cut each other's wings, when we are going back later."

Three days later. "Did you really cut them?"

"Yes we did cut off our arms."

"You know what? I can still fly around. You can only walk on the ground. But I can fly, because I've got wings."