the Gumbulgaban story
There are many stories about how the emu lost its wings. They generally involve another bird, sometimes the Brolga, but in this case the bustard (plains turkey, or in Yuwaalaraay Gumbulgaban). These birds were once common in the Yuwaalaraay area. This version of the story is taken from Langloh-Parker’s Australian Legendary Tales, where she has a longer version in English and a shorter version in her way of writing Yuwaalaraay. You can view PDFs of both the Yuwaalaraay and English versions of the story; the former shows how the writing of Yuwaalaraay has changed over the years. There is another, Gamilaraay, version of this story on the website (Story 2: Burraalga bularr Dhinawan).
Many traditional Aboriginal stories have a moral, as in this case. There are a number of other features here which also occur in other stories. The story explains the origin of the appearance and behaviour of the animals. In this case the emu’s lack of wings and the fact that the Bustard/Gumbulgaban only lays two eggs.
The long path from traditional, oral story to this version, and the limited knowledge of Yuwaalaraay we now have, means that many features of the original have been lost. Nevertheless some aspects remain, such as the numerous word plays. The word wagi means both ‘plain’ and ‘lie’, the words garra-li 'cut' garrawa-li 'keep' are close, as are burrul ‘big’, bulaarr ‘two’ and burrulaa ‘lot’.
The first rendering of this story in current Yuwaalaraay was done by Sylvia Haworth. There are a number of words which are not found elsewhere and so while their meaning is hinted at by the English version of the story there is some doubt about them. Similarly there are parts of the story where the grammar is not clear. Nevertheless a surprising amount of this story is clear from current knowledge of Yuwaalaraay.
The English translation of the Yuwaalaraay version of the story is reproduced below.
Emu was the big bird,
and the chief of all.
Gumbulgaban [the turkey] was jealous.
That gumbulgaban mother was really jealous of the emu mother.
When she saw them flying around overhead and running quickly.
The Gumbulgaban thought that they were really flash,
those emus showing off their wings.
Gumbulgaban was thinking: What will I say to the emu, so that she won't be the chief any more.
Then she thought to get the emu's wings cut, so she couldn't fly.
"But I am not big enough to fight that emu.
What if I tell her a lie, that I have no wings?"
Then she saw the emu coming.
Gumbulgaban sat down and tucked her wings in. Now she looked as is she just had stumps of her wings.
The two of them started talking.
Then Gumbulgaban said: "How come you haven't got rid of your wings?
All the birds fly. The chief doesn't need to have wings.
I've got no wings.
So now they will now make me the chief."
The emu said: "But you have got wings."
The emu went to her husband.
Then the two of them were really upset.
We might cut our wings, the Gumbulgaban will not be chief.
The emu mother told her husband to cut off her wings with an axe.
Then he, in his turn, cut her wings.
Then she ran back to the Gumbulgaban.
Then the Emu said to the Gumbulgaban: "I have cut the wings"
The Gumbulgaban laughed, she hopped, she ran, she was really happy then.
She showed off her wings, then she told the emu:
I have tricked you, stumpy wings.
I haven't cut my wings at all; stumpy wings, you are mad."
The emu ran to kill the Gumbulgaban, but the Gumbulgaban flew away.
That sad creature with no wings.
The emu got really cranky, and went away.
"I will do you in somehow."
Then she thought.
Then she hid her children, and took only two down.
She put a lot in the saltbush.
Then she went down from the ridge to her camp, taking only two children.
She went down to the plain.
The Gumbulgaban was feeding her children.
And again the two of them were talking, and Emu said to Gumbulgaban:
"What have you got so many kids for?"
You won't be able to feed so many.
You should only have two, and the two of them will get big.
You won't be trying to feed so many.
But the Gumbulgaban thought:
"How can my children be big like the emu's?
If I only have two will those two be as big as the emu?
She remembered that she had tricked the emu. But then she saw the emus and saw how big they were.
Then she said:
"I will kill a lot, but keep only two.
The emu will not be the chief of the plain.
Only the Gumbulgaban will be chief.
The Gumbulgaban will be as big as the emu, and they will also have wings."
So then she killed her children and kept only two.
Then Gumbulgaban went back to where the emu was eating.
The emu called out:
"Where are your children?"
"I killed them. I only kept two."
"You hard mother, you killer.
I've got lots of children, and I can feed them all.
All of them.
Look at the emu bush, covered with food.
Look at the grasshoppers.
I am catching them for my children.
You've only got two, a pair of children.
On the contrary, I have got a lot.
I will bring them here to show you."
The emu ran to the salt bush,
where she had hidden her children.
Then she came back, showing off and bouncing her tail around , and saying 'Boom, boom' [the way emus still do].
And as her children were running along looking really pretty, going 'wiiliirr' the wat baby emus whistle, the Emu looked really angry.
Then she said.
"I tell you the absolute truth.
I still have all my children.
Look at them there.
Your poor children. You killed your children.
You fooled me.
And so I will live without my wings, but you will only have two children.
You will keep your wings. But I will keep my children.
[And ever since the emu has no wings and the Gumbulgaban only lays two eggs.]