The kadaitcha curse, p.1
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       The Kadaitcha Curse, p.1

           C J Brown
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The Kadaitcha Curse

  By Christopher J Brown

  Copyright 2013 Christopher J Brown

  This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

  Thank you to my family for their encouragement and editing of my writing (although I accept full responsibility for any enduring errors).

  Thank you to the many indigenous students with whom I have come into contact during my teaching career. Your stories have inspired this one. CJB


  Chapter 1

  Tomorrow would be kahlawilhma, the walk to the west. This is how Arunta’s father described his return home to the Tree of Spirits on the great mountain. It made Arunta proud and sad at the one time: proud to be the one to accompany his father on this final journey; sad that the journey had to be made at all. But today was for preparation and celebration and for this moment he was happy to be hunting with his brother and excited at the prospect of catching something to share with the tribe.

  “You can run fast, walanyja,” shouted Arunta, “but your legs are too short. Sooner or later you will get tired and I will have you for my dinner.” His words were born more of hope than conviction.

  It was Arunta’s job to chase the goanna. It was the job of his younger brother, Burnum, to determine which tree the goanna would eventually use for his escape and to be there waiting. But Arunta was tiring also.

  The big lizard did not run in a straight line, but seemed to make a trail like a grub on a scribbly gum. As for Burnum, he was not completely confident that he had chosen the right tree to hide behind. Although he was not to move until the last moment, Burnum peeked out. His brother was only two body lengths from the walanyja.

  “He is slowing down,” called Burnum. This seemed to give Arunta the motivation he needed. With a quick adjustment of pace, he threw himself forward. For a moment it seemed to Burnum that his brother was flying like the white bird that his name suggested. Arunta landed, arms outstretched, face covered in dirt… and completely empty-handed.

  The walanyja continued to run directly towards Burnum who readied himself to make his own attempt to capture the wide-eyed lizard. As it sprinted towards the tree Arunta lifted his head and watched to see if his brother would have the honour of contributing something delicious to the evening’s meal. Now that it was not being chased the goanna made a steady course for the tree that Burnum had chosen.

  Clever brother, thought Arunta, as a proud grin filled his dusty face.

  Not yet. Not yet. Now! In that instant between the walanyja’s feet leaving the ground and finding the tree, that moment of flight when it would not be able to change direction, Burnum spun from the hidden side of the tree and grabbed the animal around the middle with his one good hand.

  “You did it!” screamed Arunta excitedly, lifting himself out of the dry dirt and running towards the tree. He knew he had to get there to help before the frightened, wriggling animal could do too much damage to Burnum with his sharp claws. Arunta took the lizard with one hand around its belly and the other around its neck. “You are beautiful,” he said.

  “Thank you,” laughed Burnum, “but you are not.”

  “No, walanyja is beautiful. And he would be fatter, too, if he did not make such a fuss of being chased. “

  Burnum opened the dillybag that was slung around his neck. Arunta pushed the goanna inside and tied it closed.

  “Sleep now,” said Arunta, “you can breathe a little longer. You will have the honour of meeting our family before we have the honour of eating you.”

  “You should have let me use my spear," said Burnum. “We would have caught it much sooner.”

  “Maybe so,” Arunta grinned, “but there are many more tricks you can play on your cousin with a live animal than a dead one.” They laughed as they turned for home. Their camp was beside a large rock, as high as ten men and although they had walked a long way on their hunt, the distant rock could still be seen across the flat landscape.

  “We should hurry,” suggested Burnum. “We must be home before the shadow of the great mountain falls across the rock or our mother will be angry.”

  “Then we will show her our dinner and all will be forgiven. Besides, now that our father’s kahlawilhma is upon us mother knows that we must start to provide more for our family.” Arunta smiled. “You were very clever to pick this tree. How did you know?”

  Arunta knew that he himself would have chosen the same tree but he wanted to make sure that it was not just a lucky guess on the part of his younger brother.

  “Look.” Burnum pointed to the branches above their heads. “There are many of them.”

  And so there were. Nests. The adult birds had flown off, either to look for food or frightened by the noise of the walanyja being chased by a crazy boy.

  “This is the only tree here with nests.” Burnum ran his fingers over the near-smooth bark. “From these claw marks I can see that walanyja visits here often for his food.”

  “You are very clever,” smiled Arunta. “Almost as clever as your handsome brother.”

  “What do you mean almost? I am the one who chose the tree, and I am the one who caught our dinner. Please tell me what I have missed.”

  “The chance for more food,” replied Arunta. “If those nests hold eggs then why are you so eager to hurry home. It must be so you can show off your little walanyja. Yes, I think Kaburra would be very impressed.”

  “Miss Clare? Why would I want to impress her, I do not even like her.” Burnum tried to sound offended but he knew Arunta was right. Clare Taylor, the daughter of farmer Edward Taylor, could not help but be impressed with his catch. And how much more impressed would she be if there were eggs as well?

  The boys leaned their spears against the trunk of the tree. Arunta went first as he was the better climber and would go higher. Burnum moved his bag around to his back and followed his brother up the tree.

  Burnum could do some things with his left arm. It could pick eggs out of a nest, and carry a small number of sticks. However, he could not use it to throw his spear, nor, as he had just reminded himself, to keep hold of an angry goanna for very long. It was not much use for climbing either. He was not sure if he remembered the accident or if the pictures in his mind were just from the story their mother, Kira, had told them. He wished he could say it was from a victorious fight with a giant gangurru but the truth did not make such a good story. As a small boy he had climbed too far out along a tree branch. He fell and broke his arm in several places.

  Grandmother Mirrin had wonderful healing skills but over the years his arm had continued to grow long like the other, but stayed thin and weak. His good arm, however, was strong – much stronger than the arm of any other boy in the tribe, even older ones.

  But Burnum knew, and it was very clear to him now, as he climbed the tree, that in many situations two strong arms were better than one very strong arm. There were exceptions, of course. His spear was his very favourite weapon and he rarely ventured out without it. He could throw far and straight and hoped that one day he would honour the name his father had given him.

  Luckily for Burnum the lowest branch that held a nest was not very high up at all and he could just manage to stretch out and pluck four fresh eggs from their cosy bed of sticks, leaves, feathers and poo.

  “I can see two nests close together just a bit higher up,” called Arunta. “I will drop the eggs down to you.”

  Arunta scurried higher through the green canopy, but the higher the branch the thinner the wood. As he crept out towards the first nest the branch began to bend and creak. Arun
ta waited a moment for the branch to settle. As he did his gaze was attracted to something in the distance.

  “Look!” he pointed in the direction of the mountain. At a distance of about ten spear-throws they could see a huge cloud of dust. Then they heard the noise. It was coming towards them at a great speed.

  “Pinyali!” exclaimed Burnum. He was right. A panicking mob of emus was racing towards them. On their present course they would go on either side of the tree that the boys were in.

  “Something has frightened them. Hold on tightly until they pass,” shouted Burnum.

  Feeling the need to be a little higher, Burnum reached up for the next branch just as the mob passed the tree. It was too late when he realised that the string that ensured their dinner stayed safely stowed had caught on a jagged knot of wood protruding from the tree trunk. The bag opened only slightly but enough for the walanyja who took this chance for escape. Out he leapt, clawing his way up Burnum’s shoulders and launching itself off his head.

  “Get him!” Burnum shouted.

  Startled, his older brother looked down to see the big lizard running up the tree towards him. Instinctively, Arunta released his tenuous grip on the branch and twisted himself back towards the main trunk. He lunged towards the goanna that had momentarily stopped his attempted escape.

  “You are mine again!” Arunta shouted triumphantly, gripping the twice-caught lizard by the neck.

  Then, with a crack that was barely audible over the deep, frantic grunting of the giant birds, Arunta’s branch snapped and he plummeted towards the stampeding horde.

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