Thukeri

This is a story about two men who lived on the shores of Lake Alexandrina. They belonged to the Ngarrindjerri people.

The two men set off in their bark canoe to go fishing on the lake. They travelled along on the calm, cool waters until they came to their favourite fishing place, called Loveday Bay, where they always caught the best and most delicious bream fish. In their language, this fish is called Thukeri.

They found a good sheltered spot among some high reeds. They had made their own fishing lines, called nungi, from cords they had made from the reeds. They used very sharp bird bones for hooks.

They knew the women were collecting vegetable plants to eat with the fish.

As the day went on the two men sat there catching more and more fat, juicy Thukeri. They were having such a wonderful day catching so many fish and wanted to keep catching more and more, but the canoe was almost full and looked like it would sink.

As they paddled in closer to shore, they could see a stranger in the distance. He seemed to be walking straight towards them. The two men looked at each other; what if this stranger wanted some of their beautiful, juicy Thukeri?

They were greedy and decided not to share with the stranger. They decided to keep all the fat, lovely Silver Bream for themselves and quickly covered the fish up with their woven mats so that the stranger would not see them. When the stranger came up to the two men he said, ‘Hello, brothers. I haven’t eaten anything at all today. Could you spare me a couple of fish?’

The two men looked at each other and at the mats hiding the Thukeri. They turned to the stranger and one of them said, ‘I’m sorry, friend, but we caught only a few fish today and we have to take them home for our wives and children and the old people, because they are depending on us. So, you see, we can’t give you any.’

The stranger stood there for a long while and then started to walk away. He stopped, turned around and stared at them. ‘You lied,’ he said. ‘I know that you have plenty of fish in your canoe. Because you are so greedy, you will never be able to enjoy those Thukeri ever again.’

The two men stood there, puzzled, as the stranger walked away into the sunset. They shrugged their shoulders, then quickly took off the mats and began to gut the fish. But as they did this, they found that these beautiful silver Thukeri were so full of sharp, thin bones that they couldn’t eat them.

‘What are we going to do? We can’t take these home to our families, they’ll choke on them.’ So the two men had to return home in shame with only the bony fish. When they got home, they told their families what had happened. The old people told them that the stranger was really the Great Spirit called Ngurunderi. Now all the Ngarrindjeri people would be punished for ever, because the two men were so greedy.

And so today, whenever people catch a bony bream, they are reminded of long ago, when Ngurunderi taught them a lesson.

The Two Wise Men and the Seven Sisters story explanation

This is my Mum, Mimbardda, from whom I get all my Dreaming stories. Stories that I go and tell in schools. They all come from my mother. Behind is the country that we come form. This is our country, the WONG-GU-THA country here, and over there is where Mary’s country is, way on the border of the Northern Territory. Docker River.

The skin groupings that these two are using at the moment is made up of how everybody married a long time ago. The six skin groupings of the desert. It was a clean way of living and it was to stop interbreeding and all those sort of things. So, today we refer to each other through the skin groupings of our areas.

In a minute we hope to go to where that lake is and we’re going to draw the stories in the sand and tell the stories in the old-fashioned way, of the Aboriginal way, the real traditional way of telling the stories. How we used to do it a long time a go.

As I look out over there I feel very sad inside, because in our Dreaming stories of the Seven Sisters, the stories tell us that this was the last cut-off point for the Seven Sisters when they had their time here on earth. In the Dreamtime.

Over there is a boundary line that tells us that that’s a cut-off point into someone else’s territory, so the Seven Sisters spent a lot of time here, as their last time on earth, before they went back up into the Milky Way. This place was once so beautiful that the Seven Sisters lived in these caves here. But now as we look over here, we can see that the place has been completely desecrated.

Mining people have come in here and made big open mining pits here. All the caves are wrecked here today.

This is why we need these Dreaming stories so much, because we need to tell our children all about our creation-time stories and all our Elder Aboriginal people that live in the towns here; in Koolgardie, in Kalgoorlie, they know these dreaming stories out here.

To actually sit here and look at it today and see how it’s wrecked completely the caves are all different today from how they would have been in the Dreamtime. Nobody comes here any more and learns or tells their kids about the wonderful Dreaming stories of the Seven Sisters. It is very sad for me to sit here and look at this, knowing the story from my mother.

Mimbardda:

It’s very good us following the lore now, today. It’s very good what I see.

(Josie Boyle and Mimbardda. Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, 1997)