Goonur The Woman-doctor
: Australian Legendary Tales
Goonur was a clever old woman-doctor, who lived with her son, Goonur,
and his two wives. The wives were Guddah the red lizard, and Beereeun
the small, prickly lizard. One day the two wives had done something to
anger Goonur, their husband, and he gave them both a great beating.
After their beating they went away by themselves. They said to each
other that they could stand their present life no longer, and yet there
no escape unless they killed their husband. They decided they would
do that. But how? That was the question. It must be by cunning.
At last they decided on a plan. They dug a big hole in the sand near
the creek, filled it with water, and covered the hole over with boughs,
leaves, and grass.
"Now we will go," they said, "and tell our husband that we have found a
big bandicoot's nest."
Back they went to the camp, and told Goonur that they had seen a big
nest of bandicoots near the creek; that if he sneaked up he would be
able to suprise them and get the lot.
Off went Goonur in great haste. He sneaked up to within a couple of
feet of the nest, then gave a spring on to the top of it. And only when
he felt the bough top give in with him, and he sank down into water,
did he realise that he had been tricked. Too late then to save himself,
for he was drowning and could not escape. His wives had watched the
success of their stratagem from a distance. When they were certain that
they had effectually disposed of their hated husband, they went back to
the camp. Goonur, the mother, soon missed her son, made inquiries of
his wives, but gained no information from them. Two or three days
passed, and yet Goonur, the son, returned not. Seriously alarmed at his
long absence without having given her notice of his intention, the
mother determined to follow his track. She took up his trail where she
had last seen him leave the camp. This she followed until she reached
the so-called bandicoot's nest. Here his tracks disappeared, and
nowhere could she find a sign of his having returned from this place.
She felt in the hole with her yarn stick, and soon felt that there was
something large there in the water. She cut a forked stick and tried to
raise the body and get it out, for she felt sure it must be her son.
But she could not raise it; stick after stick broke in the effort. At
last she cut a midjee stick and tried with that, and then she was
successful. When she brought out the body she found it was indeed her
son. She dragged the body to an ant bed, and watched intently to see if
the stings of the ants brought any sign of returning life. Soon her
hope was realised, and after a violent twitching of the muscles her son
regained consciousness. As soon as he was able to do so, he told her of
the trick his wives had played on him.
Goonur, the mother, was furious. "No more shall they have you as
husband. You shall live hidden in my dardurr. When we get near the camp
you can get into this long, big comebee, and I will take you in. When
you want to go hunting I will take you from the camp in this comebee,
and when we are out of sight you can get out and hunt as of old."
And thus they managed for some time to keep his return a secret; and
little the wives knew that their husband was alive and in his mother's
camp. But as day after day Goonur, the mother, returned from hunting
loaded with spoils, they began to think she must have help from some
one; for surely, they said, no old woman could be so successful in
hunting. There was a mystery they were sure, and they were determined
to find it out.
"See," they said, "she goes out alone. She is old, and yet she brings
home more than we two do together, and we are young. To-day she brought
opossums, piggiebillahs, honey yams, quatha, and many things. We got
little, yet we went far. We will watch her."
The next time old Goonur went out, carrying her big comebee, the wives
"Look," they said, "how slowly she goes. She could not climb trees for
opossums--she is too old and weak; look how she staggers."
They went cautiously after her, and saw when she was some distance from
the camp that she put down her comebee. And out of it, to their
amazement, stepped Goonur, their husband.
"Ah," they said, "this is her secret. She must have found him, and, as
she is a great doctor, she was able to bring him to life again. We must
wait until she leaves him, and then go to him, and beg to know where he
has been, and pretend joy that he is back, or else surely now he is
alive again he will sometime kill us."
Accordingly, when Goonur was alone the two wives ran to him, and said:
"Why, Goonur, our husband, did you leave us? Where have you been all
the time that we, your wives, have mourned for you? Long has the time
been without you, and we, your wives, have been sad that you came no
more to our dardurr."
Goonur, the husband, affected to believe their sorrow was genuine, and
that they did not know when they directed him to the bandicoot's nest
that it was a trap. Which trap, but for his mother, might have been his
They all went hunting together, and when they had killed enough for
food they returned to the camp. As they came near to the camp, Goonur,
the mother, saw them coming, and cried out:
"Would you again be tricked by your wives? Did I save you from death
only that you might again be killed? I spared them, but I would I had
slain them, if again they are to have a chance of killing you, my son.
Many are the wiles of women, and another time I might not be able to
save you. Let them live if you will it so, my son, but not with you.
They tried to lure you to death; you are no longer theirs, mine only
now, for did I not bring you back from the dead?"
But Goonur the husband said, "In truth did you save me, my mother, and
these my wives rejoice that you did. They too, as I was, were deceived
by the bandicoot's nest, the work of an enemy yet to be found. See, my
mother, do not the looks of love in their eyes, and words of love on
their lips vouch for their truth? We will be as we have been, my
mother, and live again in peace."
And thus craftily did Goonur the husband deceive his wives and make
them believe he trusted them wholly, while in reality his mind was even
then plotting vengeance. In a few days he had his plans ready. Having
cut and pointed sharply two stakes, he stuck them firmly in the creek,
then he placed two logs on the bank, in front of the sticks, which were
underneath the water, and invisible. Having made his preparations, he
invited his wives to come for a bathe. He said when they reached the
"See those two logs on the bank, you jump in each from one and see
which can dive the furthest. I will go first to see you as you come
up." And in he jumped, carefully avoiding the pointed stakes. "Right,"
he called. "All is clear here, jump in."
Then the two wives ran down the bank each to a log and jumped from it.
Well had Goonur calculated the distance, for both jumped right on to
the stakes placed in the water to catch them, and which stuck firmly
into them, holding them under the water.
"Well am I avenged," said Goonur. "No more will my wives lay traps to
catch me." And he walked off to the camp.
His mother asked him where his wives were. "They left me," he said, "to
get bees' nests."
But as day by day passed and the wives returned not, the old woman
began to suspect that her son knew more than he said. She asked him no
more, but quietly watched her opportunity, when her son was away
hunting, and then followed the tracks of the wives. She tracked them to
the creek, and as she saw no tracks of their return, she went into the
creek, felt about, and there found the two bodies fast on the stakes.
She managed to get them off and out of the creek, then she determined
to try and restore them to life, for she was angry that her son had not
told her what he had done, but had deceived her as well as his wives.
She rubbed the women with some of her medicines, dressed the wounds
made by the stakes, and then dragged them both on to ants' nests and
watched their bodies as the ants crawled over them, biting them. She
had not long to wait; soon they began to move and come to life again.
As soon as they were restored Goonur took them back to the camp and
said to Goonur her son, "Now once did I use my knowledge to restore
life to you, and again have I used it to restore life to your wives.
You are all mine now, and I desire that you live in peace and never
more deceive me, or never again shall I use my skill for you:"
And they lived for a long while together, and when the Mother Doctor
died there was a beautiful, dazzlingly bright falling star, followed by
a sound as of a sharp clap of thunder, and all the tribes round when
they saw and heard this said, "A great doctor must have died, for that
is the sign." And when the wives died, they were taken up to the sky,
where they are now known as Gwaibillah, the red star, so called from
its bright red colour, owing, the legend says, to the red marks left by
the stakes on the bodies of the two women, and which nothing could