Sometimes grown-ups tell scary stories to teach kids a lesson, but once in a while, those frightening yarns turn out to be true. When Sarah, Jay, and Rene wander off into the bush despite their Grandma’s dire warnings, they find out the hard way how real her fairy tale is. Combining a suspenseful adventure with a dose of good humor, this narrative features a valuable and traditional message of respect for the outdoors.
About the Author
Cheryl Kickett-Tucker is a post-doctoral research fellow at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research. She is a recipient of the National NAIDOC Scholar of the Year award and the Queens Trust Award for Young Australians.
Read an Excerpt
By Cheryl Kickett-Tucker
Fremantle PressCopyright © 2010 Cheryl Kickett-Tucker
All rights reserved.
Sarah and her brothers, Jay and Rene, lived with their parents and Nan in a white house with a red roof. The house sat high in the hills on the Darling scarp, nestled amongst the tall white gum trees. Many birds made their homes in the trees and Sarah loved to listen to them, and watch the bush animals eat and play. She was a Noongar girl, so for her family the bush was a spiritual place where people could learn many special things.
One hot summer's night, just as the sun was setting, Nan called Sarah and her brothers out onto the back porch to tell them a story. Sarah had a feeling the story was going to be scary and important — and she was right.
Nan's twinkling brown eyes grew serious as the shadows deepened in the yard. 'This is the story of the woordatj,' she said softly.
'Nan, why are you whispering?' Sarah asked.
'The woordatj doesn't like to be disturbed. I don't want to wake him up in case he gets angry. Now, sit still and listen carefully.'CHAPTER 2
'The woordatj is short, but he has a long chin, long arms with long fingers and long legs too, only he walks bent over like an old man. He is really hairy — hairy from his fingers and his toes all the way up to his head and his nose. The woordatj doesn't like to show himself off to people, but that doesn't mean he's not watching. If he's close by, you might just see the red of his eyes.'
Is he close by now? Sarah wondered, staring nervously into the dark garden. She glanced at Rene, who was frowning. She thought Rene wouldn't like to see him either. But Jay, who was the oldest, just grinned and tried to look tough.
'The woordatj is always around us. He is part of nature, so he is in contact with all living things.
'He talks with the trees, animals and birds like chitty chitty (willy wagtail), koolbardi (magpie), djakal-ngakal (galah) and doornart (parrot). But he likes to stay hidden.'
'Where does the woordatj live, Nan?' asked Sarah.
'There is a cave at Rocky Pool, tucked away next to a big shady old wornt (gum tree). The inside of the cave is a little wet, so it's a chilly, dark place. The woordatj camps there.'
'Now,' Nan continued, her voice becoming even softer, 'there is something very important you need to know about the woordatj. One of his jobs is to make sure children behave themselves and listen to the wise things their Elders tell them. If you don't ...'
Nan's voice trailed off.
'Then what, Nan?' asked Sarah quickly.
'Then at kedalak (sunset) the woordatj comes with an old sugar bag to look for naughty koolongka (children). So — barlay! (watch out!)'
A loud laugh rang out, startling them all. Sarah and her brothers jumped in fright.
Nan chuckled. 'It's only a kaa kaa. But I think that kookaburra is telling us it's time to go inside.'CHAPTER 3
'Would you like some pancakes?' Nan asked cheerfully, the next morning.
'Thanks, Nan. They look great!' Sarah reached for the honey to drizzle over them. 'What are we doing today?'
'It's such a lovely sunny day, why don't we go to Rocky Pool for a picnic?'
Sarah almost choked on her pancake. 'But that's where the woordatj lives!'
Nan smiled. 'We'll be back before kedalak. Everything will be fine as long as we head home while the sun's still up.'
Sarah's pushed her pancakes away. She didn't feel like eating anymore. Jay and Rene laughed.
'Aren't you even a little bit scared?' Sarah asked her brothers.
'We're boys!' Jay said. 'We aren't scared of a short hairy creature with long arms!'
'And we can run fast if the woordatj comes close,' said Rene.
'Besides,' bragged Jay, 'I'm too tall to fit into a sugar bag!'
Nan frowned. 'The woordatj is a magical creature. He could shrink you two and bundle you up just like that!'
Jay whispered to Rene, 'Do you think Nan is just telling us a made up story about the woordatj to scare us?'
'Like a fairy tale, you mean? Maybe.'
Sarah sighed. Her brothers were silly sometimes, but they wouldn't listen to her. She just hoped they'd behave themselves at Rocky Pool. Sarah decided she'd stay close to Nan, just in case anything went wrong. She wouldn't be able to have fun if she was worrying about the woordatj.CHAPTER 4
Rocky Pool was in the Kuljak National Park and it was the best place to be on a hot summer's day. The cool fresh water of the swimming hole was surrounded by a circle of large granite rocks. Sarah had never forgotten what Nan had told her about them: 'The rocks are old spirits. They look after the area and keep the kep wari (pool water) safe for everyone to use.'
Sometimes the water overflowed from the swimming hole and spilled down the side of the hill to form a bright, bubbling stream at the bottom. Here there was a small wooden bridge and Sarah loved to sit nearby and watch the noisy galahs and parrots, perched among the red and yellow flowers of the gum trees, talking their heads off.
Rocky Pool was a beautiful place during the day, but it was spooky at night. Sarah shivered, just thinking about it. When the sun began to set, odd shapes and shadows appeared across the land and the colours of the rock walls, crevices and small caves in the area changed. Nan had names for all the deep shades like mirda for red and moorn for black. Sarah felt glad her family always left before sunset. What would happen if they didn't?CHAPTER 5
'We're here!' Dad sang out, pulling into the car park.
Jay and Rene flung open their doors and leapt out.
'Don't go any further than the bridge!' Mum called. 'And stay out of the water.'
'Okay, Mum!' they cried, as they tore away.
'Come on,' Nan said to Sarah. 'Let's find the best spot for our picnic.'
'What about over there, Nan? That looks like a good place.'
'This is lovely!' exclaimed Nan, as they inspected it. 'There are no ants and no lumps in the ground either. What a good spotter you are!'
Mum and Dad brought the picnic baskets over.
'This is nice place to eat,' said Dad.
Mum rolled out a blanket for the family to sit on. 'Where are those boys?' she complained. 'I can't see them anywhere.'
Everyone raced towards the water — Rene was not a good swimmer.CHAPTER 6
A Lesson Learnt
Rene was struggling in the water under the bridge. Dad jumped in and quickly pulled him back on to dry land.
'Are you okay?' Sarah asked her brother.
Rene nodded, but he was shaking from head to foot.
'This is a good lesson for you boys,' Nan said, after Rene had changed out of his wet clothes. 'It's easy for accidents to happen in the bush, that's why you must always stay close to your family.'
'Jay and I were just leaning over the water looking for frogs and I fell in,' Rene sniffed.
Sarah felt cross with her brothers for trying to catch koya and not listening to Mum and Nan's warnings. She wondered if the woordatj had been watching them. She looked around and saw a flash of red. Was that him?CHAPTER 7
Everyone was so hungry after Rene's accident they decided to have an early lunch.
Soon they were tucking into the delicious damper that Nan had made the night before, as well as cold meat, salad, cheese and fruit. But they got a big surprise after their meal when a large grey kangaroo jumped up to the picnic spot and stared at them, its ears twitching.
'That's unusual,' said Dad.
Nan agreed. 'You never see yongas out at this time of the day.'
'Why not, Nan?' Jay asked.
'They like to rest during the day. They make a soft spot under the trees and lay there until kedalak or kedala and then they go and look for a feed.'
'Well it's not sunset or sunrise so maybe he wants our picnic,' said Rene.
Sarah smiled. The kangaroo had cheered Rene up.
'Sometimes yongas run if something has scared them,' Nan said thoughtfully.
'I bet a snake frightened it,' said Jay.
Nan shook her head. 'A yonga would jump over a dobitj.'
Sarah tugged on her long brown ponytail nervously. 'Perhaps it was something short and hairy ...'
Nan stood up. 'Come on,' she said. 'Let's go for a walk and see if we can find what scared that yonga.'
Excerpted from Barlay! by Cheryl Kickett-Tucker. Copyright © 2010 Cheryl Kickett-Tucker. Excerpted by permission of Fremantle Press.
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