Ngarigu: The Learning Walk
The Learning Walk
Story told by Aunty Rachel Mullett - Monero-Ngarigo Elder
Photo: Ernest Mainka
Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria
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My name is Nyarman. My family belongs to the Monero tribe. This is our story.
A long time ago, when I was a little girl, my family decided to take the children on a learning walk, as they had done when they were small. The learning walk would take us from the very high mountain we lived beside, where the wide rolling water touches the land.
When it was time to leave, the women gathered up all their belongings. On their hips and shoulders they carried grass baskets for food, kangaroo rugs for sleeping under, and their babies. We older children walked with them. Our only clothing was made of possum skins wrapped around our bodies.
All the men walked ahead with their spears and boomerangs, always ready to protect the women and children from harm.
Before nightfall the whole family would look for a place to camp. We children helped our mothers gather up bushes to make a shelter to sleep in out of the cold night air. We called this shelter a mia-mia.
The men made a fire to cook our food. After everyone had eaten we lay down in the mia-mia to sleep. The men would keep watch, sitting around the fire in their possum skin cloaks waiting for the moon to come up. It was only then that they could lie down beside the fire and go to sleep.
Then the moon would watch over the camp while the men slept too.
The next day we got up early and moved on. It was a very long walk, over the mountains and down through the gullies where the clear water was flowing. All along the banks tall bushy ferns were growing and under the ferns there were rocks covered with soft green moss.
I found a large rock to sit on while I watched water flowing by. It called to the birds playing in the trees and the tiny flowers in the grass. ‘What a magical place this is’, I thought to myself. ‘I wonder if it will be the same in the place where the water rolls over and over before it touches the land?’
In a few days we were travelling through a different kind of country. This land was flat and swampy, not like our own high mountains.
The men lit fires to chase the kangaroo ahead of us. This made the kangaroos and emus easier to spear as they moved out onto the open land and it made the way easier for the women and children coming along behind.
Today we moved on again. All day we walked until we came to a wide river. It had started in the high hills not far from our country and now it curved its way across the plains.
There was no way we could cross the river until the men made some canoes. The men decided to make a more permanent camp using bark from the trees to build stronger shelters.
We stayed there by the river for a long time. Soon it was getting cold. Bunna was beginning. We didn’t mind though. There was plenty of fish and kangaroo to eat and the kangaroo skins kept us warm at night.
After the men had gathered enough food for us all, they would light a fire to signal that it was time to make camp and to cook what they had caught. Everybody was always very tired and hungry by the end of the day.
Now we had reached the plains, we camped for many days. Each day my Ngujarn and the rest of the women and children searched for berries and yams. Yams are my favorite because they are crunchy and sweet. I like them cooked in the ashes of the fire as well.
After Bunna had passed we went swan egging in the swamp. It was great fun for us kids because we could play hide and seek in the reeds. The men caught water birds by throwing their boomerangs. We always had plenty of fresh food because each day everyone helped to gather things for us all to share. We just took what we needed, not too much, that way nothing was wasted.
Now it was time to move on again. I was beginning to wonder if we were ever going to get to where the rolling water meets the land.
‘How much further do we have to walk?’ I asked my Ngujarn. ‘Not far now,’ she said, ‘I can smell the salt water’. Soon I, too, could smell the salt water but I felt afraid because I could hear a loud booming noise. ‘Do not be afraid Nyarman,’ said my Ngubby, ‘it’s only the water rolling onto the land and then it goes back again to its bed.
I felt better then. All the boories ran over the huge hill that looked like yellow earth and tumbled down the other side. We felt so happy that we chased each other all along the yellow earth where the rolling water touches the land.
We were so fascinated by the yellow earth that we rolled and played in it all day. Then we all walked along the edge of the water towards the place where the fresh water ran out into the rolling water. This place was known as Wingan.
Soon it was time to make camp again. We stayed for many days, feasting on the fish, mussels and oysters that we found plenty of in the lake.
Then it was time to move on again. We packed up our baskets and kangaroo skins and walked on to the place my elders knew as Mallacoota, the place of many waters.
At Mallacoota the men sat down and decided to have a corroboree. This corroboree was to be a special one so women and boories were not allowed to see what was going on.
Being curious, I hid behind a tree to watch while the men painted themselves with white clay in readiness for the corroboree. Before long, I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until sunrise. Mallacoota is a special place because the spirits are there to watch over you, just as they watched over me and put me to sleep so I couldn’t watch the corroboree.
Now it was the middle of Nimbing. Our tribe was ready to leave and go back to our home land. This time it would be easier because we only had to follow our tracks back the way we had come so many months before.
Where we had lit the fires on our way to the sea the new grass and leaves were growing which meant plenty of food.
I love Nimbing. Everywhere it’s so fresh and green with all the new growth and young animals to see.
During the long walk back home to Monero land the tribe travelled to a sacred mountain. We made camp where my Ancestors have been coming every Ngooma. Inside this cave it was very dark and many, many, many moths lived there. We lit a fire and put green bushes on it to make lots of
smoke which made the moths fall down, then we gathered them up to cook on the coals.
Moth eating time was a happy time for celebrating because it meant our long learning walk was nearly over.
Soon we would be back home, the place we had started from.
I sat by the fire thinking. Thinking of my people who walked each year to the place where the water rolls over and over and back again.
And I think about my own learning walk, the walk that you have shared.
Told by Aunty Rachel Mullett – Monero-Ngarigo Elder
This story is based on the annual walk of the Monero people from their mountain homelands to Mallacoota. They walked approximately 300km each way. They followed the Snowy River to the mouth and along the coast to Mallacoota and the return journey took the people across the Errinundra Plateau.