It was time to go, everyone was ready. Billy stepped out of the shade and joined his family meandering along their quiet ancestral trail through the bush. He was glad to be leaving the Corroboree site this year. He loved the ceremonies with all the singing and dancing and storytelling, but he’d had enough of his mum invading his dreams.
It would take most of the day to reach their destination — a small valley nestled between two outcrops in a sheer, two–hundred metre rock face. It was in the shade of the escarpment for most of the day so they often camped there in particularly hot summers. They never camped there in winter as it was horribly cold. They had other campsites dotted around the Wollemi where the sun was rich.
It was late afternoon by the time they rounded a bend in the trail where they were presented with the magnificence of their valley. Billy was in the lead when he noticed a small mob of kangaroos emerging from the shade of a Scribbly gum tree after a long day of sleep. Six men needed a lot of food and a roo or two would provide all they needed for the night, and hopefully enough for some breakfast. Billy immediately crouched down to hide so everyone else automatically followed suit and assessed the situation.
Billy pointed out a small family of White–winged choughs while he dug a handful of white clay from the riverbank and proceeded to streak it over his body. It would help hide his scent and camouflage him against the background. The choughs were settling down for the night in a tree near the best approach of dark green Lolly bush shrubs and black Grass trees. The hunters grunted their hatred of the pesky birds whose barrage of alarm calls had spoiled too many hunts. Then Billy pointed in another direction while he painted his face. It was along a dry riverbed leading to their second best approach, a dry swamp of paperbark trees. The others nodded and proceeded to pick from the surroundings in search of their own camouflage.
Billy surveyed the scene within the mob while he waited for the others to finish. Two restless joeys gave each other the nod and scrambled from their pouches to play chase. The rambunctious little roos indulged in euphoric bursts of speed before returning to kick their ever–patient mums as hard as they could, in preparation of fighting for a harem of their own. One impressive kick too many had the bigger of the two locked in mum’s grip as she proudly groomed him with her free paw — a most embarrassing predicament. The younger of the two kept ducking back to the safety of his pouch, as if fleeing an imaginary dingo before popping his head out to see if the coast was clear, much to his mum’s amusement.
Pindaari was the last to finish his camouflage as usual, fussing over his accessories with a totally over the top bracken fern headdress. Finally he nodded his readiness so they all headed off, sneaking along the sandy bottom of the watercourse while running the image of each roo in relation to the surrounding vegetation through their minds. A thirsty River red gum tree marked the spot on the bank to turn in. They stayed in single file to keep their disturbance to a minimum while they crept over the embankment. It would be a gruelling eighty metres before they were within range. Every broken twig, every rustle of the long grass and every startled grasshopper would be closely inspected by the ever–alert roos. The more of these signals they heard, the more reason they would have to suspect danger and move off.
Burnam led Mallee off to the left while Billy split off to the right with Mandu, Cobar and Pindaari. While Burnam hid behind a tree, Mandu stood stock still out in the open, using his camouflage to imitate a paperbark tree. Billy admired his boldness. Every few moments he’d take another step or two directly towards the mob, looking like a tree that hadn’t moved at all. He’d even smeared the clay through his hair.
Pindaari volunteered to distract the roos with the calls of unalarmed birds if the roos became suspicious, while the others slowly closed the semi–circle. Everyone worked together, speeding up or slowing down to keep each other in position. Billy lost sight of his dad for a moment, but after a closer look at a cluster of tree trunks, he saw the whites of human eyes watching him. It was unnerving, as if he had just seen the spirit of the tree.
Meanwhile, Burnam was waiting for everyone to get into position before giving the signal to attack.
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