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The Shared Secret

Two men went hunting with their mothers. While the men caught ducks and plovers on the plain, the women collected lily roots and seeds from water pools. The women possessed fire, but sought to keep it secret from the men who were ignorant of firemaking. The women cooked their food while the men were away, and on seeing them returning, hid the live ashes in their vulvas. The men asked where the fire was. The women denied that there was a fire and a row broke out, but the women gave the men cooked lily cake, and after they had eaten cake and meat, they all slept. Then the men went hunting and the women cooked.

The weather was very hot. The uneaten remains of the birds went bad. The men brought a fresh supply and again saw the fire burning in the distance. A spur-winged plover flew to warn the women, who hid the fire as before. The men arrived, they argued, the women denied the fire. The men said, 'We saw a big fire; if you have no fire, which way do you cook your food? Has the sun cooked it? If the sun cooks your lilies, why does it not cook our ducks and stop them from going bad?' There was no reply to this. So they slept.

In the morning the men left the women and went away by themselves. After a great deal of effort they discovered they could make fire by rubbing sticks together. They then decided to turn themselves into crocodiles and so they fashioned crocodile heads, pierced their lungs so that they could breathe underwater, practised swimming, and then hid the heads and returned to camp. Again they saw fire in the distance and again the plover gave warning. The women wanted to know what the men had been doing, but the men said nothing at all. Late in the afternoon the women set their nets for fish. In the morning they went to draw in the nets, but the men had arrived first and turned themselves into crocodiles in the water. They hung onto the nets so that the women could not pull them in. When the women felt under the water to see what made the nets heavy, the crocodiles dragged them under and drowned them.

The men threw away their sticks and spears and everything that they had and changed themselves completely into crocodiles. They then dived into the water where they have lived ever since.

Although the crocodiles knew about the fire sticks, they were very clumsy at actually lighting a fire, as another myth from north-eastern Arnhem Land shows.

Story courtesy of Australian Dreaming: 40 000 Years of Aboriginal History (1980) comp. Jennifer Isaacs, Lansdome Press, Sydney, NSW, p. 105