The traditional Aboriginal people studied the sky and were able to tell not only the positions of all of the major stars but also the changing patterns of the moon and the seasonal effects of the sun. There are many Dreamtime legends about the stars, the sun and the moon and how each came into being. This legend comes from an area now known as Arnhem Land.

Before the Dreamtime, there was a time when the world was in complete darkness with people spending their lives in the dark and the cold. The sun was already in its place in the upper sky but like a blanket beneath it the second sky hung so that none of the light and warmth from the sun reached the earth.

A group of black and white magpies shared the bleak existence with the first people and like them, were very distressed by the perpetual darkness.

Then one day the magpie leader called a meeting.

"You must try to push aside the second sky," he told the other magpies.

push aside the second sky

The other magpies chattered and shook their heads. "We can't. We are much too weak," they told the leader.

"I believe you are strong enough, if all of you were to push hard together."

strong enough...

Because he was their leader and they respected his wisdom, the magpies put their doubts aside and listened carefully to their leader. "If we could manage to move it, then perhaps some of the light and warmth would come through to us," he added. And suddenly, with the thought of this, they all became very happy to try.

Flocking to the sky, the magpies carefully positioned themselves and on the command from the leader, each pushed with all his might against the second sky. A great cheer went up as the sky moved--just a little. It was completely flat like a board and they had managed to lift it...

They managed to rest it upon some boulders for a moment, in order to catch their breath. Then they placed themselves to push again against the second sky in its new position. With the word of the magpie leader, they were able to push it higher still. Summoning all of the strength they possessed, they pushed it harder than they could have believed possible and the second sky rose higher yet.

Still the world was in darkness and they began to feel disappointed that the great effort seemed to make no difference. Their leader saw that they were discouraged and exhausted. "Place the sky gently on that mountaintop," he said, "and you can all take a rest."

Because they were so tired and disappointed, the magpies were a bit careless. They lost control of the heavy, flat, awkward sky and suddenly it fell from their grasp, crashing noisily to the earth below and splitting into hundreds of pieces.

splitting into hundreds of pieces

There was, for a moment, a terrible confusion among the magpies as they flew around in all directions, horrified by what they had done. Then, there was light--they could see the broken sky lying on the ground and the sun was no longer hidden from view. The magpies turned and looked at the upper sky.

What a magnificent sight it was. The sun could be seen, with its light and warmth flooding across the earth.

light and warmth..
flooding across the earth

The magpies sang in chorus. They sang songs of excitement and triumph, for their leader's plan had succeeded beyond their wildest hopes. Then, they watched the people of the whole earth who were, in turn, watching them--watching the magpies fly round in delight. Tasks were left to gaze in awe and wonder at the sun and the celebrating magpies.

The people all began to dance and sing and the magpies also danced and sang. It was the most exciting day in all their lives.

This story has been repeated from generation to generation and the Aboriginal people of Arnhem Land have continued to feel a fondness for the magpies. To this day, each new sunrise is greeted with the unmistakable warble of magpies, as is their right.

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