This is a story told by the Aboriginal people of Australia. Like all Aboriginal mythology, it teaches the listener the basics of the Aboriginal spiritual ideology: do not harm the earth or other people, and your life will be safe from danger and harm.
During the great flood
, thousands of people drowned. Some clung to trees, but they were swept away like straws in the raging river
A group of men and one woman survived the great flood, and were trapped on top of a hill. Their small island had no food on it, though, and they wondered if it would have been better to drown than to die of starvation. In time, however, they came to see a canoe far off in the distance. As it got closer to their island they saw it was being paddled by Booran the Pelican.
They cried out for him to come and save them, but he waited a while before answering. Finally Booran said "Yes, I will help you, but I can only take one of you at a time." The female moved forward to be saved first, but Booran told the group "I will take the men first".
Booran took the men across one by one until there was only one male left with the female. The woman was scared, as she knew that if she was left alone with Booran he would take her for his wife. She didn't want to marry a pelican.
While Booran was taking the last male across to safety the woman covered a log with a possum skin rug, so it looked as though she was asleep. While Booran had been taking the men across the river the water had receeded, so the woman was able to slip into the water and swim away in the opposite direction.
When the pelican got back, he wasted no time in approaching the woman. Chattering excitedly to himself, he went up to the log and kicked it where the woman's ribs would have been. He staggered back in agony as his foot collided with the log.
Booran pulled the rug off the log and got very angry. He had been tricked. He swore vengeance on the woman and her friends. He dabbed white clay on his face in imitation of the warriors he had seen at corroboree. Furious, he paddled along the shore line , and came across a pelican which was much bigger and stronger than Booran.
The black pelican looked at Booran in astonishment, noting the white paint streaks on his face. He realised the white and black pelican would most likely be trying to start trouble, and before Booran could defend himself the black pelican had rushed forward and impaled Booran on his beak.
Booran lay on the shore, beak facing up to the sky, feathers torn, messy and patchy with white clay. And ever since that day when the flood of Tiddalick receeded, the plumage of the pelican has been a mixture of black and white.