The Weekend Australian - Review - - Cover Story -

Top, from left, Spi­der Kal­by­bidi and Emily Rohr; coun­try near Bidyadanga; Spi­der, left, and Don­ald Moko; far left, Weaver Jack ( left) and el­ders; left, Moko north from their home at Par­rn­gurr down back tracks to in­ves­ti­gate.

Grad­u­ally it be­came plain to them that an­ces­tor fig­ures had lured Spi­der into the back­lands and taken him away. But where to and for what rea­son? Was this death, or tran­si­tion, and on what plane of be­ing was Spi­der sit­u­ated? The pic­ture clar­i­fied, and pre­cise de­tails emerged, when three mem­bers of the Bal­bal fam­ily, all desert born, all strongly en­dowed with ma­parn , or magic, pow­ers, had a shared dream in which Spi­der’s cir­cum­stances were spelled out, and this ac­count soon be­came the stan­dard ver­sion of the story, at least in the in­dige­nous do­main.

At the paint­ing bun­ga­low in old Broome, sit­ting cross-legged, poised be­fore an un­fin­ished can­vas, Ly­dia Bal­bal runs through what she and her two broth­ers saw in their sleep that April night: a group of an­ces­tors, led by the prom­i­nent fig­ure of Maruwat­eye, com­ing to take Spi­der, and it was they, she re­alised, who had trans­ported him, far, all the way to a cave in coun­try south of Wangkatjunka, a cen­tral Kim­ber­ley Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity, hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres dis­tant.

On this jour­ney Spi­der was ac­com­pa­nied by two dogs; no vast sur­prise, as the Yul­par­ija home­lands are very much dog coun­try, roamed by totemic din­gos. Once in that cave, he was painted up for law cer­e­monies, wrapped in cloth, looked af­ter, and fed on a rich diet of wild cat. There was an ob­vi­ous, pleas­ing pat­tern to this tale, for he was close to the land­scape of Tjukur­rmaradji, on the fringes of the Sandy Desert, where his mother had raised him.

If he was not fully dead, it was plain from this ac­count that, as a liv­ing be­ing, Spi­der was no more; he had passed over to the world of spir­its.

‘‘ They have him now, that’s right,’’ Ly­dia muses. ‘‘ But he can come back to us, fly­ing down the law line in that snake cloud, trav­el­ling. He was a strong law­man. I can still feel him. And I think about him, when­ever I see those long, thin, snake clouds.’’

Deeep wa­ters:

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