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.’’