Wind, Wood, and Woes

The Trials of Billy Wandjina


Peter Pickering

3/9/20243 min read

Billy's quest for redemption at Wirrinjup's Cultural Festival, following his memorable fumbles with both the boomerang and the woomera, set the stage for what was to be an epic comeback with the bullroarer. The previous year had seen Billy's attempts with the boomerang more akin to a comedy of errors, with each throw veering off in hilariously unpredictable directions. The woomera had been no kinder, as his efforts to launch a spear had instead launched a series of unfortunate events, culminating in a spear stuck firmly in the ground behind him. These previous misadventures, spectacles in their own right, had become fond tales recounted by Old Man Yirra around the campfires, adding layers of legend to Billy's saga. Yirra, with his knack for storytelling, had a way of turning Billy's mishaps into epic tales of trial and perseverance, much to the amusement and awe of Wirrinjup's younger generations.

With these misadventures behind him, Billy turned his sights to the bullroarer. This elongated piece of wood, tethered to a cord, was more than a tool; it was a communicator between the earthly and the spiritual, used in sacred ceremonies to call upon the ancestors. Billy hoped it would be his chance to finally shine in the eyes of his community.

The bullroarer, a simple yet profound instrument, required a finesse that Billy found daunting. Known for connecting the physical to the spiritual realm, it was a vital part of Wirrinjup's sacred ceremonies. Billy's father, Murrungkurr, with a mixture of hope and concern, presented him with the challenge, hoping it would be the making of his son.

As the festival approached, Billy dedicated himself to mastering the bullroarer. Night after night, under the vast outback sky, he practiced, his initial attempts producing sounds more akin to the cries of the local wildlife than the deep, resonant call of the ancestors. Tarni, his childhood friend, would often join him as he practiced, offering words of encouragement and occasionally dodging the errant bullroarer, which seemed to have a mind of its own. Her support was unwavering, even when the bullroarer's flight path became unpredictably creative, much like Billy's earlier attempts with the boomerang and woomera. Despite the setbacks, including a memorable evening when the bullroarer slipped from his grasp and narrowly missed a rather perplexed kangaroo, Billy persevered.

On the day of the Cultural Festival, with the community of Wirrinjup gathered, Billy stepped forward, bullroarer in hand. Old Man Yirra, Tarni by his side, Murrungkurr and Baliny watching closely, all held their breath as Billy began his attempt to call upon the ancestors. The crowd, filled with faces both familiar and new, awaited the haunting sound of the bullroarer, a sound that was meant to bridge the earthly with the spiritual. The moment was ripe for redemption. With a deep breath, he began to swing the bullroarer overhead, hoping for the haunting sound that would signify his successful connection with the ancestral spirits.

However, not all went according to plan. As Billy swung the bullroarer with all his might, in a twist of fate that seemed all too familiar, a sudden gust of wind caught it at just the wrong moment, sending it hurtling into the ceremonial fire. The resulting silence was palpable, broken only by the distant laughter of his siblings and the sympathetic looks from his friends and family.