I met Reg Dodd at Marree during by Big Trip North. You can read about our meeting in the section on Marree. He is the chairman of the Marree ArabunnaPeoples’ Committee, the Arabunna being the local indigenous clan or mob in the Marree area.
The next day, At Coward Springs, in the restored drivers' hut, which was something of a little museum, I came across wall placards that told the Aboriginal stories of Coward Springs (there are actual springs which the local Aboriginals would have used for centuries) and the coming of the railway. They were presented as "Told by Reg Dodd of Marree".
Reg told these stories to Pru Coulls who, with her partner, Greg Emmett, owns and runs the campground and surrounds at the Coward Springs siding. Prue kindly supplied me with transcripts, which I have edited slightly in places for presentation here. The stories are published here with Reg’s permission.
There is a map at the bottom of the page indicating the location of places mentioned in Reg's stories.
The Stories – as told by Reg Dodd
Stories of the Beginning – the Dreamtime
Around Coward Springs
North of Coward Springs, the road passes between two hills. One is a brown hill – that’s on the south-western side of it; and, on the north-eastern side of it, is a white hill. Now, the story, our story, that relates to the creation of the hills and that, this is where the seven sisters used to come down through the night to dig up yulka – we call yulka – I think the Europeans identify it as a bush onion. They would dig it all up – and you see all the break-away areas where they used to dig up the area creating some of them springs and that. And they would peel the yulkas and they would put the skins of the yulka on the south-western side of the road all over the brown hill; and, on the north-eastern side, they would stack all the fruits of the bush onion, the yulka. When you peel the yulka, you see white bulb. We call that yulka nuri. The brown skin we call yulka burroo. So that’s the creation of that hill there.
Now, these stories are told to us so that we can identify with the land feature. Whereas, I mean nearly every Aboriginal group in Australia has a story that identifies or links with the seven sisters, but the differences are that the stories links to different land features. Now I couldn’t go into another area and say, “well, I’ve got seven sisters dreaming too.” Well, I do, but it doesn’t apply to their land. It’s really to link you to that land, and that story gives you, like, a title of deed to that land, because you can identify with that land through that story. You’re linked through that story to that land.
The Original Coward Springs
Over there to the west of the site now known as Coward Springs, there’s a natural spring. That’s the originalCoward Springs. We call it Pitha kalti kalti - Pitha meaning tree and kalti meaning something that’s perfect and very good to look at. The story links to part of that old cat dreaming, travelling, travelling round. We call him Wuroombula. Wuroombula gone back travelling back from south going right through the north. So he pulled up and camped and that’s one of his camps.And we identify places like that where he’s camped; other places where he’s tried to catch blue birds for his meal and that you know other things he does.
See Curdimurka, we call him Gudnanamba. Where this fella he run away from up there, he done something wrong, from the Top End, he’s run away and he’s travelling back - goin’ south. Along the way, he camped at Curdimurka. Then, not Curdimurka… but down at the creek, called Gudnanamba – that’s where that old fella’s run to now – Gudnanamba, he camped at Gudnanamba, eh. And then he got up the next morning and he took off. When he got to other side of hill, he jump up, lookin’ down in the Kildy, that hill there - and he looked back and he seen this smoke rising, see…ah, he said, “that bloke close to me now”…he said, “I can’t go any further that way ‘cos he catch me, see. So he said I gonna sneak back and kill ‘im. So he went back down that hill, right back and he come up on the creek”, see, and he’s sneakin’ up on the creek to kill this fella ‘cos he thought someone was following him, so close and when he looked over the bush, he said “well he’s right at my camp where I was last night;” and he looked a bit further where he had gone and went to the toilet but he didn’t cover it up, see, and it’s the steam comin’ off see, and he thought it was smoke. So what he done then, he got the sand and he was coverin’ his gudnab see, that’s his droppings –gudnab see, so his gudnanamba that’s what we call gudnab, see, that’s that’s how they call that name Gudnanamba and that’s another thing behind that story is you got to bury your thing too, see…
The Creation of the Bubbler**
This old hunter come round – they use to live there – big camp, used to be Gudnanamba. What’s now called Curdimurka. He come out one day to hunt and he come across this track, this strange snake track would come along. So he tracked him and the snake went into the hole, there off that Margaret Creek. So, he dug that hole out. He come to a dead end there, so he come out and then he dug that creek out and dug that hole out forming that creek that comes up to Margaret, twisting there, too far, “no, not in here.” He went back, back down by Horse Springs and started digging that little creek that runs into the Bubbler. Come out there, right up at the Bubbler, and he found the snake in the Bubbler, see, what you call the Bubbler. We call the Bubbler Kiltaga, that’s where he pulled that snake out. He pulled him out at the Bubbler and then he took him over to the Blanche Cup there, we call that Thirka. That’s where he cooked him – in the thirka. And he pulled him out and he broke him up, he chucked the head away forming that hill Wabma Kadarbu there, and he sat down, ’et that snake, and he caught a couple of little pigeons and a finch…(spoken in Arabunna language). And he took them back. When he got back to Gudnanamba, the old woman said “any… (spoken in Arabunna language)…he said “only…( spoken in Arabunna language)…only little sort of things.” And the old woman looked at him and said, “you must be telling lies” ‘cos all his whiskers shiny and all that see, all fat and that on it. So the old woman said “I fix him up.” So the old woman went down the creek there, started singing then and put a spell on him - singin’, singin’ there - next minute the old fella started to get pains and, then he went down the creek he was laying down rollin’ around in the creek – “manadi…(spoken in Arabunna language)…” swelled up then, his testicles, swelled up. And they sing out then to all the people, “Come and have a look, this old…(spoken in Arabunna language)…” and he was still rolling around and all the people were standing around looking at him. All bar one old woman who was blind and the girl who was leading that blind old woman. They was up on top of the sand hills at Gudnanamba. The two little tea-trees there now – that’s the old woman and the girl. And all the old people come there looking at the old fella. Next minute, his manadi just exploded, busted. All the lava and that turned into little round rocks you got in there now in the creek, Gudnanamba, you find all these rocks there, well that’s that old fella’s manadi.
But the moral behind that story is, young fella, is you got lolly there or something, or something good, you gotta share, you gotta share, otherwise your manadi bust.
** The Bubbler and Blanche Cup are "mound springs" within Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park, along the Oodnadatta Track. To read more about mound springs click here.
Stories about the Railway and Coward Springs
Coward Springs as a Railhead
The railway at Coward Springs was actually the main railhead for all the country – the stations, I mean… south-west of here, from Mulgaria right through to wherever you like to come up from – Billa Kalina, Mt. Eba, even as far away as the town of Kingoonya. They used to use this place to load their stock and to unload their stock, if they’d purchased stock on the way.
You might think that they would unload stock further south, but they couldn’t unload stock in Marree because they had to get them over the ranges to stations such as Mulgaria and Witchelina. They had to unload them here. “It was very important, here in Coward Springs.”
For the railway, this place was a water hole. It used to be the place where all the train crew used to quench their thirst. But it was not only important for all that stuff. The old guy who owned the pub used to be a saddler. He was the best saddler in the country. They used to send down saddles from the Territory and from up in Queensland for him to put the ???? (still checking this) on the saddles; and he used to make the best saddles and bridles in the country.
The next station master’s residence after Coward Springs was Oodnadatta.After Oodnadatta, the next one was Finke.
Reg and the Railway
I worked on the railway for 26 years … I finished in ’86. I started…in ‘66 as a train examiner. Before that, I worked on the railway contract. What would happen is you would always crib a couple of minutes here and a couple of minutes there. By the time we left Marree, you would book yourself out of Marree – what time it was – and then you’d have to book in again, say, at Alberrie Creek. So you’d book in a bit late and then you would say to the driver “I’m going to leave at 3.15,” but actually you’d probably leave at 3.00, as you’d know where the trains were. So you’d have quarter of an hour. And the same would happen here. And so, by the time you got here, you would have that much time up your sleeve, see,… so the moment you arrive at a siding, I think you’d have to book in straight away. They’d wait for about 10 minutes or quarter of an hour and then they would book in. “Oh, just got in” – and they’d been sitting in there a quarter of an hour.
The Railway and Aboriginal Employment
The railways were responsible for introducing the Aboriginal people into the paid work force. My old man, he got a job…I was about 10, I reckon, and we came up from Finniss Springs with a horse and cart - the old woman and the brothers, 4 brothers, dear little brothers. At Curdimurka, old Des Dunn, he was a senior road master, came up – and we was sitting under the tank and he saw the old man sitting there, never even saw him before. The old man, dark as your socks, he was. And old Des walked up and said to him, “Do you want a job, old fella?” and the old man said, ”Yeah”. He said, “Be down at Marree in a week’s time or whenever you get down and you can start.” So he got a job on the railways.
Aboriginal people were working on the railways. Anyhow, that was Curdimurka, Wongianna and Alberrie Creek. So it gave the younger people some sort of incentive. Prior to that you were looking at how you could ride a horse or you wore a boxing glove or played the guitar or something like that. But then when the others came back with their pay envelope - they were actually getting paid for the jobs they were doing – and good money, and then your people said, “Well, I’m going to work on the railways too”. So a lot of the Finniss people got a job on the railway… Look at old Lennie there, he worked until he retired, he must have worked there 50 years. So then most of them were working on the railways; and from railways they were transferred to other government departments.