A twig snapped, the sound loudly echoing across the dry landscape. Balu cursed himself for being so careless, quickly looking up to see if the noise had disturbed his prey. About 50 meters north beneath an Acacia tree, was a kangaroo. It hadn’t bolted from the noise, but its ears were stiff and alert, and the beast sniffed the wind for any hint of danger. The boy held unbelievably still, and after what felt like an eternity, the kangaroo went back to eating the grass beneath the tree.
Realizing he hadn’t spoiled the hunt, a wave of relief washed over him. There was still a chance to succeed. He had been tracking the kangaroo since dawn, following signs left on branches and in the dirt. Balu was out here in the arid deserts not by choice, but by requirement. All boys of his age were taken by the elders into the bush. They left their homes along the coast after the December ceremonies, and headed deep into the outback.
The purpose of this journey was one of great importance. Balu had spent the last four weeks learning the art of hunting. He learned to live, breath, think, and feel hunting. The elders had taught him everything he needed to know, and now in order to be considered a man amongst their tribe, Balu must have a successful kill.
The elder Namana had shown him the old ways of tool making, and only days before, Balu had selected the stone that would become his blade. He had crafted the stone tool himself, although it had taken several tries before he learned the proper flaking technique. The finished blade was a thing of true beauty. Twice as long as it was wide, it maintained sharp edges on either margin, with two distinct scars on the dorsal surface.
Once the blade had been prepared, the elders had shown Balu how to haft the tool to the top of a long wooden spear. The spear was made from Mulga wood, utilized by the tribes for its sturdiness and strength. Balu’s spear was almost two meters tall and had a distinct knot near the top. Namana had shown him how to attach the blade using a combination of spinifex resin and animal sinew.
Reaching down, Balu grasped the wooden spear that had been resting in the bushes. He liked how heavy it felt in his hand, and knowing that he had helped craft it, made the spear seem that much more powerful.
A gentle breeze rolled across his face and Balu thanked the spirits that it had come from the north. Being downwind from the kangaroo meant that his position had not been given away. He circled wide, creeping through the bush with a delicate silence. Balu’s breath slowed, and the sound of his beating heart filled his ears. Boom. Boom. Boom. The beats sounded like a ceremonial drum.
When the scent of the kangaroo filled his nostrils, Balu knew he was close enough. Taking cover behind a bush, Balu went over the kill plan in his head. He would have one chance to throw his spear and he knew he must aim for the body of the beast. It held the highest chance for success and he could not return to the elders empty handed.
Closing his eyes, Balu gathered all his strength. When his eyes opened, he channeled all that strength into his right arm, and with lightning speed he rose up from behind the bush, raised the spear, aimed, and threw it with all his might.
The kangaroo heard him too late. The blade of the spear sunk deep into the flesh along its flank, dropping the animal instantly. Balu’s heart beat faster. He’d done it! But his sense of victory was fleeting, as the animal bleated out a pained cry before dying. The sound of death echoed inside his head before finally growing silent.
He had made his first kill. And although he was proud of himself for succeeding, the weight from taking a life set heavy upon his shoulders. With gentle steps Balu approached the dead kangaroo. He knelt down beside it and hung his head. Not really knowing what he was doing, Balu’s hands reached up and rested atop the still warm fur. He thanked the animal for its life, for the meat it would provide, and mostly for helping him become a man.
Standing up, Balu placed one hand on the kangaroo, and used the other to pull the spear free from its flesh. Bright red blood coated the blade and trickled down the shaft. He set the spear aside and pulled out a stone knife. In one swift motion he opened the belly of the beast, the smell of its insides assaulting his senses. Quickly he removed the stomach contents and intestines, as they were inedible and added more weight during transport.
Once the kangaroo had been cleaned, Balu tied the wound closed with some spare sinew. He bent down and hoisted the animal up over his shoulders, shifting back and forth to distribute the weight. Reaching down, he grabbed a handful of red dirt. Balu smeared the dirt up and down his arms to soak up any remaining blood. He jabbed the spear into the ground a few times to clean off the blade. Satisfied, Balu turned towards the west and headed back to camp.
A slow smile spread across his face as he walked. When he had crept out of camp in the dark early hours of the morning, he’d left as a boy. And now, with his first hunt a success, he could return to the camp this afternoon not as a boy, but as a man.
This artifact was the inspiration for my story. I found it while working in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. It is a stone blade made from Banded Iron Formations. It is difficult to determine the age of such stone tools, as techniques are much the same today as they were thousands of years ago. This blade could be anywhere from a few years young up to 50,000 years old.
Archaeological Tip: In Western Australia it is an offense for any person to “…alter, damage, remove, destroy, or conceal…” an object associated with an Aboriginal site. For more information about the Aboriginal Heritage Act of 1972 (WA) please click here. If you are interested in visiting the outback, I suggest going on a professional tour. You can book great tours and excursions through Expedia Activities, if interested, click here.