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THE DAY THE BULLFROG LAUGHED

The native people of Australia, the aborigines, tell us of the Dreaming Time, a time when the world was created, a time when myths were made. This tale happened in the Dreaming Time, long ago.

The world then was full of creatures and creeks. Wide plains stretched across the land. Majestic, snow-capped mountains rose from the plains. The sun shone down upon the land. Rains fell. The world was beautiful and grand.Then a terrible drought came to the land. The sun shone, bright and golden, but no rain fell. Soon all the creeks and rivers grew dry. The earth grew so hard, it caked and cracked. Soon there was no water anywhere. All the creatures were in great distress.

"We must find out what has happened to our water," the creatures said. "We must try to bring back the rain."

And so the elders of every tribe gathered together in the very center of the land to hold a council. Kangaroo came, and so did Wallaby. Kangaroo Rat attended the council, and so did little Pouched Mouse. Emu and Cassowary came. Pelican and Parrot and Budgerigar flew to the foot of the mountain, and so did Lyrebird and Kookaburra. From each tribe came the Walarima, the medicine man. Possum journeyed far to join the others. Goanna the lizard slithered there. Dragonfly with his rainbow-colored wings hovered overhead. Mosquito and Ant were there. So were Platypus and Koala, and Wombat and Bandicoot. No one dared miss this important gathering.

Imagine the sight: There stood a majestic mountain beneath the blazing sun. And there, at the foot of the mountain, gathered all of the elders. Quietly the meeting began.

Oh, the elders talked that day. They had no feast, of course, for there was little food and no water. Still, they talked. They talked as the moon rose and were still talking when day dawned. They talked through that second day, and through the next.

Alas, no one could explain what had become of the water. No one knew where it had gone or how to make it return.

At last Pelican rose. He was the leader of a small tribe from the faraway wetlands, now almost dried up. "May I speak?" he asked politely.

The others quieted and listened.

"I fly low over the land," said Pelican. "On my way here, I passed over the top of the mountain."

The others looked up to the mountaintop and turned back to face Pelican. "Go on," they said.

"I flew so low I was able to see the very top of the mountain," Pelican said. "And there I saw giant Bullfrog fast asleep beneath a rock. Now listen, friends. I am sure I know what happened to our water."

"Tell us," cried Kangaroo. The others nodded.

"I am sure that Bullfrog has swallowed up our water."

At this all the others began to talk. "What shall we do?" they asked. "Surely Pelican is right. We have seen Bullfrog's bulging stomach. It must be true. What will we do?"

Kookaburra called them to order. "I know exactly what to do," he said. "This is a job for me. No one can resist the sound of my laughter. I will make Bullfrog laugh so loud and long, he will cough up all our water."

The elders journeyed to the top of the mountain, to the rock where Bullfrog sat. Everyone fell silent, while Kookaburra took his place before the Bullfrog. Then Kookaburra opened his mouth and laughed. He laughed and laughed until he was hoarse. But Bullfrog simply blinked and kept his mouth closed.

"We will make him speak," called Kangaroo, and he and Wallaby held a boxing match, right before Bullfrog's eyes.

Bullfrog blinked once. Then he closed his eyes and slept.

"Let me show him!" cried Possum, and he climbed into the tallest branches of the gum tree. There he did his wondrous trapeze act.

Still Bullfrog did not open his mouth.

Now Cassowary took center stage. He danced and danced. He invented one new step after another. But the dance did no good. Bullfrog slept on.

"Leave this to me!" Lyrebird called. "Bullfrog will not be able to resist my mimicking." In the silence of the mountaintop, Lyrebird began to speak. He mimicked Parrot. He mimicked Mouse. He spread his beautiful tail and mimicked Kookaburra. Before long every creature was laughing so hard the eucalyptus leaves shook.

Everyone, that is, but Bullfrog. He sat as still as a stone.

Now all the creatures were thirstier than ever. They hung their heads. Some of them wept.

Toward the end of the day, Eel crawled out of a crack in the earth. "Let me try," he said softly, for you see, Eel was terribly shy.

"Hoo, you?" Kookaburra laughed. "How can you do something no one else can do?"

"Let him try," said Kangaroo. "We can all try if we wish, though I'm afraid Bullfrog will never laugh."

Eel slithered onto a smooth, flat rock. He began to wriggle and squirm and squiggle across the rock, making all kinds of amazing patterns with his body. He tied himself in knots. He turned himself into a circle and a square and a star and a diamond.

And suddenly, Bullfrog's belly began to quiver. Then it shook. It quivered. A moment later, everyone heard a deep, rumbling sound.

Bullfrog threw back his head and started to laugh. Once he began, he could not stop.

Just as Pelican had predicted, the water began to pour out of Bullfrog's mouth. Bright, glistening water streamed down the mountain, flooding the plain.

The flood was so sudden that many of the animals below had no time to move out of the way. Those who couldn't swim would have drowned if the people hadn't come in their canoes and picked them up and saved them.

The people took them to the top of the hills above the flood. There they stayed until the water had flowed into all the rivers and creeks.

Afterward, the world turned green again, and everyone was grateful and at peace.