History of West Australia/Chapter 3
FEAR OF WHITE MEN—INTELLIGENCE UNDERESTIMATED—ORIGIN—AGE—LANGUAGE—APPEARANCE—SENSES—ORNAMENTS—CHARACTERISTICS—BELIEF IN SPIRITS—TRIBAL OR "FAMILY" DISTRICTS—MARRIAGE, ETC—TRIBAL NAMES—THE CAMP—THE CORROBOREE—CHANTS AND POETRY—FOODS—CANNIBALISM—HUNTING—FISHING—WARS—MESSAGES—LEX TALIONIS—PUNISHMENTS—PAINTINGS—DEATH—BURIAL—DECREASING NUMBERS.
IT is necessary to refer to that dark race which for centuries inhabited Australia, and held undisputed possession of her long stretches of woodland and meadow. Many books have been written on the Australian aborigines, but we feel constrained to devote a chapter to them, their daily life, habits, and customs, before proceeding with the historical narrative of European settlement and of the consequent silent, solemn, deadly fight between white and black—the sad, gradual extermination of the original possessors of the soil.
Navigators in their voyages of discovery to Australia observed this strange people at different parts of the coast and were not impressed with their intelligence and appearance. The natives themselves viewed with consternation and involuntary fear the appearance of men of a different colour to their own in such immense contrivances as ships, and they believed them to be spirits from the dead, perhaps even of their own departed, who could no longer remain away from their old hunting-grounds.
While other aboriginal races advanced from the tribal stage, elected kings and constituted innumerable subordinate agencies to administer the governing functions, the Australian remained stationary. No great man rose from among them to lead them out of savagery to civilisation; to teach them agriculture and the arts of writing, building towns and great ships. The primitive life of their primogenitors was their life; and so for unnumbered generations they continued in infinite repetition. With boomerang and spear they hunted the kangaroo and emu, and fought their battles beneath the eucalyptus forests; their minds, fresh, untroubled, contented, oblivious alike of noble ideals and philosophic principles. The present enjoyment, the satisfying of immediate want, was enough for them. They had their loves and hates, jealousies and revenges ; otherwise, neither the mysterious future nor the long past troubled them.
The Australian aborigines are essentially a light-hearted people, full of song and laughter. The onlooker, who knows nothing of their customs, when watching their simple, thoughtless actions, as comparatively shelterless and homeless they indolently loll about in the woods or hunt for vegetable and animal food, would almost assuredly consider them not far removed from the animals they hunted. But upon looking beneath the surface he would probably recognise in them beings of an order higher than the public is generally pleased to concede. It has been published throughout the world that Australian natives are the lowest of all races in intelligence, but fuller observation will prove that this opinion is not quite correct. Although they believe in no God, and worship and give praise to no Invisible Being—although they cannot write, and have no history—although it is impossible to marshal them into armies or unite them in any way—although they are not agriculturists—yet their rites and many of their customs strangely resemble rites and customs perpetuated in profane history and in the Bible. Sir George Grey instituted comparisons between their customs and those of the Jews, and Mr. E. M. Curr in his voluminous work on the Australian natives, drew attention to a similar resemblance to the African negro. The cursory visitor to Australia, and even the mass of Australians, judge the whole race by the debased specimens they see lounging about the towns. These poor fellows exhibit the effects of white vice—disease, tobacco, drink, clothing—which have reduced them to the most abject depths of immorality on the one side and completely undermined their constitutions on the other. Before the European came they were a different people, and even now in uncivilised parts their movements are free, their faces bright; in them is no crouching terror, for they are lords of their tribal districts. But in the settlements they are spurned, scoffed at, driven from door to door; and when they imitate the ways of civilisation there is nothing to encourage them to competition with the white invader.
Scientists have taken little trouble to trace out their origin, in which the pioneer explorers took no interest. A few writers here and there have advanced theories, all of which are different. Mr. Edward M. Curr sought to prove their descent from the African negroes because both are without religion and have similar manners, language, and rites—particularly circumcision—superstition, customs and a tendency to cannibalism. He conjectured that they sprang from one canoe load of pioneers who landed in the north-west of Western Australia, and as their numbers increased, scattered over the continent. This is shown in their wonderful physical and moral homogeneousness all over Australia, and their languages. The slight differences in appearance and in a few characteristics Mr. Curr explained, were caused by a cross with some other race, but apart from that they have not mixed nor had relations with any other people. One thing is certain, they have led an isolated life; The Indian, Pacific, and Southern Oceans have laved Australian shores, and beyond the monsters in the deep, the natives have seen nothing but what the island-continent itself contained. In physical structure, Darwin said, they are more homogeneous than any other race. Mr. Flanagan, in the "Aborigines of Australia," decided that they originally inhabited the Peninsula of Malacca, and are of the same family as those of the finest groups in the South Seas—New Zealand and the Sandwich Islands, but crossed with an inferior race of men. Count Strzlecki believed their origin was involved in impenetrable obscurity. Dr. J. D. Lang regarded them as members of the Southern Papuan family and Huxley considered they were identical with the ancient inhabitants of the Deccan owing to their features being similar to those of the Indian blacks and the resemblance in Dravinian and Australian languages. Professor W. J. Stephens opined that the Australian aboriginal was driven from Northern Asia through India, and some branches into Africa; hence the relationship.
No one has seriously attempted to estimate the period during which the native has inhabited Australia. While the Druids were conducting their strange rites beneath the oak and mistletoe, and the Saxon aboriginal was startled by the invasion of the Romans, he was certainly here. Meantime England has become a famous nation, and the Australian native is as he was. No antique relic, no historical feature, exists to show his age or prove whether he has sunk lower or risen in intelligence. His days are wrapt in mystery.
The examination of language is always an important feature in considering the origin of any race, and those authors who have made an elaborate analysis of the Australian languages agree that they had a common origin. Captain Grey, now Sir George Grey, who spent 1837 and following years in Western Australia and other parts of the continent, was the first to remark this. He discovered that words used on the western coasts strongly resembled those on the eastern; indeed that there was less difference between them than that existing in the dialects of English counties and German provinces. There is a universal similarity in the sound and structure of words, and the stem of the same word with a similar signification, is used all over the continent. The native has names for every part of the human body, and in this is most particular and concise. The arm has one name, the upper arm another, the left arm a different one, and the right also. Similar words are used in South Australia and New South Wales and Western Australia, and the slight difference is all the more remarkable and striking when the immense distance of nearly 2500 miles is considered, and when it is remembered that there is no written language and no inter-communication. Some use cypher signs, which are not intelligible to the European, and count by tallies or sticks. In communion with each other they express themselves quickly and gesticulate expressively. Their pronunciation is almost soft and pleasant to the ear, and if perchance at night the European hears their voices raised in chanting he will be impressed by the weird cadences and soft protracted soundings of the vowels. Captain Grey once heard their chants wafted by the night breeze from a wooded hill. The wild cries of hidden women appeared to float in air, and left a pleasing impression of anticipation on the young captain. Whether in ordinary conversation, in songs of contentment, in loud long wailings, or in war and dance chants at the corroboree, the effect is decidedly striking.
The Australian native is not so black as the African negro. His skin has a dark copper colour, but in the palms of the hands and soles of the feet it is a brownish pink. His hair is generally black, but tribes or families are known who possess red hair, and others quite white, and still others are fair. But these are exceptions to the race. The bones of the face are large and prominent, the forehead receding, more developed in the perceptive than the reflective signs; the nose is full and broad at the point; the mouth is large, and the lips are thick and protruding. The eyes are dark, and in inaction are listless, but when in the hunt or during moments of excitement they flash on every object. The general expression of the face is kind, and in children pleasant and bright. The limbs are usually long and small, but in those regions where food is plentiful a more attractive development is observed. There is little superfluous flesh, much hard muscle, and the skin is generally soft and velvety to the touch. Some of the females have nicely rounded limbs, but this is not usual. The average height of the male is less than that of the Englishman, and more than the Frenchman. Certain tribes in the fertile north-west average more than six feet and are excellent examples of black manhood, activity,
and power. Other tribes, again, average little more than five feet. The fertility of the regions they inhabit in natural products, and the climatic conditions, cause the difference. Professor Huxley in one of his works stated that the native forearm and hand, foot and leg were often proportionately larger than those of the European, and to prove this Dr. A. Milne Robertson, who was at one time surgeon to the convict establishment in Western Australia, measured fifty natives and some whites. He found the mean of aggregate measurements of forearm and hand of European to be 17·52 and of the native 18·3, of the leg of European 18·28 and native 19·02, and foot 10·08 and 9·78 respectively. The chest girth is larger in Europeans than natives.
Mr. Curr held that the native is quicker in action of mind and more observant than the English peasant, but that the latter has the advantage in calculation and perseverance. In Australian schools where natives have been taught the curriculum they prove themselves in no way inferior in brightness to the white children, but it has not been observed that they ever set any value on their new found knowledge, and educated natives do not evince a desire that their children should be sent to school. A story is told of a philanthropic lady in Western Australia who had a native taught not only the English language, but French as well. Years later a traveller spoke to a native shepherding sheep in the lonely bush, and was astonished at receiving an answer in French—and French expletives too. It was the learned native scholar.
But possibly the black recognises that he has little hope in competition with the white in the higher walks of life, and no white wife can be his, therefore, perforce, he returns to the wandering savage life again, and Captain Grey says he would do the same under the circumstances. The hearing, taste, smell, and especially sight, is keener in the natives than in the English. They are lithe and almost dignified in their carriage, and to compare their easy activity and suppleness and measured movement with that of the stiff and laboured walk of the white is greatly in their favour.
In the colder regions of the south of Western Australia they clothe themselves in kangaroo skins, which are drawn over the shoulders like the Spanish cloak. Round the loins strings made from the fur of the opossum are worn, and, in most cases, serve to cover their nakedness. But in the extra-tropical country they go naked, except in some tribes for the wearing of a wisp of leaves across the thighs. The body is tattooed from the shoulders to the thighs by wales and scars and paintings, which in their eyes are ornaments and increase their natural beauty. By sharp-edged stones the skin is raised in ridges extending over the body from the umbilicus to the clavicle. This operation is performed at puberty. The septum in the nose is often pierced, and teeth are extracted from the upper jaw by means of the douack, a piece of wood not unlike a ruler. The Ngurla tribe on the De Grey River adorn themselves more than most. Besides tattooing, the men wear plumes in the hair, and pearl shells are suspended in front from a girdle round the waist. Women hang pellets of gum upon locks of their hair. The Nickol Bay tribe ornament themselves with pearl shells and rats' tails, knot their beards, and smear their persons with grease and red ochre. Those natives who had their abode round the Swan River Settlement wore feathers in the hair, clothed themselves in a plentiful coating of grease, used kangaroo skins, and the women wore on their backs a bag made of kangaroo skin, in which their children and numerous small articles were carried. The Australian natives as a whole grease hair and body, primarily, probably to protect themselves from cold. Numerous tribes paint their bodies in red ochre, and even with white colour, and others place peeled sticks in the hair.
The characteristics of the natives as they were when the white man began his work, and what they became under his influence, are altogether different. In addition to the old freedom and unconscious dignity disappearing, they rapidly became less independent. Governor Hutt in his despatch, dated 3rd May, 1839, to Lord Glenelg, of the Colonial Office, wrote
"The aborigines, from all I have been able to learn respecting them, are an anomalous, though a most interesting, race of people. Interesting I mean as offering points of character totally at variance with anything which I have seen described of tribes or nations elsewhere. They are active, hardy, daring, intelligent, and faithful, impatient of restraint, utterly hateful of work, even where rewards the most tempting, and which they most covet, are offered; and careless of all European arts and comforts. . . . . . They have, finally, a language in which there is no word for either love, want, or gratitude, and they live literally without God in the world. . . . . . . From childhood to the grave they propitiate neither God nor devil."
Settlers in Western Australia may disagree with Governor Hutt as to the faithfulness of the blacks, at any rate in their dealings with white men, yet there are points of faithfulness to their own kind, and to little white children entrusted to their care, which win admiration. In addition to the characteristics mentioned, they are improvident, cunning, lazy, quick, social, gay, musical, free, open-hearted, dexterous in the use of weapons, and have on occasion strong powers of endurance. Under certain conditions they are kind, and this is most apparent in their treatment of dumb animals and little children. Native women have repeatedly been known to give suck to a puppy that has lost its mother. And that they are open-hearted has already been proved in Dampier's description of them.
It is difficult to imagine a people who have but a hazy belief in a Supreme Being, or of deities of one form or other. Instances have been given where a native asks help of an invisible something, which he cannot explain or describe, and which may be the outcome of an impression of Christianity carried from one to another since European settlement. But that this is not general has been demonstrated over and over again. There is a wide but circumscribed belief in spirits, for on the death of a warrior or of any member of the tribe, his spirit is considered to have no rest until some person of another tribe is killed, and then his manes are appeased. In certain customs, which will be mentioned in their proper order, every precaution is taken to prevent the departed from returning and taking up his old form, and the wandering one is misled in many ways. A sorrowing mother consumed in lamentations over a dead and buried son has mistaken a European for his spirit which has returned to give her peace. Captain Grey, during a tour in 1838, a few miles north of Perth was astonished one night to observe approaching his camp a procession of children of the bush, headed by two women. Tears coursed unrestrainedly down the cheeks of these, and the elder, after examining him for a moment, exclaimed—"Giva, giva, bundo bal" ("Yes, yes, in truth it is he"), and throwing her arms about him, leant her head on his breast and wept bitterly. Although she was old, and ugly, and filthily dirty, Captain Grey compassionately bore her caresses, and deported himself gravely and mournfully as the occasion deserved. The younger and prettier woman contented herself with kneeling in tears at his feet. Then the old lady kissed him on each cheek as a Frenchwoman would do, cried a little more, and assured him that he was the ghost of her son, recently killed by a spear wound. Grey's new mother expressed almost as much maternal delight at his return as his real mother would have done, after which the father and brothers embraced him by placing knee to knee, breast to breast, and arms around his waist. Finally he was released, and dutifully presented them with bread, and round the camp fire told them many strange stories of foreign lands. In this he noticed that they preferred to hear of other savage races to the wonders of civilised countries.
Nearly every tribe has its Boylya Gadak, or sorcerer, who is believed to possess superhuman powers, and on occasion is able to mete out retributive justice to anyone who is so foolish as to place himself within his power. The sorcerer is credited with visiting sleeping natives of another tribe and consuming their flesh, and even placing in their bodies bits of wood and quartz. Natural deaths are caused in this way. The boylya of the afflicted person's tribe is then brought into requisition, and, demurely stooping down, sucks the body of the native over the kidneys, liver, heart, or lungs, and presently rises and takes from his month the identical piece of quartz the enemy had implanted in the body. The boylya gadak who is unwatched, probably puts the article in his mouth when he stoops down to begin his operation. That bit of quartz is the most cherished relic of the natives, and is carried about by them in all their wanderings. Different European travellers have observed the efforts of the boylya and other natives to charm them away when they, for the first time, are seen. The natives gather on some rocky ridge or commanding hill, and there puff out their cheeks, blow energetically breaths of deadly enchantment, which should immediately kill or frighten them away, gesticulate wildly, and dance in weird fantastic movements. The picture made in this demonstration of the naked aborigines against the encroachment of the ghostly white men on their primal domains is, at least, pathetic and mournful. But the Englishman is imperturable, and forces his way onward. The spirits are more likely to come at night, and the native when he moves about always carries a lighted stick with him in the darkness to frighten them away.
Among the presiding spirits believed in by a few tribes is the Wangul, a monster whose realms are the lakes or rivers or oceans. Out of his watery bed this Australian Neptune rises and attacks the natives, generally the females. The Jilgi is another deity which frequents certain localities, and his haunts are most carefully avoided by the aborigines. At times he leaves his spirit-woods and visits his divine ire on some erring one. Wangul and Jilgi are as feared by those tribes who believe in them as the classical Greek feared Neptune or Jove. Thunder is said by some to be caused by black snakes, and the ignorant natives observe the roar and flash of the elements with horror.
Beyond these beliefs in an unknown, the natives are troubled not, and they meet death, when it is inevitable, bravely and without shuddering fear. They neither pray for favours nor give praise. It is remarkable that so light-hearted a people take such small notice of the mysterious, and are so unlike the light-hearted pagan races of the earth. Earnest efforts have been made to teach them of a God and the principles of Christianity, but have not been altogether successful, and it is doubtful whether an intelligence so limited can comprehend the intricacies and beauties of Christianity. They have lived for centuries their simple, untroubled daily life, and neither tradition nor conscience tell them of a hereafter as the European understands it. Free, democratic, contented, untramelled, they place no value on these things.
They are to a certain extent landed proprietors, and although nomadic their wanderings are within circumscribed limits. Every tribe has its own district, within which animals and fish and vegetation are as much its property as the run and flocks and herds are of settlers. But the kangaroo, wallaby, and emu are not branded, and are somewhat wilder than the sheep and cattle of the white man. And as the European resents a neighbour killing his stocks so does the native object to another tribe encroaching on his domains. This is the cause of aboriginal wars, and the native may resent with some justification the white man's taking away his freehold and despoiling his stock. A district is partly vested in the male, who, if he pleases, may sub-divide it among his sons and heirs. But if there be no male children, the sons of his daughters succeed to the land. The colony of Western Australia may thus be divided into those districts inhabited by the several tribes. Each tribe, or, more properly, each family, consists of from half a dozen persons in barren districts, to a hundred or two in others. The husband and father is the chief of the district, but his brothers and male relatives are not subject to him to any extent. There is no organisation of armies or tribes as it is understood among some dark races, and no prince or chief.
The father is the head, and he joins forces with his relatives in cases of war. Certain laws confer favours on, and circumscribe, certain classes. This is more particularly the case in the marriageable age of men and in the foods they are permitted to eat. Like the Jews of old, a man dying, his widow goes to the nearest relative, generally a brother, who sometimes thus obtains several wives. Polygamy is therefore recognised. The wife is to all intents and purposes a chattel. A man is not allowed to marry until he has subscribed to three compulsory ceremonies—hunger, exposure, and mutilation. In some tribes the genitive organs of males are mutilated so that they cannot marry at all. Circumcision is widely practised in the inland districts, and when a boy reaches puberty the men separate from the women and an old man performs the operation. It is sometimes recognised as a state function and orations are delivered at intervals during the operation, and much importance and pomp are placed on the occasion. It is then, too, that the complete mutilation takes place. Statements have also been made that the women at these periods of separation perform certain operations, but their precise nature has never been gleaned. Close intermarrying is prevented by well understood laws which enable a man to marry into certain families and not into others. The children receive their names in some districts from the mother, in others from the father, and, as in ancient days, from special circumstances at their birth or in their infancy. A female child is often affianced to a much older male soon after birth and she becomes his property from the age of seven years upwards. The marriage is celebrated by no display of wealth and hospitality, no taking of vows. The bride merely goes to the mia of the bridegroom which she prepares for his reception, or she erects a new hut. By this simple act she is his to do with as he wills. He may punish her in whatever way he wishes, and she must carry his burdens and tend his every whim. It often occurs that a pretty native girl who is affianced in infancy becomes a centre of attraction when she arrives at maturity, and intrigues take place among the men to obtain possession of her. Her life is then not a merry one, for in cases of punishment she is generally the sufferer. Willingly or not she may be spirited away; willingly she steals out of her husband’s camp and joins her lover; unwillingly, she is forcibly seized or stunned by a blow from a hatchet and carried off—so severely are their loves carried on. Then the couple roam from wood to wood, travelling long distances among strangers. Their tracks are sometimes followed and woe be to the young man if he is found asleep—a spear driven through his body ends his love affair. In case they are on the alert the combatants stand face to face and then move away, each ordering the girl to follow him, and whichever she refuses spears her in some part of the body. The attractive native female shows many scars. The Rev. C. G. Nicolay, of Fremantle, mentions an instance in the Victoria district (W.A.) where two young people regarded each other with such affection that they willingly received three severe punishments so that the native law would allow them to live together. That a wife often bestows bewitching smiles on other men than her husband is known, but if she be caught the least punishment is a spear in the thigh; while if it be safe, the irate husband throws spears at the legs of the paramour.
The natives are divided into great families with distinctive names such as Ballaroke, Pdonarup, Ngotak, Nagarnook, Nogonyuk, Mongalung, Narrangur, &c. Every tribe is descended from stems of these families, and marriage is allowed with particular ones. Nearly every family possesses a cognizance, or family sign, or Kobong, as the natives term it. This represents some animal, bird, or vegetable, and a mysterious connection exists between the Kobong and the tribe. Grey writes that if the animal or bird is killed or the vegetables gathered at certain periods, dire are the results, for these are their omniscient gods or goddesses. Indeed, they believe that some individual of the species is their nearest friend.
The hut or mia is easily constructed, and demands no ingenuity and little labour. A few boughs obtained in the woods are stuck into the ground around an area of a few feet, and meet at the top in the form of a tent. In the colder regions a more durable hut is erected by placing pronged sticks some distance from each other, and a pole is run from prong to prong. Strong sticks lean against these, and the crevices are carefully filled with boughs and bark of trees to prevent the wind from entering. Some huts have an oval form, and, on the coast, are roofed with dry weeds and boughs of trees, and at the base have a diameter (in one instance) of 14 feet. The huts nearer Perth were about 4 feet high. Occasionally the hut is a mere break or shelter from the wind. More often the natives do not trouble about the erection of a hut at all, and lie by their fires where they cook their food. One place is their home but for a short while, and they roam over their district in search of food, and when found rest until they have eaten it. They may go in companies or they may go alone. At night when they are together the darkness of the plain or hill is dotted here and there with the bright lights from their fires. An indispensable desideratum of native life at nights is a roaring fire, which serves not only for warmth, but to frighten away the hovering spirits which inhabit the darkness. At these camps each family has a separate hut, and the husband sleeps in his hut with his wife and children, or should they have no hut they lie within the light of the fire. Some vista in the woods or convenient station beneath the jarrah, the banksia, or the mangrove is picked upon, so that ample firewood may be obtained. The early part of the night is made merry by communion, tale-telling, and singing. There are several fires, and the married men sit, perhaps in solemn dignity, amid the chatter and singing of their wives and children. Each married man has a separate fire, and the unmarried gather round still another one, the brightest of all, and there the chief merriment is centred. The great receding shadows of the trees, the play of light on their faces, and the constant moaning of the wind among the leaves, make a spectacle and an impression to be remembered by the European. One young fellow relates the instances of a journey, of a battle or duel; another describes the exciting chase of a kangaroo, or the cunning spearing of one while it browsed on the good pasture. Much applause greets their tales, and presently the husbands are attracted by the shouts of delight, and with lighted sticks in their hands, leave the bosoms of their families and join the gay young fellows. Other tales are told, generally in a monotonous chant, and the dark faces beam in concentrated interest as each huntsman or warrior recounts his exploits. The women gather near and chant the deeds of some relative, or incite in stirring tones the warriors to some act of revenge. Then, as the night progresses, sleep encompasses one after another, until all are still, and nothing is to be seen but their dark forms lighted by the flickering flames of the dying fires.
Perhaps they may elect to hold a corroboree, than which no more attractive display is made by natives. It is a dramatic representation and rude opera, and imitates the hunt for the timid kangaroo, or verges on the lascivious, or represents the fight. As in the classic days the ancients piped and sang and acted in some verdant grove, so the Australian aborigines act and sing amid the eucalyptus woods, upon the banks of some stream, in a valley, or a declivity of the hills. Their theatre is not bounded with stone walls erected by man, and covered with a roof—a vista in the forest made by Nature supplies a more healthful and beautiful resort. The close forest ranks make their walls; the blue canopy, their ceiling; and the green sward, the resplendent stars, the shivering leaves, their stage effects. And while the sable performers are lost in the turns of the dance, or intensely excited in showing the audience their dexterity in the hunt, they inhale the pure air and are fanned by the invigorating night breeze. Previous to the beginning of the performance the men retire to a secluded spot, and there take infinite trouble to gorgeously paint themselves in red and yellow stripes, but whether to make themselves appear more grotesque, or more attractive, is not known. Round their loins strings from the hair of the opossum are wound, from which hang pendants which almost produce the effect of a kilt. Fresh grease, sticks, feathers, shells, or other ornaments are placed in the hair. When after some time their toilets are adjusted to a nicety and the perfection of native vanity, they repair to the scene of the corroboree, their eyes already glistening in the expectancy of applause and approving glances from assembled females. In the centre of the arena a large fire tosses the flames into space, the light glistens on the leaves and brings into bolder relief the fantastic striped colours of red, white, and natural black on their almost naked bodies, and also supplies light for the performance. On one side is erected a thick and impenetrable break of bushes, semi-circular in shape, about 4 feet high and 30 feet long. The break is used for two things, either as a barricade from which the performers make their entrance, or as a protection for the audience against a cold night wind. On another side are the audience, men and women sometimes sitting apart, and sometimes together. The young women are adorned with ornaments of feathers and shells on their heads, the wales and scars on their bodies, and a loin-cloth to cover their nakedness, but many of the older ladies are satisfied that "Nature unadorned is adorned the most." Across their knees is a taut opossum skin, on which the time to dance or chant is beaten. An old native stands apart who may be looked upon as the leader of the orchestra.
All is ready. Anticipation is shown in every face. No imperfectly painted curtain rises to herald the opening. The leader opens with a slow, soft, weird refrain, and marks time with a wand in his hand. His song is gradually swelled by women and men joining in, until all sing with irresistible vigour. The women beat their hands upon the drum over their knees. Perhaps the natives have dogs, and these stretch themselves near the group and show their approval by occasional subdued whines. The chant is modulated and is in perfect time. At first soft and slow, it gradually becomes fast and furious, until it is a heartrending shriek, and ends in a prolonged cadence of vowel sounds. Rapidly the excitement becomes intense, and every nerve is strung to the utmost limit. The spontaneous passion of the natives rises at every instant, and all eyes are keenly bent on what is to follow, and every simple mind is concentrated on that one moment of life.
The prelude is ended, but the pitch of excitement does not abate. Presently an eerie, unearthly dirge is opened, again in a subdued strain, and all eyes flash towards the break. It is the battle-dance. Over the boughs, which glitter in the firelight, appear a few long feathers from the tail of the emu; slowly rising into space follows a black headpiece: first the well greased hair, then the forehead shining with perspiration, next two glistening black eyes, fixed and piercing, then the face, which solemnly turns from right to left, and at last the body of a native, armed with club and spears, silently comes into view and looks terribly fierce and martial. No sound is heard other than the subdued chant of the men and women. The warrior glides along the back of the break in slow and cautious steps and approaches the arena. A row of faces arise in precisely the same order over the boughs, until perhaps forty or fifty splendid specimens of active life glide before the fire. They stand in a long line, and then, all following the leader, form columns and squares with minute exactness, keeping time to the music of the women with their feet. The chant grows louder and louder and faster. The climax is reached. Clubs are swung swiftly round their heads, and spears and shields are struck. Savage yells and shrieks pierce the air, and the woods re-echo with the din of the untamed warriors as they spring from side to side and strike and thrust at an imaginary enemy. The red and white pigments on their bodies glisten and present in their rapid movements a medley of colour. Each wild onlooker thrills through and through and is almost exhausted with excitement. When the last club is swung and the last spear is at rest all vociferously applaud, showering their approval on the actors, and glancing delightedly at each other. Such a trying exhibition demands a few minutes' interval, and, chattering together, they rest.
The next act represents the hunting of the kangaroo. One native personates the shy retiring marsupial, a second the hunter. Out of the darkness the animal comes hopping, back half erect, arms a little lifted, hands drooping to represent the paws, glancing timidly from side to side. In the centre of the vista he stops, stoops, and crops the grass. The hunter appears, armed with spear, and hatchet placed in the girdle round his waist. He approaches cautiously and catches sight of the kangaroo. Placing easily, and with the least possible movement, the spear in the throwing-stick, he keeps his bright eyes fixed on the marsupial. From time to time the kangaroo rises from its stooping posture, stands half erect with drooping paws, and looks anxiously to right and left, afraid of danger. Then hopping a few feet further on he grazes. The hunter is immovable while this proceeds, but when his prey's attention is occupied in feeding, he draws nearer and nearer, intent on leaving no opportunity escape to secure the animal. Without taking his eyes from the unsuspecting kangaroo he approaches in a half circle. When within throwing distance the spear is hurled and the scene ends. Again peals of applause ring out, for the native is almost as fond of watching the hunt as the fight.
A frog dance, and what may be termed a shivering dance, are presented, and in the small hours of the morning the corroboree concludes. Both performers and audience are wearied and are soon asleep. Again the night is still.
Corroborees are frequently held several nights in succession, and in the more populated districts are attended by large numbers of natives. They are celebrated in times of peace, on the eve of and after wars, and upon the occasions of feasts. Sometimes the women take active part in the celebration, and two bands of them surround the men. Advancing and retreating, each waves a stick in her hand, like "the thyrsus of the ancient Bacchante." The words and dances are carried from tribe to tribe, and it has even been said that songs and dances common to Eastern Australia have been presented in the West. Certain songs and dances composed by some native genius occasionally become very popular and spread rapidly throughout the countryside, and are chanted at every wooded corner.
The natives are so fond of singing that they chant on any and every occasion. Grey says:—"To a sulky old native, his song is what a quid of tobacco is to a sailor; is he angry, he sings,—is he glad, he sings,—is he hungry, he sings,—if he is not so full as to be in a state of stupor, he sings more lustily than ever!" Their songs, which may be rude and discordant enough to Europeans, are sweeter than the carolling of the nightingale to them. Singing is their fruitful resource at every turn of life, and the responsive native mind is affected intensely by wild chants and dirges. Old hags in their weird songs, composed under the excitement of the moment, can stir the men up to the highest pitches of frenzy and revenge. The effect is not so much caused by the words as by the energy and venomous expression of the singer, for the sound and meaning pass as quickly as the torrent, and stir every fibre and instinct of the listener. So responsive is the untutored native mind to music that European instruments have quickly affected them to tears by some dulcet refrain, and little children at native burials, who are too young to understand the solemnity of the occasion, unconsciously weep under the effect of their elders' mournful dirges. The clapping of hands, beating of sticks and opossum skins, are the only accompaniments to their singing. Rhyme and measured cadence are generally carefully preserved.
Our examples of native poetry are taken from Captain Grey's work on the aborigines. The native who comes into the camp in a passion caused by some wrong does not fly to the lawyer as the Englishman would do. He sits before his fire sharpens his spear, and sings
I'll spear his liver,
I'll spear his lights,
I'll spear his heart,
I'll spear his thigh,
&c., &c., &c.
His wives chime in
which excites their lord and master still more, and he chants in monotonous tones:—
"I'll spear their liver,
I'll spear their bowels,
I'll spear their heart,
I'll spear their loins."
"Thy hatchet is near thee,
Thy hatchet is near thee,
These words were sung in infinite repetition for about an hour, without change or rest.
Another song, from the Murray district (W.A.), which refers to absent friends, runs:—
"Kar-ro yool, i, yoolā!
Kar-ro yool, 1, yoolā!"
"Return hither, hither ho!
Return hither, hither ho!"
When the Beagle was making Admiralty surveys on the Western Australian coast, in 1838, a native named Mago accompanied the expedition. In his absence his mother constantly chanted:—
"Ship hal win-jal bat-tar-dal gool,
Ship bal win-jal bat-tar-dal gool."
"Whither is that lone ship wandering?
Whither is that lone ship wandering?"
The following more ambitious song is given on the authority of Captain Grey. "The reader must imagine a little hut, formed of sticks fixed slanting into the ground, with pieces of bark resting against them, so as to form a rude shelter from the wind; underneath this were seated round a fire, five persons—an old man, and his four wives; one of these was considerably younger than the others, and being a new acquisition all but herself were treated with cold neglect. One of her rivals had resolved not to submit patiently to this, and when she saw her husband's cloak spread to form a couch for the new-comer, she commenced chanting as follows, addressing old Weer-ang, her husband:—
'Wherefore came you, Weer-ang,
In my beauty’s pride,
Like the tawny boreang
On an unwilling bride?
'Twas thus you stole me
From one who loved me tenderly:
A better man he was than thee
Who having forced me thus to wed,
Now so oft deserts my bed.
Yang, yang, yang, yoh.
Oh, where is he who won
My youthful heart,
Who oft used to bless,
And called me loved one?
You, Weer-ang, tore apart,
From his fond caress
Her whom you now desert and shun;
Out upon thee, faithless one!
Oh, may the boyl-ya bite and tear
Her whom you take your bed to share!
Yang, yang, yang, yoh.
Wherefore does she slumber
Upon thy breast,
Once again to-night,
Whilst I must number
Hours of sad unrest,
And broken plight?
Is it for this that I rebuke
Young men who dare at me to look?
Whilst she, replete with arts and wiles,
Dishonours you, and still beguiles.'
To which the younger female replies :—
'Oh, you lying, artful one,
Wag away your dirty tongue,
I have watched your tell-tale eyes,
Beaming love without disguise:
I've seen young Imbat nod and wink,
Oftener perhaps than you may think.'"
It seems doubtful whether the native mind can sustain such a number of ideas as are contained in this chant, and the probability is that Grey heard the basis—he distinctly mentions that he heard the chant—and improved and elaborated it in the translation. At any rate the poem is so ambitious that students of the aborigines prefer to doubt the original.
From their camps the natives go out and collect their food and return with the spoils; but as often, especially in the more temperate weather, they move from place to place, and where they collect sufficient there remain until it is consumed. The number and variety of their dishes surprises the curious, and embrace numerous indigenous roots and plants, animals, fish, worms, and birds. The quality of some of these foods would repel the European, but Grey, who was courageous enough to taste most of them, such as grubs and other delicacies not included in the English menu, found them quite palatable, some times delectable, and nearly all nutritious. Their food supplies in the richer districts are usually ample, but through indolence in the height of summer, and cold in the depth of winter, they sometimes go for days without eating. Kangaroos, fish, whales (when the ocean casts one upon the beach), seals, species of oyster, wild dogs, turtle, emus, wild turkeys, pigeons and other land birds, opossums, frogs, salt water shell-fish, snakes, iguanas, rats, mice, white ants, the nuts of the zamia palm, twenty-nine sorts of roots (Grey's list), seven kinds of fungus, four of gums—the kuowat from the swamp mimosa for preference—manna, flowers of several species of banksia, one kind of earth which they mix with the root of the mene, almonds of pandanus, wild grapes, guavas, capparis, fruits, and seeds, are all included in their bill of fare. They show a most intimate knowledge of the precise localities where these varied foods are to be found, and when. The nuts of the zamia palm are stored in the ground to make them better and safer eating. The roots are collected with sticks and hands, and as the natives grope in the water-ways or search curiously on the higher ground, they make a quaint spectacle. By well-known laws they cannot gather certain plants when in seed, in order evidently to prevent their extinction; and there are numerous other laws dealing with the chase or hunt. Occasionally one district produces a plenitude of food which another does not contain, and vice versa; then there is an exchange of products. But to this list of foods must be added others less attractive. In the desert country, when famine drives them to extremes, they resort to a peculiar practice. The arm of the strongest native is bandaged and a vein is cut. Another native taking in his hand the powdered root of a tree allows the blood to trickle into this, and when the mass is damped it is formed into a ball, tossed aside, and more powder brought, until the native can afford to lose no more blood. These balls they eat. On other occasions dry bones are collected, powdered, and mixed with water or human saliva, and serve to sustain life. Worst of all, many tribes in the interior, and therefore more inhospitable regions, practise cannibalism. This horrible practice is constantly resorted to, and the natives on the fringe of such districts live in constant terror of getting within their power. Even now it is prevalent in different districts, and since the development of the goldfields native boys in the service of Europeans fear being left alone by night or wandering too far away by day. This only applies to particular parts of the goldfields. Happily, taking Australia as a whole, cannibalism is more the exception than the rule.
Throughout the colony, and especially in the vast arid stretches, the natives have their wells at intervals, where they can obtain water. An almost continuous line of these are found in the north-west and interior, wherever the water level is near the surface. But should this source give out, there are certain "water trees" from whose lateral roots quantities of the precious liquid are obtained. Explorers have much to be thankful for in native wells, or more correctly holes, for without them they would often have perished in the parched wilderness.
The primary and most attractive feature of native life is the hunt. The weapons are nearly the same in the hunt as in war. First is the spear and mero, or wommera, the stick with which it is thrown; next a stick used for many purposes, both in the fight and in the hunt, and named the douack, or dyuna, or walga or juwul; then the kadjo or hatchet, and lastly the kylie or boomerang, while other sticks are sometimes carried. The spear is chiefly used in fighting and in the kangaroo hunt. It is adroitly projected from the throwing-stick, and is more useful than the bow and arrow, for with it the native can dislodge opossums from their lairs in hollow trees, knock gum from high branches, and pull down the banksia cone. The hatchet, with head of hard wood or quartz gummed to the handle, is formidable, and is used as a hammer or tomahawk to cut notches in the bark of trees to form an entrance for the toe in climbing, for chopping up game, and for sundry other purposes. The boomerang is the most famous, and has somewhat the shape of a half-circle, flat on one side and round on the other, and when thrown into a flock of wild fowl or cockatoos rises in the air and returns to near the feet of the thrower. The natives are very expert with this weapon, which is composed of a hard wood, is often rudely carved, and is much cherished as an ornament. The boy is taught to throw the spear and use these other weapons at an early age. Hunting is done either in parties or by the father alone. In the former case a beat is made, and the men and their wives and children all take part. But the most interesting is where the father hunts alone, followed by his wives and family. Grey describes the hunter as equipped with all his worldly possessions. "Round his middle is wound in many folds a cord spun from the fur of the opossum, which forms a warm, soft, and elastic belt of an inch in thickness, in which are stuck his hatchet, his kylie or boomerang, and a short heavy stick to throw at the smaller animals. His hatchet is so ingeniously placed that the head of it rests exactly on the centre of his back, whilst its thin, short handle descends along the backbone. In his hand he carries his throwing-stick and several spears, headed in two or three different manners, so that they are equally adapted to war or the chase."
The huntsman leaves his last night's resting-place. Behind him at a little distance follow his wives with long sticks in their hands, which they often use as walking-sticks. On their backs, in bags composed of kangaroo skin, are their youngest children, together with a strange collection of native valuables. The bag represents the aboriginal portmanteau and perambulator. In it with the child are divers articles, such as stones to pound roots, quartz for making spear-heads and knives, and those precious bits of quartz which sorcerers have extracted from their bodies, earth to mix with roots as food, cakes of gum to make and mend weapons, kangaroo sinews, shavings of kangaroo skins to polish spears, shell of species of mussel to cut hair, knives, pipe-clay, and red ochre, besides, perhaps, other necessaries of food, the hunt, and the toilet. The hunt is one of the great occasions of savage life. The native's demeanour brightens up and in him is a wondrous change. His usually listless eyes fire and are alert, and glance from object to object. His gait, at other times slow, is quick, restless, and noiseless. Over the plain, up the hill, down the valley, he stealthily and rapidly walks, his wives following. His flashing eyes scan the earth, the woods, the sky, and peer among the trees, and over the long stretches of Australian country, for sign of game. No human being observes him; the whole active world is far away. He is lord of these good lands. The brightly plumaged parrots, the chattering cockatoos, the crooning pigeons, the feathered tribes of different species, look curiously down from their umbrageous homes and watch him. Beyond their chattering and chirping and calling to each other, the neighbourhood is silent.
Suddenly the native halts as if transfixed. His body is straight, his head erect. He is listening. His eyes scrutinise the woods, all his faculties are concentrated, and his soul is completely absorbed in sight and hearing. Again it is as if his whole life were lived in that moment. His wives noiselessly fall to the ground, and even the infants utter no sound. Habit tells them that they must be silent. From their horizontal position the women anxiously glance around them. Near their husband they descry a grazing kangaroo, and the quietude is broken by a suppressed whistle from one of them.
The kangaroo becomes alarmed. It is a female, and immediately standing on its long hind legs, and balancing itself by its tail, it timidly looks around. A little one runs to the mother and enters the pouch, its small head and pointed ears peering out to see where the danger lies. Intently watching for any movement and searching for some strange presence, the older marsupial stands at attention, and then, satisfied, hops to more plentiful pasture near by and continues her feeding. All this while the native stands motionless—he might be a charred stump or the typical West Australian "blackboy" (a small tree with black stump) for all the onlooker can tell. He waits before he moves. The kangaroo is not yet assured. It stands and glances around again, but observes no sign of an enemy. Again it crops the herbage. The native's opportunity arrives. He steals forward, his body motionless, his legs alone moving. The slightest indication of suspicion in the kangaroo, and he is as a statue. Deftly he fixes the spear in the throwing-stick while his eyes are searchingly bent on the poor animal, and then, holding his arms in throwing attitude, he advances to what he considers a good distance. Putting strength and aptness into the throw he hurls the spear, which cleaves into the body of the game.
The woods now resound with the shouts of his family, and women and children rise from their hiding-place and join in the race after the wounded animal, which, not completely disabled, bounds away. The pursuers have the advantage, and the kangaroo, weakened by loss of blood, places its back against a tree, determined to defend itself. Should the native approach too closely it takes him in a deadly embrace with its fore paws, and rends him in twain with the claws of the hind legs. But the native is wary. He keeps at a safe distance, and projects spear after spear at the animal until exhaustion carries it supine to the ground. The huntsman places the marsupial on his back and carries it to some suitable site, where he makes his home, and feasts until the animal is eaten.
There are other ways beside these for catching kangaroos. The one which brings most glory, of which the hunter is proudest, is tracking and running down the game. A native of strong endurance only can accomplish this feat. Following the animal's tracks, he holds to them hour after hour, and sometimes for days, resting only at night. About the third day the weary, frightened, hungry kangaroo is caught and killed. Nets are also used and are set in the favourite haunts of the kangaroos, while pitfalls are made, stakes are driven into the ground at the fording places of rivers, or the native hides himself behind a screen of boughs at their drinking places. There he waits with unwearied zeal hour after hour until the kangaroo appears, and is speared. Some tribes follow different tactics, and as in the corroboree assume the antics of the marsupial, and even place kangaroo skins over their bodies, and hop and browse around until within spearing distance. In days prior to settlement some tribes possessed dogs which rendered them assistance in hunting. These animals had bushy tails, short pricked up ears, and resembled foxes.
Two methods are adopted for cooking the kangaroo. In one a hole is dug in the sand and a fire lighted in it. When the bottom and sides of this oven are thoroughly heated the fire is taken out and the kangaroo, skin and all, placed in it, and is covered with embers. In the other, the animal is cut into pieces and broiled. The flesh is excellent eating in both cases.
Sometimes the natives burn the dry grass in their district and arrange a sort of battue by which the kangaroos are brought within the range of their spears. After the fire sweeter grass springs up and the quicker fattens the young kangaroos. Whole tribes are invited to take part in these proceedings, and if much spoil is obtained they are treated with the greatest hospitality, and the nights are enlivened by corroborees. Should a kangaroo or other game be caught which has been speared by two natives, the law of the chase provides that the one who threw the first spear owns the animal.
Three modes are adopted for catching fish,— by spearing, weirs, and nets. In spearing, the native either stands on the bank of the sea or river or wades some distance into the water, and with spear ready is as immovable as a dark post. When the fish glides by it is pinned with certain aim by the spear. At other times the native rushes after the fish in the shallow water, dashing up the spray, and quickly secures it. These sights formed a romantic picture in the Swan River when the settlement was first formed. The weirs have already been described in the accounts of the voyages of Dampier and Lieutenant King. The nets are composed of rushes, strips of kangaroo and opossum skins, or the fibre of the spinifex. Fish are broiled, or, better still, are tied up in thick and tender bark, placed in heated sandholes with ashes on the top and baked. The juice is thus saved, and the fish, which in some instances obtains a flavour from the bark, is delicious eating. Another way is by spitting the fish on a pointed stick. For fishing and for communication with small islands bark canoes are used in isolated localities, while in north-west districts a log is floated and serves to carry them from island to island.
Sometimes the aborigines receive a much-prized gift from the ocean in the stranding of a whale. It is a great accession of wealth, and they make merry. The native is no longer selfish, and lighting a large fire, the smoke ascends to the sky and tells the joyful message to every native round about. The wealthy black "rubs himself with blubber, anoints his wives," cuts into the flesh of the whale, and choosing the choicest bits, broils or cooks or spits them, and eats his full. Then other natives come trooping in and eat and sing and dance and hold corroborees. Their revelry continues for some time, and the banquets form days to be reckoned by in their lives. They eat their way into the whale and climb about its stinking carcase, and come out again greasy and odoriferous, and eat and sleep. The pretty native girl joins the rest, and yet her greasy perfumed beauty is undimmed in the eyes of her husband. These feasts often end in disorder, and male and female heads are broken with the hatchet, and fights take place.
Native battles are of very small importance indeed, and usually end in little loss of life. Different tribes may congregate and occupy neutral ground and make elaborate preparations for the fray. They paint themselves most carefully and chant fiercely the great deeds they intend to do. But the native at wartime is neither brave nor courageous. His heart is then craven, and when he is confronted by enemies he takes every precaution not to get into danger. By both parties doing this all serious harm is avoided. Each tribe, after making its preparations and holding its corroborees, stands at some distance and utters the fiercest threats of defiance and revenge. They jump about, gesticulate, spit at their opponents, blow upon them, and make a great noise. When they come to close quarters spears are thrown, and perhaps the hatchet is even used; but as the laws of battle demand that a certain number of days' peace shall be allowed for burial, when one or two natives are killed the war is suspended and the customs of burial are gone through. Perhaps half a dozen men is the only loss on either side, and the proceedings are too often concluded by peace being proclaimed after women of either side are speared in the thighs. Black honour is thus assured. The women are the most pugnacious, and at times fight wildly with each other. In their fierce chants they do their utmost to incite the men to battle, and like Jezebels, hop round them and mention the names of their opponents, and decry their merits. Great noise is generally the beginning and the end of native wars.
It is only when one or two natives are found trespassing on a tribal district that much loss of life occurs. Then a party of natives rushes upon the trespassers and exterminates them. Their cunning is largely asserted in these collisions.
Messages of war are conveyed by two means, either by smoke or a notched stick. Not so many years ago a cordon of fires was lighted on hills and other eminences in England as messages to the whole countryside. The Australian natives use similar means. When war is declared or an enemy is observed a fire of green boughs is lighted and the thick smoke curls high into the air. A native some distance away reads the message and lights another fire, and so all the natives in the neighbourhood or district are summoned and gather together. Standing on a high hill, the several columns of smoke ascending to the heavens are distinctly observed, some near, some far away. A notched stick is sometimes carried from place to place by a native, and conveys news of war or anything else, according to the method of presenting the stick. If the receiver is ready to fight, another notched stick is returned. Should the native come on a peaceful errand he squats down within the camp and places his hands under his thighs in sign of amity.
And yet, with all their petty ludicrous battles and lack of courage, the natives bear pain with a finer endurance than any European. Punishments enforced by law are met with Spartan-like stoicism, and they permit spears to be thrust through the flesh of their legs or arms unflinchingly. To prevent deadly inter-tribal feuds a native has been known to willingly sacrifice his life so that peace shall be gained. The chief native frays are those which take place in their own tribe, which are made peremptory by their laws. If one steals another's wife, should the occasion warrant it, he is tracked with unrelenting tenacity. So quick is the aboriginal in sight and observation that he can follow the fugitives over any country and trace their steps in long grass, over hard ground, rocks—anywhere. Sleuth-hounds themselves are not more certain. When the runaway male is caught death ensues, or if his offence be considered not so serious, a certain number of spears are thrown at him according to law, after which, if he has succeeded in avoiding them, he is pardoned. Their laws deal with punishments and obligations in family affairs, with the chase, death, burial, and revenge on other tribes. In revenge they are practically based on the lex talionis principle—an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Any native who wilfully kills another is followed by the friends of the dead, and no amount of pleading will mitigate the offence in the eyes of the wronged. But if it should happen that he escapes, then some near relative is sought in his stead. When the crime is committed the witnesses raise loud cries, which are taken up by distant natives and echoed throughout the woods. These cries signify the guilty party and who is connected with the family. The culprit seeks instant flight, and his relatives, from the little children to the oldest, are in fear lest the blow of retaliation shall descend on them. The friends of the sufferer give way to rage and grief, and confront the relatives of the murderer, and then all join in a search for the culprit. He has fled, and is followed relentlessly day after day, tracked by the human sleuthhounds, with intense energy and endurance. He is caught and killed, perhaps speared as he slept; otherwise, vengeance is wreaked on some relative, and the law is satisfied. A native who kills another accidentally is punished according to circumstances. If, when he spears one through the thigh in pursuance of the law, he injures the femoral artery and causes death, he is speared through both thighs. Adultery is severely punished, often with death. As before mentioned death is attributed to the witchcraft of a sorcerer of another tribe, and when the friendly Boylya Gadak by his peculiar signs discovers which tribe is to blame the lex talionis is enforced, and the friends watch, wait, and kill a native of the accused tribe. A female is often the sufferer by these laws. Other crimes may be compounded by the culprit permitting all who consider themselves aggrieved to throw spears at him, or by allowing spears to be thrust through parts of his body—the thigh, calf, or under the arm.
No effort is made to heal the wounds thus made. Probably because of their abstemious life (they use no stimulating beverages), wounds which would quickly cause the death of Englishmen give them little concern, and heal with remarkable rapidity. On one occasion, in Perth, at a native fray, "a native man received a wound in that portion of his frame which is only presented to enemies when in the act of flight, and the spear, which was barbed, remained sticking in the wound; a gentleman who was standing by watching the fray, regarded the man with looks of pity and commiseration, which, the native perceiving, came up to him, holding the spear (still in the wound) in one hand, and turning round so as to expose the injury he had received, said, in the most moving terms, 'Poor fellow, sixpence give it um.'"
Natives are so severely wounded at some of these frays that their limbs become helpless, and the native doctor has been known to amputate the member with a sharp stone. That they make some efforts to alleviate pain was observed by Dr. Bartlett, who, in his work on New Holland, states that certain tribes which suffer from severe pains in the head resort to the taking of blood from the temples. They also shampoo to remove rheumatism from the head, and apply plasters made by burning certain herbs to the affected parts. They have numerous other methods for curing disorders, some of which are very effective. To a piece of crystal, called by them teyl, they ascribe healing properties.
It would not be expected that a race possessing such limited intelligence, living so primitive an existence and knowing nothing of letters, would exhibit even a faint conception of artistic representation in colours. But, however indifferent the result may be, on basaltic rocks, on the faces of caves, and on bark huts, their paintings have been seen, while the carvings on their weapons at times show admirable ingenuity. When Grey was in North-Western Australia in 1837 he observed on the Upper Glenelg many specimens of paintings, which were sufficiently meritorious as to cause him to speculate whether the aboriginal himself could have done them, or whether some other race of men once inhabited these lands. The first evidence of talent in this direction seen by him were drawings, scratched on basaltic rocks, of human heads, hands, and other parts of the body. Further on in the environs of the Glenelg were remarkable paintings in caves. One figure represented a head and face two feet in length, and face 17 inches wide, projected from which was the body, 2 feet 6 inches from the bottom of the face to the navel. Red bright rays suggestive of the sun encircled the head; inside this was a circle of brilliant red with coped lines of white. The face was painted in vivid white, and coal-black eyes were rounded with yellow lines. The whole complement was warranted to startle the discoverer as he peered into the dim cave. On the left-hand wall of the same cave were four heads joined together, finished in deep bright blue, red, and yellow colours, and all placed so as to appear looking on the single figure. There was also an ellipse painting, 3 feet long, 1 foot 10 inches broad. The outside line of the ellipse was done in blue, and the body in yellow dotted with red lines Across the figure were two transverse lines of blue. In a portion of the ellipse a kangaroo was represented as in the act of feeding, and one spear-head seemed to be flying towards the marsupial, and another away from it. Grey conjectured that this picture was a sort of native charm, to ascertain the luck of the enquirer in killing game. Altogether there were about 50 or 60 drawings and paintings in the cave. In another cave the profile of a human face and head was cut into the sandstone rock and appeared very antique, and showed good workmanship, except for the ear being wrongly placed. In still another cave some distance away was painted the figure of a man 10 feet 6 inches long, clothed from the chin to the wrists and ankles in a red garment. Bandages encircled the face and head, and in the outer bandage was a series of marks
or lines, apparently ornaments or written characters. In front of the wall whence this painting glared weirdly down on the astonished Grey and his companions was a slab or seat which one of the explorers jocosely sat upon. To the surprise of everyone, his head touched the roof of the cave, which on examining was found to be polished and greasy as if a native head had often touched it. It suggested that some native doctor or wise man was wont to ensconce himself on this seat, and as his figure was brought into fantastic relief by the huge painting the diseased or superstitious visited his shrine and received attendance from the Australian Delphic oracle. In the York district drawings were found in a cave, but showed less skill than those in the north. Grey tried to collect the traditions relating to the latter drawings, but beyond learning from nearly every native that originally the "moon, who was a man," lived there, he could elucidate nothing. The explanations differed at every relation, and the number of marvels and wonders narrated was in exact proportion to the quantity of food Grey promised each native. Captain Flinders and Mr. A. Cunningham, the scientist to Lieutenant King's expedition, saw paintings and drawings in Northern Australia which had been executed by natives, representing porpoises, turtles, kangaroos, water-gourds, canoes, sharks, lizards, clubs, and the human hand.
The colours used in these paintings are generally easily obtained over large areas of Australia. Red earthy pebbles, yellow clays, finely powdered charcoal, and greasy kinds of white pipe-clay are used by the native artist, while the blue colour is probably obtained from the seed vessel of a plant yielding a brilliant blue liquid. A resinous gum is mixed with the colours, which renders them capable of resisting atmospheric influences and decay. Most of the representations appeared of a great age. In some localities the natives paint pieces of bark on the huts in primitive designs, and an aptitude for carving is general among them. Even in native prisons rude drawings are scratched or impressed with charcoal on the walls, but the conceptions are not more elevated than those of the ordinary European schoolboy.
The passionate and grim sides of native character are shown in those last scenes of all life—death and the grave. Wailing and weeping and demonstrative sorrow are unbounded for a few days, and then their stoicism asserts itself. The females exhibit the most anguish. Between death and the grave their most interesting customs and laws are exhibited. By the native reasoning human life could extend to eternity were it not for fatal frays, accidents, and sorcerers. Death from natural causes is impossible, and when no other cause can be found the cruel, heartless Boylya Gadak is blamed. They are not afraid of punishment after death, and therefore the dying man is often less downcast than the onlookers. Life is good, life is for laughter and song and hunting and eating and having wives, but when death comes the absence of fear of the after-death helps them to meet the inevitable calmly. So firm is their belief in the witchcraft of sorcerers, who come in the air at night and consume the body, that when a native is certain he has received a nocturnal visitation, and is in the power of the supernatural Boylya Gadak, he will pine away till he dies. This has been often demonstrated in different parts of Western Australia. As a rule, if he escapes the law of an "eye for an eye," &c., he lives to a sere old age, and natives 60, 70, and 80 years old are often met. The Nickol Bay tribe, according to the Hon. A. R. Richardson, are taught by their doctors or sorcerers that grey hairs come as a penalty for eating forbidden fruit. Suicide is quite unknown.
When death grips the native he lies listless, helpless, hopeless. No dim gleams of sunshine illuminate the future, no faith buoys up his dying hours. He lies back on the green sward with the bright heavens above him and around him. The wind rustles the leaves of the trees, and soughs in a ceaseless moan. The kangaroo and the opossum need fear him no longer. Leaning over his inert body is his mother, or his wives are there; the children are gathered round, and the men stand back and gloomily wait. He complains of pain, and indistinctly mutters as stray recollections of his recent active life pass through his mind. When he bounded after the kangaroo or lazily rested under the trees, he feared the dreaded power of the sorcerer, but now he feels his time has come he is resigned. So hour after hour passes, and perhaps for days the sound body refuses to resign itself to mortality. Then he gasps and dies. The women throw themselves over his body, and give way to uncontrollable grief. The air is burdened with their loud weeping and dismal ejaculations; the children following their mother's example cry loudly, but the men look mournfully and enquiringly at each other, and wonder which tribe's sorcerer is answerable for the death of their companion.
The funeral ceremony takes place soon after the death. It is then that so many native customs are followed until it is discovered upon what tribe the fatal stroke of revenge shall fall. The whole tribe attend the burial, and at this final act unspeakably plaintive and even musical dirges are sung. So mournful are these that the white listener is thrilled to the very soul, and the black children give way to involuntary tears. The dark, naked people carry their dead comrade to the appointed place, amid tears and dirges, and lay him on the ground. While some wail and chant and cry bitterly, others proceed to dig the grave with the digging-stick and the hands. The sorcerer of the tribe searchingly watches the tossed up sand, and if by chance a worm is moved from its earthy home he keenly observes the direction in which it crawls, for there, possibly, the hated sorcerer lives. The previous grief of the women was as nothing to what now follows. They show the most passionate regret, shriek shrilly, and with their nails or with sharp bones, lacerate and tear the flesh of head and cheeks and nose until the warm red blood trickles down over their dark bodies. In some tribes all the company gash their thighs and cry "I have brought blood," which they sprinkle on the moved earth, and then wiping the wounds with wisps of leaves throw the latter, bloody as they are, on the dead man. After laborious work the grave is dug, and to confirm the message of the worm a fire is lit in the hole, and roars fiercely from its depths. The sorcerer kneels down, and with thoughtful demeanour learns from the fire whether revenge must fall north, south, east, or west. Perhaps not even yet satisfied, he places his ear to the ground, and strangely detects the direction, and, pointing there, all the men immediately become restless and alert. The body is placed in the grave and covered with soft brushwood. Logs are piled on top of this to a considerable height. Some tribes erect over the logs a hut facing the rising sun, and, so writes Grey, enter the apartment and exclaim "Mya balung einya ngin-na"—"I sit in his house." Finally they retire in the opposite direction from which they came, to mislead the disembodied spirit.
The ceremonies and customs of burial differ widely in the various tribes. Some remove the thumb nail of the right hand by applying a burning stick, and thumb and forefinger are tied together crossways so that the spirit cannot throw the spear. The head of the spear is taken off, and with the knife, hatchet, and boomerang, is placed upon the grave. The hair is cut, and with the nail, is buried in a separate hole. Some break the limbs and tie the body into a ball before burial. Some bury the body sitting, and some cut and singe the beard of the corpse, and their own beards, and then rub their bodies with the hair Other instances are given where tribes light a fire in front of the grave. The women weep loudly, and the mother abandons herself to grief and lies on the mound. While talking disconnectedly to her dead son, she draws milk from her breasts on to the earth. Then all go back to their camp, only to return next morning or evening, and for several days in succession, when they weep and wail as before. The fire is re-lit, so that the spirit may warm itself thereby, and not be tempted to go to the nearest camp on that errand, where, perchance, he may do harm to those who have not yet avenged his unnatural death. There are parts of Australia where the dead native is placed on a bower in the branch of a tree, and left there until the flesh falls from his bones. The white remains of the black are then collected, wrapped in a bag and carried by some woman of the tribe during her wanderings with the others, and after a period are deposited in a hollow tree, or buried in the earth. Graves in certain districts are dug north and south, in others east and west. On the south coast two mounds are raised; in other localities one; while Grey saw four mounds of earth made, the different classes of soil being separated. Mr. G. M. Whitfield and Mr. G. F. Moore observed that in some districts east of Perth the trees surrounding the grave were notched with hatchets. Mr. Whitfield describes the custom of erecting huts over the burial-place. Upon the logs on the brushwood a thin layer of earth is thrown, and the hut is built by inclining poles until they meet at the top. Small pieces of wood are put between the crevices of the poles, and rushes or te-tree bark cover them. The hut is carefully swept, and green rushes are placed on the grave, which, thenceforth, is treated with the utmost reverence by the natives. The same writer also states that the spirit is supposed to take the form of a small brown lizard, which may eat into the flesh of the surviving natives. Native graves observed on the goldfields show that the bark of rods are peeled and cut into a sort of rosette and are stuck upon the mound. Further south the feet are cut off and left by the grave. Male mourners cover their foreheads with powdered charcoal; and women colour their heads and breasts with pipe-clay. After the death of a comrade certain tribes refrain from food for periods. The bodies of women are treated with much less reverence, and the ceremony of their burial—if they have any at all—is quickly ended.
By the application of the lex talionis, the death-rate of natives is materially increased. For every death, whether natural, accidental, or warlike, another death occurs. Notwithstanding this, precautions are taken by numerous tribes to prevent an abnormal increase of population. The average family the native woman bears is about the same as the English. But the father has supreme power, and if he wills the infant is killed. It is not known that this is very largely done, but in the case of deformity at birth the life is then and there ended. And yet in other tribes infanticide is abhorred. A young married woman who gives birth to a still-born child is often blamed for the circumstance by her husband, and is compelled to carry the little corpse on her back for days and weeks, under an overpowering stench from the putrifying flesh, until, mayhap, she succumbs to the terrible ordeal.
On no account will a native utter the name of a dead friend, for if he does some spirit may hear and visit a calamity upon him. When one native conveys to another the news of death, he quietly enters the camp, sits by him on his haunches, and places knee to knee, breast to breast, and hand under the thigh, and mournfully and sadly keeps a long silence. With downcast averted eyes the two sit for a given time, when they rise, and by signs make known who the departed is. Sometimes kangaroo skins are placed over their heads, beneath which one "whispers the sad tale" to the other.
And so the life of the Australian aboriginal is lived, and so their condition was when the colony was proclaimed. It is impossible to estimate the number of Western Australian natives at that time, but it must have been more than 50,000 souls. When the white men came and seized the territories of the different black tribes, and killed their kangaroos and other live stock, they also sowed the germs of an insidious and deadly Exterminator, which slowly ate into the life of these light-hearted, simple, ignorant, active people. Year by year their numbers decreased, and soon, sad to say, there will probably be not one native left to typify the people which for uncounted centuries inhabited these lands, oblivious of the grim destiny awaiting them. Spurned, loathed, and forced back beyond the outposts of civilisation, their death-sentence has been passed, and will soon, silently, sternly, irremediably, be executed.
While death has closed the eyes of those tribes which inhabited the fertile regions, there are others who have not yet felt the influence of the resistless invader. In the desolate wilderness, where the white sees nought but arid sand and stunted growth, destitution and waste, and feels parched by the heat of a scorching sun, they have their fondly loved birthplace. Over the plains these children of the desert roam, contented, not suspecting the coming doom. There no white man spurns them, no civilised vice eats away their bodies, no one despoils their daily food, they are yet in possession of their primal wilds.
- Boreang, a male native dog.