Life and Adventures of William Buckley/Chapter III
HUNTING THE KANGAROO, EMU, AND OPOSSUM.—WILD DOGS.—HAVING THE BEST OF A BARGAIN.—SPEARING FISH.—EEL CATCHING.—MANNER OF COOKING.—GENERAL FIGHT: SEVERAL NATIVES KILLED.—DISPOSAL OF THE DEAD.—SUPERSTITIOUS CEREMONIES.—REFLECTIONS ON SAVAGE LIFE.—SWAN HUNTING—GATHERING EGGS.—THE BUNYIP.—MORE CORROBBERREES, FIGHTS, AND MURDERS.
"Outcast and hopeless, hare I dwell,
A dreary desert where I roam."
I now begin to understand something of their language: of their customs I had seen quite enough; but what could I do?—how could I escape?
We next joined, the Bengali tribe, and went with them to their hunting ground, a place surrounded by the sea and the Barwin River—each, tribe having its particular locality, which they considered a sort of inheritance. Here we erected our huts, and killed a great number of kangaroo. By eating this food continually, I soon recovered my usual health and strength; for my friends, in their kindness, always served me with the choicest portion of everything they had; so that I had great occasion to be thankful. That I was sufficiently grateful to the Almighty, who had so wonderfully preserved me through such extraordinary sufferings and dangers, I cannot say; for my early notions of religion had been nearly destroyed by the unsettled life I had led, and the want of proper moral instruction. The excellent precepts instilled into my mind by my good old grandfather and grandmother had been long since neutralized, or smothered in the camp, in riotous company, and in the bad society into which I had been thrown by my imprudence. Nevertheless, in the wilderness, as I have already said, I often prayed earnestly and fervently to the great Creator of the Universe for health, and strength, and forgiveness.
At this time we killed an emu, a sort of ostrich, a bird of very large size, and excellent for its flavour. It cannot rise upon the wing, but runs with amazing swiftness.
After staying on this hunting ground for some months, I know not how long, we started again for a new locality, our supplies of game beginning to fall short in consequence of our continued hunting. Having arrived at a place good for this purpose, as they thought, we pitched, or rather erected our bark tents, having killed two immense large wild dogs on our way. The limbs of these animals they broke, and flinging them on the fire, they kept them there until the hair was singed, they then took out the entrails, and roasted the bodies between heated stones, covering them over with sheets of bark and earth. After this process, which lasted two hours, they were ready for eating, and were considered a dish fit for an Exquisite. They handed me a leg of one, as the best part, but I could not fancy it; and on my smelling it, and turning up my nose, they were much amused, laughing away at a great rate. No doubt, they thought my having died and been made white had strangely altered my taste in such matters. As for themselves, they set to work with great zest, making all the time motions to me to fall too also. At length, I exchanged my portion with a neighbour, who gave me for my dog's leg a fine piece of kangaroo, my friend laughing very much at the idea of having the best of the bargain.
The natives consider the wild dogs, and kangaroo rats, great luxuries. They take the former whilst young, and tame them for hunting. The man who kills the game seldom claims the first portion of it, but of the second animal speared, if it be a kangaroo, he has the head, and tail, and best part of the back and loins. As for myself, they always gave me a share, whether I hunted with them or not.
My not being able to talk with them they did not seem to think at all surprising—my having been made white after death, in their opinion, having made me foolish; however, they took considerable pains to teach me their language, and expressed great delight when I got hold of a sentence, or even a word, so as to pronounce it somewhat correctly; they then would chuckle, and laugh, and give me great praise.
I now became a tolerable efficient sportsman, being able to throw the spear, and handle the tomahawk very adroitly. They also instructed me in every art they knew. They taught me to skin the kangaroo and opossums with muscle-shells, in the same way sheep are dressed with the knife; to stretch and dry them in the sun; to prepare the sinews for sewing them together for rugs; and to trim them with pieces of flint. I became, also, expert at catching eels, by spearing them in the lakes and rivers; but in the latter they generally catch them with lines—the bait being a large earth worm. Having these worms ready, they get a piece of elastic bark, and some long grass, on which they string them; this is tied to a rod, and as the eel, after biting, holds on tenaciously, he is thrown or rather jerked upon the bank, in the same way as boys catch the cray-fish in England. Some of these eels are very fine, and large. They are generally—and more easily—caught by the natives during the night, and are eaten roasted. They used to take me out on calm evenings to teach me how to spear salmon, bream, &c. Their manner is to get some very dry sticks, cut them into lengths of ten or twelve feet, tie several of these together into a kind of faggot, and then light the thickest end; with this torch blazing in one hand, and a spear in the other, they go into the water, and the fish seeing it, crowd round and are easily killed and taken. This—as the reader is perhaps aware—is the general practice throughout all the world: and I mention the custom merely as one amongst others. They cook their fish by roasting, but they do so somewhat more carefully than their other food; for they put thick layers of green grass on the hot ashes, and lay their fish upon them, covering them with another layer, and then some hot ashes upon the top. In this way they bake as well—but not so cleanly—as in an oven.
Before we left this place, we were unexpectedly intruded upon by a very numerous tribe, about three hundred. Their appearance, coming across the plain, occasioned great alarm, as they were seen to be the Waarengbadawá, with whom my tribe was at enmity. On their approach, our men retreated into the lake, and smeared their bodies all over with clay, preparatory to a fight. The women ran with their children into the bush, and hid themselves, and being a living dead man, as they supposed, I was told to accompany them. On the hostile tribe coming near, I saw they were all men, no women being amongst them. They were smeared all over with red and white clay, and were by far the most hideous looking savages I had seen. In a very short time the fight began, by a shower of spears from the contending parties. One of our men advanced singly, as a sort of champion; he then began to dance and sing, and beat himself about with his war implements; presently they all sat down, and he seated himself also. For a few minutes all was silent; then our champion stood up, and commenced dancing and singing again. Seven or eight of the savages—for so I must call them—our opponents, then got up also, and threw their spears at him; but, with great dexterity, he warded them off, or broke them every one, so that he did not receive a single wound. They then threw their boomerangs at him, but he warded them off also, with ease. After this, one man advanced, as a sort of champion from their party, to within three yards of him, and threw his boomerang, but the other avoided the blow by falling on his hands and knees, and instantly jumping up again he shook himself like a dog coming out of the water. At seeing this, the enemy shouted out in their language "enough," and the two men went and embraced each other. After this, the same two beat their own heads until the blood ran down in streams over their shoulders.
A general fight now commenced, of which all this had been the prelude, spears and boomerangs flying in all directions. The sight was very terrific, and their yells and shouts of defiance very horrible. At length one of our tribe had a spear sent right through his body, and he fell. On this, our fellows raised a war cry; on hearing which, the women threw off their rugs, and each armed with a short club, flew to the assistance of their husbands and brothers; I being peremptorily ordered to stay where I was: my supposed brother's wife remaining with me. Even with this augmentation, our tribe fought to great disadvantage, the enemy being all men, and much more numerous.
As I have said in the early part of this narrative, I had seen skirmishing and fighting in Holland; and knew something therefore, of what is done when men are knocking one another about with powder and shot, in real earnest, but the scene now before me was much more frightful—both parties looking like so many devils turned loose from Tartarus. Men and women were fighting furiously, and indiscriminately, covered with blood; two of the latter were killed in this affair, which lasted without intermission for two hours; the Waarengbadawás then retreated a short distance, apparently to recover themselves. After this, several messages were sent from one tribe to the other, and long conversations were held—I suppose on the matters in dispute.
Night approaching, we retired to our huts, the women making the most pitiable lamentations over the mangled remains of their deceased friends. Soon after dark the hostile tribe left the neighbourhood; and, on discovering this retreat from the battle ground, ours determined on following them immediately, leaving the women and myself where we were. On approaching the enemy's quarters, they laid themselves down in ambush until all was quiet, and finding most of them asleep, laying about in groups, our party rushed upon them, killing three on the spot, and wounding several others. The enemy fled precipitately, leaving their war implements in the hands of their assailants and their wounded to be beaten to death by boomerangs, three loud shouts closing the victors triumph.
The bodies of the dead they mutilated in a shocking manner, cutting the arms and legs off, with flints, and shells, and tomahawks.
When the women saw them returning, they also raised great shouts, dancing about in savage extacy. The bodies were thrown upon the ground, and beaten about with sticks—in fact, they all seemed to be perfectly mad with excitement; the men cut the flesh off the bones, and stones were heated for baking it; after which, they greased their children with it, all over. The bones were broken to pieces with tomahawks, and given to the dogs, or put on the boughs of trees for the birds of prey hovering over the horrid scene.
Having apparently gratified their feelings of revenge, they fetched the bodies of their own two women who had been killed; these they buried with the customary ceremonies.
They dug two round graves with their sticks, about four feet deep, then coiled up the bodies, tying them in their skin rugs, and laying them in the holes, with some boughs, and filling them up with earth: a ring being made round each place by clearing away, and lighting fires. After raking up the ashes over each, the sticks which they had used for digging roots were put over them, as I have already described the spears of the men are, who are killed.
They have an idea that they will want them when they come to life again, and the fire left they think will do for them to cook their roots with. Of this provision they generally leave a few days' supply, and whenever they pass near these graves they re-light the fires. The bodies are laid on their sides when they bury them, in the same manner as they mostly lie when living.
We remained by the graves the remainder of that day and the next night, and then proceeded to the borders of another large lake, which they call Yawangcontes, in the centre of an extensive plain. There we made our huts with reeds and stones, there being no wood; so bare was it indeed, that we had to go nearly three miles for fuel to cook our food with. We remained there for many months; perhaps for a year or two, for I had lost all recollection of time. I knew nothing about it in fact, except by the return of the seasons. I had almost given up all hope of ceasing my savage life, and as man accustoms himself to the most extraordinary changes of climate and circumstances, so I had become a wild inhabitant of the wilderness, almost in reality. It is very wonderful, but not less strange than true. Almost entirely naked, enduring nearly every kind of privation, sleeping on the ground month after month, year after year, and deprived of all the decencies, and comforts of life, still I lived on, only occasionally suffering from temporary indisposition. I look back now mentally to those times, and think it perfectly miraculous how it could have been.
After this very long stay, we received a message to visit another very large lake, many miles round, which they call Kongiadgillock. On one side it is very rocky, and on the other are extensive plains, lightly timbered. About four miles from the shore is a small island about two miles square; this island may be reached on one side the lake, the water being only knee deep, a high bank running out from the shore towards it, and forming a sort of isthmus. On this island we found an immense number of swans and other wild birds. We made our huts a short distance from the tribe who had invited us to visit them, and here we had as many swan's eggs as we could consume; and there were many more: they were the first I had eaten, and I thought them, by way of change, a great treat. The first day we passed at our new locality, the other tribe said they would take us home with them and have a Corrobberree, after visiting the island. On arriving there we found it literally covered with eggs, so that we very soon filled all our rush baskets; they were laying about in heaps, there being nothing like nests. Our friends whom we visited, allowed us to fill our baskets first, and then they loaded theirs. This continued for several days, and each night we had a Corrobberree. At length the tribe left us, apparently in great haste, but for what cause I could not make out, but I anticipated mischief from their manner, and thought some dispute had occurred amongst them on one of the days when I did not go with them to the island. Our tribe did not interfere in any way. At length we started further up the lake, and arrived at a part that is very narrow. Here we killed a great many swans, which were served out to each family according to its wants; their method of dressing these birds is by roasting, as before described. The next day the women separated from the men, and painted themselves all over with white clay; and the men did so with red, at the same time ornamenting themselves with emu feathers, which they tied round their waists: they were in every other way quite naked. Some of them acted as Musicians, beating their skin rugs with sticks, which they stretched across their knees, whilst they were squatted on the ground. They then set up a dance, the men remaining as spectators, encouraging them with cheers, and all sorts of noises. This diversion finished, as usual, with a regular fight, beating each other about with their clubs most unmercifully. I afterwards understood this quarrel to be occasioned by a woman having been forcibly carried away by another tribe: one of those with us. She was living with the man who had taken her, and, as the man and woman were then both present, they wanted to chastise her for not returning to the tribe to which she belonged. In the skirmish this woman was felled by a heavy blow; seeing this, the men began to prepare for a fight also; one man threw a boomerang amongst the women, when they all ran away. The native who had stolen the girl, then came forward by himself and told them to take their revenge on him, and began to sing and jump and dance, upon which her father went up to him. They both remained quiet for some time, when the men called out to the father, telling him to let him have her, as the man she had been promised to was not worthy of her. Eventually the girl returned to her father. She appeared to be about fifteen years of age, and certainly was no beauty to fight about.
We next went about forty miles, I should think, to a place they call Kironamaat; there is near to it a lake about ten miles in circumference. It took us several days to accomplish this march, as we hunted all the way; we halted near a well of fresh water, the lake being brackish, and there was a great plain near us. We here made nets with strips of bark, and caught with them great quantities of shrimps. We lived very sumptuously and in peace for many months at this place, and then went to the borders of another lake, called Moodewarri: the water of which was perfectly fresh, abounding in large eels, which we caught in great abundance. In this lake, as well as in most of the others inland, and in the deep water rivers, is a very extraordinary amphibious animal, which the natives call Bunyip, of which I could never see any part, except the back, which appeared to be covered with feathers of a dusky grey colour. It seemed to be about the size of a full grown calf, and sometimes larger; the creatures only appear when the weather is very calm, and the water smooth. I could never learn from any of the natives that they had seen either the head or tail, so that I could not form a correct idea of their size; or what they were like.
Before we left this place a Bihar, or messenger, came to us; he had his arms striped with red clay, to denote the number of days it would take us to reach the tribe he came from; and the proposed visit was, for us to exchange with them, eels for roots. The time stated for this march would be fourteen days, and the place was called Bermongo, on the Barwin River. We carried our fish in kangaroo skins, and reaching the appointed place of rendezvous, we found about eighty men, women, and children gathered together. The exchange was made in this way; two men of each party delivered the eels and roots, on long sheets of bark, carrying them on their heads, from one side to the other, and so on, until the bargain was concluded. In the evening there was another great Corrobberree, and the next morning a fight; because one of the women had run away with a man, leaving her husband. It resulted by her being speared very badly. After a short time the tribes separated, making an appointment to meet again for an exchange of food.
From this place we went to Beangala, which is now called Indented Heads, where we remained some months, until the time had arrived when we agreed to return for the exchange of fish for roots. On this occasion, however, we took kangaroo instead, to a place called Liblib, by the side of a large lake of shallow water, surrounded by reeds, and which they call Bangeballa. Whilst I was at this place, there was one of the most severe hail storms I think man ever saw. The stones were so very large as to strip the bark off the trees as they descended.
Their language had now become familiar to me, and I began to learn by degrees, and by frequent intercourse with the various tribes, something about my shipmates, and former companions. It seemed, that one of them, having, after a few days, separated from the others, was found by the natives and kindly relieved by them; but after some time, they—as it was said—had reason to be jealous of him—he having made too free with their women—so they killed him. The others I never heard anything more about until my arrival in Van Diemen's Land.