Native Tribes of South-East Australia/Chapter 12

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Naming of children—Family duties in bringing up children shared by both parents—Names of respect given to the aged—Opossum skin rugs—Perforation of the septum of the nose—Raised scars—Mutilations—Infanticide—Cannibalism—Food rules, hunting, and distribution of game—Ball-playing—Camping rules—Fire-making.

In the Kurnai tribe the infant child is at first recognised merely as Lit, that is, "child," although it receives some name when it begins to walk, frequently from some trivial occurrence which happened about its birth. When a boy is eight or nine years of age he is called Wotti, and the girl Kuere-jung. The child is named by the paternal grandfather or grandmother, or in default by the mother's parents, and its name may be that borne by some former member of the family. For instance, the before-mentioned Tulaba was, when a child, named Barrumbulk (teal duck) by his maternal grandfather. This was the name of his mother's deceased brother. When as a youth he was initiated at the Jeraeil ceremonies, a maternal uncle called him Tulaba, which was the name of a grand ancestor.

When the new name is given at initiation, the child's name becomes secret, not to be revealed to strangers, or to be mentioned by friends. The reason appears to be that a name is part of a person, and therefore can be made use of to that person's detriment by any who wish to "catch" him by evil magic. Thus one of the Kurnai, of whom I inquired as to his child's name, told me in a whisper, when no one else was present. When I asked him the name of one of the Kurnai, he said, "I cannot tell you, he might be very angry with me; our fathers have told us that we must never speak of our secret names."

The boy as a youth is called Wot-wotti while he still lives with his parents, and his sister, when approaching a marriageable age, is called Tutbukan.

After being initiated, the youth is called Tutnurring, and also is called Jeraeil, from the name of the ceremonies. When he returns to the camp, having satisfied the old men

that he is to be depended upon, he no longer lives with his parents. As I have shown in the description of the Jeraeil, the ceremonies clearly show that his mother's control over him has been annulled, and being a man he is not allowed to live in the married people's part of the camp, but joins the young men, who put up their Bun or camp apart from the others. He as a Brewit, or "young man," lives with the other Brewit. All the Brewit who have been made young men at the same time are brogan or, as I may put it, comrades.

The girl, who has participated in the ceremonies so far as the women are allowed to do, still lives with her parents until she is married.

The young man, having obtained a wife, is free of two divisions of the tribe, at least—that to which he belongs by birth, and that of his wife. He begins a partly independent life of his own, wandering over the hunting-grounds, which his fathers before him hunted over, and also over those of his wife's forefathers; indeed, there were cases in which the man joined the clan of his wife and abandoned his own.

The family duties are shared by the husband and the wife, both assisting to support their family, his share being to hunt for their support, and to fight for their protection. As one of them said to me, "A man hunts, spears fish, fights, and sits about" The woman formerly built the home of bent sticks thatched with grass tussocks, but since the blacks obtained iron tomahawks, the home is made of sheets of bark stripped by the men. It was the woman's duty to catch fish and to cook it, to gather the vegetables, fruit, or seeds which formed part of the food supply, and to make rush bags, baskets, and nets.

When a Kurnai has arrived at mature age, and when he may be supposed to have taken his place among the elders of the clan, and was designated Boldain or old man, he usually acquired a new name. As the child's name gave place to a new one at initiation, so did that name give place to a new one when he became Boldain, but the former did not become secret. This last name was often derived from some personal peculiarity or quality. It was usually composed of two names, of which one is constant, being Bunjil. It has no meaning as a word, and is only used as a prefix to another word indicating some quality or peculiarity. This name would probably be his last, and remained with him till his death.

Among the names of such men known to me are Bunjil-barlajan (platypus), from his skill in spearing that animal; Bunjil-tambun (Gippsland perch, Lates Colonorum), from his skill in catching that fish. A leading man in the Brayakaulung clan was Bunjil-kraura (west wind). Another of the Brayakaulung was Bunjil-daua-ngun, from Daua-ngun, to turn up. He was noted for making bark canoes much turned up in front. His brother, Bunjil-barn, was so named from his supposed extraordinary powers in that form of evil magic.

As an illustration of the way in which such names may be acquired, I may mention the following. The Mitchell River flows for some thirty miles through a gorge-like and somewhat inaccessible valley. In order to examine it I caused some Kurnai to make canoes at the upper end, and therein we floated down together. The gorge was unknown to them, being out of their country, and the navigation was regarded as a great feat, in consequence of the great number of rapids, in one of which our canoes were wrecked. It was talked of for some time among the Brabralung, and the name of Bunjil-guyergun, or Bunjil rapids, was given to me.

In the Yuin tribe some of the personal names of men known to me are: Burru-walway (one who knows everything), Kumbo (marrow), Naieni-wang (thunder), Bullur (dust), Kayan (the summit of Mount Dromedary), Mundu-pira (stone tomahawk), and Jubbuk (throw the fishing-line).

There are also what may be termed family names, such as that of Umbara, before mentioned, namely, Wattin (Point of land). Such names are inherited by children of both sexes from their fathers. For instance, Umbara was Wattin from his father, and individually Jubbuk, which was given to him at the Kuringal ceremony, thus replacing his child's name.

In the Wiimbaio tribe a child was spoken of as Katulya; a boy of nine or ten years as Wilyango; one of ten to fifteen as Wilyango-kurnundo; and when fifteen, and before being made a young man, as Kurno, that is excrement. When he became a man he would be spoken of as Thalara.[1]

The personal names among the Bigambul are such as have been given to persons when children; for instance, Waronga (left-handed), or Yurngal (right-handed), but they are not usually applied to them personally. The usual terms of address are those of relationship; for instance, Mugen (elder brother), or Kogebel (younger brother), or such as may be applicable.[2]

In the Turrbal tribe a name was usually given to a child when about a week old. It was either the name of a place, or a bird, or an animal, or fish. Another name was given to a boy when he was made a young man. But a girl retained her child's name through life. When a man was thirty or forty he received another name. They were never named after their father or mother.[3]

In the Maryborough tribes a child receives a name as an infant. If a girl, the name remains always the same, but if a boy, the name is changed at the Dora ceremonies.

The friends of a man or a woman use the personal name in speaking to him or her. That is to say, the name given to him at the Dora, and to her in childhood. Old men address a girl as Wurgu (girl), and a boy as Ogbin (boy). A man and his wife address each other with the word Ura (Heigh!). They do not speak to each other as "husband" or "wife," that is, by the words in their language with those meanings. People do not generally use a person's name to commence a conversation with them, but seek a favourable moment to catch their eye, or attract their attention by some remark, and then continue speaking.[4]

Perforation of the Septum

In the Kurnai tribe the perforation of the septum of the nose was usually made when the boy was growing up, but some time before he was initiated. Some of the men might notice him as growing up, or his young men friends might say to him, "You ought to have Ngrung; it won't hurt you." Ngrung is short for Ngrung-kong, or nose-hole. If he consents, he lies down on his back, and his friend takes hold of the septum of his nose, extends it, moistens it with saliva, and then rapidly pierces it with a sharp bone instrument. The patient must not show any sign of feeling pain. This being done, he jumps up and extends his arms out quickly from the shoulder, and jerks each leg in succession. This proceeding is supposed to aid the Ngrung-kong in causing him to grow big and strong. A peg called Gumbart is left in until the wound is healed.

The perforation in the septum of the nose in the Wurunjerri tribe was made when the child was about twelve years of age. It is called Ilbi-jerri. The old men performed the operation for the boys, and the old women for the girls, and it was in the winter -time that this was done. The parents would say to the child, "You must get ready your bone; make it nice and sharp, so that a hole can be made in your nose," After the bone had been pushed through the nose and left there, the child scraped a small hole in the ground, placed in it some stones heated in the fire, covered it with some earth, and poured water on it. It then held its head, covered with an opossum skin rug, over the steam until the peg became loose, and could be turned round. It did this every night and morning till the place was healed.

The perforation was not made by the Yuin till the boy had been initiated, and was permitted to return to the camp from his probation in the bush. The nose-hole is called Guraw, and the nose-peg Kurt-bagur.

At Port Stephens the blacks used to pin their blankets across their chests with the bone nose-peg. When not in use it was kept in the nose.[5]

In the Turrbal tribe the perforation was made with the point of a spear.[6]

Formerly the Chepara bored the septum of the nose with a pointed kangaroo bone, the perforation being kept open by a rounded piece of wood, which was frequently turned round in the hole, water being allowed to trickle through. This practice has died out now, quite old men being seen without the nose bored.[7] These are only a few instances of a very wide Australian practice.

Opossum Skin Rugs

The Kurnai in their primitive state usually went about without any covering. But they made what are now called "opossum rugs." These were made of the dried pelts of the opossum sewed together with sinew. They did not dress the skins but merely dried them, and to make them more pliable cut markings on the skin side by means of

mussel shells (nanduwung). These markings are called waribruk, and each man had his own. In Fig. 50 are given examples of the waribruk used by men known to me.

Flattening the Nose

A curious practice obtains in some tribes, namely, the flattening of the child's nose by its mother to improve its appearance. This was done in the Yuin tribe, as I was informed, to make the children look nice; also in the Wiimbaio, and in the tribe about Maitland fifty years ago.[8] It is possibly more common than one might have expected, showing that this marked feature of the aboriginal physiognomy is thought to be beautiful.

Raised Scars

The practice of causing raised scars on the upper parts of the body seems to be universal in Australia, but among the

exceptions to the practice was the Kurnai tribe. Before the occupation of Gippsland by the whites, the young men were not scarred, excepting a very few, who had met the Manero Brayerak and had followed their fashion of ornamentation. One of the earliest settlers in North Gippsland[9] told me that when he first saw the blackfellows at Buchan (Bukkanmunji) they were bot scarred as was the Manero blackboy he had with him, according to the custom of his tribe. On making friends with the Kurnai, one of them was persuaded to be similarly ornamented; he was gashed on each arm, and subsequently a number of others followed his example.

After rain has fallen—following one of the rain-making ceremonies of the Dieri—there are always some who undergo the operation called Chiu-bari^ which is the cutting of the skin of the chest and arms with a sharp piece of flint.

The wound, which is through the skin, is then tapped with a flat stick to increase the flow of blood, and red ochre is rubbed in, producing raised scars. The operation does not appear to be very painful, as the patient laughs and jokes all the time. The reason given for this practice is that they are pleased with the rain and that there is a connection between the rain and the scars.

Even little children crowd round the operator, patiently waiting for their turn, and after they have been operated upon, run away, expanding their little chests and arms, and singing for the rain to beat on them. However, on the following day, when their wounds are stiff and sore, they are not so well pleased.[10]

Although it is generally said that the raised scars do not indicate the tribe and are merely ornamental, there are some instances which show that there are certain cases in which the contrary is the case. In the Yerkla tribe the cicatrices are made at the initiation ceremonies by the medicine-men, and a legend relates how these scars came to be made first.[11] This legend is given in the chapter on the initiation ceremonies of the western type, Chapter X.

A somewhat different version of the legend says that long ago an immense bird, larger than the brown eagle-hawk, killed and devoured all the tribe, except two men and one woman, who to save themselves went out at night and killed the bird. Afterwards they were attacked by a hostile tribe, but could not be speared, because they would jump up and appear somewhere else. Finally they jumped so high that they never came down again, and the two men are dark spots seen in the Milky Way. It is not known what became of the woman. This version was given by Mr. H. Williams, who informed me, in answer to an inquiry, that the scars have no meaning, and are merely ornamental. Assuming

that the first given legend is correctly reported, the cicatrices are significant of the sub-class names, and are as follows.

In the Budera sub-class there are three cicatrices running from breast to breast, and three on each shoulder. In the Kura sub-class there are one horizontally between the breasts and three vertically on the side of the biceps of each arm. In the Budu sub-class there are three horizontally between the breasts, and below a line which would pass through the nipples. Two above these inclined at an angle from each other like the letter V, and five horizontal lines on each biceps. In the Wenung sub-class there are three perpendicular between the breasts. The scars are cut by the medicine-men (Mobunbai).[12]

In the Yuin tribe the scars cut upon the body were not made until after the initiation ceremonies. In the case of one man who had cicatrices vertically round the upper arm, he said that they were made in that manner to cause boomerangs to glance off. This is of course merely a preventive charm. Scars are cut on both boys and girls.

In Frazer's Island (Queensland), a boy of the White Cliff tribe was marked with five vertical scars down the centre of the chest, and he pointed out to me that he differed from those at Bundaberg in so far that they had three horizontally round the front of the body.

In the Moreton Bay tribe scars were cut when the boys were made Kippurs. The scars are two or three inches apart, just below the nipples, and extending across the breast. When the boy is older, other scars are cut lower down. While these cuts are being made by one old man, another one claps his hands over the ears of the patient to keep the pain away, and roars out a chant. In the Bunya tribe there are three horizontal cuts above each nipple. The Ipswich tribe had cuts vertically on each arm below the shoulder. Each tribe was differently marked. There were also marks made on the back in all of these tribes, but these were mostly done when mourning for death. The cuts were rubbed in with the charcoal of the Bloodwood tree.[13]


In the coastal branch of the Turrbal tribe each woman had the two joints of one little finger taken off, when a girl, by tying a cobweb round it. When the joint mortifies, the hand is held in an ant-bed for an hour or so, for the joint to be eaten off. This is the fishing branch of the tribe, and this is done to distinguish its women from those of the other branches. It is not done to give them any power of catching fish.[14]

This practice of mutilating the little finger of the woman's hand is recorded by Mr. H. E. Aldridge as obtaining far along the coast both north and south of Maryborough, and, according to him, it always indicated a coast woman. But the custom has evidently a much wider range, for in writing about the Port Stephens tribe, Mr. Robert Dawson says, "A mother amputates the little finger of the right hand of one of her female children as soon as it is born, in token of its appointment to the office of fisher-woman to the family."[15]

In the Dalebura tribe several instances were noticed in which the little finger of the left hand had been severed at the second joint, but no reason for it could be ascertained.[16]

The Children

A Bunya-Bunya woman practises the following custom on her little boy. She lays him on his back on the ground, puts her two hands on his shoulders and pulls his hands gently down to his heels, making a peculiar clucking noise with her mouth. This is to make him grow, and is done three or four times a day, especially when he wakes in the morning. A woman with a boy child on her lap or close to her is liable to severe punishment if she does not see that the child is turned away from a man who is walking towards it. Should she not be looking, and a man is coming towards the front of the boy, the man will stop and say pretty sharply, "Turn that boy!" and the woman at once turns the boy with his back to the approaching man. This is to prevent illness, the man being supposed to be able, if he wishes, to put a "stone" into any one. A woman will also rub her hand under her arm and then rub her son's eyes with her hand to give him good sight. She will also plait a hair cord to put on her son when about three years old. It is put under each arm and round the neck, being fastened together on the chest and between the shoulder-blades. This is done that he may develop muscle and strength in the back and chest, and it is generally kept on till he is made into a man, at about the age of puberty.[17]

A curious method of counting the children obtained in the Wakelbura tribe. A father having five children would in speaking of or calling them use the following terms: first born, Tayling (thumb); second born, Burbi (first finger); third born, Youlgo (second finger); fourth born, Baljinbura (third finger); fifth born, Nallembrew (little finger). The exceptions to the above are that if there is only one child, and it be a boy, and if he happen to be small, the mother's brother's and sister's children may call him Nallembrew, as a joke; but his parents do not join in this humour. They call him Walbah (boy) till initiation, when he becomes Kaula (young man); if a girl, she is called Umbel (girl) till about eighteen years of age, when she is called by them Unguie (young woman).[18]


Infanticide is practised by the Mining to some extent, the mode of killing being by starvation. After a few days of short commons the child becomes peevish and troublesome, and in consequence more neglected, being placed by itself away from the camp and fires, and is said to be afflicted with Muparn (magic). When death ends its sufferings, Muparn is the cause. The reason they give for this practice is that if their numbers increased too rapidly there would not be enough food for everybody. Yet they are very fond of their offspring, and very indulgent to those they keep, rarely striking them, and a mother would give all the food she had to her children, going hungry herself.

Infants are kept well greased, and much fat is used by the adults on their own bodies. A woman kisses her children by placing her lips upon it and blowing, making a loud noise.[19]

In hard summers the new-born children were all eaten by the Kaura tribe in the neighbourhood of Adelaide; this might be inferred from the remarkable gaps that appear in the ages of the children.[20]

In the Tongaranka tribe the practice of infanticide was common, because a baby was frequently too much trouble to look after, and it was often the mother who killed it. But it was not done until the family consisted of three or four; but after that too much work in hunting had to be done to keep the family in food.[21]

In the Wotjobaluk tribe infants were killed in the old times, no difference being made between boys and girls. If a couple had a child, either boy or girl, say ten years old, and a baby was then born to them, it might be killed and cooked for its elder brother or sister to eat, in order to make him or her strong by feeding on the muscle of the infant. The mother killed the infant by striking its head against the shoulder of its elder brother or sister.

In the Mukjarawaint tribe the children belonged to the grandparents, though the parents had the care of them. If, for instance, a boy was born and then a girl, the father's parents might take them, or the mother's parents, and so also with another couple of children. If then another child was born and one of the grandparents took it, it would be kept. If not, it was killed, there being too many children. The grandparents had to decide whether a child was to be kept alive or not. If not, then either the grandfather or the father killed it, by striking it against the mother's knee, and then knocking it on the head. Then the child was roasted and eaten by the grandparents, their brothers and grandchildren, but its parents did not eat of it. Occasionally friends were invited to join in the feast. The father could not order the child to be killed; for, if he did so, the grand-parents would raise a party against him and he would have to fight them.

In all the tribes of the Wotjo nation, and also the Ta-tathi and other tribes on the Murray River frontage, when a child was weak and sickly they used to kill its infant brother or sister, and feed it with the flesh to make it strong.

According to Buckley, if a family increased too rapidly in the Wudthaurung tribe, as, for instance, where a woman had a child within twelve months of the previous one, there was a consultation in the tribe as to whether it should live or not. If the father insisted on it being spared, they did not persist in its destruction, particularly if a female.[22]

Infanticide in the Kurnai tribe arose through the difficulty in carrying a baby when there were other children, especially when the next youngest was not able to walk. According to the statements made to me by the Kurnai, it sometimes happened when a child was about to be born the father would say to his wife, "We have too many children to carry about—best leave this one, when it is born, behind in the camp." On this the new-born child was left lying in the camp and the family moved elsewhere. The Kurnai drew this distinction, that they never heard of parents killing their children, but only of their leaving newborn infants behind.

In the tribes about Maryborough (Queensland) infanticide was practised by leaving the child behind when born, either on the ground or on a sheet of bark. But infants were not killed by violence, and no difference was made between boys and girls. This leaving behind or deserting the new-born infant was because of the trouble it caused where a woman had other children, and it was almost always done as regards a girl's first child. If one saw a baby, within a day or two of its birth, to have been rubbed over with red ochre and burned bark of the Bloodwood tree, one could be quite sure that it was safe. Otherwise it would disappear, being abandoned somewhere.[23]


In speaking of cannabalism in these tribes, a distinction must be drawn between the eating of the flesh of slain enemies of another tribe and of those of the same tribe. The former appears to have had in it an element of revenge, while the latter is mostly ceremonial. But a further distinction may be drawn as to the eating of the caul and kidney fat, in which an element of magic usually was present, and which was practised on both the slain and the tribesman.

The cannibalism practised by the Dieri is part of the burial ceremonial. I have already described these ceremonies, but may here repeat what has been said as to the eating of part of the corpse. When the body is lowered into the grave, an old man who is the nearest relation to the deceased present, cuts off all the fat adhering to the face, thighs, arms, and stomach, and passes it round to be swallowed by the relatives. The order in which they partake of it is as follows:—The mother eats of her children, and the children of their mother; a man eats of his sister's husband and of his brother's wife; mother's brothers, mother's sisters, sister's children, mother's parents, or daughter's children are also eaten of; but the father does not eat of his child nor the children of their sire. The relatives eat of the fat in order that they may be no longer sad.[24]

The Dieri, Yaurorka, Yantruwunta, and Marula eat only the fat of the dead, but other tribes eat of the flesh also. Such are the Tangara, who carry the remains of the deceased with them; and whenever they feel sorrow for the dead, eat some of the flesh, until nothing remains but the bones.[25]

In the Wotjobaluk tribe the arms and legs of enemies were cut off, cooked, and eaten, no other part of the body being used. In the raids on other tribes by the Wotjobaluk the skin was eaten.

The Kulin tribes, for instance the Jajaurung, cut the flesh from off the legs and arms of killed enemies and carried it on their spear-points to the camp to be eaten.

The Bunurong not only did this, but, according to their neighbours the Wurunjerri, they also drank the blood of their slain enemies.

Mr. Hugh Murray, who occupied country near Colac in South-western Victoria in 1837, says, that some of the Witaurong tribe, that is, the Wudthaurung, having murdered an old man and a child of the Colac tribe, brought with them on the ends of their spears portions of their flesh, which he saw them eat with great exultation during the evening.[26]

The Kurnai ate the flesh of their enemies only if they were of other tribes, for Kurnai did not eat Kurnai. It was not the whole of the body that was eaten, but the muscles of the arms and legs, and the skin of the thighs and of the sides of the body.

Several of the Kurnai have told me of occasions when this occurred. My informants said that once when they were young men they accompanied others in a raid on the Manero Brayerak. One man was killed, and his legs were cut off and carried to their camp, where the old men roasted them, and shared the flesh among the party. They said that the flesh tasted better than beef. Among the Theddora and Ngarigo it was the custom to eat parts of those they killed in raids, but not of those who were killed in any ceremonial combats between sections of the same tribe. The parts eaten were the hands and feet, and this was accompanied with expressions of contempt for the person killed. Those were their real enemies, and in eating them they acquired, as they thought, some part of their qualities and courage.[27]

In the Turrbal tribe, when in one of their ceremonial combats which follow the initiation ceremonies some man was killed, he was eaten by those of his tribe who were present, each tribal group sitting at its own fire. A great medicine-man (Kundri) singed the body all over with a fire-stick, causing the skin to turn copper-coloured. The body was then laid face downwards and opened down the back with a stone knife, then opened down the front, and skinned. All the entrails with the heart and lungs were buried, and blackened sticks tied with grass were laid over the burial place, which henceforth was so sacred that no one went near it, unless it were some one of the old medicine-men. The medicine-man who skinned the body cut off pieces of the flesh, which he threw to the several parties sitting round, who cooked and ate it. The principal medicine-men rubbed the fat over their own bodies. The reason given is that they eat him because they knew him and were fond of him, and they now knew where he was, and his flesh would not stink. His mother carried the skin and bones for months with her, and when one tribal group met another, the old woman would lift the opossum rug off the skin, which was placed in a "humpy" (hut). The friends of the deceased mourned and cut themselves with tomahawks, while the others restrained them from injuring themselves.[28]

When a man is killed in one of the ceremonial fights in the tribes about Maryborough (Queensland), his friends skin him and eat him. He is skinned by one of the old men (his father, if alive), or his father's brother, or some other relative. The body is first of all prepared by passing a burning fire-stick all over it, after which the outer skin peels off, leaving the corpse nearly as white as a white man. This appearance seems to have caused the blacks to think the first white men they saw were their friends returned to life.

The skin is then taken off, with the nails and hair left on. The body is distributed among the male friends of the deceased and the old women as far as it will go, who roast and eat the flesh. The meat looks like horseflesh, and smells, when being cooked on the fires, like beefsteak. The little fat there is on the kidneys is rubbed on the points of the spears of his relations, and the kidneys are stuck on the points of two spears. It is thought that this will make the spears extremely deadly when thrown, and the deceased is eaten in order that his virtues as a warrior may go into those who partake of him.

These people never eat any part of their enemies whom they kill. Blackboys belonging to my correspondent, who had been killed by them, were chopped up into little bits and left lying on logs.[29]

Mr. Andrew Lang in his work The Making of Religion[30] notes a passage from Dr. Dunmore Lang,[31] who gives it on the authority of his son, Mr. G. D. Lang, who, as the former puts it, "happened to reside a few months in the Wide Bay district." The passage is as follows: "At certain triennial gatherings of some tribes of Queensland, young girls are slain in sacrifice to propitiate some evil divinity, and their bodies likewise are subjected to the horrid rite of cannibalism. Girls are marked for sacrifice months before the event takes place by the old men of the tribe."

When I read this I remembered that some forty years ago I had heard a "bush yarn" that when tribes met at the Bunya feasts the people became so meat hungry after a long course of feasting on the fruit of the Bunya tree, that they killed a "fat gin" and ate her. Mr. G. D. Lang's statements appeared to me to be an embellishment of this "bush yarn," moreover, I disbelieved the "sacrifice to propitiate some evil divinity" as being contrary to all that I know of the native tribes, and I thought that the statements probably rested on the distorted account of the eating of those persons who are killed in the ceremonial combats that take place at these triennial gatherings.

I have also found the following reference to cannibalism at these meetings. R. Brough Smyth says,[32] "When tribes assembled to eat the fruit of the Bunya-Bunya, they were not permitted to take any game, and at length the craving for flesh was so intense that they were impelled to kill one of their number in order that their appetites might be satisfied."

Mr. E. M. Curr makes the following statement[33] about what occurred at his station called Gobungo in the Bunya-Bunya country. The season of the Bunya nuts was then at its height, and the majority of the blacks present were strangers invited by the Kabi to feast on the plentiful harvest of nuts. But they were forbidden to help themselves to any fish, flesh, or fowl within the territory. After some weeks of unbroken vegetable diet an intense craving for animal food, it seems, came on. Some of the men killed a woman and satisfied their wild hunger by eating her. Shortly afterwards he heard of a little girl being killed and eaten.

In order to obtain some further information, I sent the above extracts to Mr. Tom Petrie and Mr. Harry Aldridge, both of whom have an intimate acquaintance not only with the tribes who assembled at the Bunya feasts, but have themselves been at these meetings.

Mr. Tom Petrie in reply said that he never in all his experience came across such a thing as sacrifice. Strangers at feasts were always treated well, and looked after, and had lots of game, eggs, etc., in fact, just what the others had. If any one died in good condition, or if some one was killed in a fight, then they were most surely eaten. That "flesh hunger" spoken of was absurd. Such things did not happen in the part of the Bunya-Bunya country he had been in. Mr. Petrie considered that the woman who Mr. Curr says was killed and eaten was probably killed in a fight, and under such circumstances would most certainly be eaten.

Mr. Aldridge informs me he had seen men, women, and children eaten at the tribal meetings in the Bunya country. The men and women had been killed in a fight, the children generally by some accident. In fact, any one killed in a fight, or by accident, or dying in good condition, was eaten.

The idea of "flesh hunger" is absurd, because at the feasts all sorts of game was eaten, and the guests had the same meals as their hosts, and were always treated well. He says that he knows the Mary River side, and Mr. Petrie the Brisbane side, and with their knowledge of the language and habits of the natives, he considers that it would be impossible for the alleged human sacrifices to have occurred without their cognisance.

It seems clear that even if cases did occur of women and children being killed for cannibalistic reasons, such cases must have been most exceptional, and the statement that young girls were marked for sacrifice by the old men and sacrificed to propitiate an evil divinity may be put aside as absolutely without foundation. The Australian aborigines do not recognise any divinity, good or evil, nor do they offer any kind of sacrifice, as far as my knowledge goes.

Food Rules

When I first became acquainted with the Kurnai tribe, I observed that a man provided food for his wife's father. This custom is called Neborak. The food consists of a certain part of the daily catch of game procured by him. I found, for instance, that when he caught say five opossums, he gave two to his wife's father, and two to her brothers. On making inquiries and observing further, I found that food, including in that term all game caught by the men and all vegetable food obtained by the women, was shared with others according to well-understood rules. Thus there was a certain community in food, and there was an acknowledged obligation to supply certain persons with it. The following particulars which I ascertained and noted will show how it worked among the Kurnai and other tribes.

It is assumed that a man kills a kangaroo at a distance from the camp. Two other men are with him, but are too late to assist in killing it. The distance from the camp being considerable, the kangaroo is cooked before being carried home. While the first man lights a fire, the others cut up the game. The three cook the entrails and eat them. The following distribution is made. Men 2 and 3 receive one leg and the tail, and one leg and part of the haunch, because they were present, and had helped to cut the game up. Man number 1 received the remainder, which he carried to the camp. The head and back are taken by his wife to her parents, and the remainder goes to his parents. If he is short of meat, he keeps a little, but if, for instance, he has an opossum, he gives it all away. His mother, if she has caught some fish, may give him some, or his wife's parents may give him some of their share, and they also would in such a case give her .some next morning. The children are in all cases well cared for by their grandparents.

The giving of food by the wife's parents on the following morning is founded on the assumption that their son-in-law provided for his family on the preceding day, but may want some food before going out to hunt afresh. The food

received by the wife's parents and by the husband's parents is shared by them with their family.

If a wombat were killed at a distance from the camp, its intestines would be taken out and the animal skewered up and carried home. If it was, however, close at hand, help might be obtained and the game carried whole. All the animal is sent to the wife's parents, this animal being considered as the best of food. The wife's father distributes it to the whole camp, but he does not give any to the hunter unless the animal has been carried in whole, for otherwise he is expected to have eaten of the entrails, and therefore not to be hungry. On the following morning, however, he sends some of it by his daughter to her husband.

A native sloth bear is either cooked where caught, or carried home raw, according to the distance. If one is killed, it is given to the wife's parents; if two, one to the wife's parents, and one to the man's parents. If three, then two to the wife's parents, and one to the man's parents, and so on. The hunter will probably keep the liver for himself and wife. On the following morning the wife's parents will give her some if she has no food.

An emu is cooked where killed unless it is near the camp. The intestines, liver, and gizzard are eaten by the hunter. The legs go to the wife's father as Neborak, and the body is the share of his parents.

A lace-lizard is shared with all in the camp.

If a man kills one opossum, he keeps it for himself and his wife. Any others go to the wife's father. I remember a case where a man caught ten, of which he kept one, and all the others became Neborak.

If several swans are killed by a hunter, he keeps one or more, according to the wants of his family. The remainder go to his wife's parents, or, if many have been procured, most of them, and the lesser number go to his parents.

A conger-eel should be sent to his wife's father, who will probably share it with his family.

In all cases the largest share and the best of the game is Neborak. The grandchildren are fed by their grand-parents. The supply of vegetable food obtained by the woman is all devoted to her children and herself.

The following instances will show what would be the distribution when members of the group other than the wife's and the man's parents are in camp.

A kangaroo killed by a married man assisted by a Brewit (unmarried man) would all go to the wife's parents except the left leg to his brother, and the right leg to the Brewit.

If a catch of eels were made, the following might be the division of them, if the individuals were camped together. Man and wife, a large eel. Mother's brother and wife, a large eel. Children of mother's brother, a small eel; and to married daughter, a small eel.

Similar rules obtained in the Ngarigo tribe, of which the following may be taken as an example:—

Of a kangaroo the hunter would take a piece along the backbone near the loin. The father would have the back-bone, ribs, shoulders, and head. The mother the right leg, the younger brother the left foreleg. The elder sister would have a piece alongside the backbone, the younger sister the right foreleg. The father shares his portion thus: to his parents, tail and piece of backbone; and the mother shares her portions with her parents, giving them part of the thigh and the shin.

A wombat is cooked, then cut open and skinned. The skin is cut into strips and divided with parts of the animal thus:—The head to the person who killed the animal. His father the right ribs; mother the left ribs and the backbone, which, with some of the skin, she gives to her parents. Her husband's parents receive some of the skin. The elder brother gets the right shoulder, the younger the left. The elder sister the right hind leg, the younger the left hind leg, and the rump and liver are sent to the young men's camp.

A native bear is divided in the following manner:—Self, left ribs; father, right hind leg ; mother, left hind leg; elder brother, right forearm; younger brother, left forearm. The elder sister gets the backbone, and the younger the liver. The right ribs are given to the father's brother, a piece of the flank to the hunter's mother's brother, and the head goes to the young men's camp.

An emu was divided as follows:—The backbone to the hunter; left leg, left shoulder, and left flank to his father. The neck and head, right flank and right ribs to his mother. To his elder brother, the left rib; younger brother, part of the backbone; elder sister, part of the right thigh; younger sister, the right shin. The left thigh and left shin went to the young men's camp. The father and mother shared their part with their parents.

A lace-lizard is divided thus:—The left leg to the hunter; the father and mother, the upper part of the body; the elder and younger brothers, the right hind leg; the elder sister, part of the lower half of the backbone. The tail goes to the younger sister. The father and mother share their portion, by giving to the hunter's father the foreleg, and to her father the backbone. The remainder goes to the young men's camp.

In this last the brothers and sisters are supposed to be grown up, and to be married. If these people were not all in the camp at the same time, the division would be made on the same lines.

As I had not an opportunity of checking this list, by further personal inquiries, and as the Rev. John Bulmer had Manero blacks at the Aboriginal Station under his control, I requested him to do so for me. This he very kindly did, and his reply was that he found the food to be divided as I have described. He found that when a kangaroo was killed, the whole was sent to the hunter's father, if he was at the camp, the former only eating a small piece himself. But, if he had no meat, his father would send him the head and part of the backbone. His wife would have to rely for a share of meat on her relations, or on that part to which she was entitled by custom.

Speaking of the custom of Neborak, Mr. Bulmer said he had observed that it was strictly kept, and that a man had to keep the parents of his wife supplied with the best parts of the game, and if possible with wombat flesh, that being considered the best of all. He had seen the whole of the right side of a wombat sent by one of the men as Neborak. This was always carried by the wife to her parents, as well as to the other camps for her husband, where it was mostly thrown down near the fire, and not given by hand, as they object to take it direct from any one's hand, lest some harm should come to them thereby.

In the old time the Kurnai made fish-hooks of bone, and it was the province of the women to fish with the line, while the men caught fish by spearing them. The fishing-lines were made of the inner bark of the blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon).[34]

The following particulars relate to the Yerkla-mining tribe. Their food consists principally of wallaby and kangaroo, but they will eat snakes, iguanas, wild dogs, native cats, etc., but not some small varieties of lizards. All kinds of fish they will eat, except shark. A berry they call Ngura is much esteemed, and furnishes a quantity of food, as does also the Quandong or native peach, which grows very plentifully in their country. Another article of diet eaten by the Mining is the bark of a kind of mallee. It is prepared by baking in hot ashes, and afterwards pounding between hot stones. They relish this pulp mixed with white ants, though the bark is often eaten unpounded, and is said to have a rather agreeable flavour.

The weapons used by the Yerkla-mining are very primitive, though effectual in their hands. They have two kinds of spears. One, with a simple round point, is used to throw at animals, and is about nine or ten feet in length; the other is thirteen or fourteen feet in length, and is pointed with one short barb three-quarters of an inch long.

When on the war-path they arm their spears with a piece of bark let into the point. The bark remains in the wound, and keeps it open, causing much pain and suppuration.

When the men go out hunting, one is employed in carrying a large bunch of long feathers tied to the end of the longest procurable spear. This he holds high in the air, waving it about, while another man walks with him carrying the jag-spear, with which he spears the small game that have been frightened by the hawk-like hovering of the bunch of feathers, and have nestled in the bushes for protection. When hunting larger game, such as kangaroo, the hunter stalks it with great skill, making use at the same time of various signs when it is not looking, with the object of charming it to stay within reach of his spear.

They use the Wordan, or spear-thrower, also as a chopper for cutting up animals cooked and uncooked, it being pointed with a sharp piece of flint. The women have the usual stout stick for digging purposes, sharpened at one end, and it also serves as their weapon. The men have a short throwing weapon about fifteen inches long, sharpened at one end, with which they are very expert.

Physically the Mining are a medium-sized people, small-boned, slender in build, athletic and smart-looking; the complexion of a dark copper colour, and the hair black, bushy, and curly.

A pigment called Wilgey is used by the Mining to paint themselves on various occasions, and is obtained far north of the head of the Bight. They also use white ashes to paint themselves with when on the war-path.

In this tribe food is always shared equally among all present. For instance, if a wallaby has been killed, and there happen to be ten or twelve in the party, each one receives a share of the animal. No one touches the animal or part of it until given by the killer. Should the man who killed it be absent while it is being cooked, no one would touch it till he came to share it. Women share equally with the men, and children are carefully looked after by both parents. When a kangaroo was killed by a native servant of a white man, with the gun of the latter, none of the blacks present would touch it until the latter cut off portions of it and ordered them to eat it.[35]

The Narrang-ga tribe rules are as follows. If, in hunting, a man kills a kangaroo, he gives to the man on his right hand the head, tail, and the lower part of the hind leg, some fat and some liver. The second to the right receives the hinder part of the backbone and the left shoulder. The man to his left receives the right shoulder, and some from the right side, and the upper part of the left leg. His mother receives the ribs, his brother has part of his father's portion, and his sisters receive the flank. The kangaroo is cooked before being distributed.[36]

When the men of the tribes of the Karamundi nation are hunting, those who are successful share their catch with those who have been less so, but there is not any rule by which certain individuals receive certain parts.[37]

Among the Narrinyeri, when an emu is killed, it is first plucked, then partly roasted, and the skin taken off. The oldest men of the clan, accompanied by the young men and boys, then carry it to a retired spot away from the camp, all women and children being warned not to come near them. One of the old men undertakes the dissection of the bird, and squats near it, with the rest standing round. He first cuts a slice off the front of one of the legs, and another piece off the back of the leg or thigh; the carcase is turned over, and similar pieces cut off the other leg. The piece off the front of the legs is called Ngemperumi; that off the back of the leg or thigh, Pundarauk. The bird is then opened and a morsel of fat taken from the inside and laid with the sacred or Narumbe portions already cut off on some grass. The general cutting up of the whole body is then commenced, and whenever the operator is about to break a bone, he calls the attention of the bystanders, who, when the bone snaps, leap and shout and run about, returning in a few minutes only to go through the same performance when another bone is broken.

When the carcase has been cut up into convenient pieces for distribution, it is carried by all to the camp, and may then be eaten by men, women, and children, but the men must first blacken their faces and sides with charcoal. The sacred pieces Ngemperumi and Pundarauk can only be eaten by the very old men, and on no account even touched by women or young men.

If the men did not leap and yell when a bone is broken, they think their bones would rot in them; and the same if any but the deputed person should break a bone. This ceremony was practised by all the clans of the Narrinyeri.[38]

I may mention here that, when in the Narrinyeri country in 1859, I placed some wood of the native cherry on my fire. One of the Narrinyeri who was standing by took it off, saying that, if I did that, all the fish would leave the Coorong Inlet and they would be without food.

In the Wolgal tribe the game was divided as in the Ngarigo tribe. When a married man caught a kangaroo or other large game, he sent it all to his father's camp, and would himself eat small game; but if he had no other meat, his father would send him the head and part of the backbone. His wife would have to rely on her relations for a share of their meat. There was no rule in the Yuin tribe as to sharing game, but if a man had more than he wanted, he would give the excess to some relative or friend, for instance, to his parents, or his wife's parents. But he was not under any obligation to do so.

The Wiradjuri divide the food on the rule of the community of goods, a general distribution, or sharing alike.[39]

In the Wotjobaluk tribe all game was divided by one of the hunters, who parcelled it out in certain portions, leaving a part for himself As an instance, when a man killed a kangaroo, and there were in the camp his mother's brother, an old man, his wife's parents, a married man, and two young men, he gave the body of the kangaroo to the old man, who gave some to his sister's son who was with him; the head and forequarters to his wife's parents; a leg, the tail, and some fat to the married man, and the young men had the remainder.

Among the Mukjarawaint, if an unmarried man killed a kangaroo, and a Garchuka or some other man, say a Wurant, were with him, the game would be first cooked, then they would eat some and afterwards divide it into three parts. The hunter would take his part home. If the hunter lived with his grandparents (there being no young men's camp there), he would give his grandfather all his share. If married, he would send some to his wife's parents by her, because he could not go near her mother, or her father might come himself for some. If the hunter's parents were there, she would take them some, or his mother would come for it. There is no rule as to which part of the kangaroo is given.

If he killed an emu, he would share it with all in the camp. Porcupine, that is, the spiny ant-eater, is only shared with the hunter's own family. The division of game was on the same lines, unless a very small animal was caught, not more than enough for himself and his wife, if he were married.

In the Gournditch-mara tribe game caught was divided amongst those present. Supposing a kangaroo had been killed, the hunter gave one hind leg and the breast to his most esteemed friend, and kept the other hind leg himself. The remainder was divided amongst the other companions. There was no rule as to the distribution of cooked food in the camp, for each family ate together, and each wife was obliged to sit beside her own husband, and not near any other man, unless her husband sat between them.[40]

In the tribes of South-western Victoria, as described by Mr. Dawson,[41] there are strict rules regulating the distribution of food. "When a hunter brings game to the camp, he gives up all claim to it, and must stand aside and allow the best portion to be given away, and content himself with the worst. If he has a brother present, the brother is treated in the same way, and helps the killer of the game to eat the poorer pieces, which are thrown to them, such as the forequarters and ribs of the kangaroo, opossums, and smaller quadrupeds, and the backbones of birds. This custom is called Yuurka-baawhaar, meaning 'exchange.' The women also divide the food they collect, which is mainly vegetable."

If a Wurunjerri man killed a kangaroo, it was divided in accordance with tribal rules. Assuming that the man had some one with him, they would take out the entrails, and unless the skin was required for some purpose, roast the kangaroo whole. One forequarter was kept by the man for himself and his wife and children. A leg or the other forequarter was taken by his comrade, and the head and a foreleg went to the man's father and mother. A hind leg and the loins went to the hunter's wife's father and mother, the caul and the tail to some one else.

But if a man only killed enough game, or procured enough other food for himself, his wife, and children, then he need not divide with others; but if he found that his father had no food, he would give them what he had procured, and go out and look for more. Similarly if his wife's father had no food, and no son to provide for him, he would give him some, and seek more himself. On the other hand, if he had none, and his wife's father had a supply, the latter would send him some by his daughter. The old people used to say to the young that people should divide their food with others, and particularly with the old people and the young. They said that Bunjil was pleased when he saw that the old people and the children were provided for.

The care displayed in these people for the aged is shown in other ways. In this tribe when a man became so old that he could not travel, his son, or his wife's brother, or his daughter's husband, carried him from camp to camp. It must be remembered that these arc not merely individuals, but a group in each case, who would recognise the liability individually. I have known many instances of this kind, including several cases among the Kurnai of men carrying their wives about the country when too old or too sick to walk.

In the tribes within fifty miles of Maryborough in Queensland, people were very good to their old or sick relatives, carrying them about on stretchers.[42]

In the Dalebura tribe a woman who had been a cripple from her birth was carried about by the tribes-people in turn, and this was done until her death, when she was over sixty years of age.

On one occasion several of them rushed into a swollen stream to rescue an old drowning woman whose death would have been a relief to herself.

There was also an instance of a mother watching her sick child and refusing all food, and when it died she was inconsolable.[43]

There is a passage in Protector Thomas's report to Governor La Trobe which is worth quoting as giving the customs of the Wurunjerri and other neighbouring tribes when the State of Victoria was first settled. He says:—

"In the Kulin tribes, they seldom travel more than six miles a day. In their migratory movements all are employed. Children are getting gum, knocking down birds; women are digging up roots, killing bandicoots, getting grubs; the men hunting and scaling trees for opossums. They are mostly at the encampment an hour before sundown; the women first, who get fire and water; by this time their spouses arrive. They hold that the bush and all it contains are men's general property; that private property is only what utensils are carried in the bag; and this general claim to nature's bounty extends even to the success of the day; hence at the close, those who have been successful divide with those who have not been, so 'that none lacketh while others have it,' nor is the gift considered as a favour, but as a right, brought to the needy and thrown down at his feet."[44]

So far as I know, the throwing down of food on the ground arises out of the fear of receiving anything from the hand of another person and thus being infected by evil magic.

In the Gringai tribe game taken in hunting is usually divided equally.[45]

All the males in the Chepara tribe are expected to provide food, if not sick. If a man is lazy and stays in camp, he is jeered at and insulted by the others. Men, women, and children leave the camp in the early morning for the purpose of hunting for food where they think that game will be plentiful. After hunting sufficiently, the men and women carry the various catches of game to the nearest water-hole, where fires are made and the game cooked. The men, women, and children all eat together amicably, the food being distributed among them by the old men equally to all the men, women, and children. After the meal, the women carry what is left of the cooked food to the camp, the men hunting by the way. In this tribe a man is not bound to provide his wife's parents with food, unless the old man is sick, or too feeble to hunt, or unless the wife's mother is a widow.[46]

At the Bunya feasts which the Turrbal attended, the strangers on a visit did not climb the Bunya trees for the cones, all the trees belonging to the people of the place. A father gives certain trees to his sons, who can invite their friends to come and eat of the fruit. The visitors purchased bags of the seeds when they returned home. The Bunya feast lasted about a mouth.[47]

In the Dalebura tribe, when on a march, those who have been unfortunate in the chase are invited, when all are camped for the night, to partake of the game of the successful ones.[48]

The Bunya-Bunya tribe had a curious custom which they practised when an inland and a coast tribe met. It was considered a great honour to send word to a man on the other side that you would like him to pull your beard and whiskers out. Of course there was only a small quantity left to pull out, the rest being burnt off too short to catch hold of. A meeting generally took place about mid-day, and, with a little bees'-wax on the fingers, the operation was soon gone through, fat and burnt bark being rubbed in. As a rule the young bark of the Bloodwood tree, which makes a very fine white ash, was used.[49]

Mr. Christison tells me that when he has been out on expeditions, accompanied by his blackboys only, and the food ran short, and the division of rations was very scanty, they have refused to take their share, intimating that he stood more in need of it. On previous occasions, when he had his own countrymen with him, the contrary was the case, for the ration-bags were broached, and when in any difficulties, grumbling was the rule. In their wild state the Dalebura seemed to live peaceably enough. He had seen a camp of three hundred live for three months without a quarrel.

As supplementary to the rules under which food was distributed in common in the groups to which the individual belonged, or to which he was related, I may add a few instances of prohibition of certain food to certain persons.

In the Wotjobaluk tribe, boys are forbidden to eat of the kangaroo, or the padi-melon, or the young native companion. If they transgress these rules, they are told that they will fall sick, break out all over with eruptions, and perhaps die.

The man, until about forty, is under certain restrictions. If he eats the tail part of the emu or bustard, he will turn grey; he will be speared by some one if he eats of the black duck; will be killed by lightning if he eats the fresh-water turtle; for that reptile is connected with the thunder. To eat of the padi-melon would cause him to break out all over with sores. As to the turtle, it may be mentioned here that the Wotjobaluk think they can smell something after lightning which reminds them of the smell of the turtle.

In the Yualaroi tribe the old men have a great influence over the females and the young men as to the regulations of their food, preventing them from eating such food as emu and their eggs, wild turkey and eggs.[50]

Young men are not allowed in the Bigambul tribe to eat the female opossum, carpet-snake, honey taken out of certain trees, wild turkeys, certain fishes. These prohibitions are got over after they have been at the Bora, or, as the Bigambul call it, the Mue.[51]

If a young man or young woman of the Wakelbura tribe eats forbidden game such as emu, black-headed snake, porcupine, they will become sick, and probably pine away and die, uttering the sounds peculiar to the creature in question. It is believed that the spirit of the creature enters into them and kills them.[52]

Mr. M'Alpine, whom I have already mentioned, said that he had a Kurnai blackboy in his employ about 1856-57. The lad was strong and healthy, until one day Mr, M'Alpine found him ill. He explained that he had been doing what he ought not to have done, that he had "stolen some female 'possum," before he was permitted to eat it; that the old men had found him out, and that he would never grow up to be a man. He lay down under that belief, so to say, and never got up again, dying within three weeks.


A game of ball-playing was a favourite pastime of the Victorian tribes, of which Wotjobaluk, Wurunjerri, and the Kurnai will serve as examples. The ball used by the former was made of strips of opossum pelt rolled tightly round a piece folded up and covered with another bit sewn tightly with sinews. The ball used by the Kurnai was the scrotum of an "old-man" kangaroo, stuffed tightly with grass. This was called Turta jiraua.

The Wurunjerri called their ball, which was like that of the Wotjobaluk, Mangurt. In playing this game the two sides were the two classes, two totems, or two localities. For instance, in a case which I remember in the Mukjarawaint tribe, the Garchukas (white cockatoos) and the Batyangal (pelicans) played against each other. But this was in fact the class Krokitch against Gamutch. The Kurnai played locality against locality, or clan against clan, their totems being merely survivals.

Each side had a leader, and the object was to keep the ball from the other side as long as possible, by throwing it from one to the other. Such a game might last for hours.

The Ngarigo played with a ball made of opossum pelt, and when many people were present the women and children took part in the game.


The Dieri obtained fire by drilling with a straight-pointed stick on the edge of the shield. The shields are obtained from the tribes to the eastward by barter. I do not know what the wood is of which they are made. It is light coloured and soft. I frequently saw shields with a row of small holes burned in the side edge by this process. The same remarks apply to the other tribes of the Barcoo delta. The Wurunjerri method of making fire was by drilling on a flat piece of the dry wood of the Djel-wuk,[53] which grows plentifully in the gullies of the Dandenong Mountains and of the Yarra River. The drill-stick is one of the young shoots, about thirty inches in length, which is carefully dried. The thicker end is pointed, and is inserted in a small cavity in the flattened piece. A small notch is cut from the
Native tribes of South-East Australia Fig 54 - Urabunna man making fire.jpg


cavity to the edge of the lower piece. The drill is rapidly turned in the cavity, thus producing fine dust, which first turns black then falls on to some frayed bark fibre which has been placed below the groove to receive it. Finally the abraded dust takes fire, and being folded up in the fibre, is blown into a flame. I have seen fire produced in this way in a minute, and I once, and once only, succeeded in doing it myself in a minute and a half.

The blacks of the Manero tableland and their neighbours the Wolgal make fire after this method. A piece of grass-tree stem is laid down, and another piece is twirled on it. Two men work at it, and a little charcoal is put in as they drill, and when the dust ignites, teased-out
Native tribes of South-East Australia Fig 55 - Kurnai using fire-drill.jpg


bark is added. Another method is as follows. A spear-thrower is laid on the ground, and on it a piece of grass-tree flower-stalk with a flattened side. On either side of this a spear-thrower is put on edge, and between them vertically a piece of grass-tree stem, which is twirled. When smoke comes the two side spear-throwers are removed, their use only having been to confine the fire-drill stick. Twirling is continued until smoke arises out of each side of the horizontal grass-tree stem, and the dust and chips are turned over on to some teased-out bark which is blown into flame.

The method of producing fire by drilling used formerly by the Kurnai is shown in the accompanying illustration. The flower stem of the grass-tree was mostly used.

Camping Rules

In forming their camps, the aborigines were careful to place them in a favourable position, as regards the weather, and in many cases facing the morning sun. As I have mentioned before, the Paritiltya-kana, or men of the Paritiltya division of the Dieri tribe, fix their camps close to a creek in a valley, so as to be near to water, while the other Dieri camp on the higher ground. This is an instance of the local and tribal variations of a common custom. But in all cases they formed their camps as experience had taught them, and the departure from these rules has not a little contributed to the mortality which has attacked them since the advent of the white man. Before that, they lived in harmony with their environment; since then, they have been in discord with it.

The rules of the camp not only in most cases fixed the positions of the several camps, of the married men, the single men and of visitors, but also of the individuals in each camp. As an instance, I take the Kurnai and their rules.

Not only did custom regulate the position in the Bun, or hut, but it also indicated the situation of the respective Buns in the encampment. When an encampment was formed, the relative positions of the several camps depended in the first place to a great extent on where the Gweraeil-kurnai, or Headman, placed his own. Then in fixing the others the people faced their Buns if possible towards sunrise, and sheltered from the winds. If there were any strangers from a distance, they placed their camps at the side of the encampment, facing a direction in which their country was situated.

In order to fix as accurately as possible these positions of the camps of a related group, I got some of the Kurnai to point out on a piece of ground where various members of a family group, whom I would name, would camp. From their statements I formed a diagram, and from it I extracted the following particulars. The starting-point is supposed to be the camp of a man and his wife. The directions are given approximately by compass bearings, and the distances by paces. The nature of the ground required that the encampment should extend in a certain direction.

Diagram XXXII
Native tribes of South-East Australia Diagram XXXII.png
1. Man and wife.
2. Married son of 1. 5 paces from 1.
3. Father and mother of 1. 20 paces from 1.
4. Brother of 1 and wife. 20 paces from 1.
5. Father and mother of the wife of 1. 100 paces from 1.
6. Married son of 5. The same distance.
7. The married brother of the mother of 1 \scriptstyle{



\right\}\, } 10 paces each from 1.
8. The married sister of the father of 1.

If the sister of the wife of 1 had been present with her husband, they could have camped anywhere near, so long as not actually close to 1.

If there had been a married daughter of 1 there, her husband would have been in the same position as regards her mother as the wife of 5 was as to 1, and must have camped at a similar distance.

A Brogan who stands in the relation of brother to 1 could occupy a position suitable to that relation. Owing to the nature of the ground all the huts could face the sunrise, which is a favourite aspect.

In the camps of the Kurnai, custom regulates the position of the individual. The husband and wife would sleep on the left-hand side of the fire, the latter behind it, and close behind her the children ; nearest to them the little boy, if any, next to him the little girl. In the event of the man's father and mother being with them for a night, the grandfather would occupy the right-hand side, the grandmother behind him, farther back in the hut; and the son's wife and children would move to a corresponding position near their own "house-father."

It would be a rule that the wife's sister, although called wife by her brother-in-law, and also calling him husband, would not sleep in his hut, but somewhere near at hand. Different rules would apply to other persons visiting him. A Brogan, that is, a man who had been initiated the same time as the husband, and who therefore addresses the wife as "spouse," and is so addressed by her, would not stay at their camp, but would go and stop in the "young men's camp."

In the Wurunjerri tribe people formed their camps somewhat in the following manner, taking Berak's willam, or hut, as the starting-point.

The following diagram is from the positions he marked on the ground for me:—

Diagram XXXIII

Native tribes of South-East Australia Diagram XXXIII.png

1. Berak, his wife, and child.
2. Berak's brother, his wife, and child.
3. Berak's father and mother.
4. Berak's wife's father and mother.
5. Visitors from the Bunurong tribe.
6. Young men's camp.

The camp is supposed to be in Berak's country, say at Heidelberg. Each hut faces the east.

That of the parents of Berak's wife is behind a screen of boughs. The hut of Berak's father is between theirs and his.

The Bunurong people camp at that side nearest to their country, which is to the south-east. The willam of the young men is farthest from those of the married men.

In the Wolgal tribe, the grandparents would occupy the following places in their huts. Father's father on the left-hand side of the fire; father's mother on the right-hand side of the fire. The maternal grandparents would not in any way occupy a place in their son-in-law's camp, but would make a camp for themselves, behind that of their son-in-law.

A married man would never stay in the young men's camp when travelling, unless he were without his wife, when he would be considered as being single. The married people and the single young men camp entirely apart.

Huts in a Wiradjuri encampment are arranged according to the localities from which the respective occupants have come. Those from the east occupy an eastern position, and so on. The wife always looks after the camping arrangements.[54]

With the Kaiabara the Headman, when encamping, places his camp in the centre of the encampment; the single men on the one side, and the single women on the other. The old women keep an eye on the young people to prevent improprieties.[55]

There is a regulation relating to camps in the Wakelbura tribe which forbids the women coming into the encampment by the same path as the men. Any violation of this rule would in a large camp be punished with death. The reason for this is the dread with which they regard the menstrual period of women. During such a time, a woman is kept entirely away from the camp, half a mile at least. A woman in such a condition has boughs of some tree of her totem tied round her loins, and is constantly watched and guarded, for it is thought that should any male be so unfortunate as to see a woman in such a condition, he would die. If such a woman were to let herself be seen by a man, she would probably be put to death. When the woman has recovered, she is painted red and white, her head covered with feathers, and returns to the camp.[56]

At the Herbert River (Queensland) the camps are so arranged that the entrance of each commands an approach to the encampment. Thus in whatever direction one comes, the entrance to a hut faces one.[57]

The instances given in this chapter of the division of food among the kindred and relations, and the special provision for old people, give an entirely different idea of the aboriginal character to that which had been usually held. This latter is derived from what is seen of the blacks under our civilisation. The oft-repeated description of the black-fellow eating the white man's beef or mutton and throwing a bone to his wife who sits behind him, in fear of a blow from his club, is partly the new order of things resulting from our civilisation breaking down the old rules. But it is also, in part, the old rule itself. I have shown that in some cases the wife is fed by her own people, and the throwing of food to another person is not an act of discourtesy. Its reason is that there is a deep-seated objection to receive anything which can convey evil magic from the hand of another person, and in many instances that applies to the two sexes.

Such contrasts between the old and the new condition of things struck me very forcibly at the Kurnai Jeraeil, where the people lived for a week in the manner of their old lives, certainly with the addition of the white man's beef and flour, but without his intoxicating drinks, which have been a fatal curse to the black race. That week was passed without a single quarrel or dispute.

  1. J. Bulmer.
  2. J. Lalor.
  3. Tom Petrie.
  4. Harry E. Aldridge.
  5. W. Scott.
  6. Tom Petrie.
  7. J. Gibson.
  8. C. Naseby.
  9. John C. Macleod.
  10. S. Gason.
  11. D. Elphinstone Roe.
  12. D. Elphinstone Roe.
  13. Harry E. Aldridge.
  14. Tom Petrie
  15. Op. cit. p. 314.
  16. R. Christison.
  17. H. E. Aldridge.
  18. J. C. Muirhead.
  19. H. Williams.
  20. Dr. M'Kinlay.
  21. J. W. Boultbee.
  22. Morgan, op. cit. p. 52.
  23. Harry E. Aldridge.
  24. S. Gason.
  25. O. Siebert.
  26. Letters of Victorian Pioneers.
  27. J. Bulmer.
  28. Tom Petrie.
  29. Harry E. Aldridge.
  30. P. 235.
  31. Queensland, 1864, p. 385.
  32. The Australian Aborigines, vol. i. p. xxxviii
  33. Op. cit. vol. iii p. 120.
  34. Rev. John Bulmer.
  35. H. Williams.
  36. T. W. Sutton.
  37. J. W. Boultbee.
  38. F. W. Taplin.
  39. A. L. P. Cameron.
  40. J. H. Stähle.
  41. Op. cit. p. 22.
  42. Harry E. Aldridge.
  43. R. Christison.
  44. Letters from Victorian Pioneers, p. 66.
  45. J. W. Boydell.
  46. J. Gibson.
  47. Tom Petrie.
  48. R. Christison.
  49. Harry E. Aldridge.
  50. R. W. Crowthers.
  51. J. Lalor.
  52. J. C. Muirhead.
  53. Hedicaria Cunninghami, the "Native Mulberry."
  54. J. H. Gribble.
  55. Jocelyn Brooke.
  56. J. C. Muirhead.
  57. J. Gaggin.