It is not easy to convey correct ideas regarding the mental capacity and faculties of the Aborigines by any general statements. They differ from one another almost as much as uneducated Europeans differ from one another; but while in the latter the capabilities of improvement are very great, in the Australian black they are limited. With keen senses, quick perceptions, and a precocity that is surprising, he stops short just at the point where an advance would lead to a complete change in the character of his mind.
The adult wild native when brought into contact with the whites learns the English language quickly and easily, and all the words that at all resemble those of his own tongue are pronounced distinctly. Those which are harsh, or in which sibilants occur, he softens, and he keeps closely to the grammar of his own language.
Black children brought up in the schools learn very quickly, and in perception, memory, and the power to discriminate they are, to say the least, equal to European children. A Missionary, the Rev. F. A. Hagenauer, a gentleman of great ability, who has the control of the Aboriginal Station at Lake Wellington, reports that the examinations made by the Government School Inspectors show that the Aboriginal pupils taught by him are quite equal to the whites. In his last report he states that the whole of the fifth class in his school had passed the standard examination (that appointed for pupils in State schools), and that they had received certificates. Whether they will continue to advance as they approach maturity is another question. If they do not, under the guidance of a gentleman of education who has devoted himself to the work of ameliorating the condition of the natives from a sense of duty, it may fairly be assumed that the prevalent opinion regarding the mental constitution of the Australians is correct.
The following account of a native youth, as given in the reports of the Board for the Protection of the Aborigines in Victoria, is similar in many respects to those recorded in other cases where attempts have been made to educate and civilize the natives:—"Thomas Bungeleen presents all the marks of the pure Australian, and in mental capacity, disposition, and character, is probably a fair type of the race. Before the Board undertook the care of him, some attempts had been made to teach him drawing, and he had been occasionally employed in copying letters and in other clerical duties; but all the gentlemen who had kindly taken an