Page:Aboriginesofvictoria01.djvu/25

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INTRODUCTION.


Throughout Australia the natives exhibit a general conformity to one pattern, as regards features, color, and mental character. A man from Southern Gippsland would be recognised as an Australian by the inhabitants of Port Essington, and a native of King George's Sound would be surely known if taken to York Peninsula. The race however, is not pure in all parts. The people of the islands of Torres Straits and the natives of New Guinea visit the mainland, and Australians cross the straits to New Guinea. They intermarry, and the half-breeds mix necessarily with their southern neighbours, and this may account for the appearance, as low down as the latitude of Wide Bay, of men with thrum-like hair.

Cape York is distant no more than ninety miles from the shores of New Guinea, the straits are studded with islands, and the coral reefs offer so much protection that the sea is usually as calm as the waters of a pond. The natives easily traverse this smooth sea in their large canoes; and there is consequently regular traffic between the peoples of the mainland and the smaller and greater islands.

The infusion of Papuan blood may not have entirely changed the character of any tribe, but it is there; and it is apparent where the Papuans have never been. This affects the people of the north-eastern coast. On the north the Australians mix occasionally with the Chinese.

There have been found on the shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria "earthen jars, bamboos, lattice work, remains of hats made of palm leaves, pieces of blue cotton, boats' rudders, a wooden anchor, and other articles."[1] On the north-west they have been visited periodically, for how many years no one can tell, by the Malays. The Malays go thither during the season of the trepang fishery, and Capt. King found on the beach of Vansittart Bay a broken earthen pot belonging to them.[2]

Stokes, too, mentions his finding a broken jar on Turtle Island, which it was supposed had been left by some of the Macassar people, who are occasionally blown in upon that part of the coast.[3]

Such influences as these have been at work probably for ages, and yet the effects are scarcely perceptible, either in the appearance of the natives themselves or in their arms or in their works of art—save perhaps over a limited

  1. Australian Discovery and Colonization, p. 336.
  2. King, vol. I., p. 320.
  3. Discoveries in Australia, vol. II., p. 180.