Page:Aboriginesofvictoria01.djvu/265

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Food.

The Aborigines of Victoria Dingbat.png

The natives of Australia are generally described as omniverous. There is scarcely any part of the country in which they cannot find food, and there is nothing in the nature of food, or of substances which can by any possibility contribute to the maintenance of life, that they will not eat. When driven to extremity by hunger, the black tightens his belt, and when overcome by thirst, he covers his stomach with earth; but it is not often that he is forced to adopt such measures. He eats of the fruits of the earth, literally, in due season, and he catches wild animals when he can. He understands the nature of every vegetable product in his district, and knows what to eat and what to avoid; and he is thoroughly conversant with the habits of the beasts and birds and fishes that are to be found within the boundaries of his domain. Every species of marsupial, from the largest kangaroo to the smallest mouse; every kind of bird, from the swift-footed emu to the little dicaeum that feeds on the berries of the loranthus; every egg that every bird lays; every reptile; every one of the amphibia; every fish, whether in fresh or in salt water; every shell-fish; and every crustacean and insect—he is familiar with, and in general knows how to procure each by the easiest and quickest method. From poisonous plants he is able to extract a wholesome farina, and he roasts roots and grinds seeds into flour. He gathers manna in the heats of summer. In the arid tracts he obtains water from the roots of trees; and, unless the region were inhospitable indeed, he could never actually perish of hunger.

He makes a drink that, if not intoxicating, is certainly of a character to exhilarate; and he chews or smokes a plant that stands in the stead of tobacco.

It is wholly impracticable to give a complete list of all the indigenous products which serve him for food, nor is it possible to describe all the methods he has of catching wild animals, or preparing the roots and seeds on which, in certain seasons, he has to depend mainly for subsistence; but I have collected from numerous sources a great deal of information, much of which I trust will be useful and interesting.

Many of the statements relate to the practices of the natives in parts of the continent far distant from Victoria; but each is calculated to throw light on the modes of procuring food that were usual amongst our blacks before Port Phillip was colonized.