Page:Aboriginesofvictoria01.djvu/29

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xxi
INTRODUCTION.

The Australian mother has no great reason to rejoice when a babe is born. As soon as she can move about—perhaps after the lapse of twenty-four hours or more—she is obliged to resume her duties in the camp. She is the servant of her husband; and sometimes she is compelled to carry, as well as her baby, heavy loads, and to march with the tribe as it seeks fresh hunting-grounds or repairs to old-established cooking-places.

The Australian child is precocious. It begins to look about for food almost as soon as the young of the kangaroo. A child has a little stick placed in its hands, and it follows the example of older children, and digs out small roots and the larvae of insects.

Its education begins at an early age. Like the natives of Africa, of Fiji, of Borneo, and other parts where civilization, as regards some of the tribes, is yet unknown, games of skill, so contrived as to exercise the children in useful arts, are played. The males amongst the Australians are taught to throw the spear and to use the shield; and the females are instructed in the art of weaving cord and making baskets.

That the children are sometimes neglected is true, but as a rule they are kindly treated.

The parents do not use any of those contrivances for producing distortion which are common in other countries.

When, for reasons that are satisfactory to themselves, they decide to kill a newly-born infant, they are often unnecessarily cruel; and though infanticide amongst savages is probably a custom which has its origin in the peculiarity of the conditions under which they exist, and not in its nature a crime as it is in civilized communities, yet the details which are given by various observers make one forget this, and regard their deeds with the same abhorrence as those so constantly presented to notice in the daily records of the life of races that possess all the advantages of culture and refinement.

Young mothers kill the first-born child because it is a burden, because it is weakly, perhaps because it is deformed. She has to find food, to build her husband's miam, to fetch water, and to be ready at all times to obey the commands of her protector; and the temptation to follow the custom of her tribe would not always be overcome by the maternal instinct.

In the laws known to her, infanticide is a necessary practice, and one which, if disregarded, would, under certain circumstances, be disapproved of; and the disapproval would be marked by punishment, not so degrading perhaps, but nearly as severe as that inflicted by the lower class of whites when their wives displease them. Instead of the hob-nailed shoe, the Australian uses a weapon of war—a waddy.

It is curious to find that the ancient custom of naming a child from some slight circumstance that occurs at its birth is common throughout Australia. Like the nomadic Arabs and the Kaffirs of Africa, they look for a sign; and the appearance at the time of birth of a kangaroo, or an emu, or the event happening near some particular spot, or under the shelter of a tree, decides by what name the infant shall be called. This name is not the one by which a man will be known in after-life. Another is given on his initiation to rank in the