It has been stated by Professor Huxley that the natives of Southern and Western Australia are probably as pure and homogeneous as any race of savages in existence. And yet there are some slight indications of another and possibly a more ancient people having at one time dwelt in Australia. These consist of certain red marks on the walls and roofs of caves, chiefly the imprints of human hands, as though a hand had been immersed in some red dye and then pressed against the side of the cave. These "signs-manual" are generally accompanied by some other marks or drawings.
They have been noticed in Eastern, Western, and Northern Australia; on indurated sandstone in a cliff on Dunmore's station, near the Goulburn River, in New South Wales, where they consist of hand-prints and drawings of animals; in a granite cave, about ten miles south from York, in Western Australia; and in other places.
I visited this cave in 1849, and saw the marks on the roof; they are quite indelible, and begin low down, near where the roof and floor meet. At first there is the imprint of the full-spread hand and fore-arm, in such a position that the person making it must have been squeezed as far as possible into the wedge-shaped space; then there is the mark of the hand with the fingers spread, mark after mark, and finally of the fingers only, where the roof arches up almost out of reach; but higher and just over the mouth of the cave is a circular figure, drawn with the same red substance, about fifteen inches in diameter, and filled up with lines and cross-bars. It must have been made by a person who was raised from the floor of the cave. This cavern is not easy of access, being in the face of a granite cliff overhanging the valley of the Avon River.
On my questioning the natives about these marks, they could give no rational account of them. They have very little curiosity about the cave, and pay no respect whatever to it; it does not seem to concern them or to belong to their people. On enquiring what they thought of the marks, one of them amused me with the following absurd story. He stated that his people believed that the Moon once dwelt in that cave, but becoming tired of the confinement, he ran up the roof of the cave, leaving his imprint at the top as he jumped up into the sky, where he has been wandering about ever since. Nor were they acquainted with the substance used to stain the rock,—it might be cinnabar but that none is known to exist in that part of the country.
Mr. Robert D. Hardey, when making an excursion some years ago into the sandy desert which extends east from York, found the prints of five or six hands in caves nearly seventy miles east from the valley of the Avon River, but he could not ascertain what they were made with.
Capt. Flinders found paintings in caves in Chusan Island, in the Gulf of Carpentaria, made with charcoal and a sort of red paint. There were porpoises, kangaroos, turtles, and a human hand; also a kangaroo with thirty-two persons following it.
- The moon is masculine, the sun feminine.