Page:Aboriginesofvictoria02.djvu/366

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338
APPENDIX:

or dryness, would tell how long since he was there. The notched trees—nicks they make in the trees in order to ascend them—are very conspicuous guideposts. Occasionally you come upon a foot-mark in a miry place, or a dry and sandy one; and it is amazing how the blacks will infer the size, age, and sex of the persons who imprinted it. In short, they recognise the features of a foot-mark just as we do those of the countenance; and as they are clearly defined, or obliterated, as the minute blades of grass are crashed down, or erecting themselves again, can they tell how long since the person passed. For seven days did we travel in this manner following the fugitives. Little did we think of their manoeuvre, as will presently appear. Every evening, at sunset—the time they camp—did I ascend some eminence, to see if we could observe the minute little cloud of curling smoke which indicates their fires. We could see nothing, and yet we knew they were not very far off. That night some of the party fancied they heard a chopping of branches, as when the blacks construct their gunyahs at eventide. However, next morning, before the party started, I went to the top of an eminence with Meade, to reconnoitre the day's journey and direction. It was a fine cloudless morning in July. The air was chilly, as it always is in winter at morning. The sun was just clear above the fogs of the horizon, and the dew glittered on the leaves. The parrots were wakening up with noisy welcomes to day, and sucking the honey from the early-flowering trees. The squirrel and opossum had gone to sleep in their holes—for the Australian animals live only at night; and the shy kangaroo might be seen slowly hopping away to his lair, having filled his pouch since dawn, to ruminate his hastily-got food. I sat down on the brink of the precipice which looked towards the country we expected to traverse. There was a fog In the valley below rapidly clearing off; but beyond that was the wide wild forest, over which I could not detect a symbol of life. Suddenly my companion exclaimed—'My heavens, what a lot of blacks!' I looked down the precipice—the mist had cleared off—and sure enough there was the sable company in vehement agitation. They saw the two white men against the sky, on the rocks above them, and they were for off. I hastened down to our camp, summoned the party, and off we set.

"We set off direct for the mountains, and after two days we came to some ashes, which were quite warm. Towards evening we heard the sound of the chopping of branches (preparing their gunyahs) and children playing. It came on snowing, and we halted until morning. At dawn a dog came and smelt and snuffed around, and then retired a little distance to a big log and began to howl. Up jumped the blacks, and rushed towards us; we let fly; several blacks fell; and a mêlée ensued. We had to use the butt-end of our muskets. One young lad was shot through the chest and both arms, after which he ran some three hundred yards before he dropped. Not a woman of them was hurt, except one who got her head grazed. The children made holes, and buried their heads, looking like black burnt stumps. One fine tall fellow appeared on the top of the hill, shouting—'Bail me coolah long with white fella.' Two of my men went towards him. I shouted—'Take him, he'll be of use;' but in a moment one knocked him down and the other shot him through the head.