Australia, from Port Macquarie to Moreton Bay/Part 4

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PART IV.

Australian field-sports—Kangaroo-hunting—Curious mode of shooting the Pademella, or brush-kangaroo—Dingo hunt— Emu chase—Varieties of Quails in New South Wales; very abundant north of Port Macquarie—Varieties of Australian ducks—Duck-shooting—Geese and moor-fowl—Brush-turkeys—Very good for the table—Their extraordinary mode of constructing their nests—Large size of the eggs, which are hatched by the heat generated by vegetable decomposition—Pigeons—The Wonga-wonga-Its habits—Very difficult to shoot—Peculiar delicacy of its flesh—The flock-pigeon of the brushes—Easily shot—Bronze-wing pigeon—Black pigeon—Fruit pigeon—Its brilliant plumage—Doves—Spur-winged Plovers—Snipes—Curlews—Black Swans—Curious method of chasing them in a boat—Pelicans—Quantity of oil contained in them—Divers, Godwits, and Red-bills—Swamp Pheasants, Lyre-birds, Bustards—Snakes of Australia almost all venomous—Description of the different species in the colony—Peculiar action of the poison of the generality of Australian snakes— Account of the symptoms experienced by the author from the bite of a large snake at the MacLeay in 1841—Treatment under which he recovered—Description of a curious salt-water snake of the genus Hydrophis, killed in Tryal Bay in 30 50' S.—Extreme poison of sea-snakes exemplified by two cases—The Aborigines of the north-eastern part of the territory, vary considerably in some of their habits from those to the southward and westward—The more circumscribed limits roamed over by each tribe—Abundance of indigenous food for the native population in the north-eastern districts— impossibility of their ever suffering from famine—Exaggerated statements respecting the miserable condition of the Aborigines of New South Wales—Comparison between them and other savage races, in several respects advantageous to the former—Customs of the natives of the MacLeay river—Their Cawarra ceremonies different from those of the generality of the Aborigines—Description of the Cawarra—Accounts of some fights between different tribes of the MacLeay river—Their cruelty and treachery towards the whites—Their civilization almost hopeless—Their wonderful intelligence.


Although Australia is singularly deficient in large quadrupeds, and does not possess any of those animals which afford the exciting pleasure of the chase in other countries; yet I think the Australian sport of kangaroo-hunting possesses, at any rate, equal attraction to coursing the hare in England. For instead of being a weak, helpless animal, like the hare, the kangaroo, although quite as timid and inoffensive, is capable of contending vigorously with his pursuers, when driven to desperation, and from the tremendous bounds he makes over all obstacles in his way, he gives, if hunted in a thickly wooded mountainous country, plenty of work both to horses and dogs.

The varieties of kangaroos in New Holland are extremely numerous, those most frequently met with on the north-eastern part of the territory, are, the large Forest-kangaroo, (Macropus major,) the Wallabi, (Halmaturus Ualabatus), the Pademella, or brush-kangaroo, (Halmaturus thetis), the silver Wallabi, (Halmatmiis elegans,) the black Wallaroo, and the Kangaroo-rat. The red-backed kangaroo, (Macropus laniger,) is occasionally seen on the open elevated table-land.

The largest kangaroo I ever saw was killed close to my tents at Munga creek at the MacLeay river, it weighed very nearly two hundred and fifty pounds, and disabled one of the dogs which had attacked him. It is scarcely necessary to mention that the kangaroo only uses his fore-feet for grazing or digging He advances by a succession of leaps, in making which, his tail, which he carries at right angles to his body, is of great service; some of them have been known in these leaps to spring over obstacles eight feet high.[1]

The best dogs for hunting this animal, are those which are a cross between the greyhound and some larger and coarser dogs; the lurcher and the large Scotch deer-hound are very well suited for this kind of sport. As soon as a kangaroo is started, he bounds away for some minutes at as fast a rate as the fleetest dogs, but the latter soon gain upon him, especially if he ascends the steep slope of a range, which is peculiarly disadvantageous to his manner of progression. However, if the country is very brushy and rocky, he frequently escapes from his facility of clearing all impediments in his way, by his amazing leaps.

Whilst the chase lasts the horses must keep up a Australia225.jpg

Kangaroo at bay

very fast pace; and in the densely wooded coast country, there is ample scope for proving the mettle of one's horses, in leaping across water-courses, and rocky brooks, clearing Mien trees, and thorny bushes, and galloping down steep ranges. A well trained dog, in coming along-side of a kangaroo, springs on that animal whilst in the air, seizing it near the root of the tail; the weight of the dog, brings him to the ground, when the former instantly lets go the tail and festens on the throat. In effecting this manoeuvre, an awkward dog is frequently torn, or ripped open, by the kangaroo's hind legs, which are armed with hooked claws of great size. It is no uncommon occurrence for him to stop and stand at bay against a tree; when a dog ventures to attack the kangaroo whilst in this position, he generally suffers for his temerity; and it is necessary, on such occasions, for the sportsman to dismount, and approaching from behind, cleave his skull with a couteau de chasse, or tomahawk. He sometimes rushes into a pond of water when pressed hard, and has been known to drown dogs which swam to attack him.

The small brush kangaroo, or Pademella, is easily killed by the blacks who hunt them in the brushes, in the way I have before described; the whites, however, find it rather difficult to shoot them, on account of their being so much concealed by the fern, matted creepers, and briars. On starting one in the brush, it generally rushes into the thickest part of it, and again halts at a short distance, if not pursued. If the sportsman does not get a shot on starting it, he should wait until the cessation of the sound of the jumps of the retreating animal indicates that it has again stopped. He must then advance cautiously towards the spot, making a low continuous whistle, like the note of the Wonga-wonga pigeon; as long as this sound continues the animal never stirs, and it can be easily approached and despatched.

Great diversity of opinion prevails respecting the flesh of the kangaroo, some persons considering it nearly as good as venison; the colonists of South Australia seem to be of that opinion, since kangaroo flesh sold, a few years ago, at Adelaide market, at the rate of nine-pence a pound. The reason of this high price was, however, probably the great demand for it by the newly arrived emigrants, who were all curious to taste the flesh of this outlandish quadruped. In New South Wales, kangaroo meat is little esteemed, with the exception of the tail, which is made into a soup, superior to ox-tail. During the period I was engaged in the survey of the country to the northward of the MacLeay river, my dogs killed some almost daily; I generally kept the tail and a few steaks for my own table, leaving the rest of the carcase for the blacks, or the wild dogs. As for as my own taste goes, I certainly think that a kangaroo steak is palatable enough if dressed in the same manner as veal cutlets or venison collops; whilst the small pademella, if cooked in the same manner as hare, is undoubtedly excellent. The tails of some of the largest varieties, which I have run down with my dogs, weighed from eleven to fourteen pounds each, consisting of masses of sinew, which yield a large quantity of gelatine when boiled.

The Dingo, or Native Dog, of New South Wales, is the only beast of prey in that country, and is keenly hunted by the settlers, as it frequently worries sheep, and sometimes seizes new dropped calves, which I have myself known these dogs to do at the MacLeay river. The animals of the colony are so well known that it is scarcely necessary to describe the Dingo; it is rather more than two feet high, and about two feet and a half in length; its head nearly resembles that of the fox, with a muzzle furnished with whiskers, and short erect ears; its colour is of a light reddish brown, its tail rather brushy, resembling that of the fox. Many of these dogs have been brought to England, but no kindness seems able to conquer their savage nature, and make them assume the habits of the domestic dog. A few years ago, a friend of mine brought home with him from the colony of Van Diemen's Land, one of these wild dogs; he kept it fastened up at his residence at Clapham, but it one day broke its chain and escaped, and although it was secured again before many hours had elapsed, yet it had, in the mean time, worried a pet flock of sheep, belonging to a gentleman who resided in the vicinity, and killed several of them. A good many years ago, a female of this species was sent as a present to Mr. Nepean from Captain Philip. From its fierceness and agility, it had greatly the advantage of animals much superior to it in size; for a very large fox-dog being put to it, in a moment it seized him by the loins and would have put a period to his existence, had not some one been at hand. With the utmost facility it could leap on the back of an ass, and was once very near worrying one to death, having fastened on it so firmly that the creature was not able to disengage itself without assistance; it has likewise been known to run down both deer and sheep. This dog would not eat dressed meat; I am not, however, aware, whether the numerous specimens of this animal now in the Zoological Gardens, and Menageries, are equally particular in this respect.

The tenacity of life in the Australian dingo is most wonderful. The saying, that a cat has nine lives would be much more applicable to this animal, for I have known instances in which dingos have been badly wounded by ball or buck-shot, worried and torn by dogs, and to all appearance killed; and yet the moment their bodies were abandoned they would become resuscitated and limp off into the brushes.[2] The dingo affords good sport if hunted like the fox. In the more prosperous times of the colony two or three well organized hunts existed in different parts of New South Wales, such as the Sydney hunt and the Bathurst hunt, where the riders appeared in regular costume. A very fine, much admired kangaroo-dog of ours, a beautiful brindled animal, possessing all the good qualities of the greyhound, with superior power, was remarkably successful in pulling down the dingo: on one occasion he killed no less than three in one day, besides several kangaroos, on the sea coast near Mount Taolkungaia to the northward of Port Macquarie.

The Emu is also hunted with dogs; this bird is most frequently met with in the interior country beyond the eastern and western waters. Dogs that are accustomed to hunt the emu, invariably seize that bird by the neck, and dispatch it in a moment; but young dogs, or dogs unaccustomed to this sport are often seriously injured, if they attempt to seize the emu by the flank or leg, as it can give a most powerful kick, sufficiently strong to break the leg of a horse. The flesh of the emu resembles a beef-steak, being very juicy and succulent.

There are no birds in Australia to be shot with dogs, with the exception of quails, and some of the aquatic birds in the reedy swamps and lagoons, such as ducks, moor-fowl, and snipes. The varieties of quail in New South Wales, are, the 'Coturnix Australis,' which is rather larger than the English quail, and more resembles the partridge in the colour of its plumage; the 'Coturnix pectoralis,' which is almost identically the same as the English species; and the 'Turnix velox' which is rather smaller. In the district of Port Macquarie, and at the MacLeay river, quails were particularly abundant. I remember that on one occasion, Mr. T— of Port Macquarie, shot no less than thirty brace in a few hours, on the cultivated alluvial plain at our squatting station at the MacLeay river.

There are several varieties of ducks in New South Wales, such as the brown duck (Anas superciliosa), which is rather larger than the English wild duck; the wood duck, which occasionally perches on trees; the large green-headed shieldrake, the white-headed or Rajah shieldrake, the Australian shoveller, &c.

It is worthy of remark how wary the Australian ducks become after they have been shot at a few times, so much so that it is impossible to approach sufficiently near in a boat, to the large flocks of ducks which alight on the estuaries of the rivers, to reach them with a common gun. As I employed a large punt-gun for this purpose, I however made great havoc among them at the MacLeay river; but there is more sport in shooting ducks among swamps and reedy lagoons with water spaniels. These swampy lagoons are also resorted to by wild geese, and several varieties of moor-fowl and water-rails, among which is a beautiful blue bird with scarlet bill and legs, and as large as a fowl. This bird can only take very short flights, and is easily taken by the blacks, who, when the reeds are dry, set fire to them, in order to dislodge these birds, and thus kill great numbers.[3]

One of the best birds for the table is the brush-turkey; it lives solely in dense brushes, and is about equal in size to a guinea fowl. Its plumage is dark-coloured, and it has a naked head and neck resembling that of a turkey. The manner in which the eggs of this bird are hatched is very singular. It collects an immense quantity of leaves and rotten sticks, and forms with them an enormous nest of several feet in diameter and of a conical shape. In this mass of decomposing vegetation, several of these birds lay their eggs, which are excessively large in proportion to the bird itself, as they are much superior in size to the eggs of the goose or common turkey. These eggs are carefully buried in the nest, and become hatched by the heat generated by the decomposition of the leaves, &c. of which the nest is composed. The brush- turkey is a foolish bird, very easily shot, and which consequently soon becomes scarce, as the banks of the rivers become occupied by settlers. The stupidity of the brush-turkey may be judged of, from the fact, that one evening, when my tents were pitched in the brush, on the banks of Kinchela creek, a turkey ran right across the fire, and was caught by the men. It also frequently falls a prey to the dingo.

The varieties of pigeons and doves in New South Wales are exceedingly numerous. Those most commonly met with are the Wonga-wonga, or pied pigeon, the flock-pigeon, the bronze-wing pigeon, the black pigeon, and the fruit-pigeon, (Palumbes magnifica.) The Wonga-wonga is larger than the English wood-pigeon. It lives entirely in dense brushes, and feeds on the berries of various trees belonging to the myrtle tribe. This bird is rather difficult to shoot, as it sits buried in the dense foliage overhead, and starts off suddenly on the approach of man, with a rapid flight, making a loud whirring sound with its wings, like a partridge. The flesh of the Wonga-wonga is very similar to that of the pheasant, being quite white but very rich, and this bird has often furnished my bush table in the wilds of Australia with a " plat," not to be despised by the most fastidious gourmand. The flock-pigeon, so called from its being a gregarious bird, also resorts to the brushes, where it feeds on various berries, and on the figs of the Australian India-rubber tree, whilst that fruit remains in season. These birds are easily shot when they feed on the lower branches of the trees, but on the higher branches they are beyond the reach of ordinary guns. The flesh of these birds is dark-coloured, like that of the English wood-pigeon, which it somewhat resembles also in plumage, its eye is of a bright crimson, and its head is crowned by a tuft of reddish-brown feathers.

The bronze-winged pigeon, lives in the open forest country, and in the barren sandy scrubs roun4 Sydney; it is smaller than the other kinds of pigeon, and derives its name from the metallic lustre of its wings; it is easily shot. The black pigeon, and nearly all the other varieties, have the same habits as the Wonga-wonga, living in the brushes and feeding on the berries of the myrtle tree. The fruit-pigeon is the most remarkable, as its plumage is perhaps the most beautiful of all the pigeon tribe. It is rather larger than the wood-pigeon of Europe, its back, wings, and tail are of the brightest grassy green, its breast deep purple, the under parts of the wings orange, and the head and neck pearl grey. Its flesh is very good, being similar to that of the common pigeon, and they are generally very plump, and in excellent condition.[4]

The doves of Australia are of great variety; pink, green, purple, and brown, being the predominant tints in their plumage; they are easily shot, and very good for the table. In the more open inland parts of Australia, where other birds are somewhat scarce, the spur-winged plover is to be met with. This bird derives its name from the spurs on its wings, with which it fights fiercely; it is of a large size, and easily shot.

There are many other birds in New South Wales, which may occasionally afford some amusement to the sportsman of that country; such as snipes, curlews, black swans, pelicans, divers, godwits, red-bills, swamp pheasants, lyre birds, bustards, &c. &c. The Australian snipe differs but little from that of Europe, and it frequents similar localities. The curlews are of a large size, and display that extreme wariness and shyness of man, which characterise that numerous tribe of birds all over the globe. They alight in large flocks on the sand banks in the estuaries of the rivers, and can seldom be shot unless approached from behind the mangrove brushes.

Black Swans frequent the mouths of rivers, and salt lagoons, and are easily shot. During the moulting season the black swans may sometimes be caught by rowing swiftly after them in the secluded reaches, where they remain during that season, for from the loss of their pen feathers they are often unable to fly. After selecting an unfortunate bird, who happens to be in this predicament, the sportsman must follow it closely in the boat, dodging it in every direction, until after an hour's pull, the swan begins to beat the water with its wings, which is a sure sign that it is tired out, and in a few minutes it gives in, and is secured.

The Pelicans of New South Wales, are larger than those of Africa and Asia; they frequent the mouths of the more secluded rivers in the northern part of New South Wales, in immense flocks, which are employed in fishing during high water, and stand huddled together on the sand-spits during low water, to digest their meal. My men ate some of the flesh from the breast of one I shot, and they told me that it was like beefsteaks, but I should think that it could have been any thing but palatable. The men have occasionally procured nearly a quart of oil from a single pelican, as these birds were in general extremely fat.

The divers and godwits differ but little from those of England; the red-bill is found near the sea coast, and is very plump and well-flavoured, not possessing the slightest rank or fishy taste. The swamp-pheasant somewhat resembles that of England, in shape, but is very much smaller; it is a stupid inactive bird, generally found among swamp-oak thickets, bordering on marshes. The lyre-bird derives its name from its elegant and curiously shaped tail; it frequents shrubs and thickets, and is easily approached and shot. The bustard is a large bird, weighing fourteen or fifteen pounds, but is rather rare.

On traversing the dense brushes of New South Wales, the sportsman, as he climbs over the prostrate timber, and crawls under the entangled creepers and briars, must take care that he does not put his hand on some venomous snake. These disagreeable reptiles are particularly abundant in the north-eastern part of the territory of the colony, where the country is so brushy and swampy. Nearly all the snakes of New South Wales are poisonous, for of ten species that have been examined by naturalists, seven were ascertained to be highly venomous. The popular names of the most common varieties, are as follow.

The Diamond snake.—This snake is beautifully variegated by black and yellow lozenge-shaped marks, from whence it derives its name. It has a small neck, compared with the size of its head; and is rather slender in proportion to its length, which is about eight or ten feet, although it frequently attains the length of fourteen, and sometimes even sixteen feet. I have heard of instances of a greater size than this, but it was on the rather questionable authority of stockmen and sawyers; I have never seen a Diamond snake myself, longer than fourteen feet. It feeds on kangaroo-rats, bandicoots, young pademellas, and quails, and is said to be poisonous, which I am inclined to think is not the case.

The Carpet snake is so similar to the Diamond snake, that the only distinction between them, seems to be, that one has a white belly, and the other a yellow one. Whilst Mr. Montgomery Martin was in New South Wales, a native brought to him, at Paramatta, a snake belonging to one of these varieties, which was fourteen feet in length. Mr. Martin tried various poisons on it without effect, but large doses of calomel speedily destroyed life.

The Brown snake.—A very venomous species.

The Yellow snake.—This variety attains a large size, and its bite is mortal.

The Whip snake.—This is the only arboreal or tree-snake, that I am acquainted with in the colony. It is a handsome, agile reptile, extremely long in comparison to its size, and derives its name from its resemblance to a large whip. It is of a greenish colour, with yellow underneath.

The Ring snake.—A small species, marked by alternate black and white rings.

The Death Adder.—This hideous reptile is of a dusky hue, seldom more than two feet and a half long, but immensely thick in proportion to its length. At the extremity of its tail is a small pointed, hardened process, with which the sawyers and labourers fancy that it can inflict a sting like a scorpion. The Death Adder, perhaps, possesses the most intense venom of any Australian serpent, for many persons have, at various periods, died in consequence of its bite, which is most rapidly fatal. Dogs expire in a very few minutes after they are bitten. Another smaller kind of snake, of a brown colour, would however appear to be nearly as bad as the Death Adder, for since I have been in the colony, a man at the Williams river was bitten by a snake of this description, and died in a quarter of an hour. This snake was under a plank which the man was removing, and so slight was the bite inflicted by its fangs, that the man did not know at first that he was bitten, and remarked to his comrade, that he had a narrow escape. The Death Adder is extremely sluggish in its habits, and rarely moves out of the way of persons approaching it; I am therefore inclined to think, that the original popular name assigned to this reptile, must have been Deaf Adder, instead of the Death Adder.[5]

The Black snake.—This species is of extremely active habits, bold, strong, and very vindictive if assailed. The general length of this snake near Sydney, is about four or five feet, but more to the northward it attains the length of eight feet. Its colour, as its name implies, is of a leaden black, with scarlet bands on its belly. This is one of the most common snakes, especially in the northern part of the colony, and is very venomous; although Dr. Shaw, who first described it in his work on Zoology, did not consider it a venomous species. I have, however, known too many instances to the contrary, to have any doubt as to its being venomous; and I see that M. Lesson, the distinguished French naturalist, who accompanied the Coquille in her voyage in the South seas, has especially noticed the extreme venom of this kind of snake, under the name of Naja Porphyrica.

The poison of the generality of Australian snakes, appears to act differently from that of the rattlesnake of America, or the viper of Europe, for whereas the poison of the latter species creates immediately a marked effect on the punctured wound, causing violent swelling, intense pain, and a yellow or livid hue over the surface; the bite of Australian snakes does not cause much pain or inflammation in the wound itself, but seems principally to affect the whole nervous system, rapidly causing the patient to fell into a comatose state. In this respect the poison resembles that of the asp of Egypt. I can speak from experience on this subject, having been myself bitten by a large snake three years ago, at the MacLeay river; a rather exaggerated account of which accident was sent at the time to the Sydney Morning Herald, by one of the country correspondents of that paper.

The manner in which the accident occurred was as follows:—I was riding in the forest, about three miles from our station; attired in very loose nankeen trowsers, and thin Wallabi-skin boots. Being very thirsty, I rode hastily to a pond of water, and disengaging both my feet from the stirrups at the same time, I leapt very suddenly to the ground. Instantaneously, as I alighted on my feet, I felt a sharp prick in my instep, like that of a needle, and found that I had trodden on a very large snake, which had turned and bitten me through the Wallabi skin. Although my boot, from its extreme thinness, (being as slight as kid leather) had allowed the fangs of the snake to wound me through it, I did not, at that moment, anticipate any danger, as I conceived that the tooth, passing through the boot, would be deprived of its venom. However, I galloped home as fast as possible, and as some native blacks were luckily encamped at our station, I sent for them as the best doctors in such a case. On drawing off my boot, and exposing the punctures, one of the blacks first held the wounded foot, for a few moments, to the pit of his stomach, and then commenced sucking it. In the mean time, one of the men assigned to us, who had been a surgeon in England before he was transported, was brought up by my friends to examine the wound, which he immediately laid open with a lancet, and then applied some nitric acid to it, after which the blacks continued to suck it as before. About twenty minutes from the time that I had been bitten, I began to feel excessively drowsy, without experiencing any pain or uneasiness, with the exception of a slight nausea of the stomach. This drowsy feeling gradually increased, so that my friends around me had the utmost difficulty in keeping me awake, whilst the most pungent smelling salts applied to my nostrils, did not in the least affect me. During the whole of this paroxysm, I remained perfectly conscious, but at one time my sight was seriously affected, so that, although I had been placed in a chair under the verandah, and the meridian sun threw its rays on the garden palings opposite, every thing, at one time, appeared to me to be enveloped in a kind of mist. About two hours after the bite, I had quite recovered, but experienced during the remainder of the day, considerable lassitude and pain in my limbs, as though I had undergone great fatigue.

I do not think that the fangs of any Australian snake could, however, penetrate through an ordinary leader boot. Indeed, in my survey of the brushy and swampy district, adjacent to the lower part of the MacLeay, I have frequently inadvertently trodden upon snakes, or otherwise come into close contact with them, with perfect impunity; and a black snake, on one occasion, seized the foot of one of my men, but could not bite through the boot. The following story respecting the rattlesnake of America, would seem to indicate that leather is, at any rate, no protection from the bite of that kind of serpent. A man had been bitten through his boots by a rattlesnake and died. The boots afterwards descended into the successive possession of two other persons, and killed them both;—and it was then ascertained that an envenomed fang had remained sticking in the leather.

Being on the subject of snakes, I may here mention a very curious sea-snake which I killed about three years ago in Tryal bay. It had been calm for some days previous, and as I was walking by myself along the sands at low tide, I saw, coiled up on the moist sand, a few feet from the surf, a snake of a dusky colour. Surprised to see a reptile of this description in such an unusual position, and having nothing with me to attack it, I ran back to the shore, from which the tide recedes a considerable distance at low water, to obtain a stick, and then retracing my footsteps, I found the snake had not changed its position. A few slight blows easily dispatched it. On examination, I found it was five feet in length, its head and neck of the same size; its body of a brown and black colour, whilst its tail was perfectly flat, being, for the last six or eight inches, of a pale flesh, or dirty rose colour, about two inches broad, and extremely thin, the flatness of the tail being lateral. There being a cedar vessel in the MacLeay river at the time, I carried the snake on board, thinking that some spirits might be in the schooner in which I might preserve it, but I was unable to procure any. On shewing this snake to the blacks, they seemed to recognise it, and said that it belonged to " cobbaun water," (the ocean,) and was "a murry saucy fellow," meaning that it was very venomous. I subsequently consulted several works, where any allusion is made to sea-snakes (Hydrophis); especially Lesson's voyage in the Coquille, and Peron's voyage, but I did not find that the Hydrophis pelamys, and other varieties described by those naturalists, agreed with the species I had killed. Not being at all conversant in Zoology, I do not know to what described species of Hydrus, the snake I killed, belonged; I have, however, not been able to find a single instance where sea-snakes have been seen so far south of the equator, as the latitude in which I encountered this one, which was in 30° 50' south. The coasts of Coromandel, Sumatra, and New Guinea are those where this genus of serpents is principally met with; Dampier, however, saw some on the north-western shores of New Holland, and Sir Joseph Banks on the eastern coast, but none farther from the equator than 20° south. That they extend farther from the equator is, however, evident, from the apparent recognition by the blacks of the species I killed; besides, I saw, on another occasion, a portion of the skeleton of a snake, which might certainly have appertained to a land-snake, but which, from the locality where I found it, most probably had belonged to an Hydrophis. As an instance of the singular habits and poisonous nature of the genus Hydrophis, I have copied the following anecdote from the last new edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.

"Soon after the opening of the bar in the month of October, 1815, reports prevailed at Madras that a great shoal of sea-snakes had entered the river, and that many natives, whilst crossing, had been bitten, and had died in consequence. A reward was offered for each of these creatures captured and carried to the superintendant of police. Pandauls were erected opposite to the two principal fords, and skilful natives, under the direction of Dr. M‘Kenzie, (to whom we are indebted for the information), were provided with eau-de-luce, and other remedies, and ordered to afford immediate aid to those who might have been bitten. Many were bitten accordingly, (the snakes seeming in no way loth to expedite the result), and all exhibited the symptoms usually consequent upon the action of a powerful animal poison; but none died. We shall state a couple of cases with the mode of treatment. A native woman, whilst crossing near the customhouse, was seen, on emerging from the water, to shake off something from her foot. This, to several spectators, appeared to be a water-snake. The woman, after advancing for a few paces from the river, fell down, and was immediately carried into the pandaul. On examining her feet, two small but distinct wounds were perceived on the ankle of the right leg; her skin was cold, her face livid, her breathing laborious, her pulse scarcely perceptible. A ligature was immediately placed above the wound, which had been previously enlarged with a lancet, and a piece of carbonate of ammonia, well moistened with pure nitric acid, applied, while thirty drops of the eau-de-luce were administered nearly at the same time in a glass of water. In five minutes more a similar dose was poured down her throat, which seemed rather to increase the spasmodic affection of the chest, but the pulse at the wrist became distinct, though feeble. A third dose was repeated in three minutes more, on which she uttered a scream, and began to breathe more freely. Ten minutes had now elapsed since she had been carried into the pandaul, and in about three minutes more a tea-spoonful of the eau-de-luce was given, which almost immediately produced violent nausea, and a profuse perspiration. When a little salt was put into her:mouth, she declared it was not salt but sugar; and this the natives deemed an infallible sign of still continued danger. She soon^ however, entirely recovered, and merely complained for three or four days of a numbness in the limb above the wound. Another case was that of a Lascar, who was bitten by a snake whilst in the middle of the river. He advanced a few paces after quitting the bank, and then fell down in violent convulsions. When brought in, his breathing was laborious, his skin cold and clammy, his countenance livid, and his pulse feeble at the wrist, but distinct at the temples. A quantity of froth and foam was ejected from between his teeth. He too recovered, after a similar mode of treatment; but he complained for many days that he had no left leg. On another occasion, a large healthy chicken was exposed to the bite of an Hydrus major, four feet long. It was bit in the foot, and in about ten minutes began to droop, and to show a slight convulsive flutter of both wings. In three minutes more it became convulsed, and at the end of seventeen minutes, from the infliction of the wound, it suddenly dropped down dead."

Neariy every work which has been published on Australia has contained some account of the Aborigines of that part of the world. In making any remarks on them, I should therefore be entering on a subject already discussed, but as the natives between Port Macquarie and Moreton Bay, with whom I have had much intercourse, differ in several of their customs and habits of life from those in the southern and western parts of the colony, I have appended to this work a few desultory observations concerning them; for notwithstanding the evident identity of origin, and general resemblance in their mode of life, which prevail throughout all the Aborigines of New Holland, there is often a very great diversity in the character, language, and customs of tribes in different localities, not very remote from each other, and in no part more so than on the coast country along the north-eastern part of the territory of New South Wales, where the abundance of food obtainable in the extensive brushes, and numerous rivers, enables each tribe to subsist on a very small tract of country, thereby occasioning some modification of their usual habits. As a proof of the distinctive features which sometimes form a strong contrast even between adjacent tribes, I may cite the extraordinary diversity in the character and customs of the Darling river tribes, which Sir Thomas Mitchell encountered in his second expedition into the interior; some of them being remarkable for the confiding and kindly feeling they displayed towards the exploring party, and the total absence of the slightest indications of fear and surprise, at the unwonted aspect of the white men, whilst others were equally remarkable for their excessive fright and astonishment; others again, such as the "Spitting tribe,"' and the "Fishing tribe," were animated by the most implacable hostility towards the party, and displayed the most boundless audacity and courage; the Spitting tribe, in particular, exhibiting a series of furious demoniacal gestures, such as have never been witnessed in any other part of Australia. These tribes also differed from each other in their mode of erecting their huts, burying their dead, &c. add Sir Thomas Mitchell even detected a considerable difference in their language.

I have remarked that the blacks between Port Macquarie and Moreton Bay, are much more circumscribed in the extent of country roamed over by each tribe, than those in the thinly wooded tracts in the western and southern parts of the colony. Thus, whereas, in the interior, Sir Thomas Mitchell found on the Murray, the identical natives that had attacked his party on the Darling, 400 miles distant, and who again displayed the peculiar ferocity for which they had been before distinguished; the tribes in the north-eastern coast districts, invariably keep within very narrow limits; the extent of country appertaining to each of them seldom exceeding one hundred and fifty square miles, and generally consisting of twelve or fifteen miles of frontage in a straight line along some river, with the adjacent back country. Thus on the immediate banks of the MacLeay river alone, there are six distinct tribes; viz. the Yarra-Hapinni, and Clybucca tribe, the Calliteeni or Kempsey tribe, the Yarra-Bandini, Munga, Wabro, and Conderang tribes, besides several others near the sources of the river among the mountains. Each of them contains on an average from eighty to a hundred men and women, exclusive of children, but the whole body of a tribe is never united on the same spot, unless on some important occasion, such as to deliberate on making war with some adjacent tribe, to dance a Corroberree, perform the Cawarra ceremonies, or join in a fight. They are more generally divided into small parties of eight or ten men, with their women and children, for the greater convenience of hunting, &c. and these detached companies roam over any part of the country within the prescribed limits of the main tribe to which they belong.

I have observed that the blacks on the banks of the numerous coast-rivers, beyond Port Macquarie, are able to procure an abundance of food with little trouble. I have already described the manner in which the Nambucca river natives procure, with great ease, the Pademellas, or brush kangaroos, which are so abundant in the entangled jungles. In addition to these, flying squirrels and opossums, with flying foxes, swarm in the brushes, also a large kind of bat, of which the blacks are fonder than any other animal food; the flesh of the flying fox certainly looks well enough, and I have heard that at the Mauritius a similar sort of bat is eaten by the planters.

The large forest kangaroos are seldom hunted by the natives in this part of the colony, for during my residence there, I never remember more than two occasions on which I have seen the blacks feeding on kangaroo, which they had speared themselves; indeed, if the forest kangaroo should become entirely extinct in this part of the country, it would be quite immaterial to these natives.

Fish, in the numerous rivers along this part of the coast, forms a never- failing article of food for the blacks, whom I have seen, at the MacLeay and Nambucca rivers, spear in a few minutes sufficient fish for the whole tribe, on the shallow sand-banks and mud-flats on that part of the river, which rises and falls with the tide. The sea-beach abounds with clams, oysters, and cockles, at all times procurable, whilst large cray-fish and crabs are caught among the rocks. In the lagoons and running streams, the natives obtain several kinds offish, large eels, a small kind of lobster and fresh-water muscles.

The reptile kingdom is also brought into requisition by these omnivorous savages. All the larger varieties of snakes are eaten by them, but they will never touch one that has been killed by a white man. Guanas, and a short thick kind of lizard, called the Dew-lizard, are also much relished by them. However repugnant the idea of eating reptiles seems to us, it is from a real liking for their flesh that the Australian savages eat them, and not from the great scarcity of better food; for I have, on two or three occasions, known them when employed by me in assisting at the cattle musters, pulling maize, &c. and well fed on bread and beef, carefully preserve any snake they chanced to kill, and cook and eat it at the next fire. Induced by curiosity, I have on several occasions tasted the flesh of every one of the reptiles just mentioned, and although nothing but the most extreme hunger could make me conquer my aversion, so as to dine on them, I must nevertheless own, that not one of them possessed any disagreeable taste. The flesh of the black snake in particular was rich and juicy, somewhat resembling in flavour the flesh of a sucking pig, whilst that of the guana was whiter and drier, and more approximated to fowl. Besides, these savages are not the only race of men who eat reptiles, for the common water-snake of England, (Natrix torquata,) is eaten in several parts of the continent of Europe, and every one knows that the guana of the West Indies, (a much more hideous animal, by-the-bye, than the guana of Australia,) is considered very good eating by the planters in some of the islands.

The tree grub, which is very similar to the common nut maggot, on a larger scale, is also swallowed raw not only by the blacks, but by many of the whites, as it is very much like sweetened marrow, and probably resembles a grub found in the trees of Central Africa, where it is esteemed a great delicacy.

The trees which fall into the brackish water in the lower part of the rivers soon become riddled by the Cobberra worm, which is of considerable length, and half an inch thick. It exhibits but faint indications of being a living animal when extracted from the wood, as it appears almost devoid of motion, and the natives let it slide down their throats with great gusto, in much the same way that the Italian lazzaroni swallow macaroni, to which cobbera has a great resemblance.

Several kinds of birds also fell a prey to the blacks in the dense brushes of the northern district, especially the brush-turkey, which I have already described, and whose large nests are often robbed by the native women or gins. These brushes also abound in many vegetable productions from which the natives obtain food. The principal of these is a large sort of yam or sweet potatoe, resulting from a small creeper, the roots of which penetrate to a considerable depth in the alluvial soil, from whence they are dug out by the gins, one of whose duties it is to collect them. The fern root, obtained from a species of fern, apparently identical ' with that of New Zealand, is rendered edible by beating it on a stone into a sort of paste, and then cooking it on hot embers. The root of the Conjeboi, a large-leaved plant, which grows on very moist alluvial land, often flooded, is also eaten. The leaves and stalk of the conjeboi are full of a burning acrid juice, which blisters the lips if applied to the mouth. The root also contains this sap, but by pounding it between flat stones, and thereby expressing all the juice by continued beatings, (much in the same way in which the poisonous Manioc root is rendered fit for food in the West Indies,) it at last becomes an insipid farinaceous mass, which is then cooked and eaten. The swamps also furnish another edible root, resembling a parsnip in taste. The Coryphæ of New South Wales, such as the Cabbage palm and the Bangolo palm, yield an edible substance in the heart of the unexpanded leaves of their tufted heads.

The Cabbage palm is very similar in appearance to the Talipot palm of the island of Ceylon, (Corypha umbraculifera,) from the heart of which sago is made. The solid substance in the heart of the Cabbage palm, is of a white and rather spongy texture, which possesses the sweet taste of the Spanish chesnut, and is often eaten by the whites as well as by the Aborigines. The Bangolo palm contains a similar substance, whilst to the northward of Moreton Bay, the Bunya-bunya produces a fruit, sufficiently nourishing to suffice in itself to form the main food of the blacks in that region. The fruit of the tree popularly called the Australian Indian-rubber tree, and a great variety of other fruits and berries are also occasionally eaten by the blacks whilst in season.

It will thus seem, that in this part of Australia the blacks can never suffer from extreme hunger, or ever die from starvation, which catastrophe often occurs in New Holland, according to some authors. Indeed, throughout all the country along the eastern coast, the blacks have never suffered so much from scarcity of food as many commiserating writers have supposed; and even in the long settled district of Illawarra, near Sydney, they experience no difficulty in procuring abundance of food in the creeks and brushes.

It has been reported in some communication which I remember to have read from one of the German missionaries at Moreton Bay, that the natives have occasionally suffered so severely from hunger, that they have been known to bleed themselves, and afterwards cook the blood and eat it. So far from this being from hunger, I have known the same thing to be done at the MacLeay river, when abundance of food was close at hand; it is, in fact, a fancied cure for some ailment, and the bleeding is carefully performed with a piece of broken shell. Another practice, somewhat similar, but still more revolting, is also common among the MacLeay river tribes, in a case of illness. The wife or gin of the sick man procures a hollow conjeboi leaf, and a strong piece of string made of opossum fur closely twisted; she then draws the string violently backwards and forwards against her gums until they are terribly lacerated, and bleed profusely. She spits out the blood as it exudes, into the conjeboi leaf, and continues to saw her gums until she has obtained a considerable quantity of blood, which is then swallowed by the sick man![6]

In the thinly wooded plains, and arid country beyond the mountains dividing the eastern and western waters, the blacks experience much greater difficulty in procuring food, and sometimes suffer severely from famine in times of drought; and from this reason the tribes of the interior wander over a much more extensive tract of country than the coast blacks.

Although, from the preceding details, the Australian natives might be deemed the dirtiest savages in the world, with regard to the nature of the food they eat, and their mode of cooking it, yet such is not the case. It is quite true, as many writers have reported, that the produce of the chase, such as opossums, squirrels, pademellas, guanas, ducks, &c, are thrown down unskinned and unembowelled before the fire, and devoured, entrails and all. But having often observed the mode of cookery pursued by the Australian Aborigines, I have never seen them omit to extract the entrails as soon as the animal was warmed through, and they are then carefully cleaned and cooked separately. With regard to the skin being left on, (which is not always the case,) it is purposely done in order to retain the juices of the meat, which would otherwise be dried up by their simple mode of cookery; but as soon as the animal is sufficiently done, the skin is easily pulled off, and rejected. The MacLeay river natives always clean and gut their fish, and cook them carefully on hot embers, and they eat nothing whatever in a raw state, except cobberra and grubs. The Australian Aborigines, therefore, though not remarkably scrupulous as to cleanliness, are, at least, equally so with the less uncivilized New Zealanders, and much more so than many of the African tribes; and their food is, at any rate, not of a more revolting nature than that of other uncivilized communities, such as the blubber and train oil of the Esquimaux, fish in the last stage of putrefaction, which are relished beyond all other food by the Samoyeds, the uncooked horse-flesh of some of the Tartar tribes, and the heterogeneous rubbish devoured by the Boshiesmen, who have even been known to roast and eat the old cast-away shoes of the Dutch boors. So dainty were the blacks at the MacLeay, that I knew them refuse to take any of the flesh of a bullock in fine condition, which was accidentally killed in the bush.

The MacLeay river tribes do not practise so much brutality towards the women as I have seen in other parts of the colony. The girls, as they become marriageable, are either taken by men of the same tribe, or else are sometimes given to those of the neighbouring tribes at the close of some corroberree, without any violence. In a few rare instances, I have known the females to be forcibly stolen away, but hostilities then, invariably, ensued between the injured tribe and the tribe of the aggressors. None of the women bore those frightful scars and cicatrices, resulting from the blows of their inhuman masters, which scarcely any female in the tribes south of Sydney is exempt from.

It is remarkable, that whilst a great proportion of the men of a tribe are unprovided with ‘gins,’y numbers of them are allowed to retain two, and even three. In other respects, a rigid equality is preserved among the different members of the tribe; thus, if a pair of trowsers, handkerchief, or coat, be given to any black, he is allowed to keep it a certain time, and then it is worn by the others in succession until it is destroyed, or they become tired of it.

As the boys of a tribe approach the age of puberty, a grand ceremony, to inaugurate them into the privileges of manhood, takes place. This ceremony is entirely different at the MacLeay and Nambucca rivers, to what it probably is in other parts of the colony, for the natives there do not strike out the front tooth as elsewhere. When a tribe has determined on initiating their youths into these rites, they send messengers to the surrounding tribes of blacks, to invite them to be present on the occasion. These messengers or ambassadors appear to be distinguished by having their head-bands coloured with very pale yellow ochre, instead of the usual deep red, whilst their hair is drawn up and crowned by the high top-knots of grass, resembling nodding plumes, which ornament is, I think, peculiar to the blacks north of the Hunter,—at least, I have never seen it farther south, where the hair is usually matted with gum, and decorated with dogs' tails and teeth. After all the preliminaries are settled, and the surrounding tribes arrived, the blacks repair to the Cawarra ground. This is a circular plot about thirty feet in diameter, carefully levelled, weeded, and smoothed down. It is, in general, situated on the summit of some round-topped hill, and the surrounding trees are minutely tatooed and carved to such a considerable altitude, that one cannot help feeling astonished at the labour bestowed upon this work. The women are now dismissed to the distance of two miles from the Cawarra ground; for if one of them should happen to witness, or hear any portion of the ceremony, they would be immediately put to death. The first evening is passed in dancing the ordinary corroberree; during which, the invited blacks sit round their respective fires as spectators, whilst the boys, who are to undergo the ceremony, squat down in a body by themselves, and keep up a bright fire for the dancers. From the repugnance which the blacks at the MacLeay displayed on my looking at their performance, and their angry refusal to allow me to see the main part of the ceremony, I am unable to give a regular account of it, having only been able to obtain occasional glimpses. After many preliminary grotesque mummeries have been performed, the doctors or priests of the tribe take each a boy, and hold him for some time with his head downwards near the fire. Afterwards, with great solemnity, they are invested with the opossum belt; and at considerable intervals between each presentation, they are given the nulla-nulla, the boomerang, the spear, &c. Whilst these arms are being conferred upon them, the other natives perform a sham fight, and pretend to hunt the pademella, spear fish, and imitate various other occupations, in which the weapons, now presented to the youth, will be of service. As these ceremonies occupied a fortnight or more before they were concluded, many other ridiculous scenes were undoubtedly enacted, and during all this time, the women did not dare to approach the performers. Each man was also provided with a singular instrument, formed of a piece of hollowed wood fastened to a long piece of flax string; by whirling this rapidly round their heads, a loud shrill noise was produced, and the blacks seemed to attach a great degree of mystic importance to the sound of this instrument, for they told me, that if a woman heard it, she would die. The conclusion of this ceremony, was a grand dance of a peculiar character, in which the boys join, and which the women are allowed to see. This dance is performed with much more solemnity than the ordinary Australia261.jpg

Dance at the conclusion of the Cawarra ceremonies

corroberrees. The Yarra-Hapinni tribe, which I saw execute this dance near the Clybucca creek, were so elaborately painted with white for the occasion, that even their very toes and fingers were carefully and regularly coloured with concentric rings, whilst their hair was drawn up in a close knot, and stuck all over with the snowy down of the white cockatoo, which gave them the appearance of being decorated with white wings. In this dance, the performers arranged themselves in the form of a semicircle, and grasping the ends of their boomerangs, which are also painted with great minuteness and regularity, they swayed their bodies rapidly from right to left, displaying a degree of flexibility in their limbs, which might have created the envy of many a pantomimic artist. Each movement of their bodies to and fro was accompanied by a loud hiss, whilst a number of other natives similarly painted, beat time with sticks, and kept up an incessant and obstreperous song. Every now and then the dancers' would stop and rush, crowding together, into a circle, raising their weapons with outstretched arms, and joining with frantic energy in the song. They would then be more composed, and walk backwards and forwards in couples, holding each other by the hand, until again roused by an elderly native to resume the dance. It was not until midnight that the noise ceased, which, every evening, whilst the ceremonies lasted, might be heard at a distance of two or three miles. The tribes of natives near Sydney, where the boys are always deprived of their front teeth, do not seem to be so averse to the whites witnessing their ceremonies, which differ considerably from what I have just described.

In their mode of going through the ceremony, the boys being assembled together, and the whole tribe mustered for the occasion, a party of men armed and painted, advanced into the Cawarra ground, with loud shouts and clattering of their arms, and seized, one by one, the boys who were to undergo the operation. The latter were then placed together on the Cawarra ground, where they were to pass the night in perfect silence; in the meantime the other natives danced and sang furiously, whilst the doctors or "corradjees" went through a most ridiculous scene, groaning and contorting themselves in every position until they at length pretended to be delivered of some bones, which were subsequently used to cut open the gums of the boys before striking out their teeth. Next day the boys were brought into the centre of the Cawarra ground, whilst the other blacks performed various ridiculous antics around them in imitation of various animals. Sticking their boomerangs vertically in their opossum-skin belts, so as to bear some resemblance to the tail of the native dog, they ran on all fours past the boys, throwing up dust, whilst the latter remained motionless, with downcast eyes. They next fastened to their girdles long pieces of twisted grass, to resemble the tail of the kangaroo; and then bounded round the boys in imitation of the movement of that animal, whilst others pretended to spear them.

All this time an incessant shouting, singing, and dancing, had been kept up. After this the boys were placed in a cluster together, with their heads lowered and their hands crossed over their breasts, whilst the most ridiculous antics were performed by the rest of the natives, who, mounted on each other's backs, threw themselves on the ground, whilst the boys were made to walk over their prostrate bodies, and executed a multitude of evolutions with their spears and shields. The final operation was then performed; the gums being lanced with the bones before mentioned, a stick was applied to the tooth, and a large stone employed to strike it out. As each boy lost his front tooth, the gum was closed up, but the blood was not allowed to be washed or wiped off; he was then furnished with the belt of manhood, boomerangs, &c. and joined in the corroberree dances which concluded the ceremony.

The fights of the natives are generally conducted on the principles of retributive justice. Their mode of warfare is fair, open, and manly; for tribes on hostile terms scorn to take the least undue advantage of each other, and the instant a fight is concluded, both parties seem perfectly reconciled, and jointly assist in tending the wounded men. In this respect the quarrels of the Aborigines of New South Wales, present a striking contrast to the cruel and treacherous warfare of the North American Indians, and the ferocious and implacable contests which used to take place among the ci-devant man-eating New Zealanders.

Acts of treachery sometimes occur between individual natives, but these acts, though they involve the tribe, to which the offending party belongs, in war with the other tribe, are always punished, as the offender has always to bear the brunt of the engagement, and stand for some time alone, unassisted by his companions, as a butt for the spears of the immediate relations of the man whom he has killed or wounded.

It seems to be a regular principle with the Australian Aborigines, that blood must be shed for blood; and as an example will better illustrate the warfare of the natives, than a general description, I will give a short account of a quarrel among some MacLeay river tribes, during my stay there.

Three young men, belonging to the Yarra-Bandini tribe, which was also the name of our cattle-station, (as that locality was the head-quarters of this tribe,) had descended the river in a canoe to Verge's station, which is within the limits of the boundaries of the Calliteeni or Kempsey tribe. The object they had in view, was to kill a Tryal bay native, whom the sawyers had nicknamed Cranky Tom, from his comical hilarity:—for it would appear that Cranky Tom had some time before killed one of the relations of these men in a
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Cranky Tom and Dilberee

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A fight

fight, and they now determined to revenge his death. Poor Tom, who was my earliest acquaintance among the Tryal bay natives, was stopping with his 'gin' Dilberree near Verge's, without any suspicion of treachery, when he was suddenly confronted by his enemies. Having endeavoured in vain to protect himself with his shield, he soon fell pierced with wounds, and his head was then cut off by his savage enemies, one of whom, named Henry, also took possession of the woman. This act of treachery roused the indignation of two tribes, the Kempsey or Calliteeni blacks, on whose grounds^the outrage had been committed, and the Tryal bay blacks to whom the murdered man belonged. On speaking to the chief men of the Yarra-Bandini tribe, about this cowardly attack, they merely told me in reply, that Henry and the other men were "murry stupid," to act as they did, but that Cranky Tom was a "murry saucy fellow," and deserved what he had got. The Yarra-Bandini tribe were encamped, in the mean time, close to our stock-yards.

The first of their adversaries in the field, were the Kempsey blacks, who came over one afternoon, and fought the Yarra-Bandini natives at our very doors. The battle was conducted in the most fair and open manner; each party drew up in two lines, armed with spears, shields, and boomerangs, and threw spear for spear for a considerable time, before any damage was done. At length a Yarra-Bandini black was slightly wounded in the forehead; and soon after a Kempsey native, whom the sawyers had named "Major Lovatt," was transfixed with a spear, which apparently passed through his lungs. This concluded the fight; both the hostile parties now mingled together in the most friendly way; and the Yarra-Bandini tribe was even more anxious than the other, in their endeavours to alleviate the wounds of the dying man. My partner also rendered every assistance to him, but he expired in a few minutes. By a most extraordinary revulsion of feeling, the Kempsey blacks now became furiously enraged against the Tryal bay tribe, whose cause they had just espoused so actively.

Accordingly, under the pretence that an immense flock of ducks had settled on some lagoon down the river, the Kempsey natives, who are few in number, but more conversant with the customs of the whites than the others, succeeded in persuading some cedar dealers and sawyers at that place, to lend them some muskets, which they loaded with slugs, and they then proceeded down the river in a boat. The Tryal bay blacks, who were quite taken by surprise by this unusual manoeuvre, were soon worsted, and several of them were wounded by the shot, but none killed. Matters now became more complicated, for one of the Nambucca river tribes, being indignant at the treatment of their neighbours at Tryal bay, took part in the quarrel.

A week or two afterwards, being at Yarra-Bandini, a gin, who had been sent from our station on some message, returned in a great hurry, glistening with moisture from having swam across the creek; as she had seen the Tryal bay tribe, who were coming up to fight the natives at our place. She had scarcely bounded away from us to warn them of the approach of their enemies, when the latter appeared, marching in Indian file, having their bodies painted with red stripes, and their bark shields whitened with pipe clay and adorned with double red crosses^ They advanced with a measured tramp, carrying their spears aloft at a uniform slope, with their shields on the left side. They had just arrived where we were standing, when the Yarra-Bandini blacks, having been warned by the gin of the approach of their enemies, dashed out of the adjoining brush, and throwing themselves into regular rows, five or six deep, commenced a furious dance in defiance of the other party, leaping up and down at a measured tread, whilst they beat time with their nulla-nullas and waddies, accompanying each jump with a short loud shout. As soon as their adversaries had arrived opposite to them, each party halted, whilst the chief men on both sides advanced, and commenced a most animated dialogue, occasionally threatening each other with their spears. A very old woman, whom the Tryal bay blacks had brought up with them, seemed to be particularly active in abusing and insulting the Yarra-Bandini natives, whom she railed at unceasingly in a loud screaming voice. As the Australian aborigines look upon their women as very inferior animals to themselves, I suppose the Tryal bay tribe had brought up this scolding old lady, in order to evince the greater contempt for the other tribe; much upon the same principle, which once induced a king of France to send a defiance to an English prince by a scullion, instead of a herald, in order to insult him the more grievously.

After a long altercation the two hostile tribes mingled together, as though they were on the best terms with each other; they encamped, however, for the night, at some distance apart. Next morning the fight commenced, in which, according to the usual custom, the three natives who had been the original cause of the quarrel, stood prominently forward, exposed to the spears of the Tryal bay blacks for some time, without receiving any assistance from their companions, until one of them received a spear wound on the instep, and another on the knee. The fight then became general, but no further damage was done, as each party was equally adroit in warding off, with their shields, the missiles that were flying about. This engagement seemed to conclude the quarrel between the Yarra-Bandini and Yarra-Hapinni blacks, as the gin Dilberree, who had been carried off, was restored to her friends. It was, however, some time before the other quarrels, which had arisen from this affair, were fought out; after which a general peace had to be consolidated by solemn corroberrees, danced successively on the grounds of each of the belligerent tribes.

Although the Aborigines are in general so honourable and open in their warfare with one another, their behaviour towards the whites is very different, being often treacherous in the extreme. It frequently happens that those persons who have been most liberal and kind to the natives, are chosen as their first victims; for if a white man gives a present to a native, without stipulating for some service in return, the latter imputes the generosity of the white man to fear. Thus, the sawyers at the Nambucca, who gave the blacks a large quantity of flour, tobacco, sugar, &c. in order to propitiate them, became immediately exposed to their murderous attacks, which did not cease until the natives had received a severe lesson or two, to convince them of the superiority of the arms of the white men.

The districts near Port Phillip, where the blacks have committed the most serious outrages, are the very ones in which the salaried Protectors of Aborigines have resided. I do not know in what the duties of the Protectors consist; but no good has been derived from their appointment, as the natives in that part of Australia have been more audacious in their attacks on distant sheep-stations, than in any other districts; and on being pursued after their ravages, they have been known to jeeringly dare the whites to fire at them, as the Governor would hang any one who shoots at "blackfellows!"

"The soothing system" is no better adapted to civilize the natives of Australia, than to reclaim the convicts at Norfolk Island; and indeed I think that all endeavours to make them adopt more settled habits will be useless, for what great inducement does the monotonous and toilsome existence of the labouring classes in civilized communities offer, to make the savage abandon his independent and careless life, diversified by the exciting occupations of hunting, fishing, fighting, and dancing.

It is not certainly from want of intelligence that the Australian Aborigines have hitherto proved so unreclaimable. The mental faculties of the Australian savage have been too much underrated, except by those authors who have had the best opportunity of witnessing their manners and customs in their purely wild state, such as Oxley, Sturt, and Mitchell, especially the latter, whose occasional remarks on the Aborigines, are full of graphic truth. I will conclude by two or three examples of the intelligence of the natives which have come under my own observation. During the time that my tents were pitched near the Nambucca, some years ago, a native arrived at my camp, unable to hold any communication with my men in the ordinary jargon, forming the medium of communication between the blacks and the whites. As I made it a rule never to allow the natives to loiter about my tents, unless they performed some slight service for me, for which I repaid them with flour or tobacco^ I told my tentkeeper to give this man something to do. Accordingly, he brought out some muskets, which required cleaning, and having unscrewed the lock of one of them, he shewed the black how to clean it with a bit of rag. This native had, no doubt, heard of guns, but had never before had one in his hands; yet, he not only cleaned the locks of the muskets, but even took a percussion gun, which my servant had brought out with the intention of cleaning it himself, and without a word being said to him on the subject, took the lock entirely to pieces, although its construction was so different to that of a flint lock, and having carefully cleaned and oiled it, he put it together again, which I am sure not one Englishman out of ten would have been able to do, if previously unacquainted with the mechanism of gun locks.

A boy, belonging to a tribe at the Manning river, who had been induced to accompany a friend of mine as far as the MacLeay, drew, with a piece of chalk, human heads and figures, kangaroos, &c. with a firm well defined outline, which few English boys of his age could have done better, unless they had had lessons in drawing.

Some natives I have seen exhibit a dexterity in carpentery, and in the use of various tools, which a white man could not acquire until he had practised with them for some time; and indeed in every thing requiring the exercise of mechanical ingenuity or dexterity, the Australian Aborigines are most apt scholars.


  1. Lieut. Breton once saw an instance of a kangaroo clearing fifteen yards at one spring in descending a slope!
  2. Dr. Bennett's "Wanderings in New South Wales," contains several amusing examples of this peculiarity of the Australian wild dog.
  3. The Native Companion, or Gigantic Crane, is also very frequently seen in the swamps. It is six feet in height.
  4. In the interior levels, in the north-western part of the territory, is the crested bronze-wing pigeon and two or three other varieties peculiar to those regions.
  5. Lieutenant Breton mentions, that a man who was bitten by a Death adder, died in a short period, with blood gushing from his eyes, nose, mouth, and ears, and the body became instantaneously a mass of putrefaction, so that it was with difficulty removed into a grave.
  6. Many of the superstitious practices of the American Indians are equally disgusting.