The Aborigines of Western Australia by Albert F.
THE ABORIGINES OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA.
ANY attempt to fathom the depth of mystery which surrounds the
history of the Australian Aboriginal must necessarily be—in the
main—a failure. The subject is surrounded with difficulty. Captain
Dampier was the first Englishman known to have made the acquaintance of
the Australian natives, whom he calls "the poor winking people of New
Holland, the miserablest people on earth," and so forth. During the
intervening two centuries we have not added much to our knowledge
regarding them. They have no written language, and are forbidden to
speak of the dead: two serious obstacles to research.
I am well aware that the subject is rather out of my line, and for
this reason alone I can scarcely expect to do justice to the theme.
Nevertheless, during my wanderings through Western Australia, in the
capacity of a mining engineer, I came across a good many of the
natives; and taking a profound interest in everything connected with
the colony I resolved to set down in brief and simple form such facts
as I could glean regarding this most curious specimen of the human
race. I lay no more claim to originality than is due to one who has
arranged his matter in his own way, and added a few thoughts suggested
ALBERT F. CALVERT.
Piccadilly Club, W.
THE ABORIGINES OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA.
REGARDING the aborigines of Western Australia the materials at our
disposal are somewhat scanty.
There exists a theory that all savages are the degraded descendants
of civilized ancestors, If this be true it seems to me that the
Australian Blackboys' period of enlightenment must have existed very
far back in the dim twilight of ancient history.
Theories are, as is well known, apt to outrun facts, so I will not
try my reader's patience by venturing to discuss the question of "rise
or fall," but content myself with the observation that through
unnumbered ages there have been wanderers in the desert, side by side
with dwellers in cities; and our black Australian brother seems to have
descended from the former class. I am likewise led to remark in
passing, that our first parents before the fall did not live in a state
of civilization, but of ignorance—an ignorance which was undoubtedly
bliss,—for ever to be dispelled by the knowledge of good and evil. It
was after the fall when they had to work, and became ashamed of their
nude condition, that they bethought them of the most primitive modes of
dress. Thus did civilization and sin enter the world hand in hand, soon
after the creation; and the fig leaf was ancestor to the petticoat.
Among the rudest tribes of men, inhabitants of the wild forests and
deserts, dependent for their food and clothing on the accidental
produce of the earth or spoils of the chase, a form of skull is
prevalent, which is termed prognathous, indicating an extension forward
of the jaws. The facial angle peculiar to this formation is low, and is
strongly developed among the Alfurian or Australian races. They
probably spring from a common source; and the Rev. William Ridley draws
attention to the interesting fact that the blacks themselves always
have in idea that their ancestors came from the north. Then the current
of migration has been ever towards the south and west, and the natives
of the north-eastern corner call it "Kai Dowdai" or Little Country.
This seems strange when New Guinea is known to them as "Muggi Dowdai"
or Great Country. The anomaly is accounted for by their ignorance of
the extent of country they inhabit. To those living near Cape York, and
passing to and fro across the strait dividing New Holland from New
Guinea, the low narrow promontory would seem insignificant compared
with the great mountain ranges of the latter. Then again there is a
tradition among some tribes that their first parents landed on the
North West Corner from Java. All this, however, is at the best but wild
conjecture. The real source from which the Aborigines of Australia
originally came is one of those mysteries buried in the impenetrable
depths of an unwritten past.
Although marked differences exist between the various Australian
languages, and also considerable differences in frame and physiognomy
between the various tribes; still the fundamental unity of the
population from Swan River to Botany Bay, and from the Gulf of
Carpentaria to Bass's Straits is generally admitted.
The natives have no written language and our alphabet is totally
inadequate to give expression to some of the sounds which are so
volubly emitted. Then of course there are very many different dialects
of which the following may be said to be the most important:—
.—This is spoken from the Castlereagh to the Darling and also on
.—Spoken on the Barwan, below the junction with the Namai.
.—This is the dialect in use by all the nations roaming to the
Westward of the Baloune all along the Maronoa and the Congoon.
.—Around Calandoon in Queensland; also on the Weir and Macintyre.
.—About Durundrum on the north side of Moreton Bay and thence
towards Wide Bay and the Burnett district in Queensland.
.—On the Brisbane River.
.—Once spoken by the tribe of Port Jackson, now extinct.
.—In Illawarra, from Wollongong to the Shoalhaven.
.—On the Murrumbidgee and Lauchlan.
Within the boundaries of Western Australia itself there are numerous
dialects spoken. I will only trouble my readers with one illustration.
From King George's Sound to Champion Bay a baby is known as "Good-ja"
or "Nuba"; in the New Norcian District about 80 miles north from Perth,
the word is "Chiengallon"; in the Eastern District it would be called
"Coo-long", and in the neighbourhood of Albany, "Culong". Again at
Banbury, Busselton, and along the coast, the infant becomes "Duaing";
at Blackwood, "Noba"; at Champion Bay, Victoria District, "Nurellee";
while at Nickol Bay and in the Roeburn District it rejoices in the
cheerful name of "Yandeeyarrah."
Of the three principal languages used near the settled districts, it
may be said, in common, that they are rendered extremely difficult to
Europeans, by the—to our way of thinking—utter want of method in
arrangement of words in sentences.
An illustration of my meaning may, perhaps, best be given, by
submitting the following exercise, written by the late J. F. Armstrong,
Government Interpreter to the Western Australian tribes.
In English the exercise runs thus:—
"When we first landed here we wanted to be friendly with you
natives. Why were you so angry, why did you spear the white people? We
did not want to kill you or hurt you in any way. Why would you not be
friends and let us learn your language? We could shew you how to use a
gun, make nets, boats, and many other things; but you set yourselves
against us for years, until you found that we were the strongest,
otherwise you should have killed us all, as you killed the other white
To put that speech into a possible form, for comprehension for the
blacks, the words would have to be re-arranged and altered thus:—
"We at first here came reside we angry not, and so on; heart good
you to; you why us hate? Why you us with no cause speared? We you in
anger thought not beat, and so on. You why heart bad? We then your
language soon understand correctly. We then you gun good use shew or
tell; net and such like shew tell; boat and such like and numerous
nameless things good and common. But you us angry strong, winter summer
many. Then we really fought. You then said 'Ah! the whites strong.' If
we weak you long ago us kill all others like."
To give the reader an idea of how the words of a native language
look when printed the above may be literally translated thus:—
"Nganneel ingar-ungar nhalla bart nginnaga, nganneel gurrangbroo
na-broo; goordoo gwabba nurang-uk; nurang nyte-juk gnalleekuk dellut-a
bart Nyte-juk nurang nganneel in yaga yaga daanugga? Nganneel nureel en
gurrang Katteege-broo booma-broo na-broo. Nurang nyte-juk Goordoo
wendang? Nganneel garoo nureeluk mya gete kateega met in Nganneel garoo
nureel in gun gwabbyne wurrung-un net, na may wurrungun boat ware na
ware nyteby nyteby na gwabbyne ware warra. Garoo nureel nganneeluk
gurrang moordooit. Muggore, Beroke, boola, garoo ngallutta boondojil,
bukadge; mureel garoo wangga-Nah! Djanga moordoit jil. Minning ngullara
babba, nurang goord nganneel in booma, moondang-um-um waame-ma mogin."
The natives of Western Australia did not impress their first
visitors from England very favourably. In Captain William Dampier's
book, published in St, Paul's Churchyard, London in 1697, he describes
his visit to the North Western coasts and quaintly calls the aborigines
"The poor winking people of New Holland." In another part of his work
they are declared to be "the miserablest people in the world." To shew
his very poor opinion of them, the plain spoken Buccaneer assures his
readers that the Hottentots ("Hodmadods" he calls them), whom he allows
to be rather a nasty lot, were perfect gentlemen in comparison with the
objectionable folk he was describing. The "Hodmadods," it appeared were
possessed of houses, skin garments, sheep, poultry, and fruits of the
earth, whereas the unfortunate people who so excited his disgust
differed "but little from ye brutes." The worthy captain admits that
they were tall and straight bodied but the extreme thinness of their
legs was painful to behold. Also their "great heads, round foreheads
and big brows" did not altogether please him.
It seems to have been, however, the ocular eccentricities of the
poor creatures which most excited the circumnavigator's contemptuous
pity. "The, eyelids," he informs us, were "always half closed to keep
the flies out of their eyes, they being so troublesome, that no fanning
would keep them from coming to one's face, and without the assistance
of both hands to keep them off." He continues "they will creep into
one's nostrils and mouth too, if the lips are not shut very close." So
that "the poor natives from their infancy being thus annoyed with
these. insects they do never open their eyes as other people; and
therefore they cannot see far, unless they hold up their heads as if
they were looking at somewhat over them."
The "great bottle noses" of the poor Australians also much disgusted
the gallant voyager. And their "full lips and wide months," the two
front teeth wanting in all of them, men and women. I fancy Mr Dampier
was mistaken regarding the women—old and young, likewise irritated
him. Whether they drew them out he unfortunately "knew not." "Neither,"
he goes on to remark, in his unflattering description, "have they any
beards. They are long visaged, and of a very unpleasing aspect, having
no one graceful feature in their faces. Their hair is short, black, and
curls like that of the negroes, and not long and lank like the common
Indians. The colour of their skins is coal black, like that of the
negroes of Guinea."
The poor creatures appear in every way to have disappointed Dampier,
inasmuch they had no houses, "the earth being their bed and the Heaven
their canopy, and no food except a small sort of fish which they got by
making wares of stone across little coves or branches of the sea."
These they eked out with cockles, mussels, and periwinkles. Then
strange to say they broiled these on the coals, the only respectable
sort of thing he noticed about them; though as to how they got their
fires, he confesses his ignorance. Anything in the shape of work they
declined to perform, and when the crafty mariner gave to one an old
pair of breeches, to another a ragged shirt, and to a third a jacket
"that was scarce worth owning," expecting the savages in return to
"work heartily" at filling the ship's water barrels, he was chagrined
at their behaviour. As a matter of fact they stood "grinning at him and
at one another like so many monkeys!" In this it may be remarked they
were not quite such fools as they looked. Such an account as the famous
voyager gave, in England, of his visit to Western Australia, in
January, 1688, was not calculated to encourage emigration; nor, indeed,
was the record of his later experiences on the same coast eleven years
Dampier was regarded as one of the most intelligent and trustworthy
of the navigators of his time, and, because his descriptions are quaint
and forcible, I have quoted him rather fully. When, however, he states
solemnly that "the earth affords the natives no food at all," and that
"there is neither herb root pulse, nor any sort of grain, nor any sort
of bird or beast that they can catch or kill, having no instruments
wherewithal to do so"; it only proves how erroneous are apt to be
superficial or cursory observations. Dampier's indictment was, however,
chiefly directed against the country itself, the natives being treated
with a sort of amused commiseration.
Throughout Australia as in America, and elsewhere, the gradual
extinction of the natives seems to be one of the inevitable results of
civilization. Even where the most humane measures have been adopted, it
seems the flat of some inscrutable power that the savage race must
cease to exist. The surrounding conditions of life, mental and physical
being entirely changed, those who collect around townships and stations
slowly but surely follow the fate of their fellows who have previously
been killed in conflict with the first settlers. Upon the white man,
alas! the responsibility chiefly rests. His vicious habits are too
faithfully copied by the sons and daughters of the desert; drunkenness
and the diseases which follow in its train being a potent factor in
thinning the aboriginal ranks. It is their misfortune to have stood in
the way of colonization, and it is scarcely to be wondered at if they
have endeavoured to avenge occupation, invasion, and robbery of their
hunting grounds by deeds of bloody atrocity. It must not be forgotten,
however, that the colonists were the aggressors, and that they were
oftentimes guilty of crimes against the natives of even more ferocious
cruelty than those of the savages themselves. It is, indeed, a
humiliating reflection, that British colonization has (lone much to
destroy, and British Christianity but little to save, the aborigines of
Australia. Their degrading customs and brutal crimes have been put
forward as a justification for their speedy extinction; while their
nobler qualities, as true friends and faithful servants, have been
forgotten. If degradation alone be held to justify extinction, how many
subjects of Her Majesty might well be wiped off the face of the earth,
within a four-mile radius of the British Museum! Civilized human nature
is a strange and fantastic compound, whether it owes allegiance to the
Union Jack, the Stars and Stripes, the Tricolor, or any flag that
flies. Is it then to be marvelled at, that we find among these untaught
savages a wild conglomeration of wisdom and folly, nobility and
depravity, honour and treachery?
Many of our habits, doubtless, they refuse to imitate. They will
cook their food on the embers, but object to boiling or steaming; most
kinds of work they rather object to, but smoking and drinking are of
course readily acquired. Praiseworthy efforts have been made by both
Protestant and Catholic Missionaries among the natives of Western
Australia; the most successful of the missions being that started by
Bishop Salvado. This Monastic Institution at New Norcia—conducted by
Spanish monks—was that spoken of by Sir F. Napier Broome, G.C.M.G., in
a paper read by him to the members of the Royal Colonial Institute some
He says "Australian natives not only sing in church or study in
school, but are engaged side by side with the Monks in agriculture and
various other industries, also, besides playing the violin and other
instruments in the Mission Band, playing cricket in the Mission eleven
which visits Perth for an occasional match, and is generally victorious.
The New Norcia Mission merits much more notice than time allows me
to give to it. Its philanthropic and practical work among the
aborigines of the Colony, has now been carried on for more than a
generation year by year. With infinite pains, labours, and expense it
turns a number of the natives into Christian and civilized beings. The first principle of the work at New Norcia is that it shall go
beyond schooling and religious teaching. I have known a
full-blooded low type savage go forth from this Mission into civilized
life, not only a good Christian but an expert telegraphist."
Lady Barker also writes of this noble monastery of Spanish
Benedictines. She says:—
"Just below us lay a wide fertile valley, with a large and
prosperous village, or indeed town, mapped out by excellent roads and
streets, with neat little houses on each side. In the centre stands a
good-sized chapel, with good schools near it; and the large monastery
on the opposite side of the road seemed to have a splendid garden at
the back, stretching down to the river-side." Then she goes on to
describe:—"A regular string band, some eighteen or twenty strong, of
native boys; one playing a big double bass, others violins, a 'cello,
and so forth. Such nice little fellows, black as jet, but intelligent,
well-looking, and well-mannered." And she adds: "It is impossible to
imagine anything more devoted and beautiful than the life these good
fathers lead; and more encouraging than the results of their missions
work of about thirty-five years.
The success of these practical, earnest and well-directed efforts
proves that the Western Australian native is not the intractable human
brute which Captain Dampier supposed.
Passing over a period of a century and a half, during which time
many other navigators were more or less disappointed, if not disgusted,
by "the poor winking people of New Holland," I notice, that when in
June, 1829, a party of, officers and men, under Lieutenant Preston,
R.N., landed from H.M.S. Challenger at Browne Mount, Cockburn Sound,
for the purpose of exploring the Canning River and intervening country,
they were surprised at the absence of natives on this occasion. "But,"
says the writer of the account of the exploration, "there can be little
doubt we passed close to some of them, as we saw many of their wigwams
and many traces of themselves. It is more than probable they did not
like our appearance and avoided us; arid from the nature of the country
and their superior power of vision they have easy means of
concealment." It will be remembered that Dampier described them as
being almost blind, and as having no sort of but as shelter.
Then in September of the same year Lieutenant Preston describes his
meeting with the natives, having landed for exploring purposes from
H.M.S. Sulphur. He found them most friendly and intelligent, gave them
a swan, some rings, knives, beads, etc., and received in exchange some
spears and a stone hatchet. The shooting of a kangaroo rat astonished
them mightily, and they scattered in all directions at the report of
the gun. "In November," the Lieutenant says, "accompanied by Mr.
Collie, we examined Geography Bay, and came across thirty-five natives
near Port Vasse. They were most amiable, but shewed considerable
shrewdness in bartering, parting with knives, hatchets, and spears,
only after considerable arguments."
Ensign Dale, in August, 1831, directed an expedition to the eastward
of the Darling Mountains. He leaves Perth, we read, on the last day of
July, and proceeds to Thompson and Trimmer's on the Swan River; then he
picks up Mr. Brockman—his party consisting of a soldier, a
store-keeper, and the last-named gentleman. On the 7th of August they
discover Mount Mackie, which they named in compliment to the then
chairman of the court of quarter sessions. On the 10th, they arrived at
the Dyott Range, called after General Dyott, commanding the 63rd
Regiment; the same day finding a litter of native dogs, the mother
having left at their approach, and succeeded in bringing two of them
alive to Perth. This would have made an interesting little item of news
for the "Perth Enquirer." But the printing press had not yet arrived
from England. Near their bivouac they discover a cavern, the interior
being arched and resembling an ancient ruin. On one side was rudely
carved what was evidently intended to represent an image of the sun, it
being a circular figure about eighteen inches in diameter, emitting
rays from its left side, and having without the circle lines meeting
each other nearly at right angles. Close to this representation of the
sun, were the impressions of an arm and several hands. This spot they
consider to have been a native place of worship.
Again in the same year, we have the record of an excursion in a
whale-boat from Raine, Point to Point d'Estrecasteaux. This explorer,
whose name is not mentioned, formed very favourable impressions of the
natives, who were highly delighted at the catching of snappers with
fish hooks. The narrator goes on to say "Mitchell saw a man on the
beach about half a mile distant, and with a glass made him out to be a
native. I took my gun and walked towards him. After I had gone about
half way, and he saw no other person following me, he advanced and
seemed highly delighted when I made him understand I wished him to go
to the boat with me; and he very readily gave me his three spears and
throwing stick, (which were certainly better made than any I had seen
before), and carried my gun to the boat. He appeared astonished when we
made him understand that we came from the sea through the breakers.
After dressing him, giving him a stocking full of sugar, a little bread
and as much cloth as he chose to carry away, and making him understand
that he was to go and bring the whole tribe, he departed, but we did
not see him again, nor did he bring his friends."
Mr. J. Bussell appears about this time to have made a journey from
the Blackwood to the Vasse, and about this period traversed a tract of
country which seems to have enraptured the explorer, for he bursts into
"With daisies pied, and violets blue
And ladies smocks all, silver white,"
he exclaims speaking of the herbage he passed over. But immediately
after, moderating his transports he explains that "The flowers were not
perhaps precisely the same that characterized an English meadow; they
not the less beautiful in appearance. As usual, "nought but man was
vile," or at all events of rather an unlovely appearance for amidst
flowers varied in form, as brilliant in colour, and among grass which
was plentiful, and clothed with bright scarlet and yellow flowers, the
daisy, buttercup, and a purple marigold, the party met with "three
natives of smaller stature than was usual, and wearing no skins (sic).
Two were very ugly and brutal looking, but the third sprightly and good
humoured in appearance, accompanied with that "revolting laugh so
general with these savages." They apparently made themselves very
agreeable, and this leads Mr. Bussell to remark that the British
population about to flow westward towards the Vasse, may expect a
friendly reception from the blacks.
From the foregoing extracts, which I have selected from the original
journals in the British Museum, it will be allowed that the natives of
West Australia seem to possess an average degree of intelligence, and
cannot be said to belong to the very lowest rank of human beings. In
their natural state they cultivate only the qualifications of hunters,
and while able to endure privations and fatigue, they are quite
unfitted for continuous bodily labour like the whites. In this
connection it is laid down by Bishop Salvado, whose authority is
unimpeachable, that to condemn a native to hard labour is equivalent to
condemning him to death; and he found it necessary to divide the day's
employment, giving three hours to mental, and three hours to bodily
labour, the rest of the time being devoted to such relaxation as
gymnastics, games, music and dancing.
The native diseases do not seem to be amenable to the ordinary
course of medical treatment, and native remedies are frequently more
efficacious. They pine at times after their wild bush life, and this
"home sickness" is best allayed by allowing them an occasional hunting
Father Carrido, also an excellent authority on everything
appertaining to the natives, assures us that they make good stockmen,
teamsters and shepherds, and considers that an agricultural life is the
easiest and most natural path towards civilization.
Regarding the native girls, Mrs. Camfield, superintendent of the
school at Annesfield, Albany, reports that they have a great fondness
for music. One young woman, she mentions, who was sent to Sydney,
played the harmonium in St. Phillip's Church, and gained her living by
teaching. Washing, cooking, and sewing are also very readily acquired
by the young women under Mrs. Camfield's care, and many of her charges
have left her to marry respectable civilized natives and become
In the north of the colony, natives largely supply labour on the
settlements and in the Pearl Fisheries, and are thus gradually becoming
It is, therefore permissible to hope that, in the case of our poor
aboriginal, he will not, as all other seem doomed to do—die out. The
conviction that he will is, very strong among the whites, and is,
probably, mainly based upon the sad experience of many, who are
witnesses to the frightful havoc wrought among the black, by that
terrible gift of civilization—alcoholic drink.
It is often erroneously believed that man in a savage state is
endowed with an absolute individual freedom of action, whereas in
reality he is subject to a complete system of laws, which not only
enslave thought, but allow no scope for intellectual or moral
development. These traditional regulations and superstitions keep the
Western Australian natives in a condition of barbarism, and cause them
to violate many of the most sacred usages of life. For example the
female sex are condemned to a degradation which is hopeless, simply
because, they are defenceless; and this not the result of momentary
caprice, but enforced by unwritten traditional laws, are as binding as
those of the Bible or the Koran.
The same, or similar traditions, have on the other hand, taught the
children of the bush how to provide for their natural wants, and
well-armed intelligent white men will die of hunger, in the desert,
where the native will find a sufficiency of food.
One of the most interesting of their laws is that of marriage, which
is founded on the fact that they are divided into certain great
families, all the members of which bear the family name as a second one
in addition to their own. According to Sir George Grey the principal
families are the following:—Ballaroke, Idondarup, Ngatak, Nagarnook,
Nogonyuk, Mongalung, and Narrangur.
Then in different districts the members of these families give a
local name to the one to which they belong, which is understood in that
district to indicate some particular branch of the principal family.
The common local names are:—Didaroke, Gwerinjoke, Maleoke,
Waddaroke, Djekoke, Kotejumino, Namyungo, and Rgungaree.
Strangely enough these family names are common all over the
continent. They are perpetuated and spread throughout the country by
two remarkable laws.
1st.—That children of either sex always take their mother's family
2nd.—That a man may not marry a woman of his own family name.
These singular laws exist among North American Indians, and a
well-known writer reminds me that a similar law of consanguinity was
probably inferred in Abraham's reply to Abimelech (Genesis, chapter xx,
verse 12), "And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my
father, but not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife."
Each Australian native family has its Kobang, or crest. Some animal
or vegetable is taken as the sign, and in recognition of this the owner
of the Kobang will never kill the animal to which it refers, should he
find it asleep while his family vegetable can only be gathered under
certain condition, and at special seasons of the year.
Again the North American Indians have a similar custom of taking
animals, at all events, for their coats of arms. Thus the Iroquois have
the turtle, and the Hurons the bear. Among civilized people in Europe,
this custom, as we know, only exists among the upper classes. It is
strange, indeed, to reflect that while the despised blackboy proudly
owns and knows all about the cognizance of his ancestors, in shape
perchance of Squirrel, Bandicoot, Iguana, or Kangaroo, the white
settler's knowledge of heraldry is probably limited to a hazy idea that
the lion, and the unicorn, are somehow connected with Her Majesty, the
Another very curious law is that which obliges families connected by
blood, upon the female side, to unite for the common purpose of defence
and avenging crimes. The family name, as I have said, is that of the
mother; and as the father may probably have several wives, all of
different families, so his children are liable to be divided against
cacti other by deadly feuds. This law would itself prove a hindrance to
any people emerging from a savage state. Thus it will be seen that the
ties of blood-relationship are as nothing, compared with the bond of
family; and one of the effects of a father bearing a different name
from his children, is that a district of country seldom remains; for
two generations successively in the same family. It is not easy to
successfully pursue an enquiry into matters of this kind, because
another aboriginal law forbids them ever to mention the name of a
deceased person, male or female.
Although the natives do not cultivate the soil—subsisting entirely
by hunting and fishing, or on wild roots and fruits—it must not
therefore be supposed that they have no idea of property in land. Every
tribe has its own district, and any intrusion for hunting, or other
purpose, by another tribe, is liable to be resisted by force of arms.
These particular sections of their tribal districts are recognized
as the property of individual members, as are also the wild animals
found upon it; and each "landowner" is naturally very jealous of his
rights, and pugnacious in upholding them. Trespass for hunting purposes
is punished with death if the hunter is caught in the act; if the
trespasser is tracked by footmarks, and so discovered, he is killed, if
alone and in a defenceless state., but if he is attended by his
friends, justice is satisfied with a warning spear-thrust through the
thigh. The possession of friends has the tendency, as among more
civilized folk, to somewhat mitigate the rigour of the law!
Death from natural causes is scarcely recognized by the savages of
Western Australia. Murderers, by violent means, and sorcerers, by
causing diseases, are held to alone prevent the poor people from living
for ever. Someone is therefore always to blame; and this belief
naturally keeps the survivors pretty busy in seeking out these same
sorcerers and murderers, in order to avenge the deaths of their
friends. Another principle is that if the guilty persons are not found,
all his relatives are held to be implicated, so that satisfaction is
generally obtained from someone!
If there be any hesitation, on the part of some abnormally
tender-hearted relative, to undertake this holiest office of revenge,
the ladies loudly remind him of this duty. He is, so to say, boycotted
by his womankind. His wives will have nothing to say to him, the old
women scold him, and as for the single girls they will not even glance
at him. The funeral therefore is scarcely over before the average
savage seizes his spears, collects his friends, and starts upon the
warpath. The party sometimes find the culprit, and despatch him there
and then; but if they fail, their anger becomes so inflamed that they
slay any unfortunate native who falls into their bloodthirsty hands.
Among the West Kimberly natives a curious method is in vogue for
discovering the whereabouts of a murderer. The corpse is fixed in the
fork of a tree, and in the ground underneath a number of small sticks
are stuck pointing north, south, east and west. After the lapse of a
few days the friends carefully examine these, and from the droppings of
putrid matter which adheres to them, determine in which direction the
guilty man is living. I am not aware that this practice is adopted in
Wife stealing is punished with the death of the seducer, or one of
his relatives. Minor punishments consist of spear-thrusts through
certain portions of the body, such as thigh, calf, arm etc., a
different part being assigned for all ordinary crimes.
Duels are common between individuals who have private quarrels to
settle; a certain number of spears being thrown until honour is
satisfied. They pay little, attention to these wounds, but they soon
heal owing to their naturally abstemious habits, Sir George Grey
mentions an amusing and striking instance of their apathy, in
connection with a fight, in what was then the village of Perth. He
says:—"A native received a wound in that portion of his frame which is
only presented to the, enemy when in the act of flight; and the spear,
which was barbed, remained sticking in the wound. A gentleman who was
watching the fray regarded the man with looks of great commiseration,
which the native perceiving came up to him, holding the spear (still in
the wound) in one hand, turned round so as to expose the injury he had
received, said, in the most moving voice
'Poor fellow! Sixpence! Give it um!'"
Regarding Native marriage, I should mention that a female child is
betrothed, in her infancy, to some native of another family,
necessarily very many years older than herself. He watches over her
jealously, and she goes to live with him as soon as she feels inclined.
If she possesses personal charms she has anything but a happy young
womanhood, for even if she gives no sort of encouragement whatever to
her admirers, attempts are pretty nearly sure to be made to carry her
off. Encounters resulting, she is in considerable peril, for each
combatant orders her to follow him and throws a spear at her if she
refuses. The youth of a woman of any pretensions to good looks is thus
often full of wanderings and captures and wounds, not the least of
which latter are dealt her by the jealous wives of her abductors, who
possibly find little difficulty in persuading themselves that she must
have given their lords some encouragement. Lovely woman is given to
this sort of thing, both in the hovels of the poor and the palaces of
To use the word., of the author quoted above—"Rarely do you see a
form of unusual grace and elegance but it is marked and scarred by the
furrows of old wounds, and many a female wanders several hundred miles
from the home of her infancy."
From the nature of its food a black child needs very strong teeth;
hence the mother suckles them for two or even three years, and families
seldom exceed four or five in number.
Polygamy is general, and women are so highly valued to be very
frequently stolen. This is, however, chiefly because they perform all
the laborious work, and collect a great portion of the food.
Alas! woman's rights are shamefully neglected, and no one takes her
part whether innocent or guilty—the general principle being, "If I
beat your mother, then you beat mine; if I beat your wife, then you
beat mine," and, so forth. Yet these poor wild creatures are not devoid
of modesty. Their rules as to seclusion correspond remarkably with the
law of Moses, as written in Leviticus (Chapters XII. and XV.), while
another Mosaic law—that of circumcision—is observed by the men.
The sympathies of travellers have been much wasted upon Aborigines,
on the score of a supposed scarcity of food. As a rule they have an
abundance, although they may run a little short in the height of the
rainy season, or when they are overcome with laziness in very hot
weather. The following list of articles, forming the food of the West
Australian, is from the Journal of the last-named explorer:—"Six sorts
of kangaroo, twenty-nine sorts of fish, one kind of whale, two species
of seal, wild dogs, three kinds of turtle, emus, wild turkeys, two
species of opossum, eleven kinds of frogs, four kinds of fresh water
shell fish, every sort of sea shell fish, except oysters, four kinds of
edible grubs, eggs of birds awl lizards, five animals of the rabbit
class, eight sorts of snakes, seven sorts of iguanas, nine species of
mice and rats, twenty-nine sorts of roots, seven kinds of fungis, four
sorts of gum, two sorts of manna, two species of by-yu, or the nut of
the zamia palm, two species of mesembry and themum, two kinds of small
nuts, four sorts of wild fruit, besides the seeds of several plants.
The above can hardly be called a starvation bill of fare, although, of
course, it does not look very appetizing to the European.
The equipment of the Blackboy consists of his kiley (boomerang),
hatchet, and dow-uk (a short heavy stick), which are stuck in his belt
of opossum fur; also his different spears for war and chase—which,
with his throwing stick, he carries in his hand. In the colder parts of
the continent he sometimes wears a warm kangaroo skin cloak. He also
occasionally carries a wooden shield, curving inward at the ends.
The wife, who always follows her lord at a respectful distance, is
usually in heavy marching order. A long stick is carried in her hand,
and a bag on her shoulders, in the top of which is placed any child who
cannot walk. The other contents of this useful receptacle are numerous
and heterogeneous, comprising the stock-in-trade of the family.
There will be a flat stone to pound roots with, pieces of quartz for
making spears and knives with, and larger stones for hatchets. Prepared
cakes of gum for making and mending weapons. Kangaroo sinews for
manufacture of spears, and to sew with. The shell of a mussel to cut
hair with, different small stone-knives, pipe clay, red and yellow
ochre. These are a few of her belongings; and she likewise carries
spare skins for cloaks, &c., between the bag and her sorely tried back.
The natives are very skilful hunters, and it is an interesting and
beautiful spectacle to watch one of these swarthy savages on the trail,
with bright eye, and swift noiseless footsteps. Sometimes they join in
company for the chase, which if kangaroo are hunted is
"Yowart-a-Kaipoon." These public battues are governed by certain rules.
The invitation issues from the native owner of the soil, and the first
spear which strikes determines whose property the game is to be, no
matter how slight the wound. The animals are surrounded, and each man
has his position assigned; then the circle gradually closes in oil the
terrified creatures, but few of which escape. The native hunting cries
are wild and strange, always commencing with a hard consonant, such as
"Kau," or "Koo-ee." They are thus audible much further than our "Hullo"
or "Ho," beginning as the latter do with a soft aspirate. Kangaroos are
also caught in nets, and pitfalls, and the hunter will sometimes follow
up their tracks until they are so weary as to be approachable. This
latter mode requires the very highest class of skill and the greatest
endurance; for which reason only a few of the most renowned sportsmen
can perform the feat.
So far as their cooking is concerned they cannot exactly be
considered epicures. Sometimes they roast the kangaroo whole in a pit
which they dig for the purpose; and occasionally cut it up and broil
the portion piecemeal. The blood, entrails, and marrow are considered
delicacies, and as such are reserved for the head men of the tribe.
Of their fishing, our native friends are justly somewhat proud. The
captures are effected in three different ways; spearing, entrapping in
a weir, and netting. In the first method they show marvellous skill,
whether in rivers or the sea. They scarcely ever miss their aim.
Regarding the weirs they shew considerable sagacity in hitting upon the
exact place; of course constructing them at low water.
Probably the greatest joy which a coast Native knows is the
discovery of a stranded whale upon his property. As a rule he is very
greedy over his food, not being greatly given to sharing it with
others. Such unusual abundance, however, changes his whole nature. He
lights fires, and invites his friends from near and far.
Then, I am sorry to say, a most disgusting orgie sets in. The host
and guests continue feasting for weeks, knowing no regular meal times
but literally continually cutting, and for ever coming to the attack
again. The revellers have been known to stay by the mammoth's carcase
long after it has become quite putrid, and even it is etiquette to
present each guest at parting with an evil-smelling chunk, to convey to
absent friends, whose urgent private affairs have kept them away from
the delicious banquet.
Adult wild dog is occasionally eaten for a change, but puppies are
an ever—welcome treat. As the dog is, however, with the blacks, as
among the whites, frequently trained up to be the slave of man, the
pups are often spared; and revolting as it appears to our notions,—wet
nursed by the women of the family. Australia being the land of
contraries, black swans and so forth, we need not be perhaps, too much
surprised at this approach to a reversal of the history of Romulus and
Like the leading citizens in a well known city, the West Australian
native is a great admirer of the luscious turtle, and are not surpassed
by the New Yorkers in their appreciation of terrapin. The latter they
cook whole, shell and all, in the ashes; then removing the bottom
shell, the upper one serves as a dish. Most delicious of all, however,
is accounted the emu, and hence it follows that heavy penalties are
pronounced, by the law-makers of the nation, against any one eating
this bird but themselves. I think I remember having heard that any
sturgeon, caught in the Thames, belongs to the Lord Mayor of London,
which would be a parallel case.
Cockatoos are considered another great delicacy, are often killed
with the boomerang. To see this strange weapon swooping, wildly among a
flock of these birds,—spinning and whirling and slaying,—is one of
the oddest sights imaginable.
One of the dexterous feats which Sir George Grey recounts is the
killing of a bird as it flies from the nest. Two men are in it, one of
whom, placing himself under the nest, transfixes the latter with a
spear. As a rule the creature is only frightened or very slightly
wounded, and is slain by the unerring dow-uk of the other hunter as it
quits the tree.
In opossum hunting the savage climbs the tree, which he notches into
footholds as he proceeds; then either smokes or prods the animal out of
his hole, when he seizes it by the tail and dashes it to the
ground—always careful, however, to avoid being bitten.
Frog catching, when the swamps are partly dried up, is usually the
duty or pastime of the women. It is no easy task, however, for while
poking about with their long sticks in the mud, they are almost
devoured with flies and mosquitos. This is pretty rough on these poor,
wild, dusky damsels of the Desert.
Grubs, which are extremely palatable, are procured from the grass
tree; and likewise in an excrescence of the wattle tree. They are eaten
either raw or roasted but seem to be greatly improved by cooking. I am
told they have a nut-like flavour, but I never had the courage to
In addition to their culinary duties the women have to dig for the
various roots they dress for their husbands, and they become very
expert in this occupation. When found the roots are sometimes pounded
and mixed with a kind of earth, and sometimes roasted plain.
The Bu-yu nut is also collected and eaten with relish, which proves
the great difference which exists between the Australian and European
stomach, for so violent a cathartic is this nut, that some of Captain
Cook's crew who ate it dearly paid for their experience with their
lives. There is, however, a pulp which encases the inner kernel, which,
after certain preparation. can be used as an agreeable and nutritious
article of food. Besides those I have glanced at there are innumerable
other native dishes, products of the earth and of the chase, with which
I will not trouble my courteous reader.
The Australian is a very thick person, and hardness of the native
skull is brought home to the European, who for the first time sees him
using his head, as we sometimes use the thigh, to break obstinate
pieces of stick across. I have seen them thus splinter tough boughs of
nearly the thickness, of a policeman's truncheon!
Next to this extraordinary hardness of cranium the extreme dexterity
with which they use their feet would excite the surprise of the
observant white man. They will pick up anything from the ground as
readily with their toes as we can with the hands; and as for climbing,
they will "swarm up" a tree, a hundred feet high, in as smart a manner
as an English sailor mounts the rigging of a ship. Nor does it matter
to the climber whether the trunk of a tree is slender enough for him to
embrace it or not. I have seen black fellows literally walk up a
big tree by throwing a kind of lasso round it, and across their
shoulders, and then lying well back, twisting the rope of vegetable
fibre higher and higher as they ascend until in the giddy height they
land safely among the boughs at the top.
With all his physical strength, however, the poor Australian savage
is but a short lived being. Not only are there no centenarians among
them, but Englishmen, who have studied the natives attentively for a
lifetime, have assured me that it is extremely rare for a black man to
attain the age of fifty. The women age at a very early period of life,
and little wonder. Moreover, with out wishing to be ungallant or
hypercritical, I may say that any living being more repulsive, than the
average old "gin", can scarcely exist on the face of a globe.
The childhood of the little black, who has escaped his parents
occasional infanticidal proclivities, is probably the "jolliest"—to
use a word well understood by English school-boys-which can be well
imagined. Do what he will the young hopeful of the wilds is never
chastised. Solomon's injunction about the rod has no place in the code
of the Australian Aboriginal. The boy, who is rather brother than
father to the man, (for the men are practically children all their
lives) does literally seems right in his own eyes. The crime of
ill-treatment of children is quite unknown among these poor uncivilized
folk, who fortunately for us do not read English police news, or they
might occasionally wonder how their white brothers and sisters could bc
such savages as to maltreat helpless infants, as is but too common. In
wife beating, however, they certainly manage to hold their own, and
thus possibly manage to relieve their ruffled feelings. Yet am I
assured that even this almost universal rule of marital brutality is
not without its exception. White men, who have lived among the blacks,
have assured me that there are henpecked husbands even in the
Australian desert, and they further allege that the energetic spouses
of the victims, instead of exciting disgust among their neighbours, are
looked upon with more than ordinary respect; being, indeed, in some
cases, run away with by men, envious of the possession of such
strong-minded ladies. This is very encouraging.
In his admirable play of the Mourning Bride, far too little known to
modern readers, Congreve has the well known lines:—
"Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast,"
"To shatter rocks and rend the solid oak."
If the dramatist overdoes it a little in the second line, he fall,
short of the literal truth in the first. The Australian savage is
devouringly fond of music, but it has sometimes the reverse of a
soothing effect upon him, for instance, when it takes the form of a war
song. During the singing of one of these he rushes madly up and down,
stamping and jumping in an ever increasing frenzy.
And yet to the eye, when the words of one of these spirit stirring
ditties are coldly set up in type, there seems but scanty material out
of which to get up so much superheated steam.
Here is a specimen of a well-known war song.
"Yu-do dan na
Nan-do danna! (Staccato!)
Goor doo danna
Boon ga-la dan-na (with a shriek)
Gonogo dan na,
Narra-ra danna," &c., &c.
The last lines being hissed and shrieked with energy indescribable.
All this, being interpreted, means—
" Spear his forehead,
Spear his breast,
Spear his liver,
Spear his heart,
Spear his loins,
Spear his shoulder,
Spear his thigh,
Spear his ribs," &c., &c.
When we consider our very slight knowledge of their language,
feelings and passions, it is not surprising that we fail to appreciate
the niceties of their music and poetry. Nevertheless it is a fact that
an elderly and spiteful female, who possesses musical and poetic gifts,
can very readily set scores of warriors, thirsting for each others
blood. Mr. Threlkeld, in his Australian Grammar, says:—
"There are poets among them who compose songs which are sung and
danced to by their own tribes in the first place; after which other
tribes learn the song and dance which passes from tribe to tribe
throughout the country, until from change of dialect not one of the
original words remain."
A new song is highly appreciated, and a savage who has travelled to
distant parts of the Continent, some times brings back a few of the
latest, with which, no doubt, he greatly "astonishes the natives!"
Certainly these effusions are very savage and discordant-sounding to
European ears, but of course, on the other hand, our music is insipid
and ridiculous to the aboriginal taste and estimation.
An imitation by a native of an English song never fails to produce
astonishment and shrieks of laughter. Indeed, all other matters besides
music, the black boy regards us as all extremely absurd race of
mortals. Perhaps he is right.
The only accompaniment to native songs which I have heard, is the
beating of a board or clapping of hands. Any remarkable circumstance
which occurs, is, as used to be the case with us, perpetuated in a
Sir George Grey tells us that when Miago, the first native who ever
quitted Perth, was taken in H.M.S. Beagle in 1838, the following was
composed by a relative, and constantly sung by his mother during her
"Ship bal win-jal bat tar dal gool-an-een,
Ship bal win-jal bat-tai dal gool-an-een," &c., &c.
"Whither is the lone ship wandering?
Whither is the lone ship wandering &c., &c.
Then, on his safe return, the same poet commemorated his voyage
"Kan de maar-o, Kan de maar-a-lo
Tsail-omar ra, tsail-o mar-ra-lo," &c., &c.
"Unsteadily shifts the wind oh! Unsteadily shifts the wind oh!
The sails-oh handle oh! The sails-oh handle oh &c., &c.
It is impossible to describe the strange wild music of these swarthy
denizens of the forest; but the abundant evidence of passion and
feeling which it expresses should forbid too hasty a judgment of a
people of whom we really know so little.
But while it is difficult to describe the music so as to convey
anything like an adequate idea of its effect, especially as many of
their songs are simply deep guttural unmusical notes, it is within my
power to give to the public the "words and music" of several of their
more melodious songs. These have been supplied to me by a resident in
Western Australia, who has also appended to each a few remarks as to
the circumstances under which they were sung.
"Some time ago," he says, "one of the white colonists, held in high
esteem by one of the native tribes near Guigin, was presented by them
with what may be best described as "tribal rights" (corresponding to
citizenship) over certain lands. During the ceremony of presentation
was sung the following song, and it may be explained that "Wilbeniah"
was the name of the land, and "Yandiwirrie" the name by which the
natives knew their friend. When they sang the first word they pointed
to the land, and when they sang the second they pointed to the adopted
tribesman, indicating by this probably, that the land was his, and that
he belonged to the land."
Wil-be-ni-ah, Wil-be-ni-ah, . .
Two natives were married, and, which is not always the case, both
parties were great favourites, and wonderful to relate very young.
After the marriage, a party of natives, male and female, belonging to
their tribe gathered round the fire in front of their hut and sang the
following measure, scores of times: "Harinan" was the name of the
Benedict, and "Woorinan" that of his Beatrice. The air is not
unmusical, and the men's voices blended with those of the women very
Ha-ri-nan, oh! Ha-ri-nan, oh! Ha-ri-nan,
Ha-ri-nan, oh! Woo-ri-nan, oh!
Woo-ri-nan, oh! Woo-ri-nan, oh! Woo-ri-nan, oh!
The next is a different class of song altogether, being one sung at
a corroborie, or native dance. Like all native ditties, it is repeated
almost ad infinitum. It may be said to be divided into two
parts, the first terminating at the asterisk, and being sung very
smoothly—the second, which is largely composed of what, in music, are
called "accidentals," is sung in a very loud excited, staccato manner,
and its effect may better be appreciated by the singer speaking the
notes rather than singing them. What the words mean I was never able to
learn. No inducement was potent enough to win from my black friends
even the faintest hint as to the meaning of the, song. They merely
laughed, and said, "nothing tell 'em." I am, therefore, unable to
furnish a translation."
Ah, bar-ra-bahn-di-duhr-rah bin-rin-goo-rah, Ah. (repeat six times)
The Western Australian aboriginal does not sing in his; own language
only, nor does he sing only when he is pleased. I have seen two native
women fight with their long, thick, hard wood staffs, accompanying
their thwacking with songs in which they alternately cursed and derided
each other in the choicest English and native Billingsgate. Indeed, it
may be said that whatever passion or feeling seizes them, the black
fellow must express it in song, and this leads, of course, to the
improvising of such as the following recitative which was the result of
a refusal to give a notoriously drunken, lazy native woman sixpence to
enable her to indulge her propensity by drinking. She professed to be
hungry and to want nalgo (food), but she had at that time sufficient
food in the bag slung at her back to feed her for a week, Finding her
entreaties were, unavailing, she sang the following to me several
times—"Wongy" means "say" or "promise," and that I had promised her
something was one of her pleasant little fictions."
What for you white fellow wongy you gib'em chickpence, and you
Poor old debbil me, poor granny me, nothing nalgo, and want'em
you big fellow lie tell'em.
Regarding the religion of the aborigines, the evidence is somewhat
conflicting. Certain it is that their legends are full of evil spirits
and malignant demons which destroy men, women, and children. I think it
is very doubtful if they have any knowledge of a beneficient God or
righteous Creator. "Mullion" is a wicked being who lives in a high tree
and seizes black fellows to devour in a higher abode, for he lives in
the Milky Way.
Then there are some female demons who are much more cruel and
implacable; one particularly who impales the poor black with her spear
and carries him off wriggling and writhing to her den, where she roasts
and eats him.
Then there is a famous creature called the Bunyip, a terrific
monster, somewhat like our sea serpent. It is some fifty feet long,
with a snake-like head and inhabits lagoons, rivers and swamps. The Bunnyar is another variety of the
Bunyip—,which, as an
American might say,—is a good deal like its horrible brother-demon,
only considerably more so.
From the peculiarities of this evil beast, it is probable that the
stories of the alligators in the North of Australia and in Queensland
have penetrated to other parts of the Continent, and these formed the
model upon which this terrible water demon has been constructed.
, is in some districts a word which signifies the common ancestor
of the black folk, and may bc taken to indicate a beneficient deity,
and there are periodical celebrations and ceremonies which seem to
contain the idea of a supposed conflict between good and evil
It is, of course, unknown whether such religious observances have
crossed over from Asia, or were invented on Australian soil.
Be that as it may, Christianity, the most potent engine of
civilization, has undoubtedly proved its efficacy once more on the
history of man in raising some of these wild natives so that they abhor
their old degrading superstitions.
The aboriginal funeral ceremonies vary somewhat in different parts
of the Continent, as may be well supposed over such a vast area.
For the readers' information on this lugubrious subject, I will set
down briefly two or three description; culled from various sources.
The first funeral we will refer to took place at Perth in June,
1839. There were but few men present, as they were watching the widows
in Perth. The two blackboys, Yeuna and Warrup, were digging the grave,
which, as usual, extended east and west. They commenced by digging with
their sticks and hands several holes in a straight line, and then
united them. All the white sand was thrown carefully into two heaps,
and these heaps were situated one at the head and the other at the foot
of the hole, whilst the dirty coloured sand was thrown into two other
heaps, one on each side. The grave was very narrow, just wide enough to
admit the body. During the process of digging—an insect having been
thrown up—its motions were watched with intense interest, and as it
thought proper to crawl off in the direction of Guildford, strong proof
was furnished that the sorcerer resided there; for as I have already
said, there must be a sorcerer somewhere to account for a death.
When the grave was completed, they set fire to some dried leaves and
twigs, and throwing them in, soon had a large blaze. Old Weeban knelt
on the ground at the foot of the grave, his head bowed to the earth in
profound attention. He was watching to discover in which direction the
"boyl-yas," or the aforesaid sorcerer, when drawn from the earth by the
fire, would take flight.
At last he indicated a due east direction with his spear, and a
smile of satisfaction irradiated the faces of the young men, for they
knew that it was towards Guildford they must go to avenge the foul
witchcraft which had slain their brother-in-law.
The next part of the proceedings was to take the body from the
females. They raised it in a cloak, the poor old mother making no
objection to the removal, but passionately kissing the cold rigid lips,
which she could never press again. The corpse was then lowered into the
grave, and seated upon a bed of leaves, which had been laid there
directly the fire was extinguished, the face being turned towards the
east. The women grouped together, sobbed forth their mournful songs,
Whilst the men placed small green boughs upon the body, until they had
more than half filled up the, grave. Then cross pieces of wood were
fixed in the opposite sides of the grave, green boughs were placed on
these, and the earth from the two side heaps thrown in until the grave
was completed, which then, owing to the heaps at the head and foot,
presented the appearance of three graves nearly similar in size and
form lying due east and west.
The men having completed their task, the women came with bundles of
blackboy-tops which they had gathered, and laid these down on the
central heap, so as to give it a green and exceedingly pleasing
appearance. So much for the first funeral.
The corpse at another obsequy (this time on the Vasse River), was
that of a native herdsman, who had been murdered. His master
writes:—"The funeral was a wild and fearful ceremony. Before I had
finished in the stock-yard, the dead man was already removed and on its
way to the place of interment, about a quarter of a mile distant. I was
guided to the spot by the shrill wailing of the females, as they
followed mourning after the two men who bore the body in their arms.
The dirge, as distance blended all the voices, was very plaintive, nor
did the distance destroy the harmony. Some of the chants were really
beautiful; but, perhaps, rather harsh for our ears. They produced a
terrible jarring on my brain, and caused tears to flow even from the
eyes of children, who knew little of the cause of the lament.
At length the procession reached the place, and there was a short
silence. When the body touched the ground a piercing shriek was given;
and, as this died away into a chant, some of the elder women lacerated
their scalps with sharp bones, until the blood ran down their faces in
streams. The eldest of the bearers stepped forward and proceeded to dig
the grave. I offered to dig the grave, but they refused: the digging
stick was the proper tool. When with this the earth was loosened, it
was thrown out in showers with the hands, forming, in the same line
with the grave, two elongated banks.
At length the grave was finished, and they then threw some dry
leaves into it and kindled a fire. When this had burnt, they placed the
corpse beside the grave and gashed their thighs saying—
"I have brought blood!"
They stamped their feet forcibly on the ground while repeating this,
and splashed the blood around them. Then, wiping their wounds with
wisps of grass, they took up the dead man. A loud scream ensued, and
they gently lowered the body into the grave, resting it on the back.
After that they filled up the grave with soft brushwood, and piled
logs on this to a considerable height; after which they constructed a
hut over the top of the wood work. Thus ended the funeral number two.
The third, and closing account, I take from the sketch of a funeral at
King George's Sound.
The death ceremonies in the neighbourhood of King George's Sound are
invariably accompanied by specially loud lamentations. A grave is dug
about four feet long and three wide, and perhaps also a yard in depth.
The earth that is removed is arranged on one side, in the form of a
crescent. At the bottom of the hole is placed some bark, and then some
green boughs; and upon this is laid the body, ornamented and enveloped
in its cloak, with the knees bent up to the breast, and the arms
crossed. Over the body are heaped more green boughs and bark, and the
whole is then filled in with earth. Green boughs are finally placed
over the earth, and upon these are deposited the spears, knife, and
hammer of the deceased, together with the ornaments that belonged to
him; his throwing-stick on one side and his kiley and dowak on the
other side of the mound. The mourners then carve circles in the bark of
the trees that grow near the rave and lastly, making a small fire in
front, they gather small boughs, and carefully brush away any portion
of earth that may adhere to them. Their faces are coloured black or
white in blotches across the fore. head, round the temple, and down the
cheek bones; and these marks are worn as mourning for a considerable
time. They also cut the end of the nose, and scratch it for the purpose
of producing tears.
There is thus, it will be seen, considerable diversity in the burial
rites of the different tribes. One point, however, which they all
appear to attend to, is the careful investigation regarding the boyl-yas, or sorcerer, who has caused the death. They are always
objects of mysterious dread, having power, they believe, to transport
themselves through the air in invisible form. Sometimes another monster
is to blame, called the wan-gul. It resides in fresh water, and
usually attacks females, who pine away and die under its baleful
It has been said elsewhere that the physical features of Western
Australia resemble, in many respects, those of the Holy Land. Both
suffer from periodical draughts, and largely depend upon wells for
water. Then both have fertile and smiling pastures, side by side with
barren sandy wastes. Both have a warm summer, and a pleasant sea-breeze
near the coast, and both have largely a limestone foundation. Still
more curious to notice is the similarity in some points between the
customs of the Aborigines and those of the ancient Jews.
Some of the superstitious rites just referred to remind us of the
passage in I. Kings, chap. xviii, verse 28:—"And they cried aloud, and
cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the
blood gushed out upon them."
Then again, Jeremiah xlvii, 37:—"For every head shall be bald, and
every beard clipped: and upon all the hands shall be cuttings," etc. In
many parts of Australia the natives cut off portions of their beards at
funerals, in addition to the lacerations.
Again, in Deuteronomy xiv, 1, it is written, "Ye shall not cut
yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead."
Evidently the prohibition referred to an ancient Jewish, as well as an
idolatrous custom. It is also very singular to remark that when the
women among the Aborigines do cut and disfigure their faces for the
dead, it is always between the eyes, just as was explicitly forbidden
Elsewhere the Prophet Isaiah reprehends the custom of remaining
among the graves, which is, to this day a prevalent custom among the
natives of Western Australia.
"A people which provoke me to anger," etc., "which remain among the
graves and lodge in the monuments."
The native form of taking an oath also closely resembles that
described in Genesis, where "the servant put his hand under the thigh
of Abraham, his master."
Australian mothers, again, name their children from some
circumstance connected with their birth, or early infancy; just as in
Genesis xxx, 11, Leah said, "A troop cometh, and she called his name
I have already referred to the practice of circumcision, which is
common in many parts, from St. Vincent's Gulf to the Gulf of
I have likewise alluded to the interesting coincidences, but make no
attempt to draw inferences therefrom. With but meagre data and
inadequate knowledge, the subject is unapproachable. If, however, these
primitive people should have received from the common Creator certain
laws for the guidance of their lives, does it not furnish food for
reflection? It is scarcely necessary that I should disclaim any
intention of identifying my aboriginal friends with the Lost Tribes!
I have already mentioned the kiley, or boomerang, as a native
weapon; but this most extraordinary implement deserves special
attention. Its possession alone, I contend, redeems the Australian
savage from his usually assigned place at the foot of the human ladder.
Doubtless other nations—notably the Africans and Indians—have an
instrument of somewhat similar form, but the main characteristic is
wanting, namely, the return flight. Its usual form is a piece of
hard wood with the curve of a parabola, about two feet long, two and a
half inches broad, one third of an inch thick, and rounded at the
extremities. One side is flat, the other rounded, and it is brought to
a bluntish edge. It is discharged by the hand at one end, the curved
edge being forward and the flat side upwards. After advancing some
distance and ascending slowly in the air with a quick rotatory motion,
it begins to retrograde, often falling on the ground behind the thrower.
As long as the boomerang retains the forward impetus and catches the
air as it will naturally do—on the flat side, it continues to rise.
When, however, the movement imparted to it ceases, it begins to fall,
and its, course of falling will be in the line of least resistance,
which is in the direction of the edge that lies obliquely towards the
thrower. It will therefore fall back, in the same manner as a kite when
the string is suddenly broken is seen to do, when it falls back for a
short distance. But the kite, having received no rotation to cause it
to continue in the same plane of descent, soon falls, in a series of
fan curves, to the ground, as also will the boomerang if it loses its
Now it is evident that this apparently marvellous property of the
boomerang (founded of course on a well-known law of projectiles) must
be of great advantage to the natives, who largely use it for throwing
among flocks of fowl on rivers, lakes, and marshes. When, after
striking or missing its object in the water, instead of being lost it
returns back to its owner.
There are several varieties of boomerang, but they all follow this
law, being of course to some extent dependent on the skill of the
person wielding it. Could any device be more ingenious.
I have often heard it averred that the natives are utterly wanting
in a sense of humour, and therefore are certainly irredeemable savages.
Well, I do not know the exact line by which humour and wit are
separated, but I think the following anecdote has a savour of both
A well-known explorer, worn out with fatigue, and weak from
privations, flung himself by the fire to rest, having almost reached
Perth on his return journey. His wretched and woebegone appearance
attracted the attention of the native who accompanied him. He had some
knowledge of English, and thus addressed his master: "What for do you
who have plenty to eat, and much money, walk so far away in the bush?"
The explorer, tired to death, and rather annoyed at this conundrum,
made no answer. The black went on: "You are thin, your shanks are long,
your belly is small-you had plenty to eat at home, why did you not stop
there?" It is hard. to make these simple folk understand the love of
enterprise and adventure, so the traveller had to say:—
"Oh, you don't understand; you know nothing."
"I know nothing!" he exclaimed, with a laugh, "I know how to keep
myself fat, the young women look at me and say, 'he very nice, he fat.'
They look at you and say, 'No good, he too thin legs too long, he walk
too far in the bush.'"
It cannot be denied that the Englishman had the worst of the
Into the discussion—a warm one in the Colony—as to whether the
present Aborigines Protection Board, which is independent of the
Government, should be directly responsible only to the Crown, and
should therefore, be abolished, and the charge of the natives left in
the hands of the Executive at Perth, I do not mean to enter. There is
much to be said on both sides. Those against the Board's independence
say that it is absurd that the latter who are charged with all
governmental duties respecting the superior race, the Whites, should
not be trusted to deal also on their responsibility with the Blacks.
Those in favour of the continuance of the Board's exceptional powers,
say that the poor ignorant black subjects of the Queen should be
specially protected against the possible greed and racial prejudices of
their powerful neighbours, who have, after all, gradually pushed the
poor creatures out of their ancient inheritance. The case for the
Colonial Government is very ably put by the Premier, Sir John Forrest,
in the following memorandum, addressed to the Administrator, for the
20th April, 1892.
Memorandum for His Excellency, The Administrator.
1. I have the honour to bring under your consideration t he question
of the position occupied by the Aborigines Protection Board,
constituted under the local Acts 50 Vic. No. 25 and 52 Vic. No. 24.
2. The 70th section of the Constitution Act provides the funds; for
the use of this Board, which are expended without the slightest control
on the part of the Ministry or Parliament.
3. The insertion of the 70th section in the Constitution Act, and
the simultaneous passage of the Act 52 Vic. No. 24, were at the time
viewed with much dissatisfaction by the people of the Colony, inasmuch
as it was considered as a reflection upon their past treatment of the
Aboriginal Race, besides being, in their opinion, totally unnecessary.
It being, however, understood that the Imperial Government would insist
on these Acts being passed before, granting Responsible Government,
when they were introduced by the then Government no opposition was
4, The Board thus constituted and supplied with ample means has had
all existence of about 18 months, and has not in the slightest degree
been interfered with, nor has it in any case sought advice from
Ministers. The appointments to the Board have been made by the Governor
without any reference (or consultation with Ministers, and the Board
has managed its business as it pleased.
5. This Board, so carefully brought into existence by statute, and
supplied with funds by the Constitution Act, is still to a very large
extent dependent on the Government for carrying out its duties. While
it purports to be a body independent of the Government, it is in
reality greatly dependent upon it. Take, for instance, the machinery
through which it distributes relief to the sick, the old, and the
infirm. This has to be done by the magistrates, the Government medical
officers, and the police; nor is any charge made against the £5,000 a
year paid by the Government to the Board. As this vote is not all
expended, and the unexpended portion is invested by the Board, the
Government might fairly charge for all services rendered by the
magistracy, the medical officers, and the police; or, seeing that the
Government is opposed to the continuance of the Board, might even
refuse to render any assistance, whatever, in which case the Board
would be almost powerless to render relief throughout the limits of
this very extensive Colony. Again, in regard to the protection of the
aborigine, the Board is to a large extent powerless. It cannot execute
warrants without the assistance of the Government through the police,
and is, therefore, altogether dependent on the Government in this
6. I do not remember, during the 18 months of its existence, any act
or representation on the part of the Board with the object of
protecting the aborigines, that duty being carried out now, as it
always has been, by the Government.
7. The question asked by everyone is, What is the use of this Board,
and with what object is £5,000 of the revenue of the Colony handed over
to it? Can it be contended that the aborigines are better looked after
by this irresponsible body of five gentlemen, who meet once a fortnight
at Perth, than they would be by the Government, which is responsible to
Parliament, and which has officers all over the Colony to carry out the
duties? Or, is it because the Imperial Government believes that these
five gentlemen, who meet once a fortnight in Perth, and who have but
little machinery to do anything, are more competent and more
trustworthy, or more likely to do what is just and right to the
aboriginal race than Her Majesty's Government in this Colony? No one, I
venture to say, will assent to either of these absurd propositions.
8. And yet it would appear that a feeling of distrust of the people
of the Colony to act fairly in dealing with the Aboriginal Race was the
only reason why this section found a place in the Constitution Act.
There was really a misconception of the whole question. The paucity of
the aborigines within the settled districts was not realised. In the
South-Western corner of the Colony, with the exception of a few score
scattered about here and there, they have entirely disappeared; while
within what is called the settled portions of the Colony, the natives
work on the sheep stations, and the police visit the stations and
protect their interests when necessary. The natives who live on the
borders of settlements, who are, as a rule, troublesome as
sheep-stealers, the Board is altogether powerless to deal with, and
those in the interior have no dealing yet with the white man.
9. The whole duty of this Board since its appointment has merely
been to authorise the officers of the Government, viz., magistrates,
medical officers, and police, to give relief to the sick, the old, and
the infirm; and the Board has to rely upon these officers of the
Government to bring these cases under its notice, or it would never
hear of them. The number of natives living near Perth, and therefore
such as may personally apply to the Board, is not more than a dozen.
10. Supposing the Government decided to leave the Board to carry out
its duties without any assistance, what would. be the result? It is
clear that the Board would be almost powerless to (to anything. The
means at its disposal would be really in appointing agents here and
there, and the old, infirm, and sick natives would in many places be
entirely neglected. It would be impossible for the Government to permit
this on the grounds of common humanity, and the Government finds itself
in the position of having to look after the interests of the natives
through its officers, and at the same time pay for the upkeep of a
Board which has not the power or the machinery to do the work.
11. My object in writing this to you is that you may submit this
memorandum to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State, and that he
may be informed of the position of this question, and the views of this
Government upon it.
12. It seems to me that the approval of the Imperial Government to
the repeal of the 70th section of the Constitution Act, and the
consequent placing of complete trust in the people of this Colony to do
what is just and right to all Her Majesty's subjects, whether white or
black, would be a graceful act, and would still further strengthen the
bonds of loyalty and affection existing between the mother country and
this portion of Her Majesty's Dominions.
13. Should the Secretary of State be disposed to take a contrary
view of the question, the dissatisfaction now existing must increase,
and it will be found that a Bill to repeal this section will be passed
every year, or will either have to receive the Royal assent or be
vetoed. It was with difficulty I was able to prevent a Bill being
introduced at the recent session of Parliament, and if it had been
introduced it must have been carried unanimously, as the feeling
against this exceptional and unnecessary legislation is unanimous
throughout the Colony.
14. Besides the reasons I have given there is also the
Constitutional one, which is very important. By this exceptional
legislation the Governor is placed in a position to act on his own
responsibility, and not upon the advice of Ministers. This may easily
place the Governor in direct conflict with his advisers, and result in
much inconvenience and injury to all concerned. In no other part of
Australia was it considered necessary to place the Governor in a
similar position, by which he is involved to act on his own
responsibility; and the people of this Colony naturally resent being
treated differently to all other of the Australian Colonies, and they
very justly, I think, consider it a grave reflection upon their honor
and integrity of purpose.
15. I would, therefore, most strongly urge upon Lord Knutsford the
advisability of acceding to the unanimous desire of the people of this
Colony; and in urging this I am confident, that while the concession
will remove a grievance and a just cause of complaint, it will be to
the advantage of the Aboriginal Race.
(Sd.) JOHN FORREST,
Last year a series of suggestions for the Board's beneficial
interference, on behalf of its humble protegés, was made by its
Chairman—the Hon. G. AV. Leake,, and these are, I believe, at the
present time, being carried out.
Mr. Leake's contention was that the Aborigines Protection Board have
£5,000 a year and more, to spend in the interests of the natives, and
it is submitted that it would be beneficial if the Board could get a
statement of the condition of the natives throughout the Colony, and of
the relations in which they and the Europeans stand to each other.
With that view it would be well if the Board, could get a highly
intelligent, educated gentleman, who could visit every station in the
Colony, the various goldfields, and the pearl fisheries, from about
Geraldtown to the DeGrey, and ascertain the number of natives, their
mode of employment, their habits, their treatment, their diseases, and
this is as much for the sake of statistical information, as of finding
fault with either race. Of course there must be great differences in
the treatment, by various Europeans, of the natives in their employ.
For instance, I know of some squatters who feed their natives badly and
work them hard. Then the natives run away, and warrants are issued by
the magistrates for their arrest as absconders. Sheep are stolen, and
this may arise from the fact that the native shepherds are few and
insufficient, that they are imperfectly supervised, that they are
poorly fed, that they suffer from the destruction of native game.
In any case these are matters which should be investigated, which
has never been yet adequately done. The Tasmanian Aboriginals are
extinct, those of South Australia are nearly extinct, those of New
South Wales and Queensland are lessening in numbers, and it is surely
desirable that some specimens of the surviving race should be preserved.
There are some stations that occur to me as I write—Darlot's,
Lacey's, Wittenoom's, Bush's, Forrest's, Sholl's, Grant's—these are, I
believe, models as to treatment of natives, and they might be taken as
standards for comparison. Reports could be made, not to the general
Government, but to the Board, who would impart them to the Government,
and so place it in a position to judge to what extent "police
protection," as a means of repression of native outrages, is needed.
Every station should be visited and reported on, the opinions of
settlers and police gathered and examined, a vast body of valuable
facts could be amassed, and thus some tangible results would follow
from the expenditure of the sum apportioned from the General Revenue
and placed at the disposal of the Board. Nor need it be feared by the
squatters, or settlers, or gold diggers, that the Board is starting a
system of espionage or interference. The motive of the Board is simply
to obtain information, more or less accurate and practical, from all
available sources, and these investigations should likewise extend to
the blacks inhabiting country not as yet occupied by Europeans.
In concluding these remarks on the West Australian Aborigines, I
would say a few words to English folk who flatter themselves that they
belong to a higher order of created beings than the Western Australian
Aborigines, who have been represented as mere baboons possessing an
innate and incurable deficiency of intellect, rendering them incapable
of instruction or civilization. Let them reflect that a similar opinion
was one time held by the cultured Romans concerning the Aborigines of
Great Britain. Cicero, in one of his epistles to Atticus, thus refers
to our ancestors:—
"Do not," says he, "obtain your slaves from Britain, because they
are so stupid and utterly incapable of being taught, that they are not
fit to form a part of the household of Atticus."