Australian Access Federation

You are here: Home Corpora Corpus of Oz Early English 3-119 (Raw)

3-119 (Raw)

Item metadata
author,male,Thomas, William*,64 addressee
Narrative Discourse
Word Count :
Plaint Text :
Public Written
Bride, 1898
Document metadata

3-119-raw.txt — 11 KB

File contents

Their government is patriarchal, the head of each family having control over his household; nor is he accountable to the community for his conduct touching them, even after his children come to years of discretion, if they be unmarried. They, however, are by no means arbitrary, nor cruel; and with the children are foolishly indulgent. It is only in passion that their conduct is revolting, and then they are generally checked by one or more powerful friends arresting the angered, while others try to appease him by reason. Although the head of the family is not accountable to the community, a mother will not tamely see her child ill-used, and when a son is grown up, if his mother is ill-treated he will show fight. I have witnessed some dreadful frays between father and son on the mother's account. Should one kill his wife, the friends or relatives of the woman will have satisfaction; when the tribes meet, the slayer must show himself naked among them, and unflinchingly await their anger.
Each tribe has a chief, who directs all its movements, and who, wherever he may be, knows well where all the members of the community are. About once in three months the whole tribe unite, generally at new or full moon, when they have a few dances, and again separate into three or more bodies, as they cannot get food if they move en masse; the chief, with the aged, makes arrangements for the route each party is to take. In their movements they seldom encamp more than three nights in one place, and oftener but one. Thus they move from one place to another, regardless of sickness, deaths, births, &c. [399] They will not wait for anything when they have an object in view. I have known instances of females having an infant at night, and compelled to tramp in the morning, and the men to carry their sick from one encampment to another. In each body are a few old men, who take charge of the small community, and give instructions in the morning where they will encamp at night. They seldom travel more than six miles a day. In their migratory moves all are employed; children in getting gum, knocking down birds, &c.; women in digging up roots, killing bandicoots, getting grubs, &c.; the men in hunting kangaroos, &c., scaling trees for opossums, &c., &c. They mostly are at the encampment about an hour before sundown - the women first, who get fire and water, &c., by the time their spouses arrive.
They hold that the bush and all it contains are man's general property; that private property is only what utensils are carried in the bag; and this general claim to nature's bounty extends even to the success of the day; hence at the close, those who have been successful divide with those who have not been so. There is "no complaining in the streets" of a native encampment; none lacketh while others have it; nor is the gift considered as a favour, but a right brought to the needy, and thrown down at his feet. In warm weather, while on the tramp, they seldom make a miam - they use merely a few boughs to keep off the wind; in wet weather a few sheets of bark make a comfortable house. In one half-hour I have seen a neat village begun and finished. The harmony that exists among them when none of another tribe is in the party is surprising. I have been out with them for months without a single altercation. Wherever one is born, that is considered his or her country. They have no regular burial places; their bones lie scattered through the bush. [400] Over the men, according to their importance, an oration is delivered, the purport of which is that they, his survivors, will avenge his death, and begging the defunct to lie still till they do so. Over the women and children no ceremony is performed. After the body is interred, the encampment breaks up, leaving a fire at the east of the grave. Orphans are taken great care of. It is considered a great honour to have an orphan added to the family.
They have many ceremonies on particular occasions, such as when a youth or maiden comes of age, instalment of the bush, marriage ceremony, &c., &c. To give them in this brief account is impossible; one must suffice.
Marriage. - The men engross the right of giving the women away; the women have neither choice nor will in the matter; they are the property of the father; if he is dead, of the brother; if there is no brother, of the uncle. There is seldom a marriage without much fighting, as there is a great preponderance of males over females, and the old chiefs' not being satisfied with less than two and sometimes four, increases the value of the women. Most females are purchased. The general price is two large koogrs (or opossum rugs), two or three dozen opossums, and other trifles. The woman is handed over to her spouse, who has scarce got her when some others - those who were desirous to obtain her - may be seen naked, discharging wonguims, &c., at the bridegroom. A general family fight takes place, and the bridegroom seldom gets off without a broken head. At night the dame is sulky, and when her spouse is asleep generally creeps to her mother; and when he awakes and finds her gone, he claims her; her father in a rage knocks the poor girl about with his bludgeon or tomahawk, drags her by the hair of her head' to her koolin, where she gets another drubbing. This is often continued for two or more days, till the poor creature is regularly broken down. [401] She resigns to her fate, and generally proves a constant and affectionate wife.
Laws. - Of laws they have three principal, viz., to punish murder, theft, and adultery. Murder is punished by the whole of the tribe throwing a spear and a wonguim at the murderer; if he escapes without any material injury, the male who is the nearest of kin to the murdered may with his bludgeon or leonile strike at the murderer's head (no other part) till he is tired. During the punishment the murderer is not allowed to throw a single weapon, but may ward off the spears, &c., with his shield. I knew an instance of a man having 100 spears thrown at him, who warded them every one off.
Theft is of rare occurrence, and is punished by blows on the head of the thief by the party wronged. I never knew but one case of this kind.
Adultery is a crime that keeps the encampment (when two or more tribes are present) in continued broils; the adulterer and adulteress are both punished - the latter awfully severe; but the former having (what the poor females have not) a way of warding off the weapons, comes better off.
There is one particularly amiable trait in the aboriginal character, which is, that no animosity remains in their breasts, nor does any shrink from punishment. At the close of a fight or punishment, those who have inflicted the wounds may be seen sucking them and doing any other kind office required.
Most tribes have intercourse or hold a kind of alliance with three or four neighbouring ones, with whom they barter for lubras, &c. They generally once a year at least unitedly assemble. There are many disputes, imaginary or real, to settle which cannot be done without some fighting. When all is settled they will corrobboree night after night till they separate. All the tribes beyond the district of their friends are termed wild blackfellows, and when found within the district are immediately killed. [402]
The blacks were formerly very superstitious. The most awful superstition is that they believe that man would never die unless he were killed; that the sick man has been opened, and that his kidneys and fat have been taken out, which has caused death; and that nothing short of the kidneys and fat of another will appease the dead. They also believe that, as the kidneys and fat are the life of man, the eating of the same gives double strength and vigour to those who partake of them; hence they never kill a "wild black," as they term him, but they rob the body of that part. They also have another cruel custom of sacrificing the fruit of the womb till a male is born; so that, should a female have three or four girls, all are killed until a male is born. The poor innocents are put out of the way by strangling or smothering, and generally on the ninth or twenty-first day.
To go into the various traditions they have of the creation of the world, man, woman, and animals, stars, &c., is impossible here. Suffice it to state that they are a people that have names for particular stars, as the Southern Cross, Magellanic clouds, &c.; and their traditions are not more ridiculous than those of other savage nations. They have also an idea of several imaginary beings, almost all of the dreaded class; also superstitious notions of certain birds, native bears, and extraordinary appearances in the heavens.
Dances. - They have various kinds, day and night. Although a stranger, after seeing one, may think the whole alike and merely a monotony of sounds and motion, such is not the case; the song and words are to the motion of the body, like our country dances and reels. One ignorant of dancing would look upon the movements as monotonous; there is as much sense in the one as in the other. If the blacks' orchestra is inferior, their time and motion are better.
Games. - They have many, all admirably adapted to strengthen and expand the corporeal powers, as running, jumping, throwing, &c.; but the most manual is wrestling; and certainly every one who has ever seen them at this exercise has acknowledged that it is equal to any description given of the ancients, and destitute of the brutality often resorted to by the ancients, to gain the mastery. [403] The aborigines' is sheer, fair wrestling. They challenge each other by throwing dust in the air towards those they desire to strive with, which is answered by a return; they run towards each other; on approaching, each puts his hands on his antagonist's shoulder, and it is not till both are nearly exhausted that one is down.
I should have stated that besides chiefs they have other eminent men, as warriors, counsellors, doctors; dreamers, who are also interpreters; charmers, who are supposed to be able to bring and drive rain away; also to bring or send plagues among other nations, and to drive away the same, as occasion requires. Although they have chiefs, doctors, counsellors, warriors, dreamers, &c., who form a kind of aristocracy, yet these are in no way a burthen to the community. The chiefs govern, doctors cure, counsellors advise, and warriors fight, without pay. All alike seek their food, and He who is mindful of the ravens is not unmindful of these sable Sons of Australia.
Their war implements are: - (1.) The Wonguim, thrown in battle and useful in the bush to knock down birds. (2.) Kurruk or throwing-stick, with which a reed spear is hurled out with great force. (3.) Worra Worra, a common club used in single combat. (4.) Leonile, the most dreadful hand weapon, used in single combat only. (5.) Kudgerin, a thick club - very weighty at the end, used in close combat only. (6.) Mulga, a shield used in single combat only, to defend the head from the hand-clubs 3, 4, and 5. (7.) Geam, a large shield used to ward off long spears. (8.) Tirrer, a reed spear used for distant objects. (9.) Tare, a long spear pointed at the end, used for distant combat. (10.) Nandum, a jagged spear - a dreadful weapon. (11.) Mongie, a double glass-jagged spear, the most fatal of their weapons. (12.) Wa-voit, mostly used in play; it is thrown by the hand; the knob end bounds on the hard ground a considerable distance as a stone would do when thrown on ice. [404] He whose wa-voit is the greatest distance is considered victor.