The Passing of the Aborigines, by Daisy Bates

Chapter 7

Last of the Bibbulmun Race

Perth brought surcease from the struggles and crudeness of the north-west and refreshing contact with those of my own kin, but it was not to be for long. The call of the task to which my life had been dedicated was insistent. It drew me first to solacing the passing of the last of the Bibbulmun, that once great race which had roamed the fertile coastal plains on which Perth is set and the delectable uplands of the Darling Ranges.

The Bibbulmun race was the largest homogeneous group in all Australia. Their country extended for many hundreds of square miles, and comprised the extreme triangle of the south-west, its base drawn from about Jurien Bay, slightly south of Geraldton on the West Coast, to Esperance on the Great Australian Bight. The Perth groups occupied a wide area, towards Northam, Toodyay, Gin Gin and Southern Cross on the north, and south to Bunbury and The Vasse. The last of the uncircumcised hordes, gradually driven down by a lustier, fiercer people, and finding by chance the wealthiest and most fertile corner of the State, “sat down” in the forests by rivers and water-holes of rich flora and teeming fauna, sharing them with the birds and animals and reptiles that they, believed to be their “elder brothers” or that became, in the passage of the centuries, their ancestor-gods.

The word bibbulmun signifies many breasts, a name derived, perhaps, from the fecundity of that region, or from the unusually great proportion of women and children among them. There were more than seventy groups in the Bibbulmun area linked by one language with local variations. They had neither chiefs or kings nor overlords, and although they were innocent of arts and crafts, they were by no means savage, and accorded their women more of initiative liberty than the circumcised. They were the finest groups in all West Australia. [Probably their prototypes were to be found in the New South Wales and Victorian coastal tribes, which disappeared equally rapidly.] The Manitchmat and Wordungmat, the fair and dark people of the White Cockatoo and Crow, always kept their marriages within the four class subdivisions of these two primary divisions, which I believe to be fundamental and Australia-wide. These tribes were not cannibals. Infanticide was rarely practised except in the case of twins and then only because of the magic of “two heads” coming where one was expected. Such was their simple philosophy that the facts of birth were unknown to them. Their only deity was a woggal or serpent-god, that dominated the earth, the sky, the sea, and punished evil-doers. They believed that the spirits of the dead were taken to Kur’an’nup, a land beyond the western sea.

The only raiment was a fur-skin cloak, made from the skins of seven kangaroos. Their tools were palaeolithic, with a later intrusion of the neolithic scarcely evident-a koja, or stone axe with wooden handle fastened with wattle gum and a rough knife of serrated stone. It is a question whether to any great extent they used the boomerang, which I believe to have been an importation, as it was useless in such thickly timbered country. They had no fighting-shields. The spear, miro, or spear-thrower, and the club, were their weapons, and spear-dodging was a consummate art among them. The women carried a wanna, or digging stick, the usual bark or wooden scoop, and a kangaroo-skin bag. A camp-fire for winter warmth, and a bough shade for shelter from the sun were their only homes, fire being made by the friction of a stick applied drill fashion to the flower-stem of the resinous “black-boy” tree-fern.

These southern people had a sense of hereditary group ownership of their land, upon which no other tribe might trespass, but all were generously invited to share its special products in times of plenty, a hospitality unknown in the poverty-stricken wastes of the great north-west and centre. The sea-coasts, estuaries and rivers were full of fish, and the inlanders and hill-folk were always welcome visitors in the spawning and crabbing seasons. The tall timber country, of which the magnificent jarrah and karri now occupy a pride of place among the world’s hardwoods, was alive with bird and animal life, and rich with numerous fruits of shrub and vine, a meeting-place of tribes within hundreds of miles when the wild potato was in harvest there.

When I came upon the remnants of the Bibbulmun, they had been in contact with civilization for some seventy years, and in that short time it had reduced the native inhabitants of the city of Perth and its environs to one old man, Joobaitch, and an older-looking niece, Balbuk. On this old man’s group area, at the foot of the Darling Ranges, the first reserve had been established by Lord (then Mr.) Forrest in the nineties, and here were gathered all that were left of the tribes.

The desire of the Government was that I should base my investigation upon history and existing data, and build upon the anthropology premises accumulated by cultured and well-informed men such as Sir George Grey, Bishop Salvado, G.F. Moore and others. For two years I studied every note of the bibliography at my disposal regarding the aboriginal tribes of West Australia, with augmented information from South Australia, Victoria and other states. I found that in many essentials these Western Australian authorities contradicted each other, and that it was difficult to come to a conclusion. So I made the suggestion that I should begin at the beginning, and seek the truth at the fountain-head.

My first camp was established on the Maamba Reserve near the present National Park, a few miles from Cannington, today an outer suburban area of great fertility, set with orchards and vineyards, but in the early years of this century a beautiful kingdom of bush still rich in native foods and fruits. The Bibbulmun race was represented by some thirty or forty stragglers, and these would gladly have gone back to their own various grounds; but their health and sight had failed.

It is saddening indeed to wander the vast expanse of hill and dale and cliff and grove, and find not one of its own people remaining. They have vanished from the face of earth as completely as the extinct sthenurus, of which their far-off ancestors were contemporaries.

The first landing of the white man was the beginning of the end. Often have I heard the story, a never-failing marvel to the three generations who survived it, of the landing on the banks of the Swan River in 1829. In his camp by a little spring called Goordandalup, a wilderness of bush that is now the metropolitan subdivision of Crawley on the highway of the Mount’s Bay Road, Yalgunga lay dozing in the heat of mid-afternoon. He did not know that it was 1829, or hear the death-knell of his people. He knew only that the world was blue and smiling, and the rock-holes filling with fish in the incoming tide, and that the sun was good. Suddenly he heard a new sound on the river, a soft continuous sound, and coming closer. He rose to this feet and looked about instinctively for his spears. His women crouched round him, and his children ran to him afraid. Round the bend came an open boat, and the phenomenon of jang-ga, spirits of the dead who had come back as white men, borne upon the waters. Spears were useless. Yalgunga waited. Walking as other men, the strangers stepped ashore and came to him, speaking words that meant nothing. Then one of them put out a hand in greeting. Yalgunga gratefully clasped it in his own, and with his other hand made a gesture to his camp and his spring-they were all he had to offer. That evening he gathered his family, his spears, and all his belongings, and wandered away to the swamp at Goobabbilup, which is now Monger’s Lake, never to return to the leafy home and the curve of bush and beach that had been his alone. So easily had the white man won.

There must have been some tradition handed down from Yalgunga’s forefathers of Vlaming and other earlier arrivals of jang-ga who moved over the waters in their strange ships, and walked about unafraid, and returned to Ku’ran’nup. Yalgunga did not know that these later jang-ga had come to stay. The gazettes of the early thirties made frequent reference to his peaceable and kindly disposition. It was Maiago, whose camp was where the Perth Town Hall now stands, who later travelled with Stokes on his explorations, and who introduced the white man’s flour and rice to the natives, the first instalment of payment for their country. The rice they buried in the earth, but the flour they appreciated, calling it always “barragood”-the nearest they could get to the assurance of “very good” with which it was given to them.

The belief of the Bibbulmun that the first white men were the returned spirits of their own dead relatives, led to friendly feeling towards the “spirits” from their first encounter.

A peculiarity of gait, a slight deformity, a scar, a missing toe, finger, tooth, etc., singled out some white person for special recognition and friendship. When Sir George Grey was Governor, word came to him that the old woman Delyungur had recognized in him her long-lost son, and cried and wept unceasingly in that she could not see him or touch him.

Grey appointed a day for a Native Levee on which all the natives of the district came to the appointed place and approached the spot where he and his staff were standing.

A great wailing was presently heard, and as the natives opened their ranks along the cleared space came old Delyungur, crying and peering to find the face of her long-dead son. She walked slowly up until her eyes could see the Governor clearly. Her step became quicker, stronger. She looked at Sir George, who was looking kindly towards her, and in a moment she had him in her embrace, crying, “Boondoo, boondoo! bala ngan-ya Kooling” (True, true, he is my son), as she fondled the face and form of her long-lost son and wept for joy at their re-union.

Sir George Grey’s gentle sufferance of her embraces strengthened immeasurably the friendly bond between the black and white in those early days. His kindly reception of old Delyungur, who was sister to Yalgunga’s dead mother Windera, became known to every group throughout the metropolitan area.

What a surprise the fences, and the sheep and horses and cattle within their boundaries, and the telegraph line with its magic messages swifter and truer than smoke signals, and the ships sailing into the estuaries, and the jetties and wharves built out to meet them! Who shall say what vague despair and unrest entered these primitive minds as the natives beheld one after another of their cherished homing spots ruthlessly swept away in the resistless march of civilization, and the winding tracks to their various food grounds obliterated by houses and streets?

They could no longer seek for the goonoks in their season, their mungaitch honey-groves were cut down to make way for flocks and herds. Could they hunt for the bai-yoo nuts of the Zamia, the warrain, and the joobok roots on the slopes, when the white men had fenced them in, and driven their old friends beyond the pale? On their own country they were trespassers. There was no more happy wandering in the interchange of hospitality. Sources of food supply slowly but surely disappeared, and they were sent away to unfamiliar places, compelled to change completely their mode of life, to clothe themselves in the attire of the strangers, to eat foods unfitted for them, to live within walls.

Their age-old laws were set aside for laws they could not understand. The younger generations, always wilful, now openly flouted the old, and defied them, and haunted the white man’s homes, protected by his policeman. A little while, and they resorted to thieving-where theft had been unknown-and sycophancy, and sold their young wives to the depraved and foreign element. Half-castes came among them, a being neither black nor white, whom they detested. They died in their numbers of the white man’s diseases, measles, whooping-cough, influenza, and the results of their own wrong-doing.

Change of food, environment, outlook, the burying of the old traditions and customs, inhibitions and the breakdown of the laws all conspired to bring degeneration, first to the individual and then to the race. Can we wonder that they faded so swiftly? Can we blame them for the sudden reactions that found vent in violence in certain instances few and far between, punished sometimes with terrible reprisals on the part of the white man?

The pioneers of Western Australia were noble men and women, and nearly all of them were above reproach and more than kindly in their treatment of the aboriginal. There is evidence that they did everything in their power for the preservation and betterment of the race. Schools were established as early as 1831, and reserve sanctuaries, with interpreters and ration-givers and government inspectors. There were innumerable systematic schemes on the part of religious organizations, and social organizations and private persons, from King George’s Sound north to Geraldton, with no encouraging results. Missions of all kinds were established throughout the Bibbulmun area. The most outstanding of these was undoubtedly the great Benedictine Mission of New Norcia, 80 miles north of Perth, founded by Don Salvado in 1846, among the dingo-totem tribes of the Victoria Plain.

As a young and earnest evangelist, Bishop Salvado journeyed into this then remote country, camped with the natives at a water-hole to gain their confidence, then gathered them to him in the name of Christianity. In a fertile valley he established his church and his colony, later sponsored by the Queen of Spain, and destined to become the great Spanish monastery it is today, a seat of the arts and sciences with its colleges of secular and religious education, a railway-town of considerable importance with its far-flung and prosperous agricultural and pastoral estates, a jewel of the south-west.

Bishop Salvado fed and clothed the natives. He built a tidy little Continental village of stone houses, twenty-eight in all, laid out in streets, and induced them to live in them. He saw that each man had his own allotment of land. For the preliminary work done upon it the Bishop paid him, and put the money in the bank, and purchased implements for further development, and educated his children. He taught them handicrafts and stockwork and telegraphy and accountancy and music and languages, every one of which they could absorb and absorb well. He went further. He selected five promising young aboriginal boys, and took them with him to Rome to study for the priesthood in a Benedictine seminary there. Among them were two who received the names of John and Francis Xavier, and the habit of the Order from the Pope himself All died in Europe, with the exception or one, who returned to New Norcia, promptly flung away his habit made for the bush and died there.

Children of the woodland, dwelling in a squalor that could not be avoided in their stone-walled houses, closed in from the air that was their breath of life, in the heat of summer and the dank cold of winter, they lost all touch with their native earth. They slept on beds-but they could not learn cleanliness. They wore clothing, and developed chest complaints and fevers. They died, and the dead were carried out of the little houses, and others sent to live in them-a superstitious people with a horror of the dead, there they too died. Alas for the poor “little brothers of the dingo”-civilization was a cloak that they donned easily enough, but they could not wear it and live. Bishop Salvado had counted 250 members of the Victoria Plains group in 1846. The last of these, Monnup, died in 1913.

It was the same story everywhere, a kindness that killed as surely and as swiftly as cruelty would have done. The Australian native can withstand all the reverses of nature, fiendish droughts and sweeping floods, horrors of thirst and enforced starvation-but he cannot withstand civilization.

In 1883, a commission was appointed in West Australia to control native conditions of living and employment, and in 1886 all aborigines of the State were brought directly under the guardianship of the Government. In the early nineteen hundreds a special Aborigines’ Department was created, with protectors travelling throughout West Australia, and a Chief Protector in authority in Perth.

There is no hope of protecting the Stone Age from the twentieth century! When the native’s little group area is gone, he loses the will to live, and when the will to live is gone, he dies.

The West Australian Government treated the natives generously, each fortnight sending them liberal rations of flour, tea, sugar and tobacco, with meat and jam added, and provided them with little wooden huts, each with a fireplace, a bed, a spring-mattress, warm cosy blankets and even crockery. There was a well in the centre of the reserve which was fenced into individual areas that they might grow flowers and vegetables and keep goats. The natives were intensely proud and even jealous of their little villas and built themselves mias (bush shelters) outside them, where they slept with the dogs. They broke through the fences for a shorter route when they went to visit each other. Every now and then, those who were able wandered restlessly away to their own kalleep (group area and “home” land), in the seasons of its fruitfulness and old-time ceremonies, and finding no friendly fires, and the houses and fences of the white man everywhere, they fled in panic back to the city to sell clothes-props or to beg, to pick up scraps of charity and vices and disease. Too often the white man’s sympathy was expressed in beer and whisky, and so they drifted in and out of gaol, and back to the reserve again.

A circular tent, 14 ft. in diameter, sagging about me in the wet and ballooning in the wind, was my home for two years in that little patch of bushland bright with wild flowers, overlooking the beautiful valley of Guildford and the winding river. There by a camp-fire when the dampers were cooking, or in the winter sitting on the ground by a fire inside their mia, I would be on duty from night till morning, collecting scraps of language, old legends, old customs, trying to conjure a nation of the past from these few and homeless derelicts, always in haste, as they died about me one by one, in fear lest I should be too late.

Dirty and degraded as they all were, they were very human. Joobaitch of the kangaroo tribe of Perth, a Wordungmat or dark-type crowman, had been born in Stirling’s time, and was the son of that Yalgunga who ceded his spring on the banks of the Swan to Lieutenant Irwin. Joobaitch, who was then nearly 50 years of age, was, a protege of Bishop Hale and at one time a native trooper. He had had contact with only the best of the white families, neither drank nor smoked, and had no affinity with the poor depraved and drink-sodden old men and women who “sat down” at Maamba.

There was Baaburgurt, blind and feeble. Once a “brother” of the Kalda (sea mullet) in the Capel River, he would sit all day long, the tears streaming from his sightless eyes, singing songs of his lost country. There were Woolberr, last of the Kuljak (black swan) of Gin Gin; Monnop, last of the dingo-totem of the Victoria Plains; Moorangan, of Wagin’s emu; Genburdohg, of Kellerberrin’s snake people; Nyalyert, a woman of the whitebait of Pinjarra; and Ngilgi, of the kangaroo of Busselton; Kajjaman, of the edible gum; and Dool, a Nanitchmat of York. Other sad old pilgrims of the White Cockatoo and Crow came and went. The only stranger among them was Bimba, a member of one of the circumcised groups east of Kellerberrin, but nobody ever wanted to hear about his totem.

The last Perth woman, Balbuk, or Fanny Balbuk, as she was called, was a comic, if tragic, character, and a general nuisance of many years’ standing. To the end of her life she raged and stormed at the usurping of her beloved home ground. One of her favourite annoyances was to stand at the gates of Government House, reviling all who dwelt within, because the stone gates guarded by a sentry enclosed her grandmother’s burial ground. She would trail the streets shouting her curses upon them, and impose on all the members of the “first families” with whom she had played as a child. Balbuk had been born on Huirison Island at the Causeway, and from there a straight track had led to the place where once she had gathered jilgies and vegetable food with the women, in the swamp where Perth railway station now stands. Through fences and over them, Balbuk took the straight track to the end. When a house was built in the way, she broke its fence-palings with her digging stick and charged up the steps and through the rooms. Time and again she was arrested, but her childhood playmates, now in high positions, would pay the fine for her, and Balbuk would be free to get drunk again, and shout scandal and maledictions from the street corners.

To the end of her life, Balbuk would not have a half-caste near the place-she said they smelt worse than the white people.

Her matrimonial lapses evoked many a delighted grin, for Balbuk had a past. A Wordungmat, or Crow, in her young days, she had attached herself to another Crow, and when his sister resented the unlawful union and fought her, Balbuk’s rage was so intense that she drove her digging stick through the woman’s body, killing her instantly. She fled from justice to the boundary of the Bibbulmun and the circumcised tribes. There she saw human meat eaten, and was offered a thigh, which she refused. Being young and fat and possibly succulent, she promptly fled back to the Victorian plains. So attractive was her personality that in the ensuing seven years, wandering from group to group, she contracted seven marriages, most of them illegal, from the aboriginal point of view, though some were celebrated in the chapel of New Norda by unwitting priests, who did not remember that they had seen her before. The fame of her fury had travelled far, and none of the New Norda natives dared to tell.

Her old crime forgotten, Balbuk at last returned to her own Perth country. Although she had broken every law of her group, she had broken none of the totem food-laws, and never failed to perform propitiatory services to the magic snake or the spirits in rocks and caves and hills. She knew every sacred totem spot, and all the devils that haunted them, from the mouth of the Swan to the ranges, and even when she was a fat old woman, and her seven husbands, and numerous lovers had long preceded her to the Bibbulmun heaven of Kur’an’nup, she assiduously avoided every “baby stone” from which a babe might come to her.

When she lay dying in her shelter at Maamba, a female kangaroo, her totem, suddenly made its appearance among the bushes some yards away. With dimmed eyes she looked upon it “My borunggur has come for me; I go now,” she said. She died a few days later in Perth Hospital. Just at the end the doctor came into the room. Balbuk recognized him. “Ninety-nine!” she hurled at him facetiously with her last breath.

Ngilgi was the rich widow of the camp. She had been born at Busselton, just at the moment when her mother was caught red-handed robbing a potato-patch, and her unexpected arrival made the potato-patch her ground thereafter, and she became an amusing protegee of the white people who owned it. At Maamba, she was the proud possessor of seven goats, twelve fowls and thirty-two dogs, incredible mongrels all. To watch the procession enter her house at night, in single file, with Ngilgi bringing up the rear, was a never-failing entertainment. The fowls roosted on the bed’s head, the dogs and young kids formed a living blanket on the mattress, and goats filled the floor and the fire-place. In the morning they emerged in the same order, unless Ngilgi had a laundry appointment at Guildford. On those days the livestock were left closed in the little hut, where their howls and crowing made day hideous until her return.

Monnop, and Woolberr, Baaburgurt and Bimba were all suitors for her hand and possessions. Woolberr and Baaburgurt, being blind, could not fight. Monnop and Bimba were active rivals, and ribs and jaws were often broken. A half-caste named Jimmie, young enough to be her grandson, made his appearance with her one evening, and joined the livestock within the hut. The arrangement was that Ngilgi would be breadwinner while Jimmie acted as overseer. Next morning four raging suitors were on the doorstep waiting for Jimmie. Woolberr began to “sing magic” at him. Blind Baaburgurt raised his stick in readiness for the half-caste odour which would tell him Jimmie was near, and Monnop and Bimba presented a combined front of battle. Jimmie dodged, and did not stop running till he reached Guildford. Ngilgi shut up her shack and followed him. A few days later when she returned forlorn, Baaburgurt slily brought up the rear of the fowls and goats to console her. The three rivals again gathered to revile the union.

“Baaburgurt’s Cockatoo, and so is Ngilgi. I am Crow, and her proper husband,” said Monnop. “So am I!” said Woolberr. Both glared at Bimba, who was neither Bibbulmun nor Wordungmat, and a fight would have followed had not the door of Ngilgi’s house at that moment violently opened, and from it emerged Baaburgurt closely followed by a bucket of cold water. Presently there came a shrill wailing-Ngilgi’s lament for the faithless Jimmie. Next morning they were preparing to turn their backs on each other to eat, when the door opened again, and from it came a repentant Ngilgi, with damper and jam and tea for Baaburgurt.

“I don’t want you for my husband,” she said, “but I threw water at you, so I bring you food.” Content with her flocks and herds, Ngilgi tried no further matrimonial experiments. Her dogs, in spite of their physical infirmities and mixed breeds, were notorious fowl-hunters of the Cannington district, but she could sense a policeman’s visit well beforehand, huddled the moody pack into chaff-bags, slung them over her shoulder, and betook herself to a cave in the hills when he came to Maamba. When she was caught at last, and the policeman mercifully destroyed all save the single whole specimen, she shook the dust of the reserve from her shapely feet and retired to the outskirts of Guildford, where she busied herself cleaning and washing for the white man.

Nyalyert and Kajjaman drank themselves to death. Woolberr made a valiant effort to reach his home at Gin Gin when the black swans were nesting, but following the track of the railway line, lost in memories of the distributions and ceremonies of long ago, he was struck by a train and killed. Baaburgurt, blind and feeble, continually cried and mourned for his kalleep at Wonnerup until at last some members of a well-known family in the south-west, whose father had been murdered in the early days by Baaburgurt’s father, took pity on the poor old man, and cared for him till the end.

All of these natives had been in close contact with Christianity during most of their lives, but little it penetrated their consciousness. Joobaitch considered that the eagle on the lectern of St. Georges Cathedral had been provided by the white man as a totem for him, a totem he accepted with amiability but no enthusiasm, while Monnop pinned his new-found faith to the dove in the Benedictine built chapel, now St. Mary’s Cathedral in Perth.

As I sat at the feet of my first Bibbulmun teachers one of the most important lessons was communicated to me unconsciously, but so important and significant was it that I remembered and acted upon it through all the years.

When I began my camp life at Maamba Reserve in the early 1900’s Sir Frederick Bedford, the then Governor, and Lady Bedford honoured us with a visit. An old and fine sailor, Sir Frederick wished to see every detail of my camp life and walked through and into my living-and dressing-tents on his tour of inspection. The same evening as we were seated round a fire discussing the visit of our Queen’s Representative, Ngilgi said: “The Governor is like the Great Queen’s son, and the Queen can go everywhere and so can the Governor, but no man can go into your mia (tent, shelter) unless he is your husband (korda). That is Bibbulmun law.” I never forgot or ceased to obey that fundamental law. And, so, when Bishop White of Willochra visited me at my Ooldea camp in the late 1920’s I received him outside my breakwind, and taking out three kerosene cases, we had tea and a friendly talk while sitting on our primitive stools. It was interesting to hear from the Bishop that this fundamental social “law” was not known either to himself or to any of the Missionaries in charge of his Native Missions in Queensland and elsewhere, but it is one of the most important “laws” in the whole native system; not a law having a moral foundation in the native social system, but an economic foundation. The woman is an economic asset to the man who owns her. He can lend her but in barter always. He can exchange her for another woman, or for weapons or some such as payment, and he may even dispose of her finally for a price and scrupulously keep his agreement in that transaction. She then ceases to be his economic asset, the important fact that counted in native domestic relations being that sexual jealousy was secondary to what might be called economic jealousy.

It was always a part of my work amongst them to endeavour to give them a little insight into our own social system, but to the end of their lives they failed to understand it.

The moment the low white entered their lives all native social and sexual tabus were broken. When the first white man took the young native woman he fancied, his status in her family and group was adjusted according to native law. He chose his woman and automatically became her husband’s brother with all the rights and obligations of the husband’s brother, son-inlaw, etc. So long as the white man took other women from among his new brothers’ wives he incurred no bodily risk, and the foods he gave were distributed according to the food laws in this respect. But when his lustful eyes fell upon women and girls who were tabu to him in his new “native” relationship, he committed a breach of native law punishable with death. Many a white man has been killed for this offence, of which he may have been ignorant or defiant.

When they saw the white man living in the same hut as his mother. mother-inlaw, grown-up sisters (grown-up sisters and brothers were always tabu to each other); when they perceived that every native law regarding tabus was apparently set at naught by white people, the law-abiding native groups attached the odium of group marriage and promiscuity to the white people!

Among the Bibbulmun, who had kept their laws intact until the coming of the white man, this apparent promiscuity of the whites had a disastrous effect. They broke their age old tabus, and no “magic” punishment resulting, the young men took whom they willed and hugged the white settlements for safety. The elders of the groups lost their magic powers through the white man’s drink; the evil example was set and the groups became like dingoes. But as in every human heart there is a sort of relative conscience, so every Bibbulmun who took his sister, mother or daughter to wife knew in his heart that he was committing a dreadful offence, and this feeling was no small factor in their quick extinction.

Joobaitch clung steadily to Maamba, his own ground; even when the doctor urged his removal to hospital. “No,”’ said Joobaitch, “I shall die on my own ground, and not in a white man’s house. When I die, I shall go down through the sea to Kur’an’nup, where all my people will be waiting on the shore with meat food, my mother and my woman, my father, and my brothers. Before it sets out on its journey, my spirit must be free to rest on the kaanya tree. Since nyitting (cold) times all Bibbulmun spirits have rested on this tree on their way to Kur’an’nup, and I have never broken a branch or flower, or sat in the shade of the tree, because it is the tree of the dead, the sacred tree.”

One day the cart came to take Joobaitch to hospital. “Don’t let them take me!” he pleaded. I said, “It is all right, Joobaitch. You will die before you pass the kaartya tree at Karragullen, and your soul will rest there before it goes to the sea.” Joobaitch died as the cart crossed the little creek near Maamba, as he had wished it, still on his own ground, close to the kaanya tree.

So the last of the Perth tribe was buried in the aboriginal section of the old Guildford cemetery, which formed part of his people’s home. He had had fifty years of Christianity, but he died in the faith of the Bibbulmun, looking westward to Kur’an’nup.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31