An account of the manners and customs of the Aborigines, by Edward John Eyre

Chapter IV.

PROPERTY IN LAND— DWELLINGS— WEAPONS— IMPLEMENTS— GOVERNMENT— CUSTOMS— SOCIAL RELATIONS— MARRIAGE— NOMENCLATURE.

It has generally been imagined, but with great injustice, as well as incorrectness, that the natives have no idea of property in land, or proprietary rights connected with it. Nothing can be further from the truth than this assumption, although men of high character and standing, and who are otherwise benevolently disposed towards the natives, have distinctly denied this right, and maintained that the natives were not entitled to have any choice of land reserved for them out of their own possessions, and in their respective districts.

In the public journals of the colonies the question has often been discussed, and the same unjust assertion put forth. A single quotation will be sufficient to illustrate the spirit prevailing upon this point. It is from a letter on the subject published in South Australian Register of the 1st August, 1840:—”It would be difficult to define what conceivable proprietary rights were ever enjoyed by the miserable savages of South Australia, who never cultivated an inch of the soil, and whose ideas of the value of its direct produce never extended beyond obtaining a sufficiency of pieces of white chalk and red ochre wherewith to bedaub their bodies for their filthy corrobberies.” Many similar proofs might be given of the general feeling entertained respecting the rights of the Aborigines, arising out of their original possession of the soil. It is a feeling, however, that can only have originated in an entire ignorance of the habits, customs, and ideas of this people. As far as my own observation has extended, I have found that particular districts, having a radius perhaps of from ten to twenty miles, or in other cases varying according to local circumstances, are considered generally as being the property and hunting-grounds of the tribes who frequent them. These districts are again parcelled out among the individual members of the tribe. Every male has some portion of land, of which he can always point out the exact boundaries. These properties are subdivided by a father among his sons during his own lifetime, and descend in almost hereditary succession. A man can dispose of or barter his land to others; but a female never inherits, nor has primogeniture among the sons any peculiar rights or advantages. Tribes can only come into each other’s districts by permission, or invitation, in which case, strangers or visitors are always well treated. The following extract from Captain Grey’s work gives the result of that gentlemen’s observations in Western Australia, corroborated by Dr. Lang’s experience of the practice among the natives of New South Wales, (vol. ii. p. 232 to 236.)

“TRADITIONAL LAWS RELATIVE TO LANDED PROPERTY. — Landed property does not belong to a tribe, or to several families, but to a single male; and the limits of his property are so accurately defined that every native knows those of his own land, and can point out the various objects which mark his boundary. I cannot establish the fact and the universality of this institution better than by the following letter addressed by Dr. Lang, the Principal of Sydney College, New South Wales, to Dr. Hodgkin, the zealous advocate of the Aboriginal Races:

“LIVERPOOL, 15th Nov. 1840.

“My Dear Friend — In reply to the question which you proposed to me some time ago, in the course of conversation in London, and of which you have reminded me in the letter I had the pleasure of receiving from you yesterday, with the pamphlets and letters for America, viz. —’Whether the Aborigines of the Australian continent have any idea of property in land,’ I beg to answer most decidedly in the affirmative. It is well known that these Aborigines in no instance cultivate the soil, but subsist entirely by hunting and fishing, and on the wild roots they find in certain localities (especially the common fern), with occasionally a little wild honey; indigenous fruits being exceedingly rare. The whole race is divided into tribes, more or less numerous, according to circumstances, and designated from the localities they inhabit; for although universally a wandering race with respect to places of habitation, their wanderings are circumscribed by certain well-defined limits, beyond which they seldom pass, except for purposes of war or festivity. In short, every tribe has its own district, the boundaries of which are well known to the natives generally; and within that district all the wild animals are considered as much the property of the tribe inhabiting, or rather ranging on, its whole extent, as the flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, that have been introduced into the country by adventurous Europeans, are held by European law and usage the property of their respective owners. In fact, as the country is occupied chiefly for pastoral purposes, the difference between the Aboriginal and the European ideas of property in the soil is more imaginary than real, the native grass affording subsistence to the kangaroos of the natives, as well as to the wild cattle of the Europeans, and the only difference indeed being, that the former are not branded with a particular mark like the latter, and are somewhat wilder and more difficult to catch. Nay, as the European regards the intrusion of any other white man upon the CATTLE–RUN, of which European law and usage have made him the possessor, and gets it punished as a trespass, the Aborigines of the particular tribe inhabiting a particular district, regard the intrusion of any other tribe of Aborigines upon that district, for the purposes of kangaroo hunting, etc. as an intrusion, to be resisted and punished by force of arms. In short, this is the frequent cause of Aboriginal, as it is of European wars; man, in his natural state, being very much alike in all conditions — jealous of his rights, and exceedingly pugnacious. It is true, the European intruders pay no respect to these Aboriginal divisions of the territory, the black native being often hunted off his own ground, or destroyed by European violence, dissipation, or disease, just as his kangaroos are driven off that ground by the European’s black cattle; but this surely does not alter the case as to the right of the Aborigines.

“But particular districts are not merely the property of particular tribes; particular sections or portions of these districts are universally recognised by the natives as the property of individual members of these tribes; and when the owner of such a section or portion of territory (as I ascertained was the case at King George’s Island) has determined on burning off the grass on his land, which is done for the double purpose of enabling the natives to take the older animals more easily, and to provide a new crop of sweeter grass for the rising generation of the forest, not only all the other individuals of his own tribe, but whole tribes from other districts are invited to the hunting party, and the feast and dance, or corrobory that ensue; the wild animals on the ground being all considered the property of the owner of the land. I have often heard natives myself tell me, in answer to my questions on the subject, who were the Aboriginal owners of particular tracts of land now held by Europeans; and indeed this idea of property in the soil, FOR HUNTING PURPOSES, is universal among the Aborigines. They seldom complain of the intrusion of Europeans; on the contrary, they are pleased at their SITTING DOWN, as they call it, on their land: they do not perceive that their own circumstances are thereby sadly altered for the worse in most cases; that their means of subsistence are gradually more and more limited, and their numbers rapidly diminished: in short, in the simplicity of their hearts, they take the frozen adder in their bosom, and it stings them to death. They look for a benefit or blessing from European intercourse, and it becomes their ruin.

“If I had a little more leisure I would have written more at length, and in a style more worthy of your perusal; but you may take it as certain, at all events, that the Aborigines of Australia HAVE an idea of property in the soil in their native and original state, and that that idea is, in reality, not very different from that of the European proprietors of sheep and cattle, by whom they have, in so many instances, been dispossessed, without the slightest consideration of their rights or feelings.

“Indeed, the infinity of the native names of places, all of which are descriptive and appropriate, is of itself a PRIMA FACIE evidence of their having strong ideas of property in the soil; for it is only where such ideas are entertained and acted on, that we find, as is certainly the case in Australia, NULLUM SINE NOMINE SAXUM.

“I am, my dear Friend, “Your’s very sincerely, “JOHN DUNMORE LANG.

“To Dr. Hodgkin.”

The dwellings of the Aborigines are simple, of a very temporary character, and requiring but little skill or labour to construct them. In the summer season, or when the weather is fine, they consist of little more than a few bushes laid one upon the other, in the form of a semicircle, as a protection from the wind, for the head, which is laid usually close up to this slight fence. In the winter, or in cold or wet weather, the semicircular form is still preserved, but the back and sides are sheltered by branches raised upon one end, meeting at the top in an arch, and supported by props in front, the convex part being always exposed to the wind. The sizes of these huts depends upon the facilities that may be afforded for making them, the number of natives, and the state of the weather.

[Note 75: “Travelled northerly for 20 miles; at evening encamped at Tarcone, adjacent to the station (then being formed) of Drs. Bernard and Kilgour. The greater part of the servants at this establishment had been convicts, they were in a state of great insubordination. My native attendants pointed out an extensive weir, 200 feet long and five feet high; they said it was the property of a family, and emphatically remarked, “that white men had stolen it and their country;” the Yow-ew-nil-lurns were the original inhabitants. “Tapoe,” the Mount Napier of Mitchell, is an isolated hill of volcanic formation; the crater is broken down on the west side to its base. The great swamp is skirted by low hills and well grassed open forest land; the natives are still the undisputed occupants, no white men having been there to dispossess them. The people who occupy the country have fixed residences; at one village were 13 large huts, they are warm and well constructed, in shape of a cupola or “kraal;” a strong frame of wood is first made, and the whole covered with thick turf, with the grass inwards; there are several varieties; those like a kraal are sometimes double, having two entrances, others are demicircular; some are made with boughs and grass, and last are the temporary screens; one hut measured 10 feet diameter by five feet high, and sufficiently strong for a man on horseback to ride over.

“Left early, attended by Pevay, to reconnoitre the country. In the marshes numerous trenches were again met with; these resembled more the works of civilized than of savage men; they were of considerable extent; one continuous treble line measured 500 yards in length, two feet in width, and from 18 inches to two feet in depth; these treble dikes led to extensive ramified watercourses; the whole covered an area of at least ten acres, and must have been done at great cost of labour to the Aborigines, a convincing proof of their persevering industry. These are the most interesting specimens of native art I had seen; thousands of yards had been accomplished; the mountain streams were made to pass through them. In fishing, the natives use the arabine or eel-pot of platted grass, from nine to twelve feet in length. On the elevated ground were some of the largest ash-hills I had seen, and must have been the work of generations; one measured 31 yards in length, 29 in width, and two in height, with hollow cavities for the natives’ bivouacs and camping places.”—”Extract from Mr. Robinson’s Letter, copied from papers relative to Australian Aborigines, printed for the House of Commons, August 1844, p. 240.”]

Sometimes each married man will have a hut for himself, his wives, and family, including perhaps occasionally his mother, or some other near relative. At other times, large long huts are constructed, in which, from five to ten families reside, each having their own separate fire. Young unmarried men frequently unite in parties of six or eight, and make a hut for themselves. The materials of which the huts are composed, are generally small branches or boughs of trees, covered in wet weather with grass, or other similar material. At other times, and especially if large, or made in wet weather, they are formed of thick solid logs of wood, piled and arranged much in the same way as the lighter material, but presenting an appearance of durability that the others do not possess. In this case they are generally well covered over with grass, creeping plants, or whatever else may appear likely to render them waterproof. In travelling through the country, I have found that where bushes or shrubs abounded, I could at any time in an hour or two, by working hard, make myself a hut in which I could lie down, perfectly secure from any rain. The natives, of course, have much less difficulty in doing this, from their great skill and constant practice. In many parts of New Holland that I have been in, bark is almost exclusively used by the natives, for their huts; where it can be procured good it is better than any thing else. I have frequently seen sheets of bark twelve feet long, and eight or ten feet wide, without a single crack or flaw, in such cases one sheet would form a large and good hut; but even where it is of a far inferior description, it answers, by a little system in the arrangement, better than almost any thing else. Projecting, or overhanging rocks, caverns, hollows of trees, etc. etc., are also frequently made use of by the natives for lodging houses in cold or wet weather. When hostile parties are supposed to be in the neighbourhood, the natives are very cautious in selecting secret and retired places to sleep. They go up on the high grounds, back among scrubs, or encamp in the hollows of watercourses, or where there are dense bushes of polygonum, or close belts of reeds; the fires are very small on these occasions, and sometimes none are made; you may thus have a large body of natives encamped very near you without being conscious of it. I have been taken by a native to a camp of about twenty people in a dense belt of reeds, which I had gone close by without being aware of their presence, although I could not have been more than three or four yards from some of them when I passed.

It has already been remarked, that where many natives meet together, the arrangements of their respective huts depends upon the direction they have come from. In their natural state many customs and restrictions exist, which are often broken through, when they congregate in the neighbourhood of European settlements.

Such is the custom requiring all boys and uninitiated young men to sleep at some distance from the huts of the adults, and to remove altogether away in the morning as soon as daylight dawns, and the natives begin to move about. This is to prevent their seeing the women, some of whom may be menstruating; and if looked upon by the young males, it is supposed that dire results will follow. Strangers are by another similar rule always required to get to their own proper place at the camp, by going behind and not in front of the huts. In the same way, if young males meet a party of women going out to look for food, they are obliged to take a circuit to avoid going near them. It is often amusing to witness the dilemma in which a young native finds himself when living with Europeans, and brought by them into a position at variance with his prejudices on this point. All the buildings of the natives are necessarily from their habits of a very temporary character, seldom being intended for more than a few weeks’ occupation, and frequently only for a few days. By this time food is likely to become scarce, or the immediate neighbourhood unclean, and a change of locality is absolutely unavoidable. When the huts are constructed, the ground is made level within, any little stumps of bushes, or plants, stones, or other things being removed, and grass, reeds, or leaves of trees frequently gathered and spread over the bottom, to form a dry and soft bed; this and their opossum cloak constitute the greatest degree of luxury to which they aspire. Occasionally native men, in very cold weather, are both without huts and clothing of any kind. In this case, many small fires are made (for the natives never make a large one), by which they keep themselves warm. I have often seen single natives sleep with a fire at their head, another at their feet, and one on either side, and as close as ever they could make them without burning themselves; indeed, sometimes within a very few inches of their bodies.

The weapons of the natives are simple and rudimental in character, but varied in their kind and make, according to the purposes for which they may be required, or the local circumstances of the district in which they are used. The spear, which is the chief weapon of offence over all the known parts of the continent, is of two kinds, one kind is used with the throwing stick, and the other is thrown out of the hand; of each there are four varieties that I am acquainted with. Of those launched with the throwing stick there are — 1, the kiko, or reed spear, pointed with hard wood; 2, the kiero, or hard wood spear, with about two feet of the flower-stem of the grass-tree jointed to the upper end; 3, a similar weapon, with five or six jags cut in the solid wood of the point upon one side; and 4, the light hard wood spear of Port Lincoln, and the coast to the eastward, where a single barb is spliced on at the extreme point with the sinew of the emu or the kangaroo: each spear averages from six to eight feet in length, and is thrown with facility and precision to distances, varying from thirty to one hundred yards, according to the kind made use of, and the skill of the native in using it.

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Plate II. Native Weapons

Of the large spear there is — 1, the karkuroo, or smooth heavy spear, made of the gum-scrub; 2, the same description of weapon, barbed with fragments of flint or quartz; 3, another variety, having five or six jags cut at the point, upon one side; and 4, a similar weapon, with the same number of barbs cut upon both sides of the point: each of them is from twelve to fourteen feet long, and is thrown with most deadly force and accuracy to distances of from thirty to forty feet. The fishing spear has already been described. The Nga-wa-onk, or throwing stick is from twenty to twenty-six inches in length, and is of a very similar character throughout the continent, varying a little in width or shape according to the fashion of particular districts. It consists of a piece of hard wood, broad about the middle, flattened and sometimes hollowed on the inside, and tapering to either extremity; at the point the tooth of a kangaroo is tied and gummed on, turning downwards like a hook; the opposite end has a lump of pitch with a flint set in it, moulded round so as to form a knob, which prevents the hand from slipping whilst it is being used, or it is wound round with string made of the fur of the opossum for the same purpose. In either case it is held by the lower part in the palm of the hand, clasped firmly by the three lower fingers, with its upper part resting between the fore-finger and the next; the head of the spear, in which is a small hole, is fitted to the kangaroo tooth, and then coming down between the fore-finger and thumb, is firmly grasped for throwing; the arm is then drawn back, the weapon levelled to the eye, a quivering motion given to it to steady it, and it is hurled with a rapidity, force, and precision quite incredible.

The Wangn or wangno (the boomerang of Eastern and kiley of Western Australia) is another simple but destructive weapon, in the hands of the native. It consists of a thin, flat, curved piece of hard wood, about two feet long, made out of the acacia pendula or gum-scrub, the raspberry-jam wood, or any other of a similar character, a branch or limb is selected which has naturally the requisite curve (an angle from one hundred to one hundred and thirty degrees) and is dressed down to a proper shape and thickness, and rounded somewhat at the bend, those whose angles are slightly obtuse, are usually thrown with the sharp edge against the wind, and go circling through the air with amazing velocity, and to a great height and distance, describing nearly a parabola and descending again at the foot of the person who throws them; those which have the largest obtuse angle are thrown generally against the ground from which they bound up to a great height, and with much force. With both, the natives are able to hit distant objects with accuracy, either in hunting or in war; in the latter case this weapon is particularly dangerous, as it is almost impossible, even when it is seen in the air, to tell which way it will go, or where descend. I once nearly had my arm broken by a wangno, whilst standing within a yard of the native who threw it, and looking out purposely for it.

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Plate III. Native Weapons

The (katta twirris) or two-edged sword is a formidable weapon, used among the tribes to the north of Adelaide, exclusively for war; another weapon, common among the same tribes, is the katta, a round chisel-pointed stick, about three feet long, and used principally in pitched battles between two individuals.

Another weapon is an angular piece of hard wood, pointed and shaped very much like a miner’s pick, the longer or handle-end being rounded and carved, to give a firmer grasp; another dreadful weapon, intended for close combat, is made out of hard wood, from two to three feet long, straight and with the handle rounded and carved for the grasp, which has an immense pointed knob at the end; the bwirri, is also a weapon of hard wood about two feet long, rather slight and merely smoothed in the handle, with a round knob at the extremity, it is principally thrown, and with very great precision; but is more generally used after game than in warfare.

The shield (tar-ram) is made out of the bark or wood of the gum-tree, and varies in shape and device, the ordinary shield is about two or two and a half feet long, from eight to eighteen inches across, and tapering from the middle towards the extremities, two holes are made near the centre, through which a piece of wood is bent for a handle; shields are always carved and painted in time of war.

The implements made use of by the natives are not very numerous, and their general characteristics are nearly the same all over the continent. The native hatchet is made of a very hard greenish-looking stone, rubbed to an edge on either side; it is fixed in the cleft of a stick, or a branch is doubled round it, and either tied or gummed to prevent its slipping. The throwing sticks have generally a sharp piece of quartz or flint gummed on at the lower end, which is used as a knife or chisel; flints or muscle shells are used for skinning animals, dissecting food, cutting hair, etc.

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Plate IV. Native Implements

The ngak-ko, a strong chisel-pointed stick, from three to four feet long, is used for dissecting the larger animals and fish, for digging grubs out of the trees, for making holes to get out opossums, etc., for stripping bark, ascending trees, for cutting bark canoes, and a variety of other useful purposes. The rod for noosing ducks, (tat-tat-ko) and other wild fowl, is about sixteen feet long, and consists, in its lower part, for the first ten feet, of hard wood, tapering like an ordinary spear, to this is cemented with resin, a joint of tolerably strong reed about sixteen inches long, at the upper end of this is inserted and cemented with wax, a tapering rod of hard wood, three feet long and very similar to the top joint of a fly-fishing rod, to this is spliced a fine springy and strong top, of about eighteen inches in length, at the end of which is bound a piece of fine strong cord, which works with a running noose upon the tapering end of the instrument. Needles are made from the fibula of the emu or kangaroo, and are pointed at one end by being rubbed on a stone, they are used in sewing as we use a shoemaker’s awl, the hole is bored and the thread put through with the hand; the thread is made of the sinews of the emu and kangaroo. The netting needle is a little round bit of stick or reed, about the size of a lead pencil, round which the string is wound, no mesh is used, the eye and hand enabling the native to net with the utmost regularity, speed, and neatness.

The nets for hunting, for carrying their effects or food, for making belts for the waist, or bandages for the head, are all made from the tendons or fur of animals, or from the fibres of plants. In the former, the sinews of the kangaroo or emu, and the fur of opossums and other similar animals, are used; in the latter, a species of rush, the fibres of the root of the mallow, the fibres of the root of the broad flag-reed, etc. and in some parts of the continent, the fibrous bark of trees. The materials are prepared for use by being soaked in water and carded with the teeth and hands, or by being chewed or rubbed.

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Plate V. Native Works of Industry

String is made by the fibres being twisted, and rubbed with the palm of the hand over the naked thighs, and is often as neatly executed as English whip-cord, though never consisting of more than two strands — the strands being increased in thickness according to the size of the cord that may be required. Nets vary in size and strength according to the purposes for which they are required; the duck net (kew-rad-ko) has already been described, as also the kenderanko, or small net for diving for fish, and the taendilly net, for diving with under the rocks for the larger fish; the kenyinki is a net with very small meshes, and set out with a wooden bow, for catching shrimps and other very small fish. There are also, a wharro, a large hoop-net for catching small cray-fish; a lenko, or small net for hanging round the neck, to put muscles, cray-fish, frogs, etc. in; a rocko, or large net bag, used by the women for carrying their worldly effects about with them; the kaar-ge-rum, or net for the waistband; the rad-ko, or fishing net, which is a regular seine for catching fish, about fifty or sixty feet in length, and varying in depth according to the place where it is to be used; the emu or kangaroo net (nunko) is very strong, with meshes from five to six inches square; it is made of cord as thick as a large quill, and its length is from a hundred to a hundred and thirty feet, and depth about five feet when set. The wallabie net is about thirty feet long, of strong cord, and when set about eighteen inches high. The size of the meshes of all the nets depends upon the game to be taken; generally they are small. Neat, and variously striped baskets and mats are made by the women of certain tribes, from rushes, or a broad-leaved description of grass. The kallater is a round basket, wide at the base, and tapering upwards; its size varies. The poola-danooko is a very pretty looking, flat, oval basket, adapted for laying against the back. The poneed-ke is a large, flat, circular mat, worn over the back and shoulders, and when tied by a band round the waist affords a lodging for an infant. Large bags or wallets are also made of kangaroo skins, with the fur outside, and small ones of the skins of lesser animals with the fur inside. Skins are prepared for making cloaks by pegging them tight out upon the ground soon after they are taken off the animal, when dry, cold ashes or dust are thrown in, to absorb any grease that may have exuded. If the weather is damp, or the native is in a hurry, they are pegged out near the fire; after drying, the smaller skins are rubbed with stones to make them flexible, or are scored or ornamented with various devices, cut with a flint or shell on the skin side; the larger skins have their inner layers shaved off by flints, shells, or implements of wood. Opossums, wallabies, young kangaroos, etc. are skinned sometimes by simply making a slit about the head, through which the rest of the body is made to pass; the skins are turned inside out, and the ends of the legs tied up, and are then ready for holding water, and always form part of the baggage of natives who travel much about, or go into badly watered districts. I have seen these skins (lukomb) capable of holding from two to three gallons of water: the fur is always inside. The karko is a small spade of wood, used by the natives north of Adelaide for digging up grubs from the ground. The canoe or “mun” is a large sheet of bark cut from the gum-tree, carefully lowered to the ground, and then heated with fire until it becomes soft and pliable, and can be moulded into form, it is then supported by wooden props, to keep it in shape, until it becomes hard and set, which is in about twenty-four hours, though it is frequently used sooner. On its being launched, sticks or stretchers are placed across each end and in the middle, to prevent the bark from contracting or curling up with exposure to the air. A large canoe will hold seven or eight people easily; it is often twenty feet long. The following is a description of an ordinary one for fishing:— length fifteen feet, width three feet, depth eight inches, formed out of a single sheet of bark, with one end a little narrower than the other and pointing upwards. This end is paddled first; the bottom is nearly flat, and the canoe is so firm, that a person can take hold of one side, and climb into it from the water without upsetting it. It is paddled along with the long pine-spear moo-aroo, described as being used in fishing at night by firelight. In propelling it the native stands near the centre, pushing his moo-aroo against the water, first on one side and then on the other; in shallow water one end of the moo-aroo is placed on the bottom, and the canoe so pushed along. The natives are well acquainted with the use of fire, for hardening the points of their weapons or softening the wood to enable them to bend them. In the former case, the point is charred in the fire, and scraped with a shell or flint to the precise shape required; in the latter, their spears, and other similar weapons, are placed upon hot ashes, and bent into form by pressure. It is a common practice among many of the tribes to grease their weapons and implements with human fat, taken from the omentum, either of enemies who have been killed, or of relations who have died. Spears, and other offensive arms, are supposed to possess additional powers if thus treated; and nets and other implements for procuring game are imagined to become much more effectual in ensnaring prey. In setting nets, too, the natives have a practice of taking up a handful of water to the mouth, and then squirting it out over the net, in a shower of spray, this they think is a powerful charm to ensure the fish being caught.

There can hardly be said to be any form of government existing among a people who recognize no authority, and where every member of the community is at liberty to act as he likes, except, in so far as he may be influenced by the general opinions or wishes of the tribe, or by that feeling which prompts men, whether in civilised or savage communities to bend to the will of some one or two persons who may have taken a more prominent and leading part than the rest in the duties and avocations of life. Among none of the tribes yet known have chiefs ever been found to be acknowledged, though in all there are always some men who take the lead, and whose opinions and wishes have great weight with the others.

Other things being equal, a man’s authority and influence increase among his tribe in proportion to his years. To each stage of life through which he passes is given some additional knowledge or power, and he is privileged to carry an additional number of implements and weapons, as he advances in life. An old grey-headed man generally carries the principal implements and weapons, either for war or sorcery; many of the latter the women and children are never allowed to see, such as pieces of rock-crystal, by which the sorcerer can produce rain, cause blindness, or impart to the waters the power of destroying life, etc.; sacred daggers for causing the death of their enemies by enchantment; the moor-y-um-karr or flat oval piece of wood which is whirled round the camp at nights, and many others of a similar nature.

I have not, however, found that age is invariably productive of influence, unless the individual has previously signalized himself among his people, and taken up a commanding position when youth and strength enabled him to support his pretensions, and unless he be still in full possession of vigour of mind and energy of character, though no longer endowed with personal strength. The grey-head appears to be usually treated with respect as long as the owner is no incumbrance to those around him, but the moment he becomes a drag, every tie is broken, and he is at once cast off to perish. Among many tribes with which I have been acquainted, I have often noticed that though the leading men were generally elderly men from forty-five to sixty years old, they were not always the oldest; they were still in full vigour of body and mind, and men who could take a prominent part in acting as well as counselling. I am inclined, therefore, to think that the degree of estimation in which any native is held by his fellows, or the amount of deference that may be paid to his opinions, will in a great measure depend upon his personal strength, courage, energy, prudence, skill, and other similar qualifications, influenced, perhaps, collaterally by his family connections and the power which they possess.

Each father of a family rules absolutely over his own circle. In his movements and arrangements he is uncontrolled, yet, as a matter of policy, he always informs his fellows where he is going, what he is going to do, how long he will be absent, when he will meet them again, etc. It thus happens that, although a tribe may be dispersed all over their own district in single groups, or some even visiting neighbouring tribes, yet if you meet with any one family they can at once tell you where you will find any other, though the parties themselves may not have met for weeks. Some one or other is always moving about, and thus the news of each other’s locality gets rapidly spread among the rest. The principal occupation, indeed, of parties when they meet, is to give and receive information relative to neighbouring families or tribes. In cases of sudden danger or emergency, the scattered groups are rapidly warned or collected by sending young men as messengers, or by raising signal smokes in prominent positions.

In an assembly of the tribe, matters of importance are generally discussed and decided upon, by the elder men, apart from the others. It not unfrequently happens, however, that some discontented individual will loudly and violently harangue the whole tribe; this usually occurs in the evening, and frequently continues for hours together; his object being generally either to reverse some decision that has been come to, to excite them to something they are unwilling to do, or to abuse some one who is absent. Occasionally he is replied to by others, but more frequently allowed uninterruptedly to wear himself out, when from sheer exhaustion he is compelled to sit down.

Occasionally the tribe is addressed by its most influential members in the language of admonition or advice, and though at such times a loud tone and strong expressions are made use of, there is rarely any thing amounting to an order or command; the subject is explained, reasons are given for what is advanced, and the result of an opposite course to that suggested, fully pointed out; after this the various members are left to form their own judgments, and to act as they think proper.

In their domestic relations with one another polygamy is practised in its fullest extent. An old man having usually from one to four wives, or as many as he can procure.

The females, and especially the young ones are kept principally among the old men, who barter away their daughters, sisters, or nieces, in exchange for wives for themselves or their sons. Wives are considered the absolute property of the husband, and can be given away, or exchanged, or lent, according to his caprice. A husband is denominated in the Adelaide dialect, Yongarra, Martanya (the owner or proprietor of a wife). Female children are betrothed usually from early infancy, and such arrangements are usually adhered to; still in many cases circumstances occur frequently to cause an alteration; but if not, the girls generally go to live with their husbands about the age of twelve, and sometimes even before that. Relatives nearer than cousins are not allowed to marry, and this alliance does not generally take place. Female orphans belong to the nearest male relative, as also does a widow, instead of to the nearest male relative of the husband, as was found to be the case in Western Australia by Captain Grey. Two or three months generally elapse before the widow goes to another husband; but if the wife dies, the man takes another as soon as he can get one. If a woman, having young children, join another tribe, the children go with her; but I am not aware whether they would remain permanently attached to that tribe or not. Brothers often barter their sisters for wives for themselves, but it can only be done with the parents’ consent, or after their death. If a wife be stolen, war is always continued until she is given up, or another female in her place.

There is no ceremony connected with the undertaking of marriage. In those cases where I have witnessed the giving away of a wife, the woman was simply ordered by the nearest male relative in whose disposal she was, to take up her “rocko,” the bag in which a female carries the effects of her husband, and go to the man’s camp to whom she had been given. Marriage is not looked upon as any pledge of chastity, indeed no such virtue is recognised.

[Note 76: Foeminae sese per totam pene vitam prostituunt. Apud plurimas tribus juventutem utriusque sexus sine discrimine concumbere in usus est. Si juvenis forte indigenorum coetum quendam in castris manentem adveniat ubi quaevis sit puella innupta, mos est; nocte veniente et cubantibus omnibus, illam ex loco exsurgere et juvenem accedentem cum illo per noctem manere unde in sedem propriam ante diem redit. Cui foemina sit, eam amicis libenter praebet; si in itinere sit, uxori in castris manenti aliquis ejus supplet ille vires. Advenis ex longinquo accedentibus foeminas ad tempus dare hospitis esse boni judicatur. Viduis et foeminis jam senescentibus saepe in id traditis, quandoque etiam invitis et insciis cognatis, adolescentes utuntur. Puellae tenerae a decimo primum anno, et pueri a decimo tertio vel quarto, inter se miscentur. Senioribus mos est, si forte gentium plurium castra appropinquant, viros noctu huic inde transeuntes, uxoribus alienis uti et in sua castra ex utraque parte mane redire. Temporis quinetiam certis, machina quaedam ex ligno ad formam ovi facta, sacra et mystica, uam foeminas aspicere haud licitam, decem plus minus uncias longa et circa quatuor lata insculpta ac figuris diversis ornata, et ultimam perforata partem ad longam (plerumque e crinibus humanis textam) inscrendam chordam cui nomen “Mooyumkarr,” extra castra in gyrum versata, stridore magno e percusso aere facto, libertatem coeundi juventuti esse tum concessam omnibus indicat. Parentes saepe infantum, viri uxorum quaestum corporum faciunt. In urbe Adelaide panis praemio parvi aut paucorum denariorum meretrices fieri eas libenter cogunt. Facile potest intelligi, amorem inter nuptos vix posse esse grandem, quum omnia quae ad foeminas attinent, hominum arbitrio ordinentur et tanta sexuum societati laxitas, et adolescentes quibus ita multae ardoris explendi dantur occasiones, haud magnopere uxores, nisi ut servas desideraturos.

But little real affection consequently exists between husbands and wives, and young men value a wife principally for her services as a slave; in fact when asked why they are anxious to obtain wives, their usual reply is, that they may get wood, water, and food for them, and carry whatever property they possess. In 1842 the wife of a native in Adelaide, a girl about eighteen, was confined, and recovered slowly; before she was well the tribe removed from the locality, and the husband preferred accompanying them, and left his wife to die, instead of remaining to attend upon her and administer to her wants. When the natives were gone, the girl was removed to the mission station, to receive medical attendance, but eventually died. In the same year an old woman who broke her thigh was left to die, as the tribe did not like the trouble of carrying her about. Parents are treated in the same manner when helpless and infirm. [Note 77.] In 1839 I found an aged man left to die, without fire or food, upon a high bare hill beyond the Broughton. In 1843 I found two old women, who had been abandoned in the same way, at the Murray, and although they were taken every care of when discovered, they both died in about a week afterwards. No age is prescribed for matrimony, but young men under twenty-five years of age do not often obtain wives, there are exceptions, however, to this: I have seen occasionally young men of seventeen or eighteen possessing them. When wives are from thirty-five to forty years of age, they are frequently cast off by the husbands, or are given to the younger men in exchange for their sisters or near relatives, if such are at their disposal.

[Note 77: “Practised by the American Indians.”— Catlin, vol. i. p. 216.

“The early life of a young woman at all celebrated for beauty is generally one continued series of captivity to different masters, of ghastly wounds, of wanderings in strange families, of rapid flights, of bad treatment from other females amongst whom she is brought a stranger by her captor; and 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 thus wanders several hundred miles from the home of her infancy, being carried off successively to distant and more distant points.”]

Women are often sadly ill-treated by their husbands or friends, in addition to the dreadful life of drudgery, and privation, and hardship they always have to undergo; they are frequently beaten about the head, with waddies, in the most dreadful manner, or speared in the limbs for the most trivial offences. No one takes the part of the weak or the injured, or ever attempts to interfere with the infliction of such severe punishments.

Few women will be found, upon examination, to be free from frightful scars upon the head, or the marks of spear-wounds about the body. I have seen a young woman, who, from the number of these marks, appeared to have been almost riddled with spear wounds. Upon this point Captain Grey remarks, vol. ii. p. 249.

The menses commence to flow among the native females at an earlier age than among Europeans, frequently beginning at about twelve; they are also subject to many irregularities in their periodical return, arising probably from the kind of life they lead and the nature of the diet upon which they live. I have known cases where this irregularity has extended to three months. Child-bearing does not commence often before the age of sixteen, nor have I ever noticed pregnant women under that age. In inquiries conducted by Mr. Moorhouse among the natives of Adelaide, that gentleman ascertained, that as many as nine children have occasionally been born to one woman; that the average number is about five; but that each mother only reared an average of two. At childbirth, the placenta, which is considered as sacred, is carefully put away from the reach of the dogs as soon as thrown off from the uterus, and the female is up and following her usual avocations a very few hours after the accouchement. Instances have occurred of women sitting up, and asking for food an hour after confinement, though wet with rain, and having very little fire. Two days after it, I have seen a woman walking two or three miles, and going out to look for food in her usual manner. Infanticide is very common, and appears to be practised solely to get rid of the trouble of rearing children, and to enable the woman to follow her husband about in his wanderings, which she frequently could not do if encumbered with a child. The first three or four are often killed; no distinction appears to be made in this case between male or female children. Half-castes appear to be always destroyed.

The nomenclature of the natives is a subject of considerable difficulty, and is at present involved in much obscurity and uncertainty, so many different practices obtaining, and so many changes of name occurring to some individuals during the course of their life. In the Adelaide district, and among the tribes to the north, Mr. Moorhouse has found that numerical names are given to children when first born, in the order of birth, a variation in the termination constituting the distinction of name for male or female, thus:—

IF MALE. IF FEMALE.
The 1st child would be called Kertameru Kertanya
2nd child would be called Warritya Warriarto
3rd child would be called Kudnutya Kudnarto
4th child would be called Monaitya Monarto
5th child would be called Milaitya Milarto
6th child would be called Marrutya Marruarto
7th child would be called Wangutya Wangwarto
8th child would be called Ngarlaitya Ngarlarto
9th child would be called Pouarna Ngarlarto

These are given at birth; but a short time after another name is added, which is derived from some object in nature, as a plant, animal, or insect. This name continues until after marriage and the birth of the first child, upon which the father takes the name of this child, and has the word binna or spinna, (an adult,) affixed, as Kadli; name of a child, Kadlitpinna, the father of Kadli; the mother is called Kadli ngangki, or mother of Kadli, from ngangki, a female or woman. The names of the father and mother are changed at the birth of every child in the same manner.

At Moorunde, and among many other tribes, I have not found any numerical names to be given at birth, the first name usually being that derived from some object in nature. This is occasionally changed after marriage and the birth of a child; as among the Adelaide or northern natives, the father taking the name of the child with the affix of imbe or nimbe (implying father), as Kartul, a child’s name, Kartulnimbe the father of Kartul, Memparne, a child’s name, Memparnimbe the father of Memparne. This paidronymic is not, however, always adhered to in preference to the original name; thus Memparnimbe is as often called by his former name of Tenberry as his paidronymic; he is also called occasionally Worrammo, from his being left-handed. Neither have I found the name of the parent change at the birth of every child; thus Memparnimbe has other children, younger than Memparne, as Warrulan, Timarro, etc. yet he is never called Warrulanimbe, Timarronimbe, etc. The mother’s name, similarly to that of the father, is also occasionally altered to that of the child, with the affix of arwer, or emarwer, as Kartulemarwer, the mother of Kartul, Memparnemarwer, the mother of Memparne, yet is the original name of the mother as often used as the paidronymic. Old men are frequently called by the name of the place which belongs to them, with the affix of bookola thus Mooroondooyo Bookola is the old man who owns Mooroonde, etc.

image
Tenberry, with Wife and Child, drawn by G. Hamilton

At other times nicknames are given to natives, and so generally made use of by the others that the proper or original name becomes almost lost. Thus a native named Marloo, from a habit he had of looking about him and saying, “I see, I see,” is called Nairkinimbe, or the father of seeing. Another named Ngalle-ngalle is called Eukonimbe, the father of eukodko, from his being very fond of the crayfish of that name, and so on. Other local appellations are given referring to some peculiarity of personal appearance, Parn-gang-gapko, the baldheaded, Towang Makkeroo, the broken-thighed, etc. Others again refer to family bereavements, as Roo ptootarap, a father without children, Parntomakker, a childless mother, Parnko, an orphan, Wirrang, one who has lost a brother, Rockootarap, one whose wife is dead, Thaltarlpipke, an unmarried man, Rartchilock, one who owns a wife, Rang, a widow, Waukerow, an unmarried woman, etc. These are all distinctions, which though readily discoverable by a person tolerably well versed in the dialect, or long resident among the same natives, present many difficulties, and lead to many mistakes, amongst casual inquirers, or those whose pursuits do not keep them long at the place of their inquiries. There are others which are still more difficult to be understood, from the almost utter impossibility of learning (with any reasonable sacrifice of time) the language with sufficient accuracy to enable the inquirer thoroughly to comprehend the meanings of the proper names, and deduce the roots from which they are derived.

Even among the Adelaide tribes, where there appears to be a greater uniformity in the system of nomenclature than I have met with any where else, and where Mr. Moorhouse has devoted more time and attention to the subject than perhaps any other person, there are still difficulties and uncertainties. Thus an Adelaide boy about the age of ten, is called by the name of Koar (the crow), from early infancy, but between ten and twelve, after undergoing one of their ceremonies, the name was changed to Mannara, (which I believe means the crow’s nest). According, however, to the usual system adopted, this boy’s name ought to have remained Koar, until, by becoming a married man and a father, it gave way to a paidronymic.

There is another subject somewhat analogous to that of nomenclature, and about which still less is known; — that of every native adopting some object in creation as his crest, or tiende. The same thing is noticed by Captain Grey in his narrative (vol. ii. p. 228).

“But as each family adopts some animal or vegetable, as their crest or sign, or KOBONG as they call it, I imagine it more likely, that these have been named after the families, than that the families have been named after them.

“A certain mysterious connection exists between a family and its KOBONG, so that a member of a family will never kill an animal of the species, to which his KOBONG belongs, should he find it asleep; indeed, he always kills it reluctantly, and never without affording it a chance to escape. This arises from the family belief, that some one individual of the species is their nearest friend, to kill whom would be a great crime, and to be carefully avoided. Similarly, a native who has a vegetable for his KOBONG, may not gather it under certain circumstances, and at a particular period of the year.”

From the foregoing quotation, it is apparent that very little difference exists in the custom as practised in Western and Southern Australia. In the former, however, there appears to be an unwillingness to destroy the object represented by the kobong or tiende that I have never observed in the latter. But very little appears to be known on this subject at present, as far as regards the reason for assuming the tiende, or its connection with the individual or family it may represent. The same tiende seems to descend from a father to his children; but I have been told occasionally of instances where such has not been the case. There are several striking differences between the customs and habits of the Aborigines of Western Australia, narrated by Captain Grey, and those in force among the tribes I have myself been best acquainted with in Southern or South-eastern Australia. One singular peculiarity is described by Captain Grey.

“One of the most remarkable facts connected with the natives, is that they are divided into certain great families, all the members of which bear the same names, as a family or second name: the principal branches of these families, so far as I have been able to ascertain, are the

Ballaroke Tdondarup Ngotak Nagarnook Nogonyuk Mongalung Narrangur.

“But 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 most common local names are,

Didaroke Gwerrinjoke Maleoke Waddaroke Djekoke Kotejumeno Namyungo Yungaree.

“These family names are common over a great portion of the continent; for instance, on the Western coast, in a tract of country extending between four and five hundred miles in latitude, members of all these families are found. In South Australia, I met a man who said that he belonged to one of them, and Captain Flinders mentions Yungaree, as the name of a native in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

“These family names are perpetuated, and spread through the country, by the operation of two remarkable laws:—

“1st. That children of either sex, always take the family name of their mother.

“2nd. That a man cannot marry a woman of his own family name.”

From this it appears that the natives of that part of the country have in addition to their other ordinary names a family or surname, which is perpetuated through successive generations on the mother’s side. This is not the case as far as my observations and inquiries have enabled me to ascertain among the numerous tribes frequenting the Murray river, and Mr. Moorhouse assures me that he has been equally unable to detect any coincidence of the kind among the tribes frequenting the district of Adelaide.

The division, numbers, and names of the various tribes are also subjects of difficulty and uncertainty. As far as my researches have yet extended upon this point, it appears to me, first, that groups of natives have a distinctive or a local appellation, derived from the particular place they belong to, as Barmerara maru, the natives frequenting the lake called Barmera: Moolyoolpero maru, the natives frequenting the lagoon called Moolyoolko, and so on. Secondly, a general or tribal name, as Narwijjerook, a native of the tribe so called, which includes the natives of Barmera and various others in that neighbourhood. Karn-brickolenbola, a native of the tribe so called, and which includes various groups around Mooroonde. Thirdly, it appears that wherever a change occurs in the name of the tribes to which contiguous groups of natives may belong, there is a corresponding change in the dialect or language spoken; thus the Narwij-jerook speak a dialect called Narwijjong, the Karn-brickolenbola tribe the Aiawong dialect, and so on.

In many of these dialects there appears to be little more difference than exists among the counties in England. Such is the case up the course of the Murray from Lake Alexandrina to the Darling; and such Captain Grey found to be the case throughout a great part of Western Australia. In others the dialects are so totally unlike one another, that natives, meeting upon opposite sides of a river, cannot speak to or understand a word of what each other say, except through the medium of a third language, namely that spoken by the natives of the river itself, and which is totally unlike either of the other two.

This is the case at Moorunde, where three different dialects meet, the Yakkumban, or dialect spoken by the Paritke tribe, or natives inhabiting the scrub to the west and north-west of the Murray. The Boraipar or language of the Arkatko tribe, who inhabit the scrub to the east of the Murray, and the Aiawong or river dialect, extending, with slight variations, from the junction of the Murray and Lake Alexandrina to the Darling.

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