I rigged my first little tent home in South Australia on the hills West of Fowler’s Bay in 1914. Koolbari and Beenbong built my breakwind and settled down beside it with remnants of many groups of the eastern, western and northern edge of the Plain. Among them were three who were blind and helpless, Dowie of the Boundary Dam mallee-hen; Jinjabulla, last of the emu men of Ooldea; and Binilya, a wirongu-rain or cloud woman of Tarcoola.
Binilya, though totally blind, had the reputation, like Canute, of being able to control the elements. To see her haranguing the lightning and brandishing her digging-stick at the scowling skies in a thunderstorm was a sight to be remembered. When the thunder died away, an expression of the utmost self-satisfaction overspread her eager, listening face, and she would go back to her camp-fire happily singing the rain-songs of Wirongu.
These sightless ones had been deserted by their own last of kin, and suffered many disabilities and small persecutions until one day I delighted them by striking camp and taking them with me to a little haven of their own, a place called Wirilya, twenty-six miles from Yalata. I put up my tent in a grove of acacia trees, and, because they had such great need of me, “sat down” with them there for two or three years.
Wirilya had never been a group camp, as there was no permanent water, but after rain, when the rock-holes were filled, the passing tribes would stay for a little while demolishing everything edible. From my camp in a little grove of kardia I was encircled by a ring of soft green vales which, again, were bounded on their farther side by the blue mallee hills of the coast and the purple-brown kardia of the inland slopes.
It was all limestone area, offering little resistance to weathering and levelling agents. Nearer the coast the valleys were formed from more recent sea inlets, and in digging down into these depressions strata upon strata of small shells, sometimes one inch, often three or four inches in depth, was disclosed, each species of small shell, clean and whole, forming its own stratum; and on the limestone slabs that have formed, and that now lie exposed in some of these depressions near the coast, are numbers of footprints, called by the natives “nyeerina jinna,” of humans, animals and birds which walked over the soft mud of long ago to get the oysters, mussels and other shell-fish whose fossils line the shallow banks girding them. A granite boulder, a white flint, a waterworn stone, some odd geological feature which even the natives knew was foreign to the district, formed with the footprints the basis of many a native legend accounting for their presence in such strange surroundings. Farther inland the valleys were covered with grasses, samphire, saltbush and other metamorphosed seagrowths, and creeping slowly over many of them the kardia was gradually covering their surface, so that in many places one looked across dark-green forests of kardia to the deeper greens and browns of the slopes beyond.
At all times it was beautiful, whether in the quivering heat of summer which sent waves of soft colours dancing over still trees and brown surface, or in the cool and misty winter mornings, when just to look upon its beauty was an ecstasy; the tall golden grasses nid-nodding with every breeze, the growing greens of tree and bush mingling in utmost harmony with the greyer or browner older leaves, the tree-tops of the edging slopes beyond the vale silhouetted against a brilliant sky, or rising out of a white lake of morning mist; and all round and about, winter and summer, the wild life of the bush adding its voice and movement to the general harmony.
There were well-defined guides on some of the deeper slopes that told of a heavier rainfall in days gone by, and in the good winter and spring kangaroo, emu, and turkey came in plenty to feed on the luscious grasses and herbage of the verdant slopes. Edible roots and fruits, native currants, peaches and the like, were also plentiful in good seasons, so that in the winter and spring the South Coast men [Yulbari nunga], in whose tribal run Wirilya was included, were able to perform ceremonies if they did not last too long, for beyond a few shallow clay-pans and rock-holes, filled only in good seasons, there was no permanent water at Wirilya. Groups of males often came to catch that great native delicacy, the emu, and to feast on its blood. Women were not allowed to come to these feasts for emu was forbidden meat to them, and they could not drink the blood of emu nor even see their menkind drink it.
Several roads, which were expansions of old native tracks, ran from Wirilya to Yuria Water in the north, to Bookabi and other rock-holes in the east and south-east, and to Binjumba and Kooluna in the west and north-west, but there were no deep native tracks such as were to be found round permanent watering places, and until the white man’s sheep came to Wirilya it was mainly left to the birds, animals and reptiles and insects that flourished on the plains and slopes, the swamp and low scrub round and about Wirilya knoll.
Wirilya abounded in bird life, its soft and musical name deriving from the little “wirily,” a species of ground lark that lives on the plains and the grassy slopes.
When the first aborigines arrived at this point, they had apparently formed their own exogamous [Thar-burda and narrumba] laws, and they noticed that the wirily [“Ily” as in fauteuil] chased the young male birds out of the family to go and make their own groups elsewhere. Then probably arose the legend that wirily were at one time men, and when they changed into birds they kept their laws, and married without breaking the moral law of consanguinity, and so the home of these law-abiding birds was called Wirilya.
There is something extraordinarily human about the wild life of the bush, and the lonely camp-dweller and lover of the wild can easily understand the translation of bird and animal into the legends and traditions of the aborigines. Like the natives themselves, birds are far keener observers of the white man than he is of them, and have a much greater intelligence than the most observing of us credits them with.
Whenever I pitch my camp I become at once an object of scrutiny to the bird life surrounding the spot I have chosen. Each bird has its own method of observation, some peer stealthily, watching my movements from some hidden spot, others are openly curious and perch anywhere round where they can get a good view of the intruder, others come mocking or uttering unfriendly warning, or even contemptuous notes. Every species of bird has its own personality, so to speak, and in the native bird legends their personality is always taken into account. Again, too, as with the natives, themselves, some birds are friendly towards some of their kind, adopt an armed neutrality towards others, and are at open and constant enmity with yet other groups; and where bird or animal becomes the totem of a human group, the same distinction appears to be observed by the aborigines as prevails amongst the bird groups. A native of the eagle totem will be friendly with a kangaroo totem man, but will wage war with a crow man, a wombat totem man will be the enemy of a wild dog man, and so on. Totem is the general American term applied by the scientist to the peculiar connection existing between the aborigines and certain birds, animals, reptiles, etc., their belief that the bird or animal is “the same as” the man whose totem it is, for every aborigine fully believes that in the dhoogoor or dream (ancestral) times his own ancestors were birds like that which is now his totem, and which he calls his brother or son, sister or daughter according as the bird is old or young, male or female.
A man may kill and eat his own totem in some districts, but unless very hungry, he will not kill and eat its young ones, for they are his gijjara (children), and their shadow or spirit (called ngwan in the Eucla area) is always inside his own body, but he will kill and eat, and give to his friends to eat his “totem brother,” the deliberate giving of which always cements their friendship. All bird and animal totemic ceremonies that I have seen are simply legends dramatized, for bird legend and totem are inseparable in the native mind.
One must love solitude for its own sake to taste in its fullness the perfect happiness that these beautiful open spaces give.
Wind and sunlight and wide clear spaces
Dawn and evening and bright clear stars.
. . . and desert places.
Often in the evening dream echoes of native voices come, borne on the winds, singing weird cadences that seem to take one’s soul into a barbaric past in which it had once lived and moved. The croonings and keenings of the natives of today are the same as those sung by their far-off ancestors. The meaning of song or recitation is never expressed in the few words crooned or sung, for inside the singer there may be a wealth of meaning, a dirge for the long dead but still remembered friend, a long story of ancestral travelling, a hunting exploit, a kill, a song of prowess, a dramatic episode, or just emotional phases passing through the singer’s mind; any one of these giving rise to song. Many of their keenings are strangely like those of the Celt and Oriental, and between these three races-Celt, Oriental and Aboriginal-there is also the link of fatalism. It is impossible to describe these songs adequately even when one is familiar with the trend of thought, daily life and speech and the cadences natural to the expression of aboriginal emotion. If you are a Celt you can sense what the singer is unable to express, and feel the varied emotions passing through him. Subjects that have lent themselves to epics in other lands can only be rendered by the aborigine in a crude sentence. His totem songs-a few words at most-are sung with a wild abandon, the emotions they stir within him becoming stronger with every repetition, until finally, from excess of feeling, the singer will often fall unconscious, to be roughly massaged into life again.
Sunsets blaze and fade, and blaze again in these great empty wilds, and dawn sets her diadem over them. The light loitering winds carry delicate perfumes hither and thither, but all these places that once echoed with song or war-cry are now left to the birds and animals whose forebears witnessed the arrival of the humans, and who themselves are now witnessing their passing.
Night comes to us with its shadows and misty veilings. Our bird friends are sleeping contentedly in the trees round about us. What night life there is moves noiselessly, and this is the time for legend or tradition or narrative of exploits of young days. The natives’ voices attune themselves unconsciously to the hushed immensity round us, and lower and lower the words are uttered until the story ends between words and silence. Then perhaps someone will start a sort of crooning lullaby, the soft melody rising and falling like an aboriginal Gregorian Chant, a song of the dream times, an echo, “wongai arga argarn,” that has come from the past.
At Wirilya my blind natives and I lived in contentment. I daily hunted rabbits and lizards for their food, cut wood for their fires, guarded them from setting alight to themselves or wandering into danger, cooked their meals and cared for them, lighted their pipes, and sometimes led them, by means of a long pole, for pleasant walks in their beloved bush, talking of old times. Always I respected their own laws. For instance, Jinjabulla and Dowie must never touch each other, as Jinjabulla had once given his blood to Dowie at an initiation ceremony. Both being wanderers and both blind, many a time I called a warning that only we three could understand. Dowie’s life history was a terrible one, given me partly by his contemporaries, by Binilya and Jinjabulla and Eucla and Bight Head derelicts.
Dowie was a Baadu of Warrdarrgana, the son of Karildanu, a Baadu and mallee-hen totem man, and Bildana, his wife, a Ngallia and of the emu totem from the north-east. When he was a little boy he was given four baby sisters to eat and he was rubbed over with their fat. This made him grow so quickly and so big and strong that he was initiated at the same time as boys much older than he, but not so big and broad and fat. He was hairy and tall and big-mouthed, and from the moment when he first tasted the flesh of his baby sisters, he developed a taste for human food that grew and strengthened with his years. He was taken north to the spinifex country for his initiation, and while living with the North-men he heard in the evening tales told by the elder men of spirits (white-men) that had been killed and eaten by those tale-tellers, but that did not taste as good as their own human food. He was told of his great ancestor’s travels north, and the travels of Ming-ari (Molock Horridus). He heard too of the huge snake, “like a hill walking about,” who went and sat down by Milbarli’s iguana water at Wandunya and would not let Milbarli women come near the water. Milbarli, Meeda (small iguana) and Yoong-ga fought Ganba, who tried to hide in the sand that covers Wandunya Water, but Milbarli pulled him and Meeda bit him and Yoong-ga pushed him, and all the women helped their husbands. And at last they killed Ganba and he turned into stone, and he is there now by Wandunya Water. And Milbarli and Yoong-ga made a dance and many songs of the great battle and all the Waddi now dance the “beeja-beejama” to show how their dreamtime brothers and sisters killed the huge Ganba. Dowie saw the dance, but he did not like it, because women had too large a part in it and he despised women.
He hated his mother, Bildana, and his other mothers and his sisters, and all his brothers. He would have eaten them all as he had eaten the others, but they were older than he was and so could not be given to him to eat. He never played with girls without fighting and beating them, and he beat his mothers with sticks and stones, and threw sand in their eyes. He was the constant cause of camp battle, so that when his initiation came, all those in charge of him had some grudge against him, and at the Wa-warning (throwing the boy in the air) they let him fall again and again, but he was so fat and strong they could not break his bones, or cripple him. Then, at the beating, he was thumped hard on the chest and heart, but no blood came. At the blood-drinking he drank greedily of the blood that filled the scoop and wished the ceremony lasted longer than a day. All Baadu are blood-drinkers, but Dowie liked blood to drink more than water. The voice of the bull-roarer soothed him while the severer ordeals of his initiation were gone through. Every detail of the ceremony sank into his being and as he had been dealt with, so also and more hardly did he deal with the boys whom he initiated later. He made his own scars, for there was neither brother nor friend who wished to scar him in amity, and though the four men who held him had to make their sisters his potential mothers-inlaw (“forbidden”) the sisters were only too glad because he was now oomari, and, therefore, could not touch or beat or look at them any more, but they hoped no girl babies would come to them, because one of his oomari had lost an eye through his wicked sand-throwing.
His initiation finished, he was free to join the others in their exchange and barter journeys, but there was never a journey in which he took part that did not end in bloodshed and a feast of human flesh.
Dowie had passed his initiation and was claiming one of the wives that had been promised him when the shock of Giles’s expedition passing through Boundary Dam [Warrdarrgana] sent the tribe into such a panic of fear that several died afterwards from the magic of its passing. Among them were Dowie’s brother and two sisters. White men and horses had been previously described to Dowie, who saw them for himself and he feared and hated them, yet dared not lift spear or boomerang to hurl at them.
Cruel, blood-thirsty and quarrelsome in his manhood, he demanded and obtained his first wife, hurrying up the ceremonies connected with her entry into womanhood. He flung the human and animal meat payment to the girl’s family in more and more contempt as the days passed and her initiation was delayed. His huge mouth twisted and moved with every ugly emotion of his mind; he was the scandal-monger of every group and his eyes and ears were constantly on the alert to see and hear things that, when repeated, led to killing and eating. And when he stood in the row of young men into whose mouths Kommuru (mother’s brother) threw pieces of liver, [Kammarndi] however large the piece, Dowie caught and swallowed it and only showed his satisfaction when the portion was unusually large. Neither the hands nor the teeth of the young men must touch the liver, and if their stomachs reject it they will die, and if it falls from their mouths they will die, or if they attempt to masticate it they will die. Kommuru cut larger and larger pieces for Dowle hoping that he would fail to swallow them, but Dowie never missed, though other and better young men of the group missed and died and became themselves human food.
Dowie brought home many human bodies for he would stalk human game in murderer’s slippers, [Muldharra] and he loved the flesh of man, woman and child. When he brought his own “kill” into camp, he claimed those portions that impart the strength of the dead man to the eater. And so he waxed in strength and cruelty. He beat his first wife Yoobana immediately after she was handed over to him, because she cried from fear of him, and he continued to beat her until tired of her tears, he knocked her on the head and shared in the distribution of her body afterwards. Then Diongu was made ready and was passed over to him, and she was also killed and eaten, and so were Nyiranunga and Wanbiana. Now, wanton women in any camp, may lawfully be killed and eaten, but these women were not wanton, yet none dared to remonstrate.
His four wives finished, he looked for others, and took Narrilyana-from a Wong-gai-i Waddi, which was wrong for the Waddi and the Baadu could not intermarry. Then he took a Munjinji woman and a Ngalla, and Marduwonga, but these all died quickly. All those who opposed him he fought and killed and helped to eat. Yangaij was his next capture but her own man stole her back again, and about this time there came a diversion, for news was brought to the Baadu that white men had come to Yooldil (Ooldea) Gabbi, and, as the Baadu and Yooldil men had often exchanged boys for initiation, a party set out from Boundary Dam. Some of the older Baadu had already mixed with and worked for and bartered their women to the white kangaroo-hunters, and others on the plains and elsewhere, and when this new way of living presented itself to Dowie’s own eyes, he picked up Koondhaing, who had drifted down as a young girl, and had attached herself to a white man. With some of the emu men from Ooldea and the Wirongi from Winbera (Wynbring) he passed down to the West Coast through Ooldilbina and Yuria Waters into Bookabi. An endeavour to chop wood at the command of Koondhaing’s white husband lost Dowie his eye, a splinter flying into it and destroying it. So he ceased to chop wood and lived on the food his woman brought from the white man’s camp, beating her when she did not bring him enough.
The chief native courtesy between tribes, and the greatest guarantee of friendship, is the interchange of boys for initiation, so when the Jinyila Minning (Eucla men) heard that a mob of Baadu (with whom they had already exchanged boys) and Yooldil men and Wirongu had come down to the coast, they invited them all to an initiation ceremony, although full of fear of the Northern men, for they were slippered men, and had caught and eaten many Minning. However, the invitation was given and accepted, and members of the three groups went to Jinyila, amongst them being Dowie and Koondhaing.
Each visiting group hunts and finds its dhoogoor (dreamtime) totem food while visiting but only to give it to the owners of the country while they receive in exchange the dhoogoor food of the country visited. Dowie hunted for mallee fowl, and although it was strange country to him, he always came home well laden, for then he got the best of the meat foods of his hosts. While he was away on what proved to be his last hunt, a violent hailstorm, with thunder, lightning and great wind, came up suddenly and quenched every fire in the camps.
Dowie had been tracking a fowl, already full of fear of the magic of which strange country is always full and with a hundred other fears that beset the native when on territory other than his own; and when lightning, thunder and hail played about him and the hailstones beat upon him, and he could see no reassuring smoke from the camps, and when he remembered the evil magic that was in all the elements that were now having their way with him, Dowie’s brain snapped, and he became demented and all the while the storm raged he rushed through the bush screaming and crying, breaking down the obstacles that came in his way, but with no purpose or direction in his wild rush. Hither and thither he ran, stumbling and falling, but never ceasing his mad cries. Meantime the camp was one confused mass of terror-stricken occupants, some of the older men, the sorcerers of the group standing out in the open with spear or digging-stick, pointing to the direction the storm should take, for “they had done no wrong,” others, lying face downwards, trying to cover their bodies with sand, and women and children and men huddling in groups, all crying or scolding at the top of their voices. One of the Jinyila men, as soon as the storm showed signs of abating, started off with a friend to where they had seen a shea-oak burning some days before, and from this tree they brought back firesticks, which restored the camp to comparative quiet.
Dowie’s loud cries now began to be heard fitfully, but neither his own people nor his hosts attached any undue meaning to them other than the terror that a great storm always inspires in the native. But night came on and still the cries were heard. There was no friend there to brave the awful darkness, and all through the night the mad shouts sounded, until in the early dawn one of the old men of his group said, “Dowie is mad.” Then someone went to fetch him, but Dowie presented such a fearful spectacle-covered with blood, and with his one eye fixed and glaring, his club held high, while he smashed at every obstacle-that he feared to approach him, and returned to the camp without him. They knew that the thunder magic had at last caught him, and no one in all the camps was sorry that the full power of the thunder had gone into him and left them untouched.
With the quiet hours that followed the storm the violence of his attack lessened, and eventually he was brought back by a relative subdued, but mad, for all to see. The ceremonies were hurried to a close, and the departure of the visitors speeded. There would certainly have been a fight, and perhaps killing, had not Dowie been so universally disliked, even by those who had met him for the first time. His own people did not sorrow for him, but they began to be in greater fear of him now, for his madness was homicidal, and, having got possession of a tomahawk, he made frequent wild rushes at Koondhaing and others, which, however, by degrees became less and less dangerous, for his dementia hastened the destruction of his remaining eye, and in his killing fits, all were now able to get out of his way. Koondhaing, the only one whom he could have compelled to serve him, now fled from him in his blindness.
Dowie never went back to Warrdarrgana. The groups separated after the initiation ceremonies were over, the Wirongu returning to Winbera and the Yooldil men to by easy stages. The Baadu became disintegrated, small family groups stopping here and there, some going north where they had an orgy of human flesh after that long abstinence at Jinyila; others going eastward, where a fat baby was killed and eaten. Dowie shared in the latter, but his helping was a small one, for his impotence was manifest to all. He began to wander from the camp, and sometimes he was brought back, but more often he was left to wander in the hope that “a finishing magic” would catch him. He roared with rage at times, lifting the sand in handfuls and throwing it about him, hoping that it might blind those who were near. Day after day he sat alone in the cold and darkness, with only his malady for company. He was cunning enough to keep near white settlement and so received scraps of food now and then, but his night wanderings frightened the white folk, and those of his group who were near were compelled to take him to their camps and to watch if he wandered. They soon tired of this state of things, for there, is no room in any camp for useless adults, as all have to contribute their share to the day’s larder; and Dowie blind and demented could bring nothing in. Wherefore feed him? A sister dragged him along at the end of a spear, when the camp shifted, or when he had to be brought back from his wanderings. Then his sister was given to a man and so his last prop was taken.
In one of his insane plunges into the open he trampled and broke through the shelter and newly made grave of a newly dead woman belonging to the Jinyila group, where the evil had first caught him; and the spirit of the dead woman that still sat in the shelter became sulky and said, “You must die in a strange country, too, for you have broken my shelter while my soul still sat there.” And the ghost of the dead woman followed Dowie to his shelter and called him and coaxed him, crying and moaning so that his daughter and blood-brother covered their heads and ears that they might not hear the crying; and Dowie followed the ghost which went round and round the shelter in ever-widening circles, and he cried out, “Maamu, maamu!” [Ghost! Ghost!] as he went, stumbling and falling but ever rising to the call of the ghost, which bade him follow to the place where he was to die.
He periodically ran away, happily when the moon was full, so that I could generally manage to track him. He was always glad to hear my voice, and full of romance as to where he had been and what he had seen. Sometimes he became entangled in the ropes and poles of my tent in the darkness, and wakened me with his shrieks of terror, believing that devils were grappling with him. Then I would gently lead him back, wrap him in his blanket, stoke up his fire, and then warm his spirits with a drink of tea and a pipe of tobacco and talk him to sleep.
One day he wandered farther than ever, and even scrambled through a sheep-fence. I was five hours searching before I found him naked and exhausted in a clump of bushes. It was bright moonlight, but we were far from the camp. He could not again manage the fence, and Yalata and help were twenty-six miles away. With great difficulty I hoisted the poor old fellow on to my back, and, leaning for support upon my digging-stick, slowly carried him back, half-pushed, half-pulled him through the fence, and was trudging on when the recollection came to me that I was still an absent member of Perth’s most exclusive women’s club. My very chuckle at the thought made the load lighter, although it was late night when we reached camp, to find Jinjabulla anxiously groping his way to look for us. The close embrace of the two blood-brothers showed me that the long, long tabu was lifted, and that the end must be near. A few days later Dowie died.
With my scoop and digging-stick, I dug a grave seven feet by four, and five feet deep, and with two hanks of the tent-rope drew the body to the brink and lowered it in. Although I had spoken no word of the death to either Jinjabulla or Binilya, I could hear them wailing a mile away as I was filling in the grave.
While I was busy at my sad task, the grey shrike thrush suddenly came out of the unknown, and sitting on the edible gum tree which shaded the grave, he poured forth his beautiful swelling notes into the air, where the Spirit of Dowie might he hovering; and there he sat and sang while I worked at the grave-digging-the only other mourner at the burial.
There crept into the camp one day another helpless derelict in desperate straits, Jeerabuldara, a woman of about 40 years of age, but a repulsive sight, dying of disease. I had known and tended her at Eucla, and she had walked 200 miles in her terrible condition to find me again. A kindly white dingo-trapper had given the poor creature a lift in his buggy over the last forty miles. She told me that she had been turned away from her own camp, and from all the others, because they could not bear her continuous screaming in pain. So she had come to Kabbarli. Nothing could be done in those last agonies, save to make her passing easier. Day and night for eight weeks, with all the little remedies at my disposal, I tended her, and for the most part she lay on the soft sand, with the warmth of fires about her, contented now save in the dreadful torment of her spasms of pain.
There came a night when she was sinking fast. I sat beside her, holding her hand in the last hours. Suddenly she sat up in the firelight, searching my face with troubled eyes.
“Yaal yanning?” (Where am I going?) she cried, in fear.
I answered her question with another, very quietly. “Kabbarli balya?” (Is Kabbarli good?)
“Kabbarli balya,” she answered.
“My Father is sitting down where you are going, Jeera,”, I told her, “and as soon as I let go your hand, my Father will catch hold of it. He will take care of you until I come.”
“Your Father, Kabbarli? Then I shall be safe,” she said, and settled down to sleep. I did not know she was dead until her hand grew cold in mine.
That is all the religion that I have ever spoke to them. They had my example, my love and devotion through the years. They trusted me, they were sure of me, and through me they believed and understood a little, I hope, of the All–Loving. My veneration for my own religion is too great for me to reduce it to pidgin English, and I have found it impossible to translate into any one of the 115 aboriginal languages with which I am acquainted. There are no words, no possible association of ideas, in which to convey our own beautiful prayers full of imagery and the passion of supplication. Many, many times have I tried to render the Lord’s Prayer in many tongues, and failed utterly in all.
“Our Father” that is simple “Mama ngalial”
“Which art in Heaven”—“Sky sit down”—“Kalbi nyinnin.”
“Hallowed be Thy Name”—“Big Name”—“Inni boolga.”
So far so good. “Thy Kingdom Come”; any country that they did not know and belong to was the country of enemies and black magic. That would not do. “Thy will be done on earth as it Heaven.” Again I was baffled. “Give us this day our daily bread.” That, of course, was easy. How many times have I heard it at my own tent-flap in the past thirty-five years-a quiet, lagging footstep, the soft insistent hail of “Mai yua, Kabbarli?” But “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them”-there is no forgiving, the trespasser is punished there and then, with all the revenge and hatred of which the avenger is capable, and the offence wiped out of memory, and very often the offender with it. “Lead us not into temptation” was equally impossible, and “deliverance from evil,” with evil lurking in every shadow, and every misfortune, and death itself just magic.
I could have taught them the prayers easily enough, but I did not want parrot repetition, in which they excel. I tried to give them the only Christianity I knew they understood, which was nothing but loving-kindness, and an unfailing trust, and example, example always.
The one great fault in our attempts to Christianize the Australian aborigines lies in our violent snapping of their own traditional beliefs in our endeavours to replace these by teaching them the rudiments of that special creed to which we ourselves belong, or rather to the beliefs which we have reached in our present state of culture. We forget the many, many stages through which these beliefs have passed before they became the supposedly perfected creeds of the present day. We have not taken the lessons of the early Christians to heart. These good men, with characteristic prudence, merged as many of these pagan beliefs into the Christianity of those days as could be safely welded in accordance with the tenets of their religion. Like St. Paul, they were all things to all men, and by this practice made their way among the pagans they had gone forth to Christianize. So the magic of the heathen became the miracle of the early Christian, the sacred stones, mounds and caves of the primitive all over the world the holy shrines of today.
The animism and totemism of the aborigine are his religion, the initiation ceremonies his baptism of blood, and are there not sacred pagan places in our own Catholic Ireland? The waved lines, concentric circles, zigzag patterns, dotted rings found in Australian rock-drawings have their counterpart in the rock-drawings discovered in England, Scotland, Ireland, Brittany and elsewhere, and hold similar meanings. Snake and sun worship, totemic food laws, the return of the spirits of the dead to the places they knew in life-all of these show the similarity-between the religious beliefs of savage and civilized peoples, and the isolation of our Australian aborigines from the rest of mankind has but preserved intact the customs and beliefs which were common to the whole human race in its infancy. They cannot catch up with us in one generation.
The morning after Jeera’s death, I carried her body-a pathetically light burden-into the shade and buried it, and went back to the others. But now my health began to go, and my strength with it for the time being. Those trying months of constant vigilance, the manual labour of digging rabbits out of the blazing sands, sometimes labouring for hours and then losing my quarry, the hardships and deprivations of a life for months at a time out of touch not only with the amenities, but devoid of the barest necessities, and now these two pitiful burials, had left me a wreck. My eyes were in a serious condition. I suffered from headaches and hopelessness, and could not sleep. I sent a message to Yalata, immediately followed by the arrival of a camel-buggy-one of the thousand kindnesses of my dear friends, the Murrays, during my voluntary exile-and into it I packed Jinjabulla and Binilya, and my camp and theirs, and made back to Fowler’s Bay.
But not for long. No sooner were my health and spirits normal than I was off again, this time to Yuria Water, some fifty miles north.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06