The Passing of the Aborigines, by Daisy Bates

Chapter 14

by Yuria Water

In many of the more arid parts of Australia there are permanent water-holes round which groups gathered in seasons of drought or for the performance of ceremonies which necessitated the presence of greater numbers than the usual family groups, but there was no permanency in these gatherings, and no other bond of unity than that of thirst and hunger or ceremonial observance, and when the drought broke up, and ceremonies ended, what might have been a community relapsed into its family groups, each group wending its way by its appointed roads to its own waters.

Yuria Water was one of these gathering places. It is a huge granite outcrop, situated some fifty or more miles north of Fowler’s Bay, South Australia, and is the only watering-place in the district that may truly be called permanent. Its waters never run dry.

All permanent native waters have legends attached to them, legends of the “dream” times, which go back to the days when birds and animals possessed human attributes, or were human beings, or were human groups of which the bird or animal was the representative, or were magic animals and birds possessing the power of human speech. The natives cannot say that the “founders” of the various permanent waters were altogether human, altogether birds or beasts, or half-bird half-human, but the bird or animal name only is always given in the legend, never a human name.

In the legend of Yuria Gabbi (water), the walja (eaglehawk) was the water-bringer.[ In a book that is not yet published I deal at greater length with the strange legends of the Aborigines. As an interesting example, however, I have included this legend as an Appendix to this book.]

All roads led to Yuria, which might be called “The White Rock of the Star,” for the red roads radiated from the gleaming white boulder like the points of the star. All round the granite grew mallee and myall and sandalwood, which provided the materials for weapons, the sandalwood yielding the gum with which the flints were fastened in the throwing-sticks. Many luscious roots and fruits were to be gathered at Yuria in their season, and there were certain sure haunts of the silver-grey and white kangaroo and emu, and the mallee hen, which made hunting easy. During ceremonial gatherings in Boogoomarl’s time he sometimes gave permission to good hunters among the visitors to go and hunt the big game, or his own people hunted and fed the visitors. The wombat went away with Boogoomarl, and now there are no more at Yuria.

Each visiting group came along its own road, and camped beside it during the ceremonies, and thus the visiting groups kept apart from each other, each in his own prescribed position. The groups from the north could only camp on the allinjerra warri (north road), those from the east on the koggararra warri, those from the west on the weelurarra warri. The south [Yool’bareri] men were the nearest relatives of Boogoomarl, and he was not afraid of them, so they camped close by his own ngoora.

Many a grave and many a human oven were dug at Yuria Gabbi in those far-off days. When a fight ended fatally, the victim was cooked and shared, unless he was an important or very old member of a group, then he would be carried back for burial to his own ground. The bones of the cooked person were taken back to his own waters, for each must be buried in his own country, or his spirit would find itself in a strange place and be very unhappy. When their little growing boys showed signs of decline or weakness, a baby brother or sister was killed and cooked, laid on its face upon the hot cinders, and the fat of the baby was rubbed all over the weakling boy, and he ate of its flesh in the morning and the evening until it was all finished, and he had become strong again, and grew fat and big. Boogoomarl’s grave lay in a hollow some distance from Yuria Water, and on top of the grave his yeenma (Churinga, of Spencer and Gillen) which held the spirit as well (for it showed the markings of the dreamtime eaglehawk), was laid flat upon the grave. With the long, long years during which it had lain there untouched and ungreased it was but a shred of wood when I came upon it in my wanderings over Yuria ground, but the markings were still faintly discernible, though the grave had long ago fallen below the level of the surrounding earth. Dhoogoor times begin at the great-grandfather period. Beyond “grandfather’s time” is dhoogoor, or dreamtime.

The walja-eagle-hawk-have now entire possession of Yuria Gabbi, for its owners and their relations have long since gone to the “spirit of Yuria Gabbi.” Near the granite is an old dead tree, shaped like a rough cross, and upon its branches a walja is always to be seen sitting in the early morning. Sometimes his wife sits beside him, but the dead sandalwood has always one occupant upon its branches. The rabbit has come to Yuria, and dug burrows close by the water, and three of these burrows are near the dead sandalwood, so walja waxes fat and lazy since food is now to be got without hunting. And only the cutting flints [These, by their colour and nature, tell the direction from which they were brought. There are black, grey, brown, red, yellow, white and many other coloured flints amongst them, but all are roughly chipped palaeoliths, the weapon of early man. The upper millstones were rounded, water-worn stones, of which a small pan was chipped off to give better hold. A wooden scoop (Thaggulu), a digging-stick (Wanna), and bits of broken spear or boomerang lie rotting here and there, and will soon be dust, like their dead owners. It is only by finding palaeoliths in quantities that one discovers the old camp sites. All the flints were brought by the visitors, for there is not flint formation in Yuria district.] are there to tell of die old-time residents or those who passed.

Little special spots were shown to me. Here Yoorbdya hid herself when she ran away from her initiation, covering her tracks so cleverly that her pursuing brothers failed to see them; and it was not until she almost perished from hunger andthirst that she gave herself up to dreadful punishment and death. There Ngain-miri had beaten his woman so badly that she lay for many days (?) unconscious, and none would go near her, fearing Ngain-miri’s anger, until he himself went and beat her back to life again.

The many musical names of conspicuous spots, valleys, hills and plains round Yuria have long since ceased to be applied to these places. Moonaba, Joorrba (the Yuria people had many of the beautiful Irish rolling “r’s” in their speech), Wajjina, Walbinya, Beerana, Yoolilbinning, all these are little rock-holes or temporary camping places. A rock-hole holding a few gallons after rain had been named after Yanguna, the wife of the errant Koongara. It is some five miles south of Yuria, and Yanguna had flown thus far when she followed her husband. The coast hills were visible from the granite, with a deep, wide, wooded valley between, such a vale as that in which the Sons of God might have buried Moses, a beautiful evergreen valley of waving tree-tops, the swish of whose leaves in a light, soft wind is like the sound of the sea running up and down a pebbly beach.

There are not many old trees round Yuria, there being too many destructive agencies at work-white ants and grubs in the roots, geckos, spiders, beetles and other wood insects between the bark and the wood, as well as fire and lightning. [These old trees that have escaped destruction by fire or lightning are the chosen homes of colonies of the larger winged ants, the butts near the ground becoming distorted and swollen to an enormous size, and hollowed with cells. Trees and shrubs were valued for what they produced. A species of sturdy thorn bush bears a small white, five-leafed, fan-shaped flower of the rarest fragrance, the flower turning into an edible fruit called moon-yooin, but there is no name for the glorious perfume.]

So long is it since the Yuria natives inhabited the district that the paths and roads, hardened as they were by the passing of many, many feet throughout the ages, have become runnels and miniature creeks in wet weather, emptying themselves upon little open spaces that fill with “button grass” after good rains. And always the blue hills are visible, and always the colours change on hill and valley; yet in the native dialect there is not one expression that would tend to show the native’s admiration of his beautiful surroundings. With him tree and bush and plant were valued only for their uses, and were specially named, otherwise trees were “jeelya.” [“Jeelya,” corruption of “tree.”] shrubs “warda-dhaddi,” and flowers “ngam-boom-barra.” His named colours were maaru (charcoal), durdur (soft red ochre), mur-darbai (hard red ochre), wina (white pipeclay), karrgu (yellow pipeclay). He “bought” these colours from the visiting tribes, and paid in return the meeros, spears, clubs and other weapons, the wood of which was plentiful at Yuria.

In the days to come Yuna will have many farms, and the plough and the spade will cover the palaeoliths that still dot the country round, and the spear-mark and the fire-place and the marks of Walja’s knees on top of the granite will be broken and cut up for building, so that there will be no native history at all at Yuria, beyond its dialect, its few primitive implements and its soft-sounding place-names. There are no monuments to destroy, no evidences of an older civilization to be uprooted for the new. Nature’s obstacles of tree and shrub are the only obstacles to be overcome. Given water, or planted with a corn needing little water, and Yuria in the years to come can be transformed into one of the loveliest districts in Australia. One cannot but regret the passing of its aboriginal inhabitants, and yet, given another thousand years’ possession of the country, it would still be “walja gabbi” only.

In 1918, a bad breakdown in health brought me to Adelaide for medical attention. When the beautiful Mount Lofty Hills had restored my vigour, I was asked by the authorities to take charge of the Returned Soldiers Home at Myrtle Bank, which needed reorganizing. I readily consented, and the ensuing few months, spent in mothering the returned wounded there, were, I think, happy ones. Although I knew comparatively little of matronship, as such, I did know a great deal of mothering, and for “wingies and stumpies” as they called themselves, the blind and the maimed who had given so much, all the service and devotion of which I was capable was only too little. These brave boys, crushed in those first years by the weight of their affliction, facing a changed world, were my first white patients.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51