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ABORIGINES]
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AUSTRALIA

back some centuries. Again, while they differ physically from neighbouring races, while there is practically nothing in common between them and the Malays, the Polynesians, or the Papuan Melanesians, they agree in type so closely among themselves that they must be regarded as forming one race. Yet it is noteworthy that the languages of their several tribes are different. The occurrence of a large number of common roots proves them to be derived from one source, but the great variety of dialects—sometimes unintelligible between tribes separated by only a few miles—cannot be explained except by supposing a vast period to have elapsed since their first settlement. There is evidence in the languages, too, which supports the physical separation from their New Zealand neighbours and, therefore, from the Polynesian family of races. The numerals in use were limited. In some tribes there were only three in use, in most four. For the number “five” a word meaning “many” was employed. This linguistic poverty proves that the Australian tongue has no affinity to the Polynesian group of languages, where denary enumeration prevails: the nearest Polynesians, the Maoris, counting in thousands. Further evidence of the antiquity of Australian man is to be found in the strict observance of tribal boundaries, which would seem to show that the tribes must have been settled a long time in one place.

A further difficulty is created by a consideration of the Tasmanian people, extinct since 1876. For the Tasmanians in many ways closely approximated to the Papuan type. They had coarse, short, woolly hair and Papuan features. They clearly had no racial affinities with the Australians. They did not possess the boomerang or woomerah, and they had no boats. When they were discovered, a mere raft of reeds in which they could scarcely venture a mile from shore was their only means of navigation. Yet while the Tasmanians are so distinctly separated in physique and customs from the Australians, the fauna and flora of Tasmania and Australia prove that at one time the two formed one continent, and it would take an enormous time for the formation of Bass Strait. How did the Tasmanians with their Papuan affinities get so far south on a continent inhabited by a race so differing from Papuans? Did they get to Tasmania before or after its separation from the main continent? If before, why were they only found in the south? It would have been reasonable to expect to find them sporadically all over Australia. If after, how did they get there at all? For it is impossible to accept the theory of one writer that they sailed or rowed round the continent—a journey requiring enormous maritime skill, which, according to the theory, they must have promptly lost.

Four points are clear: (1) the Australians represent a distinct race; (2) they have no kinsfolk among the neighbouring races; (3) they have occupied the continent for a very long period; (4) it would seem that the Tasmanians must represent a still earlier occupation of Australia, perhaps before the Bass Strait existed.

Several theories have been propounded by ethnologists. An attempt has been made to show that the Australians have close affinities with the African negro peoples, and certain resemblances in language and in customs have been relied on. Sorcery, the scars raised on the body, the knocking out of teeth, circumcision and rules as to marriage have been quoted; but many such customs are found among savage peoples far distant from each other and entirely unrelated. The alleged language similarities have broken down on close examination. A.R. Wallace is of the opinion that the Australians “are really of Caucasian type and are more nearly allied to ourselves than to the civilized Japanese or the brave and intelligent Zulus.” He finds near kinsmen for them in the Ainus of Japan, the Khmers and Chams of Cambodia and among some of the Micronesian islanders who, in spite of much crossing, still exhibit marked Caucasic types. He regards the Australians as representing the lowest and most primitive examples of this primitive Caucasic type, and he urges that they must have arrived in Australia at a time when their ancestors had no pottery, knew no agriculture, domesticated no animals, had no houses and used no bows and arrows. This theory has been supported by the investigations of Dr Klaatsch, of the university of Heidelberg, who would, however, date Australian ancestry still farther back, for his studies on the spot have convinced him that the Australians are “a generalized, not a specialized, type of humanity—that is to say, they are a very primitive people, with more of the common undeveloped characteristics of man, and less of the qualities of the specialized races of civilization.” Dr Klaatsch’s view is that they are survivals of a primitive race which inhabited a vast Antarctic continent of which South America, South Africa and Australia once formed a part, as evidenced by the identity of many species of birds and fish. He urges that the similarities of some of the primitive races of India and Africa to the aborigines of Australia are indications that they were peopled from one common stock. This theory, plausible and attractive as it is, and fitting in, as it does, with the acknowledged primitive character of the Australian blackfellow, overlooks, nevertheless, the Tasmanian difficulty. Why should a Papuan type be found in what was certainly once a portion of the Australian continent? The theory which meets this difficulty is that which has in its favour the greatest weight of evidence, viz. that the continent was first inhabited by a Papuan type of man who made his way thither from Flores and Timor, New Guinea and the Coral Sea. That in days so remote as to be undateable, a Dravidian people driven from their primitive home in the hills of the Indian Deccan made their way south via Ceylon (where they may to-day be regarded as represented by the Veddahs) and eventually sailed and drifted in their bark boats to the western and north-western shores of Australia. It is difficult to believe that they at first arrived in such numbers as at once to overwhelm the Papuan population. There were probably several migrations. What seems certain, if this theory is adopted, is that they did at last accumulate to an extent which permitted of their mastering the former occupiers of the soil, who were probably in very scattered and defenceless communities.

In the slow process of time they drove them into the most southerly corner of Australia, just as the Saxons drove the Celts into Cornwall and the Welsh hills. Even if this Dravidian invasion is put subsequent to the Bass Strait forming, even if one allows the probability of much crossing between the two races at first, in time the hostilities would be renewed. With their earliest settlements on the north-north-west coasts, the Dravidians would probably tend to spread out north, north-east and east, and a southerly line of retreat would be the most natural one for the Papuans.[1] When at last they were driven to the Strait they would drift over on rafts or in clumsy shallops; being thereafter left in peace to concentrate their race, then possibly only in an approximately pure state, in the island to which the Dravidians would not take the trouble to follow them, and where they would have centuries in which once more to fix their racial type and emphasize over again those differences, perhaps temporarily marred by crossing, which were found to exist on the arrival of the Whites.

This Indo-Aryan origin for the Australian blackfellows is borne out by their physique. In spite of their savagery they are admitted by those who have studied them to be far removed from the low or Simian type of man. Dr Charles Pickering (1805-1878), who studied the Australians on the spot, writes:

  1. In his Discoveries in Central Australia, E. T. Eyre has ingeniously attempted to reconstruct the routes taken by the Australians in their advance across the continent. He has relied, however, in his efforts to link the tribes together, too much on the prevalence or absence of such customs as circumcision—always very treacherous evidences—to allow of his hypothetical distribution being regarded very seriously. The migrations must have always been dependent upon physical difficulties, such as waterless tracts or mountain barriers. They were probably not definite massed movements, such as would permit of the survival of distinctive lines of custom between tribe and tribe; but rather spasmodic movements, sometimes of tribes or of groups, sometimes only of families or even couples, the first caused by tribal wars, the second to escape punishment for some offence against tribal law, such as the defiance of the rules as to clan-marriages.