“Strange as it may appear, I would refer to an Australian as the finest model of the human proportions I have ever met; in muscular development combining perfect symmetry, activity and strength, while his head might have compared with the antique bust of a philosopher.” Huxley concluded, from descriptions, that “the Deccan tribes are indistinguishable from the Australian races.” Sir W. W. Hunter states that the Dravidian tribes were driven southwards in Hindustan, and that the grammatical relations of their dialects are “expressed by suffixes,” which is true as to the Australian languages. He states that Bishop Caldwell, whom he calls “the great missionary scholar of the Dravidian tongue,” showed that the south and western Australian tribes use almost the same words for “I, thou, he, we, you, as the Dravidian fishermen on the Madras coast.” When in addition to all this it is found that physically the Dravidians resemble the Australians; that the boomerang is known among the wild tribes of the Deccan alone (with the doubtful exception of ancient Egypt) of all parts of the world except Australia, and that the Australian canoes are like those of the Dravidian coast tribes, it seems reasonable enough to assume that the Australian natives are Dravidians, exiled in remote times from Hindustan, though when their migration took place and how they traversed the Indian Ocean must remain questions to which, by their very nature, there can be no satisfactory answer.
The low stage of culture of the Australians when they reached their new home is thus accounted for, but their stagnation is remarkable, because they must have been frequently in contact with more civilized peoples. In the north of Australia there are traces of Malay and Papuan blood. That a far more advanced race had at one time a settlement on the north-west coast is indicated by the cave-paintings and sculptures discovered by Sir George Grey. In caves of the valley of the Glenelg river, north-west Australia, about 60 m. inland and 20 m. south of Prince Regent’s river, are representations of human heads and bodies, apparently of females clothed to the armpits, but all the faces are without any indication of mouths. The heads are surrounded with a kind of head-dress or halo and one wears a necklace. They are drawn in red, blue and yellow. The figures are almost life-size. Rough sculptures, too, were found, and two large square mounds formed of loose stones, and yet perfect parallelograms in outline, placed due east and west. In the same district Sir George Grey noticed among the blackfellows people he describes as “almost white.” On the Gascoyne river, too, were seen natives of an olive colour, quite good-looking; and in the neighbourhood of Sydney rock-carvings have been also found. All this points to a temporary occupation by a race at a far higher stage of culture than any known Australians, who were certainly never capable of executing even the crude works of art described.
Physically the typical Australian is the equal of the average European in height, but is inferior in muscular development, the legs and arms being of a leanness which is often emphasized by an abnormal corpulence. The bones Physique. are delicately formed, and there is the lack of calf usual in black races. The skull is abnormally thick and the cerebral capacity small. The head is long and somewhat narrow, the forehead broad and receding, with overhanging brows, the eyes sunken, large and black, the nose thick and very broad at the nostrils. The mouth is large and the lips thick but not protuberant. The teeth are large, white and strong. In old age they appear much ground down; particularly is this the case with women, who chew the different kinds of fibres, of which they make nets and bags. The lower jaw is heavy; the cheekbones somewhat high, and the chin small and receding. The neck is thicker and shorter than that of most Europeans. The colour of the skin is a deep copper or chocolate, never sooty black. When born, the Australian baby is of a much lighter colour than its parents and remains so for about a week. The hair is long, black or very dark auburn, wavy and sometimes curly, but never woolly, and the men have luxuriant beards and whiskers, often of an auburn tint, while the whole body inclines to hairiness. On the Balonne river, Queensland, Baron Mikluho Maclay found a group of hairless natives. The head hair is usually matted with grease and dirt, but when clean is fine and glossy. The skin gives out an objectionable odour, owing to the habit of anointing the body with fish-oils, but the true fetor of the negro is lacking in the Australian. The voices of the blackfellows are musical. Their mental faculties, though inferior to those of the Polynesian race, are not contemptible. They have much acuteness of perception for the relations of individual objects, but little power of generalization. No word exists in their language for such general terms as tree, bird or fish; yet they have invented a name for every species of vegetable and animal they know. The grammatical structure of some north Australian languages has a considerable degree of refinement. The verb presents a variety of conjugations, expressing nearly all the moods and tenses of the Greek. There is a dual, as well as a plural form in the declension of verbs, nouns, pronouns and adjectives. The distinction of genders is not marked, except in proper names of men and women. All parts of speech, except adverbs, are declined by terminational inflections. There are words for the elementary numbers, one, two, three; but “four” is usually expressed by “two-two.” They have no idea of decimals. The number and diversity of separate languages is bewildering.
In disposition the Australians are a bright, laughter-loving folk, but they are treacherous, untruthful and hold human life cheaply. They have no great physical courage. They are mentally in the condition of children. None of Character. them has an idea of what the West calls morality, except the simple one of right or wrong arising out of property. A wife will be beaten without mercy for unfaithfulness to her husband, but the same wife will have had to submit to the first-night promiscuity, a widespread revel which Roth shows is a regular custom in north-west-central Queensland. A husband claims his wife as his absolute property, but he has no scruple in handing her over for a time to another man. There is, however, no proof that anything like community of women or unlimited promiscuity exists anywhere. It would be wrong, however, to conclude that moral considerations have led up to this state of things. Of sexual morality, in the everyday sense of the word, there is none. In his treatment of women the aboriginal may be ranked lower than even the Fuegians. Yet the Australian is capable of strong affections, and the blind (of whom there have always been a great number) are cared for, and are often the best fed in a tribe.
The Australians when first discovered were found to be living in almost a prehistoric simplicity. Their food was the meat they killed in the chase, or seeds and roots, grubs or reptiles. They never, in any situation, Manners. cultivated the soil for any kind of food-crop. They never reared any kind of cattle, or kept any domesticated animal except the dog, which probably came over with them in their canoes. They nowhere built permanent dwellings, but contented themselves with mere hovels for temporary shelter. They neither manufactured nor possessed any chattels beyond such articles of clothing, weapons, ornaments and utensils as they might carry on their persons, or in the family store-bag for daily use. In most districts both sexes are entirely nude. Sometimes in the south during the cold season they wear a cloak of skin or matting, fastened with a skewer, but open on the right-hand side.
When going through the bush they sometimes wear an apron of skins, for protection merely. No headgear is worn, except sometimes a net to confine the hair, a bunch of feathers, or the tails of small animals. The breast or back, of both sexes, is usually tattooed, or rather, scored with rows of hideous raised scars, produced by deep gashes made at puberty. Their dwellings for the most part are either bowers, formed of the branches of trees, or hovels of piled logs, loosely covered with grass or bark, which they can erect in an hour, wherever they encamp. But some huts of a more substantial form were seen by Captain Matthew Flinders on the south-east coast in 1799, and by Captain King and Sir T. Mitchell on the north-east, where they
- The Languages of India (1875).