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CHAPTER XIV.


OF THE ABORIGINAL DOG. THE GREAT AFFECTION THE NATIVE WOMEN HAVE FOR THESE ANIMALS. HOW UTILISED. OF FLEAS AND OTHER PARASITES.


The only animal the aborigines possess in a state of domesticity is the indigenous dog—Canis familiaris Australis—and of these quadrupeds they keep perfect packs. The aborigines use them for running down game, and although not by any means particulary speedy of foot, are found very useful in following wounded animals, not, sufficiently maimed to allow of their being easily overtaken by the hunters; besides, their sense of smell is very keen, thus enabling hunters to get quickly up with the game they are in pursuit of, which in the absence of the dog, would be a work of considerable time, as well as much labour.

In the cold nights also, these animals are of infinite service to their owners, as they tend in no inconsiderable degree to keep up the temperature in the loondthals, where they sleep in common with their masters. This kind of bedding is much affected by the old women, who in consequence value the dogs inordinately, and woe betide the man, either white or black, who should by chance or otherwise, destroy a dog the property of a galour (old woman), for she would surely brain him if possible with her yamstick; or at least give him such a filthy slanging as would put to shame the vilest tongued fishwife that ever carried a basket.

We remember on one occassion, in the old bye-gone days of the colony, when a pack of these wretched curs, pertaining to an aboriginal encampment close to an out station hut, played the very mischief amongst a flock of fattening wethers, which were almost in marketable condition; as a matter of course we felt considerably annoyed because of the occurence, and in very palpable terms made the natives aware of the fact. The men of the tribe saw, and acknowledged the harm which the dogs had done to the sheep, and by way of making some kind of amende, empowered us to poison the mangey mongrels, at the same time giving us many cautions about the galours, lest during the distribution of the baits, they should fall upon, and maltreat us, with their potent yamsticks.

Haying the terror of the yamsticks when wielded by irate galours brought thus vividly before us, ere making a start for the camp with the bag of poisoned baits, we provided ourselves with a gun for protection, not that we had any intention of using it on the angry old women, but we were quite aware that such a weapon in the hands of a white man, even if they knew it was unloaded, was more powerful to keep them in check than any other argument which could be adduced.

In due time we reached the camp, with a bag containing forty baits; at a glance the old dames knew that the bag held poison, therefore commenced incontinently to call their wirrangins (dogs) into the loondthals, thinking thereby to prevent us from having a chance to administer the baits, and when we told them, that we had come for the express purpose of killing their dogs because of the havoc made by them amongst the sheep, they actually laughed us to scorn in concert. In arguing the point with them, they did not give us a ghost of a chance; their concerted volubility being greater than any one man could pretend to cope with, even although backed up by the possession of a gun. We were nearly beginning to look upon our errand, as a very profitless undertaking indeed, when old Pinbocoroo crossed the lagoon upon which the camp was situated, and stalked majestically into the middle of the billingsgating galours. His opportune arrival upon the exciting scene, was hailed by us with considerable pleasure, and the heated dark skinned dames also seemed to think his presence a fortunate occurrence, as they one and all, immediately began to pour forth their great grievance to him. He however soon brought matters to a very definite conclusion by commanding the oldest galour in the tribe (poor old Nip Nip), to take the baits from us, one at a time, and straightway give them to such dogs as we should point out. When the earnestness of what the old king said became apparent, the noise in the camp changed from angry clatter to direful woe, in the midst of which, not daring to refuse, old Nip Nip came meekly to us for the baits, which she administered as we desired. After concluding this very satisfactory piece of business we left the camp mid a shower of the most opprobrious anathemas that it was ever our fortune to have well hammered on our sorely tired tympanums.

For many weeks after this poisoning episode, the galour portion of the tribe grieved abundantly; mourning at morning and eventide over their canine companions; nothing could give them comfort for their loss, the much coveted tobacco even, failed to bring smiles of the faintest on their grief-worn features; some of them indeed went to the extent of cauterising their wrinkled bodies in the plentitude of their sorrow. For many years afterwards, this canine massacre was vividly remembered by the galour mind; even when wishing old Nip Nip a final good bye, and whilst her rheumy eyes were welling over with genuine tears, because of our departure, she could not help referring to the day of the dog slaughter, by the side of the lagoon.

In rough cold winter weather (which is the Australian aborigines' bete noir), when hunting is out of the question and other sources of food unobtainable, unless by the exercise of much labour and exposure, these dingoes are converted into food, and really when cooked in one of their ovens these dishes of dog are tempting enough to look at, and there is small doubt about their tasting well, that is of course reasoning from the gusto with which the natives consume them; we, however, never had sufficient courage to partake of this dog meat, but we have seen plenty of it taken out of the ovens, which we must say always looked as white and delicate as any chicken.

A puppy dingo when in good condition is esteemed quite a luxury, therefore an aborigine having such a dish for dinner fancies that he is faring most sumptuously. It is not by any means an uncommon thing for a galour to have as many as two dozen dogs, and it is certainly a variety to find one possessing fewer in number than half a dozen. It can thus, from this fact, be easily imagined what enormous dimensions the packs assume when all the members of a tribe are assembled in one camp. On those occasions the numbers are far beyond the belief of people unaccustomed to the habits of the aborigines, and as their owners never by any chance think of providing them with food, as a natural consequence they fall foul of any sheep or weak calves with which they may come in contact, thus entailing endless feuds between the squatter and the galours of the tribe.

When a tribe is encamped close to a station these packs of dogs are an endless plague, for besides the injury which they invariably inflict upon the flocks in the vicinity, they infest the shepherds' dogs with mange (that nasty disease being a portion of their normal condition), and as it is a virulent form of the complaint from which they suffer, common remedies fail to combat it with any degree of success. Then the abominable noise at night, when they commence to howl, is surely something to remember when once heard; a feline serinade is a trifle by comparison, and that is allowed by every one to be sufficiently horrible to rouse the ire of the most patient.

In connection with these dogs, and the habit the aborigines have of making bedfellows of them, there is one feature which we think both striking and peculiar, and that is this fact:—Until the advent of Europeans these people had never seen or heard of fleas, although of the other kinds of parasites common to the filthy portion of civilisation they possess legion. These latter have been a continual source of annoyance to the natives from the remotest period, and although they have waged a continuous war against them, even from one generation to another, still the filthy pests have held their own.

With the exception of the hair on the face and head the natives remove every thing of a capillary nature from the body, even to the covering of the pudenda; this operation is effected by means of a red hot coal, and is therefore both slow and disagreeable; this tedious and unpleasant process, however, is borne without demur, as it is performed with the view of ridding themselves of the parasitic pests, or at least keeping the interesting insects within reasonable bounds. Besides these measures they manipulate each others heads, as, 'tis said, is the habit of monkeys for a similar purpose; still with all that, the poor natives continue persistently to scratch, which indubitably induces a creepy feeling of disgust to any cleanly inclined beholder. These indigenous parasites could be borne by the aborigines pretty well as ever successive singeing afforded some measure of respite; the fleas, however, are quite beyond their patience, as respite from them there is none, and they cannot lessen their numbers do whatsoever they may towards that end. Their numberless dogs provide the very best of breeding grounds, and their opossum cloaks afford them harbour which cannot be excelled.