The Aborigines of Victoria and Riverina/Chapter 16

prepared to that end; the concussion of the egg when it came in contact with the heap of wood produced spontaneous fire, and the whole world was incontinently flooded with light, Ngoudenout immediately saw the great advantage that this light would be to the dwellers upon the earth, and he thereupon vowed that the earth would never more be left in a continual state of darkness as it had been up to that time, for he would light the fire that seemed so good every day, and the vow then made by the good spirit had never been broken, even to the present time, which is sufficient warrant to the whole aboriginal race for its continuing for evermore.

They prove this quaint theory of theirs by pointing out that in the morning, ere the fire is well kindled, the nowie (sun) diffuses but little warmth, as the day advances, however, the heat becomes greater and greater until noon, when its fervency culminates; from that time the warmth gradually lessens as the fire becomes more and more reduced, until evening, when the pile is completely burnt out; then darkness covers the face of the land; but during the darkness Ngoudenout has his attendant spirits employed preparing a fresh pile of wood for next day's consumption. The moon, they imagine to be composed of some shiny substance, such as a large slice of mica, or Muscovy glass, and in order to prove that in this matter they are also correct they hold that there is not the very slightest degree of warmth emanatting from the mitian (moon), that it merely glitters and shines coldly, and that a large piece of calkoo ban, blackfellows bones (which is the aboriginal for mica) would do the same; indeed, they illustrate this theory by holding a piece of mica in the rays of the sun or within the influence of fire light, and triumphantly ask whether better proof could be. It is only wasted time to make them understand that the mica possesses no light or glitter of its own, but merely has the property of reflecting the light which proceeds from some other body, as the sun or fire light. They sagely shake their heads at what they deem a very clumsy endeavour to shake the belief which has endured, amongst them, for generations beyond number, and wisely ejaculate—"Oh! too much you white fellow. Plenty bumhammn wirrimpoola (stupid ears), you!" According to their computation the moon lasts as many nights as three times the number of their fingers, or thirty days; they compare it to an opossum cloak after this fashion:—

When a native has a rug to make he does not wait until he has acquired a sufficient number of skins to complete it, for as soon as he has two or three skins he sews them together and wears them mantilla fashion across his shoulders' going on day by day adding thereto as he procures the skins, but wearing it all the time, until it becomes a finished cloak. Shortly after the completion (in fact frequently before that achievement) of the cloak, as a matter of course it generally begins to fray at the edges, until by use, like the moon, it is worn completely out, necessitating the commencement of a new one after the same manner.

According to the mythology of these people, panmarootoortie (pleiads) is composed of seven mooroongoors (young virgins), being sisters, who were translated to their proud position in their sky because the whole of them, from the eldest even to the youngest born, retained their virgi purity until the advent of grey hairs. When Nyoudencout with unqualified pleasure, saw that these virgins had attained the meridian of life and still remained chaste he deemed them far too good to associate longer wiih their dissolute tribe, therefore he forthwith translated them to the sky, where he fixed them, in order that they might ever after be enabled to see the actions of their heretofore sisterhood, and so be ever ready to guide them straight should temptation induce any of them to swerve from the path of rectitude; besides, they would be to the lyoors, as is a beacon on a rough coast to the hardy mariners who tempt the deep, as they could always see them by looking upwards, and could therefore be scarcely guilty of any gross indiscretion in the very faces of the panmarootoortie, whose lives whilst on earth were without stain or reproach.

Thus it comes that this group of stars is more revered by the aborigines than any other constellation in the heavens.

Boorongcortchal (Venus) is sent in the early morning by Ngoudenout to let the world know that he is about to light up the glowing nowie so that his black people may prepare for their daily avocations before the crimson emanations tinge the eastern horizon with, jinky (red). In the evening this planet is termed worka worka, at which time his forte is the well-being of gestation, whether of man or beast. Therefore, pregnant women when they observe him bright and unclouded, looking calmly down on the earth, like a miniature moon, imagine that their wishes (whatever they may be) with regard to the expected offspring will be granted them. On the other hand, however, should he be perceived when dimmed and diminished, by reason of the intervention of a hazy or murky atmosphere, the fate of the unborn will be a fitful one; therefore the prospective mothers are elated or depressed accordingly.

They do not possess any ceremony or incantations wherewith to propitiate this birth-governing worka worka, even although they deem his influence all-powerful in the making or marring the fortunes of the unborn.

The aborigines divide the year as Europeans do, viz., into four seasons.

Bakroothakootoo (spring) is defined by the advent of succulent herbage, upon which the Ngarrow (Bustard) loves to graze, by the pairing of birds and consequent egg harvest, and by the emergence of the young kangaroo from forth the parent pouch.

Kurtie (summer) is distinguished by a general display of flowers and by their gradually changing into seed vessels and fruit, and by the brown tints assumed by the ripening grasses, together with the flight of all fledgelings from their parents' nests, and the abandonment for good of the maternal pouch by the young kangaroo.

Weat (autumn) is known by the cottony gossamar substance which floots about in the atmosphere during that season in this colony, by the hybernating of snakes and other reptiles which then usually seek out their quarters for their winters repose.

Myangie (winter) begins with the first frosts and continues until the mild lengthening days of spring puts it to flight. There is little chance of this season passing unnoticed, as the cold, wet, dreary days thereof are frequently borne by the poor aborigines whilst in a state of semi-starvation as regards both food and warmth; therefore the first indication of spring makes them jubilant to a degree, as then the near approach of food in abundance and of all kinds seems tolerably tangible, and no longer mere visions of the brain, induced by taking infrequent as well as insufficient meals of very indigestable food.

They have no single term which includes all the seasons such as our year. Their method of computing time is by nowies (suns or days), mittians (moons), and kurties (summers), but having nothing save oral records their data, as may well be supposed, is oftentimes very far out in point of time, therefore the reliance to be placed on any dates which they may give with regard to occurrences, if even not more than a very few years back, can only be of the smallest.

After getting beyond twenty or, at the most, twenty-five in numbers, they become very hazy, and to get themselves out of the fog they say co co (many), which may mean ten; or five hundred, or, in fact, any other quantity, and their is no means short of actual investigation whereby it is possible to know whether the greater or lesser number is meant when an aboriginal makes use of the term co co.

The entire absence of the organ of comparison in the native character tends very much to the creation of this difficulty, as, for example, ask a blackfellow which one of the two flocks of parrots is the largest, and his reply will be—"Two-fellow co co." This same reply will be given in every other matter of comparison which may come under observation, whether of numbers or quality, only in the latter talko (good) will be substituted for co co.



Unlike most savage races these aborigines do not compound intoxicating drinks of any kind wherewith to muddle their unsophisticated brains or to induce false spirits; they, however, make a sweet and luscious beverage by mixing taarp with water, and this taarp is so highly esteemed by them they will go almost any distance, and put up with endless privations to procure it.

As an instance of the extreme fondness evinced by the aborigines for this sweet, we may say that even those employed on stations who can command abundance of sugar, will throw up their various occupations upon the least hint being promulgated that taarp has made its appearance, and walk themselves off with their belonings to the taarp grounds. Nothing in the shape of a bribe will tempt them to forego a chance of obtaining taarp, and no matter how urgently their services may be required at the time they will take themselves off all the same, even although there may he a chance of their forfeiting wages already earned by so doing.

It frequently happens that the taarp deposit is fifteen or twenty miles away from water (the most arid spots in the locality are the ones usually chosen by the insect, if the young gum-shoots be available), but, notwithstanding the distance and absence of water, every member of the tribe who can crawl at all, including children, start off to the taarp field in the jolliest of spirits, carrying all manner of things wherein to pack the expected treasure. Seeing them in their high glee preparing to start on one of these expeditions is a most amusing sight, and conveys to the mind of the observer the impression that he is looking upon the happiest community of people in existence; there is, however, another side to the picture which is the reverse of pleasing, and that is this:—Ere half-a-dozen miles have been travelled by the jolly taarp-seekers the frail and weak ones of the party begin to groan and moan as none but aboriginal human nature can; finally, of course, they knock up entirely, and so come to a stand-still, the strong ones however, do not pay the least attention to these laggards, but continue in their course quite nonchalantly.

The willing spirit of the weakly searchers after this aboriginal sweet has to succumb to physical incapacity, therefore they have to sit down in their tracks to recuperate their energies to enable them to return to the camp, from which, of course they feel that they should not have started.

The strong ones also, who had stepped out so valiantly at the start to the taarp field, present a very different appearance on their return, for their high jubilant spirits have quite evaporated by reason of the toil experienced on their weary tramp, and consequently they struggle back to their camp as moody and surly as they well could be, by ones, by twos, and threes, the former number being the most common, surliness not being conducive to social intercourse, and it is only after several hours of sulky rest, together with much gluttony that they can be brought to describe the trip to and the condition of the taarp grounds. Notwithstanding the hardship and privations experienced on the first expedition, as soon as ever their aboriginal nature has recovered its normal tone, a fresh excursion is organised similar to the preceding one, with the exception that this time the frail ones and the children remain behind, enjoying the fruits of the first expedition.

For so long as the taarp is obtainable these peeple continue day after day to tramp backwards and forwards to the ground where it is produced, and it is only when the rain comes and dissolves it that they leave and return to their usual avocations. Should the taarp harvest extend over six or eight weeks, as it does frequently, the blacks become quite fat and sleek, though they partake of very little other food all the time, thus showing how great must be the nutriment contained in this saccharine substance.

Though the natives no not possess any intoxicating beverages of their own manufacture when they become half civilised they soon learn to hold the stimulants common to Europeans in high estimation; therefore, speaking in a general way, they are every one drunkards, and that, too, of the very worst type. When under the influence of spirits their savage nature runs riot to a frightful extent; nothing in fact can control it short of solitary confinement. Though one of their greatest antipathies is the lock-up, they will even brave the chance of twenty-four hours of its gloom rather than forego the fiery draught which opportunity may offer to their longing lips.

The poetical faculty is altogether lacking in the aboriginal character, consequently they do not possess any poems, either martial or national, and the absence of sentiment in the intercourse of one sex with another leaves the largest of all poetical fields but a barren waste. Their tchowies (songs), to which they dance their corrobories, never comprise more than two lines, and even these do not jingle; their measure however, is always most perfect, and in their dances the time is unexceptionable. As a rule their brief songs have reference either to something good to eat, to some successful midnight fray, or to some grossly lewd subject, and those partaking of the latter nature meet with the greatest appreciation.

Tchowies are not transmitted from one generation to another, because when the maker of a tchowie dies all the songs of which he was author are, as it were, buried with him, inasmuch as they, in common with his very name, are studiously ignored from thenceforward, and consequently forgotten.

This custom of endeavouring to forget everything which had been in any way connected with the dead, entirely precludes the possibility of anything of an historical nature having existence amongst them, in fact the most vital occurences, if only dating a single generation back, are quite forgotten, that it is say, if the recounting thereof should necessitate the mere mention of a defunct aborigine's name.

These corrobories, with regard to their diversity, are about as meagre as are their tchowies. They merely consist of a series of grotesque contortions and coarse postures all, however, requiring considerable muscular exertion in their performance, but, strange as it may seem, their time is always most excellent.

When viewed for the first time a corroborie does certainly offer a considerable quantum of interest. We, of course, do not mean such as are expressly for display before the "whitefellow," but those which are performed by them in. their savage state and purely for their own especial edification. When seen thus for the first time the exhibition is, without the slightest doubt, a very novel one.

We remember on one occasion having to follow up the tracks of a lot of sheep which the blacks had appropriated without having asked permission. After a long weary ride, and just as the sun was about to set, we came in sight of the blacks' camp, and knew that the stolen sheep could not be very far off as their trail, with aboriginal footprints above it, was quite fresh. Being so nearly dark we deemed it prudent to defer recovering the sheep until daylight next morning.

Not long after we had partaken of our bush supper and had arranged our watches for the night, the wind brought the sound of the corroborie up to our camp in such a tantalising manner that, as we had nothing particular to do, we determined to start forth quietly to within sight of the aboriginal encampment, with the twofold purpose of viewing the corroborie, and noticing if possible the whereabouts of the sheep. As the wind was blowing directly from the 'blacks' camp, and pretty strong at the same time, it was not a work of very great difficulty getting near it unheard; when, however, we had approached within about three hundred yards we deemed it prudent to get upon our hands and knees, and in that position worm ourselves through the long waving grass, as close as prudence would allow. We were beginning to become heartily tired of this mode of progression when, all at once, we found ourselves on the summit of an undulation, at the base of which the blacks camp appeared, brilliantly lighted up. The suddenness of this spectacle bursting upon our vision quite took our breath away, and it was some time before we became collected enough to note calmly that which we had come purposely to observe. We had reached not only to within sight of the savages, but we were quite near enough to hear them speaking plainly. At the moment of our arrival on the crest of the rise there was much talking and laughter going on, the stolen sheep doubtless being the theme.

We had not been viewing the proceedings in the camp long from our recumbent position when the aboriginal footlights, or fire, which served the same purpose, were freshened up, and the lyoors (who were seated in a semi-circle a short distance from the fires, and whose duties consisted in the orchestral portion of the performance) gave a few spasmodic thuds on the Mullangies[2] by way of calling the performers to the front; thereupon a hoary-headed ruffian stepped forward, birraworie[3] in hands, which he clinked in concert with the mullangie thuds, at the same time beginning a tchowie in a low monotonous tone, which ere long gradually swelled in volume. At the end of the first bar the lyoors chimed in, and the dancers sprang into the lighted space, flourishing their weapons in savage glee as their lithesome legs quivered in time to the savage music. The hoary leader of the band, becoming warm to his work, rushed backwards and forwards along the crescent row of lyoors, singing out the tchowie, apparently for bare life, while flakes of foam spirted from his lips, as it might do from the mouth of a hunted boar, by reason of his exceeding fervidness. The lyoors, taking their time from him, became equally energetic in their performance upon the mullangies, and their high, shrill treble, mingling with the leaders bass, made altogether the most hideous accord that it was ever our ill-luck to listen to. Meantime the dancing had become as vehement as the music, for the quivering and writhing of forty pairs of legs, strung up to high pressure by their tchowie and its barbarous accompaniments, made such an exhibition as it seldom falls to civilised man's lot now-a-days to witness. The time now became faster and more fast, till at length the motion was altogether so rapid that individual legs could not be distinguished. Looking at the dancers when they had attained to this phase of the corroborie seemed like viewing a monster heap of serpents heaving and coiling together in the throes of mortal agony But, alas! oven aboriginal muscular humanity cannot keep up such high-pressure motion for ever, so, with a deafening clang, produced by the birrawories and mullangies conjointly, the tchowie ceased instantaneously, and the sweltering dancers sank as one man exhausted in their tracks.

This grand finale was just about as much as our nerves could well sustain; therefore, after having noted the position of our abducted sheep, we gladly crawled from the vicinage of the savage dancers and retraced our steps cautiously to our own encampment.

We recovered the sheep next morning, and did not fail whilst doing so to admonish the thieves for the trouble they had given us, as well as for the sheep they had so shamefully maimed, and those they had killed outright and consumed.

When the aborigines steal a number of sheep, if whilst driving them away they should find themselves pursued, they immediately break the legs of a goodly number, knowing right well that those so maimed must be left behind, and will therefore be recoverable after the pursuers have retired with the sound ones. Frequently, too, the blacks, when they have succeeded in getting off with a lot of stolen sheep and have consequently no fear of pursuit, will, to save all further trouble in the matter of shepherding, break the legs of every one close to their camp so that they can slay, frizzle, and eat, with but the merest minimum of exertion.

  1. Taarp is the excrement of a small green beetle wherein the larvæ thereof are deposited. These insects at certain times congregate in myriads ana make their deposits on the young shoots of eucalyptus scrub, which has grown up from stumps, being the residue of a previous season's bush fire. The deposits are made in such large quantities that an aboriginal can easily gather forty or fifty pounds weight of it in one day. During the taarp season the natives do very little else but gather and consume this substance, and they thrive on it most amazingly. In appearance the taarp is not unlike the manna which some of the eucalyptus tribe shed in the summer months. The taste is also something similar, with the addition of a slightly sub-acid flavour. These taarp deposits are made in the dry summer weather, and are procurable from their first appearance until the early autumn rains commence, when it is at once all dissolved and washed away.
  2. Mullangie, opossum-skin drum. This primitive instrument is formed by merely folding a cloak tightly up into a bunch. It is beaten by the open palm, and when struck emits short, dull thuds, which might issue as well from a much-beaten woolsack.
  3. Birraworie, time-sticks. These are made of two sections of wood, ten inches long and two in diameter, hardened by fire; they are held one in each hand, and when struck together give forth a sharp, metallic, ringing sound.