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CHAPTER VIII.


OF WADDIES (BLUDGEONS) THEIR SHAPES AND USES; THE STONE AXE AND HOW FITTED TO THE HANDLE; FIBRE PLANTS AND HOW UTILISED; EMU NETS AND THE MANNER OF THEIR APPLICATION IN THE ENMESHING OF THESE GIGANTIC BIRDS.


Of waddies (bludgeons) the natives have an infinite assortment, only a very few of which, however, possess distinctive characters. Those which do not, are fashioned according to the existing whim of the maker, or the nature of the roots from which they are made; the root-end of small saplings being always chosen for the purpose. Of those possessing—we might almost say—a national character, the shapes of which seem to have come down generation after generation, from the remotest period, the Leawill is the most deadly-looking weapon. It is usually three feet long, and two inches and a half thick, having a pointed head, very similar both in shape and size to a miner's driving pick; in most cases sheoak (Casuarina) is used in the manufacture of this weapon; it is used in close quarters only, and is a most deadly instrument in the hands of a ruthless foe, or in a general melee such as a midnight onslaught.

The Nulla Nulla is another bludgeon which bears a distinctive character, and is found in common with the preceeding one in all the tribes of the colony. It is more general, however, than the other, because it requires less ingenuity and trouble to fabricate. It is merely a round piece of wood, three feet long and two inches and a half thick, brought to a blunt point at the end. The mallee is the wood from which it is generally made. There is a lesser Nulla Nulla which may, with more propriety, be termed a cudgel, common to all the tribes. It is two feet long, one inch thick, with a small nob at the end; a few inches from the nob it has a slight curve. This instrument is used as a missile in hunting. Being thrown at the game it is hurled with amazing rapidity, and if the object aimed at be within anything like a reasonable distance and moving, it is pretty sure of being successful. None of these bludgeons are carved in any way, the handhold is merely slightly roughened, to obviate accidental slipping.

The stone axes of these aborigines are precisely similar to those found in the ossiferous caves of Central France. Seeing two of those implements together, one taken from the caves above mentioned, and the other from these natives, it would be quite impossible to determine which was of European, and pre-historic origin, and which of Australian, and, consequently, recent manufacture.[1]

In putting one of these axes into a handle (it will be observed that the accepted order of things is reversed in this instance, usually the handle being put into the axe), a section of a tough sapling, three feet long by an inch and a half thick, is procured; the wood preferred being a species of acacia. This piece of sapling is split down the middle, one half only being required for the handle; this half is made pliant by a process of steaming, which is achieved by judiciously mixing hot ashes with damp earth, wherein the wood is manipulated until it becomes sufficiently supple for the required purpose. It is then bent round the axe head until the two flat sides meet, when they are firmly lashed together by cord, combined with a good plaster of prepared gum. Although this is all the fixing that these impliments receive, it is wonderful how they remain in the haft; a novice in the matter reading this discription, would be inclined to imagine that the axe head so fixed would fly off almost at the first half-dozen strokes, but it is not so; for many and many a canoe has been cut with these instruments, without their becoming the least loose even, and when the blunt edge is taken into consideration, it will be quite palpable how enormous must be the labour, and how numerous must be the blows required, to release a sheet of bark, large enough for a canoe, from a tree. As a matter of course now and then these implements will become loose in the middle of some operation, but what of that; even an American axe will get the haft broken occasionally. Ere the advent of Europeans these primitive axes were the only cutting tools the aborigines possessed, unless sharp flint-scales and broken mussel shells can be classed under that head.

The natives hailed the European tomahawk on its first introduction as the greatest boon which was ever conferred on their savage lot; and to hear, as we have done, an old aborigine, even at this day, describing the sensation caused by the appearance of the first amongst his tribe, is of the richest. The news of the appearance of this most wonderful weapon spread far and wide in very short time, and great was the aboriginal muster in consequence. Friendly tribes from the remoter districts, flocked into the main camping ground, and single families from the furthermost nooks and corners joined the crowd, all intent upon viewing this marvellous axe; and when it was produced to their astonished gaze, much ejaculation and clucking with the tongue ensued. Each one who had the pleasure of having it in his hand, with glistening eye and radiant countenance, said "Tumoo Talko;"[2] and each one who was permitted the privilege of testing its cutting powers, ejaculated "Nga loorongandoo tumoo talko."[3] As a natural consequence, every one wished to become the owner of this Talko patchic,[4] so that there came very nearly being a sanguinary conflict over the matter; indeed it was only a universal promise to loan it on every canoe-cutting occasion that kept the peace and good fellowship that had existed in these tribes for ever so many generations, from being summarily terminated on the spot.

Of fibre plants there are three, which are utilised by the aborigines in the manufacture of twine and cord. The Kumpung (Typha Muellera) root, furnishes the fibre most commonly employed in making the thread from which waist-belts, bow-bands, and bags of all sorts and sizes are netted. The larger sized Mockoor Mockoor (bags), are used for carrying their various belongings from camp to camp, whilst the smaller ones take the place of the pockets of civilisation. Each male is provided with one of the latter, which is carried over the point of the shoulder, or round the neck as the fancy of the wearer inclines. This fibre is procured after a very simple and primitive fashion, thus:—After the root is cooked (it produces food as well as fibre), it is not cut up into short sections for convenience in eating, as doing so would render the fibre comparatively worthless by reason of its shortness; therefore each root is taken separately, the skin peeled off. and the remainder, consisting of both farina and fibre, is twisted up into a knot, often being larger than a good sized fist, and these knots are crammed into the mouths agape for their reception—most ludicrously. Sometimes both hands are required in the performance of this feat. When one of these immense mouthfuls has been masticated sufficiently to extract all the farina, the residue, which is the fibre, is rejected in the shape of a small knot of beautiful white tow. These knots of tow, as they are formed, are carefully packed away in bags, which are then utilised as pillows, until the time comes round for twine making. When about to make twine, these tow knots are steeped in water for twelve hours, which effectually softens any starchy matter they may contain. They are then teased out and scraped with mussel shells, until they are perfectly cleansed. The clean flax is then tied up into small neat hanks, and is ready for the thread makers' operations.

When we consider that these aborigines do not possess any appliances other than those furnished by Dame Nature, it is truly wonderful how deft they are in the making of cord and twine. They make these of sizes varying from the thickness of our clothes lines, down to the very thinnest twine. Whatever the size may be, the cord or twine in all cases consists of two plies or strands only; and the most singular thing about it is, that both strands are twisted at one time, and as the hand is drawn back from twisting them, the retrograde action twines them together into the finished cord. The work is done on the bare thigh, thus:—Two flax hanks are loosened out, the ends of which are held by the left hand; the rest is then stretched out over the thigh, and kept apart by one of the fingers of the hand holding the ends; the palm of the right hand is now moistened, and placed over the flax on the thigh, when it is rubbed sharply towards the knee. By this action both of the flax hanks are twisted into hard threads. The finger which had kept the hanks apart is now withdrawn, and the right hand is drawn back with a sharp jerk, which results in the two threads being firmly twined together into a neat cord, so much of them at least as the palm covers. The end of the shortest, hank (they always commence with a long and a short hank), is now teased out, and the end of another hank is mixed with it, and the two rubbing actions are again performed with a like result. So it continues, two rubs and a join alternately.

This process they will continue hour after hour, until the thigh becomes quite painful to the slightest touch. It is then thrown aside until the thigh returns to its normal condition.

The Fibre Rush is the next plant from which they procure flax. This plant is cut as close to the ground as possible, so that the fibre may be of a fair length. It is tied into bundles of about six inches diameter, after which it is soaked in water for twenty-four hours. After the soaking has been effected, it is placed in an oven and baked for four hours. It is then in a fit condition for the next process,, which is scraping. This is done by means of mussel shells, with the view of removing all the husk and pithy matter. Whilst the scraping is in progress the rushes are continually being dipped into water, the softening influence of which, aids materially in the proper cleansing of the flax. When it is quite finished it is laid on the grass to dry, which it soon does, as it is spread out in small parcels, each parcel being merely sufficient to form one of the neat hanks of the correct size required in the manufacture of the cord or twine they may have in view. When dry it is made into the hanks, and stored away for future use.

From this fibre fishing lines and nets are made, as also nets for taking ducks. It makes a most serviceable netting twine, having the power to resist the rotting influence of water to a great extent; in fact, it is superior in that particular to the common netting twine of commerce, which we have proved on more than one occasion.

The next and last of their cord-making plants is the giant mallow. The fibre from this plant is of a much coarser nature than those already described; therefore it is only employed for making very thick cord, which is afterwards worked up Into nets for capturing emus. The process of separating this fibre from the plant is the same as that adopted in the case of that derived from the rush, with this one difference—After the mallow is taken out of the oven it is well bruised with heavy clubs previous to its maceration and scraping.

The emu nets made from the cord which is manufactured out of the mallow fibre are frequently from eighty to one hundred yards long, the mesh being six inches wide. When completed it looks exactly similar to our sheep nets, and very nearly as strong. The following is the manner of their application in enmeshing emus:—

The locality of a drove of emus is noted, and such natural features as the country in the vicinity presents (such as the near convergence of a lagoon and lake, or a river and a lagoon) are utilised for side or guiding lines to the net, the latter being fixed at the nearest point of their convergence. As a matter of course, in all cases the ground between the converging side lines at the point selected for the fixing of the net must be narrow enough to be spanned thereby. The net is firmly fixed in position by means of good stout stakes. When all is in readiness several of the elderly natives hide themselves in the long grass at each end, whilst the younger members of the tribe stretch themselves out in two lines having the form of a IPA Unicode 0x0076.svg with the apex cut off, the narrow opening of this mutilated IPA Unicode 0x0076.svg fitting on to the natural converging lines. Previous to these lines being formed scouts, warily taking advantage of all the inequalities offered by tree and bush, stealthily creep round the unsuspecting emus. When their purpose has been achieved they await in ambush for the preconcerted signal to startle the game towards the net prepared for their reception. The signal being given, the scouts rise from their concealment simultaneously, and with shout and gesture so frighten the gigantic birds that they start away with the velocity of a locomotive engine, the thuds from their great feet almost making the very ground to tremble. If it so happen that the birds take off in the desired direction no word is spoken. The scouts merely keep following them up as fast as possible. If, however, the game should swerve from the right line, then those whose side they are approaching show themselves, and if that should not turn them then shouting and gesticulating are resorted to, which in mos cases have the desired effect. Sometimes, though, the effect is greater than is desired. In this case the natives forming the other line show themselves, whilst now the panting scouts coming up behind make as much noise as their labouring lungs will allow them. When the birds have got within the water lines the whole force in the field, with the exception of those lying in wait at the net, rush madly on with the noise of a pack of demons let loose, which causes the emus to put their best feet foremost until they run blindly into the net, when the old savages waiting to that end rush forward with a joy (which it is only given to real savages to know) and club the poor enmeshed birds, and it is but seldom that any escape out of the toils to warn their fellow emus of the fate to which they are all liable if due care and unwearied watchfulness be not continually exercised.

As many as a dozen emus are frequently taken at one time in this manner, when, of course, there is nothing but feasting and riot thought of in the camp for days, or as long as their supply Lists, or until it becomes putrid, which is not by any means an uncommon result after hunting expeditions which have been successful.

  1. We merely mention this similarity, in conjunction with the fact of the perfect resemblance of the barbs on the pre-historic arrow-heads, to those on the spears made by these aborigines, as showing rather more than a seeming connection between the primitive races long since passed away, and existing primitive man, as at present found in Australia.
  2. Tumoo Talko: More good.
  3. Nga loorongandoo tumoo talko: And very much more good.
  4. Talko patchic: Good tomahawk.