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[newspaper article from The Express and Telegraph newpaper, 13/12/1887, p. 2]

The Aboriginal Tribes on the
Darling River. - No. I,

[By S. Newland.]

The subject of this paper is one that not only
interests us as a people, but it appeals to our
sympathies as individuals, since we cannot but
admit that our happy prosperous lot in these
bright colonies is purchased at the cost of the
welfare, nay, even the lives of the possessors
of the soil. It is pathetic to be thrown among
the aboriginals and note how they wither away
when brought into contact with the people of
our race. It seems to make little difference
how kindly they are treated, how well clothed
or fed, they cannot breathe the same air as the
white man and live. As they are evidently
doomed to a rapid extinction it is of impor
tance to posterity that before it is too late
reliable information shold be obtained of
their manners, customs, and lives.

A few years ago the aboriginals of the Upper
Darling were comparatively numerous; now
they, in common with other tribes wherever
the European has settled, have nearly passed
away. This has been brought about by no
epidemic, nor the use of intoxicants or cold, or
hunger. None of these have had much to do
with it. I can vouch for their being well fed
and clothed, and for years spirits were almost
entirely kept from them, yet they died off, the
old and young, the strong and weaky alike,
sometimes with startling suddenness, at others
by a wasting sickness of a few days,
weeks, or months. On the Upper Darling
the blacks, though divided into tribes,
spoke the same language and were friendly.
They call the river the Parka, and themselves
the Parkengees. The tribal name of those I
shall particularly treat of was Wampangee.
The back country natives to the east of the
river were the Barrengees, at enmity with the
Wampangees. They spoke a different language
to the Darling blacks, but the same as those of
the Lachlan, with whom they were friendly.
In some respects their habits were different.
They had a separate camp fire for
each family and I think more fre
quently practised polygamy, one wife
often being a mere child. The tribe to the
west of the Darling, up the Paroo to the
Queensland border, spoke the language of the
Parkengees, and intermarried with them. Just
over the twenty-ninth parallel, being the boun
dary line between New South Wales and
Queensland, was a rival tribe with a distinct
language. At one time they struggled hard
for their country alike against white or
black who crossed the boundary line. Further
to the south again was another tribe at war
with all three last mentioned people, and
know to them as Pernowries; these practised
the rite of circumcision, or something of a
similar nature. All these aboriginals used the
same weapons and hunted in the same way,
though the inhabitants of the Darling were
much the finer race and more expert in the
water, while some of the back country natives
could not swim at all. I have now given a
general sketch of the aboriginal inhabitants of
the country, but it is with those living on the
River Darling itself I have to treat on this
occasion.

The Wampangees were divided into two
families or sects, named Keelparras and Muck
warras, which intermarried, but a Keelparra
could not marry a Keelparra, or a Muckwarra
a Muckwarra. A brother had the right of
giving away his sister, which he usually did
with a view to his own matrimonial interests.
They were in this way promised when quite
children, and in the event of the death of the
claimant his nearest of kin became posessed of
his rights. A brother had also a right to his
deceased brother's wife. I knew a rather re
markable case of this kind which strongly
proved that "love will still be lord of all."
One of the two brothers had died, leaving
a fine young widow, who was claimed by the
suvivor, known as "Old Manum," in accor
dance with tribal custom. His claim was
allowed by the tribe, but the young woman
had bestowed her affections upon a young
fellow and would have nought of "Manum."
In vain was the by no means gentle persuasion
of the waddy tried, her constancy was un
shaken. As a general arbiter the dispute was
frequently submitted to me, and, I must
acknowledge, on one occasion my sense of the
justice of the old man's claim, according to
the aboriginal law, outweighted my sympathy
for the cause of true love, and I consented to his
administering a little mild correction, which
the old villain assured me would be quite
sufficient. A sight of the victim after was
enough. I made "Manum" relinquish his
courtship and title to the young woman, but
this result was not brought about until after years
of persistence on the part of the claimant, and
quarrels among the members of the family and
tribe. No doubt prior to the possession of the
country by the whites the matter would have
been promptly settled by the death of the
young lover.

The blessings of civilisation to them must
always have appeared a questionable benefit.
Before the advent of the "Boree" (a term
signifying whitemen [rest of line obscured]
pressing their opinion of us) they were nume
rous and happy. The river supplied abundance
of fish and water fowl, as well as immense
quantities of "parper" of the low lands after
the subsidence of floods. The sandhill country
was equally prolific after rain, and from both
the roots of the wild geranium and other plants
were collected, cooked, and after being
trampled into a pulp in their coolamans (a
wooden basin made out of the elbows of hollow
box limbs) were kneaded into large balls and
kept for future use. "Parper" is a term
applied to many kinds of grass or herb
seed. It was collected by the lubras and
children, put into bags or skins, and ground
between two stones when required. One large
flat stone was laid on the ground, some seed
put upon it, and a smaller stone worked round
with the hands upon it, water occasionally
being added; when finished it had much the
appearance of our gruel. They have always
represented themselves to me as comparatively
free from disease; they emphatically deny
having known some of the most loathsome
complaints common to civilised nations, such
as syphilis. To me their life for a people
having no ambition, no aspiration for anything
higher, appears rational and happy. Bark
canoes stripped from the box or gum trees
served as an easy mode of transport. Their
nets, made of a kind of flax or rush, enabled
them to catch large quantities of ducks.
These are streched across streams, or even the
river itself when sufficiently low, from con
venient trees on each side, or failing them,
from forked poles.

A rope run through the meshes on one edge
of the net supported it, after the fashion of a
tennis net. One end of the rope was made fast
on tone side the stream, then passed over the
bough of a tree or pole about 12 feet high, and
across the water to another similar tree or pole,
and then tied to a stick lightly thrust in the
ground, the net thus being suspended im
mediately over the centre of the stream. If
there was no cover, a few bushes were stuck up
in the soil and one or two blacks stationed
behind them, while others beat down or up the
stream, unless the ducks were flying of their
own accord, as is usually the case morning and
evening. As the birds approach the net the
watchers there fling high in the air above them
pieces of bark, at the same time uttering a shrill
whistle, in imitation of the cry of the hawk.
The flight of ducks, possibly flying above the
hanging net, dart down to escape their sup
posed enemy, and their momentum being too
great to turn, strike it with sufficient force to
draw the stick, and the falling net envelopes
them. One of the natives immediately rushes
in, and, wringling their necks one by one, flings
them on shore. This is quickly done, and the
net drawn up ready for the next flight
of the birds. In the old days bronze-winged
pigeons and other birds were caught in a
similar way by the net being stretched across
a narrow glade in thick timber, down which they
were in the habit of flying to water. The
emu is caught by the Riverine blacks in
somewhat the same way as wild animals are
trapped in other countries, only, instead of a
pit at the end of the lane, a noose is used. In
the river districts of New South Wales there
used to be great numbers of V-shaped en
closures - if that term can be applied where the
large end is open. At the narrow end a lane
was made, where the nooses were hung. The
fences of these erections were of the most
flimsy character, formed of sticks and bushes,
over or through which the birds could easily
have escaped; but the silly creatures, when
once driven in the funnel shaped entrance by
the blacks, always followed the fences to the
apex and the fatal noose. Another mode is,
taking advantage of their curiosity to entice
them sufficiently near for killing by spear,
waddy, or boomerang. They can be brought
quite close up by sitting or lying down
and making peculiar sounds, or fluttering
a rag or ribbon. I have not only
frequently seen it done, but have done it my
self; and occasionally known them come up to
a camp without any effort being made to
attract them. On the Finke the aboriginals
used to practise another method of capturing
them - by poisoning small waterholes. During
my late visit to the north a blackfellow showed
me a bush the leaves of which they used for the
purpose; it was the only one of the kind I saw
in my travels, or, indeed, have ever seen. I
may add I brought a specimen down, and it is
now, with many others, in the posession of
the secretary to the Transcontinental Railway
Commission. I believe a few bullocks were
poisoned by drinking on one occasion from a
waterhole prepared in this way for emus by
the aboriginals. On the Darling waterhens
(kerkalees) are caught in small nets at the
outlet of a funnel-shaped enclosure, similar in
shape to that used for emus, but made of small
bushes or grass.

For catching fish a smaller net than that
used for birds was stretched across a small
creek emptying a lake or billabong. As the
river falls a consideracle current is created,
down which the fish are forced into the net.
In this way great numbers were caught.
When the water back from the river became
low large quantities were obtained by driving
them into shallow pens made of mud. There
were also permanent stone pens formed on
reefs across the Darling, now known as the
"Fisheries;" these were an obstacle to navi
gation when the river was low, and have been
destroyed by the captains and owners of the
steamboats. In the old days, while the stream
continued low, great camps of blacks collected
at these places for the purpose of obtaining fish.
When first seen by the whites there were quite
elaborate systems of pens, opening one into
another, so that once in there was little chance
of the fish escaping before they were caught or
speared. Another common and highly interest
ing mode of taking fish was spearing them;
not the same way as that we are so familiar
with, as illustrated by the figure in the canoe
[of?] the Exhibition, but by diving. Before this
can be successfully carried on the water
must be clear. The "muddy" Darling,
as it is sometimes called, has a milky
appearance until it is tolerably low, when it
becomes quite clear, and later somewhat
brackish. The black men then assemble on
the bank of a deep hole with spears made
of light rod-iron; before they had iron they
weighted wood, so as notto be buoyant in the
water. A fire is kindled, and, if the time
is winter, the operators rub themselves from
head to foot with grease to keep out the cold.
Then with spear in hand they glide into the
water and swim noiselessly into the deep part;
then turning with his feet down and hands
held above his head the swimmer sinks down,
looking up at the light, and when he sees a fish
he rarely fails to transfix it. The first thing the
observer then beholds is a fish on the end of a
perpendicular spear, then a black poll followed
by its attendant form, but scarcely a ripple on
the water and certainly no splash. The fish is
thrown or taken on shore, and the sport gone
on with, apparently without a sign of fatigue
in those engaged in it.

The builder rats are killed in a very
simple but ingenious manner. The rats build
houses, or rather large heaps of sticks, in
which they live. Sometimes they are five or
six feet high, and from one of these colonies
(for many rats may inhabit a single heap)
several paths radiate in different directions.
I was once with a number of blacks out hunt
ing when a colony was discovered. Immedi
ately every spare garment was in request, a
blanket was laid across one path, a coat
another, a hat or a waistcoat, anything or
everything (until most of the party stood in
nature's simple garb) where placed over the rest,
each having a kind of opening left on the
side facing the rats' house. With waddy or
stick in hand one or two of the hunters was
stationed at each garment, with instructions to
strike the instant a rat entered the opening
left for him. I was told he would only linger
for a moment, and that prompt action was im
perative. The dwelling was then fired, and
just when I had come to the conclusion that
there was not a rat in it, or else he preferred
certain death by cremation to a fair prospect of
escape from at least one waddy, out came a
streak of lightning along the path to my hat,
followed by another and another. The
state of that hat attested how I struck,
there could be no doubt of that;
even my aboriginal censors did not question
it, they only complained of the promptness of
the blows. Anyhow there were no rats under
my pile, but several under those of the others.
For promptness of action under such circum
stances I have ever since believed the aborigi
nal excels the European. Their power of
tracking is simply marvellous; they will tell
you the track of each hourse on the station.
They can follow a snake or a rat, and it has
even been said the most skilful can track a
mosquito. I have often known them to follow
a small mob of lost sheep through the tracks of
others, when to my eyes one as closely re
sembled the other as grains of wheat.
But I remember seeing a blackboy once
puzzled; every track he had previously
seen he knew the creature that made
it. We were on our return to the
river from an excursion out back, when we
came across the trail of a one-legged man with
a crutch. For miles he followed silently won
dering, and then asked me if it was made by a
"debble debble." Nor could he be quite re
assured until he saw the man and the crutch.

Among the tribes I have mentioned, the
custom of making a youth into a young man
is performed with some ceremony. The actors
must be decked out with ochre, and feathers,
opossum fur string, &c. A front tooth is
literally knocked out in the following way:
The hero or the victim, whichever he may
be considered, is laid flat on his back and
held so. The operator then holds the
edge of a boomerang or similar instrument to
the tooth, and strikes it with stone or waddy
until it comes out. The youth must bear the
pain without a sign, or be considered "too
lucha" - cowardly. When the rites are over
the young man would round with the opossum
fur cord is started off by himself unless some
other has been initiated, in which case they
can go together, away from the sight of women.
They may be fed sometimes by the men, but so
far as I know they have to depend on them
selves. At any rate they frequently appealed
to me during the night for food. In about a
fortnight they returned to the tribe with
out any particular notice. At the age of
of puberty the girls were kept from the sight
of the men for a few days, during which time
their bodies were wound about with coils of
opossum fur repeatedly crossed over the
breasts. They, however, were merely kept in
a "yapra" (wurley), near with some female
relatives, and not sent away as the young men
were.

"Making rain" is a secret performance,
neither the women nor strangers being allowed
to be present. A particular kind of stone is
required, a lot of grey hair from an old man's
beard, some blood drawn from their own veins,
and they frequently take a great deal. It is
caught in a coolaman, a wooden vessel as
previously described, and the whole, stone,
hair, and blood mixed together and wrapped
up, is sunk in a deep waterhole in the
river with many signs, much palaver and
gesticulation. I have never seen the cere
mony, but it has frequently been described to
me. During severe droughts I used to protest
that the Wampangees were no good at making
rain, ut their faith never wavered. It was
simply a question of time. If it came before
they had gone through the ceremony they
would declare it had been made by other
blacks. According to them it never fell with
out the exercise of aboriginal power, and but
for them the whiteman, his cattle and his
sheep, wold perish miserably. I am in
clined to believe that this was in
tended during some of the great droughts,
when they made no attempts to bring
rain, but their object was, in their opinion,
defeated by the rival tribes making it. They
were always acute enough to wriggle round a
question. I remember once an old fellow,
who afterwards assumed royal authority, being
importuned to make rain by a drover waiting
for a downpour before starting with fat stock
to market. A £1-note was offered for rain
within a given time. It must have been a
great temptation for the old savage, as he cer
tainly never had so much money in his abori
ginal life; but he was equal to the occasion,
and pushing it aside with a gesture of con
tempt, he exclamed, "Bale mine wantum
your money, Mr. Newland givem mine plenty,"
which, by-the-bye, he did not ordinarily con
sider the case, for a more insatiable old villain
I never knew.

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