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[newspaper article by S. Newland in the Express and Telegraph, 14/12/1887, p. 7]

The Aboriginal Tribes on the
Darling River - No. II

[By S. Newland.]

The native doctors have many modes of
alleviating suffering, some very simple and
effective. That of applying the heated leaves
of plants to the parts of the body affected is
certainly beneficial, operating much the same
as our hot fomentations and the application of
hot flannels. I have seen the eucalyptus
leaves used in this way with apparently very
good effect. But in the so-called doctor's craft
there is much humbug and imposture. The
patient must be streaked over with lines of
paint in a grotesque manner. The practice of
sucking various articles from the suffering part
is common to many tribes of the Australian
aboriginals, as well as North American Indians
and the Zulus of South Africa. I have
seen the practitioner apparently draw out a
bullock's tooth, the bottom of a tumbler, a
piece of the jawbone of a sheep, a fragments of]
pitcher, &c. Useless to denounce him as an
imposter, the patient declared he or she felt the
thing going from them, and the pain was re
[illegible] They did not require any more of the
whiteman's castor oil, but a pot of jam would
expedite the cure. Sometimes the things ex
tracted were buried, at others carefully kept as
relics of the skill of the operator. Sicknesses
of this nature were generally attributed to
some blackfellow having a grudge against the
invalid and "making a bone." This is
done by cutting and shaping a bone in
a peculiar way which gives its possessor the
power of striking with disease any one he
chooses. One of the same people is often
accused of doing this, and even glorying in it,
though his life may be frequently threatened
by his terrified tribesmen. On one occasion an
old warrior, like a modern Don Quixote, had
a hard struggle with a whirlwind. They are
very frequent on the Darling in the summer
months, but this was an extraordinarily strong
one. It came slowly across a flat towards the
station, twisting boughs off the trees and
taking bushes and grass up in a column
of dust. Then appeared Don Quixote
in full war panoply, paint, weapons,
and feathers. He placed himself near the
store, the building most menaced by the foe,
and danced, stamped, and gesticulated in a
perfect frenzy of heroism and excitement.
Nearer came the whirlwind and wilder
grew the dance, the stamping, and the gew
tures. It caught hold of some empty cases
piled up at one corner of the store, and flung
them about; but it was the last attack. The
warrior stood his ground, the building was
saved. I had witnessed the whole thing, and
well remember the triumphant smile with
which the exhausted veteran came to claim his
reward. This old man had many of the
characteristics of the famous Don, his sim
plicity, conscientiousness, and herosim. As a
people, I believe them by no means want
ing in courage; indeed, I never knew
but one coward among them, and he
was abject enough not even to be ashamed
of it. They could use their weapons with
admirable skill and protect themselves under
a shield possibly 6 inches whide by 2 feet long.
On many occasions I have been supplied with
numerous weapons and told to aim them at a
warrior who simply defended himself with a
shield in one hand and a waddy in the other.
I might rain spears, waddies, or boomerangs
at each apparently unprotected portion of his
body, that narrow strip of wood ever inter
posed where danger threatened. At a game of
that sort you at first naturally fear, your
opponent appears so exposed, that you cannot
help hurting him, but after a bit you warm
into exasperation at the ease with which your
efforts are foiled, and pitch compunction to the
winds in your frantic attempts to drop that
grinning black demon behind his miraculous
shield. But it is not use, and when your store
of missiles has been three or four times col
lected and expended, as well as every avail
able stone, you realise this, and retire feeling
that only for the invention of gunpowder
colonisation would be attended with greater
difficulties than you have hitherto supposed.

They are by no means devoid of humor. I
recollect one night there being a great row in
the camp, and, out of patience at last, going
out and handcuffing the principal offender to
a post. In the morning, from my room, I
could see the prisoner lying apparently fast
asleep in his blanket. After a while, thinking
he might be set at liberty, I went out, and
there lay my handcuffs on the top of a figure
enveloped in the blanket. He had slipped his
hands out directly I left, and, leaving a dummy
representative, rejoined his companions in their
camp, who thought it a great joke. All tribes,
so far as I know, hold to the old barbaric law,
"an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth".
Several instances of this came under my
observation. A young woman (Nougo) was
killed by her husband (Mallee) in a barbarous
manner. He at once bolted up the river for
another tribe. A party of four was imme
diately sent after to kill him. All were rela
tives of the murdered woman; one, her
brother, was a cripple, but, having the right of
the first blow, he accompanied them. They
tracked him up for three days, and then
killed him. Another case. A blackfellow
struck his lubra a sudden blow with a waddy
quite in the ordinary way, and killed her.
He offered his bent head to the avenging
kinsman to be struck as hard as he pleased.
According to aboriginal law this was con
sidered to be all the justice that the case
demanded. A furious blow was administered
sufficient to kill a bullock, and the law was
satisfied. Long-standing quarrels were also fre
quently settled in this way by the injurer bowing
his head to the smiter. I never heard of these
blows ending fatally, though certainly given
with a will; but if they did the skull fractured
would probably be held more in fault than the
operator. It has frequently been asserted
that they practice cannibalism; but this, I be
lieve, is in no sense true. They have to me
invariably expressed the greatest detestation of
the idea. They, however, do practice infanti
cide, and justify it on various grounds.
The mother is too young, or not
strong enough, or has not sufficient
milk; but the usual excuse given to me
and I have known several instances of babies
[next column]
being killed - has been tht they were de
formed or imperfect in some way. There can
be no doubt that a crippled child was not
allowed to live; that is, if crippled at birth.
It must be admitted that there was much
sound philosophy in such a course in a people
of roving habits. Apart from considerations
of the deterioration of the race there was the
sterner obligation of self-interest, as each help
less creature increased the difficulty of moving,
besides beign another mouth to feed. If not
destroyed at the birth they became too much
attached to them subsequently to do it.

At the death of any member of the tribe the
camp was moved at once. This custom renders
it almost useless to build permanent huts for
them. The body, almost before the last breath
was drawn, was doubled up into as small a
compass as possible, and buried immediately,
in many cases much attention being afterwards
paid to keeping the grave neat. Great respect
was paid to the old men and many delicacies
were exclusively reserved for them, principally
of animals, birds, reptiles, or fish that were not
easily precurable. The most esteemed of these
the young men, women, and children were not
allowed to eat. The wild turkey was one of
these; but as the blacks decreased, and these
creatures could be obtained more easily by the
whites man's [sic] appliances, these arbitrary laws
were relaxed. They were very fond of fat,
frequently eating to surfeit of it, particularly
when a bullock was slaughtered, as well as
profusely anointing themselves with it. Yet
nothing would induce them to touch pork in
any shape. Whnce came this remarkable
antipathy I was never able to learn. Besides
their implicit belief in evil spirits, they also
believed that many deep holes in the river
were haunted by a big snake called "Niche".
In these holes they would not bathe or fish,
and, on one occasion, when two white
children were drowning, and might have been
saved by some lubras who were present, they
an [sic] away, screaming "Niche!" There are many
different kinds of corroborees; some for both
men and women, and others in which the men
alone take part. If the women join, they
generally stand some distance behind the men
when dancing, and do not come prominently
into the light. Occasionally the "hummer"
is used, but not frequently: probably because
it is considered too sacred to be seen by women
or young men. When used it is taken out be
yond the circle of light, so that, through the
sound can be heard, it is impossible
to see how it is produced. There is
no doubt some of the corroborees terminate
in a wild orgy, when practices are indulged in
that our canons of morality by no means sanc
tion. Like our own songs and music, some are
lasting favorites, others are composed, tried,
and quickly forgotten; and this is not to be
wondered at, for they sometimes consist of but
a few words of utter absurdity.

It has been asserted that the aboriginals of
Australia have no traditions, but that is not
quite correct, as a rather remarkable instance
coming under my own notice shows. To the
west of the River Darling is the Mount
McPherson Range, on parts of which are
hollow rocks or small caves, said by the
blacks to be haunted by evil spirits
they called the "Mullas." In the
early days they would not sleep near
these rocks on any accont. They describe
these "Mullas" as once a living people at
deadly enmity with their ancestors, waging
perpetual war, and that now they are dead
their spirits yet roam at night searching for
some solitary defenceless Parkengee to strike
with sickness. Ofthen when I have been
camped with them they have heard at night
the demons scream "Yahoo." Of course I
could not hear it, but that was easily ex
plained. The "Mullas" did not want me, it
was the Parkengees they pursued with such
persistent hate and revenge. So strong was
this fear that they often declared they had
been struch with illness by these nocturnal
foes. They describe the "Mullas" as
having been low of stature, broad, and
immensely strong, with very long arms
reaching nearly to their feet; but their most
striking peculiarity was a sharp broad
bone like the blade of an axe growing just
above each elbow. With this they fought,
striking back with the force of a kick from a
horse. Though always much interested in
their tales about these Mullas, I almost
doubted if they really believed they had ever
actually lived, until on one occasion when
camped with some blacks not far from the
range they showed me in a depression, scooped
out on the top of a soft sandhill by the wind,
a number of helmets shaped not unlike a tradi
tional dunce's cap, made of (copiga) gypsum.
Altogether there were some dozens of these,
many of them whole, many more in fragments.
They were apparently made to put on the
head, yet were too small for any ordinary
human being. Up to now I have never been
able to conjecture what could be their possible
use - what they could have been made for. I
tried them on my own head, as well as on the
blacks, buth they were not nearly large enoguh
to fit any but a child. Some were quite 2 feet
long, others less, and all hollow. I may state
here that this "copiga" is the same material
the river tribes use to cover their heads with
when in mourning, as well as smear their bodies,
but they in no way make anything of this kind
such as I saw on that sandhill. Much in
terested, I enquired if the blacks could give me
any explanation, and was then told that there
perished at the hands of their forefathers the
whole Mulla tribe of hunger and thirst. They
were compeltely surrounded, and in their last
extremity those helmets were made to cool
their burning heads. This was the revenge of
the Parkengees for the wrongs of years, and
since that deed of slaughter the spirits of the
Mullas had haunted them and struck them
with sickness when away from the camp fire or
alone. They added that a few miles away to
the west was hidden the skeleton of a Mulla
which they could show me. I was interested
and sanguine enough to go with them, and we
searched high and low, but without
avail; that treasure, for such it would
have been, I never saw. Another dis
appointment awaited me, for when some time
afterwards I went with a cart for the copiga
helmets not one could be found. The blacks
denied having taken them, but this they were
sure to do, as I had ordered them not to touch
one. No doubt for some superstitious reasons
they had hidden them away; I never was able
to discover where.

They also tell the story of a great calamity
that befell the back country tribe with which
they intermarried. In a fearful drought, when
nearly all the waters failed, the tribe in question
collected upon the Perie Springs, situated in
the Mount McPherson Range, about 50 miles
from the Darling, some disease came among
them and more than half perished. They
generally attributed this to the malevolence of
the "debbie, debbie," as usual, but one
of the most intelligent told me he thought it
was caused by the bad water. He showed me
the spot that tradition pointed out as the site
of the camp where nearly the whole of his
people died, leaving them ever since but a
remnant of their old numbers. From what he
said it probably occured two or three genera
tions before the country was settled by the
whites. It has been suggested that this sick
ness was smallpox, as traces of it are to be
found among them, but at this distance of time
it is impossible to determine. They also
would be likely to confound smallpox with a
skin disease they are much affected with, very
dissimilar in its more serious aspect, but
sufficiently resembling it to render worthless
any diagnosis we can make.

Of a future state they give many accounts,
but I will now only attempt to relate one.
Old "Baroo" was looked upon as a great
scoundrel by the whites, consequently he was
almost an outlaw, scarcely tolearted on any
station. He refused to shepherd, he declined
to cut wood or draw water, or in any way to
bow to the "Borees'" rule. With his own people,
however, he possessed boundless influence;
they both feared and venerated him; some of
them even believed he had actually visited
their heaven, and he told them it was in this
wise. When he was young there lived a
very old mand who was Barpoo's instructor
in their native lore. He could cure all
diseases, as well as cause them, and when he
died his powers descended to his disciple.
Shortly before his death he told Barpoo that
aflter he was dead he was to cut a piece of flesh
out of his tight and eat it. This he did, and
immediately fell into a sleep in which his spirit
flew away beyond the sky. There he saw the
blackman's goddess in the form of a woman
embodying all the charms the aboriginal covets.
She received him with much kindness and
showed him all the abundance of the joys pre
pared for his people - game of all kinds,
plants, fruits, and fish, so that existence
was a perpetual round of ease and
feasting. The goddess conferred her
favors upon the chosen of her followers,
but there were also numerous lesser female
divinities to welcome all. When this was nar
rated I enquired if the white man could not
enter there, but I received a most emphatic
narta (no). In no other instance have I heard
the spirit wathing over them described as a
female, but the future immortal hunting
grounds are always the same; there they hunt,
fish, and surrender themselves to the volup
tuous joys so bountifully provided, and there
the hated "Boree" has no place; and I don't
think we can wonder at it when we consider
what their experience of us has been. Their
language is a poor one, as evinced by
the repetition of the same word in count
ing; for instance, "barcoola" means two,
and for six rthey have only the same word
three times repeated, or eight, four times.
Also in their laments the one word "wimperi"
is sang over and over again. When it comes to
abuse and vituperation the vocaublry is suffi
ciently extensive, and it is questionable if the
proverbial fishwife of our race could hold her
own agains her untutored sister in this respect.

The various tribes had their own country
clearly defined, and that again was subdivided
among the individuals. It would appear that
this might lead to confiusion and disputes; but
each bend in river or creek was named, as
well as every hill, palin, or the smallest water,
so that once knowing these names there was little
difficulty in fixing a boundary or identifying a
place. It is really surprising how the country
of the Upper Darling is mapped out by them
in this way, or rather was when the aboriginal
lords held away. We have looked upon them
with the lofty superiority of our race, but the
historical student will find far more in their
laws and customs admirably adapted to their
manner of life and the conditions surrounding
them than is generally supposed. I have en
deavored to prepare a vocabulary of the
language of the tribe dealt with, but I find my
recollection is imperfect - circumstances may
admit of some important omissions being sup
plied later.

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