previous
no next



  ― 235 ―

Part II

Stone Age Folks




  ― 237 ―

Chapter I

Passing Away

SOME investigators tell us that the aborigines of Australia came out of Egypt carrying with them their ancient signs and totemic ceremonies; others, that they are representatives of the Neolithic Age; others assert that Australia is the cradle of the human race, the primitive inhabitants the stock whence all sprung.

Without pausing to hazard an opinion upon any of these theories, it may be said that stone axes, shell knives, and fish-hooks of pearl and tortoiseshell now in use are among the credentials of a people whose attributes and conditions are in line with those who, in other parts of the world, had their day and fulfilled their destiny ages upon ages ago, leaving as history etchings on ivory of the mammoth and the bone of the reindeer. Implements similar to those which are relics of a remote past elsewhere are here of everyday use and application. The Stone Age still exists.

To speculate upon those phases of aboriginal life and character which go to establish the antiquity of the race and its profound unprogressiveness, is no part of the present purpose, which is merely to relate commonplace incidents and the humours of to-day. Much of that which follows is necessarily matter of common knowledge among those who have studied the blacks of the coast.

There is nothing obscure, and but little that concerns even the immediate past, in the philosophy of those natives of North Queensland with whom I am in touch. With the black, to-day is—“to be, contents his natural desire.” The past is not worth thinking about, if not entirely forgotten; the future unembarrassed by problems. Crafts and artifices, common enough a few years ago, are fast passing away. New acquirements are generally saddening proofs of the unfitness of the aboriginal for the battle of


  ― 238 ―
life when once his primitive condition is disturbed by the wonder-working whites. Bent wire represents a cheap and effective substitute for fish-hooks of pearl-shell, which cost so much in skill and time, and ever so shabby and worn a blanket more comfortable and to the purpose than the finest beaten out of the bark of a fig-tree.

Many of the wants of the race are supplied through the agency of the whites, and there are so many new tasks and occupations and novelties generally to occupy attention, that the decent and often ingenious handicrafts lapse and are lost. Our blacks still decorate rocks and the bark of trees with rude charcoal drawings; but the art of making stone axes is lost, though trees yet exhibit marks of those handled by the fathers of the present generation.

In passing, an example of the difficulties that must inevitably be faced by inquirers a few years hence who may seek information first hand may be cited. The grandfathers of the blacks of Hinchinbrook Island and the islands of Rockingham Bay have been popularly credited with the art of making out-rigger canoes, such as were common a few miles to the north. One living representative of the race gave me a detailed description of this style of canoe, and pointed out with pride the particular tree whence it was invariably fashioned, by hollowing out a section of the trunk, leaving the ends solid and shaping them. A different and very buoyant timber, according to him, was used for the out-rigger. This boy had travelled. He had seen the canoes further north as well as those of New Guinea, and it was found on investigation that his description of the local craft was quite imaginary. Captain Philip P. King, who came hither from Sydney in 1818, anchoring at Goold Island, thus describes the canoe of the period—“Their canoes were not more than five feet long, and generally too small for two people; two small strips of bark five or six inches square serves the darkie's purpose of paddling and for baling the water out, which they are constantly obliged to do to prevent their canoes from sinking.” These details are applicable to the canoes of the present day.




  ― 239 ―

As a matter of fact, out-rigger canoes were not known in this locality, though but 20 miles to the north hollowed logs with out-riggers of the stems of banana plants were common. This fact definitely fixes the point—geographical and also historical—at which the advanced ideas of the Papuan in the science of boat-building ceased to influence the tardy Australian. Ere knowledge of the counter-balance crept further south, the advent of the arbitrary white man brought its progress to a full and final stop. Fragile single canoes of bark were the only means of navigation here, and not many men in these degenerate days can successfully imitate the work of their fathers. Owing to disuse, the talent in that direction has almost been lost. Lost, too, are many of the legends which were wont to be handed down from one generation to another, and forgotten the very names of common objects. But these investigations do not pretend to depth, nor are they presented in any authoritative manner. No attempt is made to discuss the Australian aboriginal in general nor from any particular standpoint. A few side-shows and character sketches are offered in the attempt to interest and entertain.

In some respects our blacks, said to be among the finest physically in Queensland, and desperately deceitful, are cute and as independent of artificial aids as ever.

Turtle and Suckers

Generally unprogressive and uninventive, the aboriginals of the coast of North Queensland apply practically the result of the observation of a certain fact in the life-history of a fish in obtaining food. By them the sucker (remora) is not regarded as an interesting example of a fish which depends largely upon turtle, dugong, sharks and porpoises for locomotion, but as a ready means of effecting the capture of the two first-mentioned animals, always eagerly hunted for their flesh.




  ― 240 ―

In the days of hoary antiquity it was believed that this strange fish was wont to affix itself to the bottom of a ship, and was able of its malice to hold it stationary in a stiff breeze though all sails were set. According to the legend (a popular method by means of which the descendants of great men explained away their faults and blunders), at the famous sea-fight at Actium, Mark Antony's ship was held back by a remora in spite of the efforts of hundreds of willing galley-slaves. Shakespeare may say that Cleopatra's “fearful sails” were the cause of Antony's fatal indecision and flight, and a lesser poet may cast the blame upon her “timid tear”; but the tribute to the remora's interference with the fate of nations was accepted in good faith at the time, and was, moreover, supported and confirmed by the inglorious experience of other great men who hung back when they should have sailed boldly on to victory or noble disaster.

Vulgarly known nowadays as “the sucker,” and to science as the “Echeneis remora” and “Echeneis naucrates,” and to the blacks as “Cum-mai,” the fish upon which such grave responsibility was thrown by the ancients monopolises the sub-order of Acanthoptaygii (discocephali). Its distinguishing feature is a shield or disc extending from the tip of the upper jaw to a point behind the shoulders, and said to be a modification of the spurious dorsal fin. This structure consists of a mid-rib and a number of transverse flat ridges capable of being raised or depressed. The disc has a membranous continuous edge or margin. When the fish presses the soft edge of the disc against any smooth surface and depresses the ridges and the intervening spaces, a vacuum is formed, giving it enormous holding power. Other countries have sucker fish of different form; but it remained for the benighted Australian blacks, among a few other savage races, to make practical use of the creature, which, as a means of locomotion, forms strong attachments to the dugong, turtle, shark and porpoise. It can hardly be called domesticated, yet it is employed after the manner of the falcon in hawking, save that


  ― 241 ―
the sucker is fastened to a light line when the game is revealed.

Some assert that the sucker swims on its back when not adhering to its host, but my observation denounces that theory. Becalmed among the islands, where the water is transparently clear, I have seen the sucker swim cautiously to the boat, apparently reconnoitring. Shy and easily startled, a wave of the hand over the gunwale is sufficient to scare it away; but it comes again, keeping pace as the boat drifts, and liking to remain in its shadow. Then it is easily seen that it swims with the sucker uppermost.

Occasionally when the blacks harpoon a turtle or a dugong a sucker is secured. They declare that it stays in one locality until a suitable host happens along, and then forms a life-long attachment.

If one is seen among the rocks the blacks are at pains to catch it, and as it is shark-like in its nervousness, the sport demands considerable skill and patience. “Feed 'em plenty” is the ruling principle. Delectable morsels of fresh fish are tendered abundantly until the sucker abandons his usual caution, and then when he is feeding freely a hook temptingly baited is let down casually among the other dainties, and if the fish has been liberally and yet not over fed, it will probably accept the line, and after protesting and holding back to the best of its ability, find itself flapping in the bark canoe. Should it get away—“Well! Plenty more alonga salt water. Catch 'em to-morrow.” When determined to secure a sucker whose haunt they have discovered, the blacks will feed it at intervals for a day or two to overcome its nervous apprehension. In other localities along the coast the fish is plentiful and by no means shy, taking bait ravenously.

Having secured the sucker, the blacks farm it in their haphazard fashion. They fasten a line above the forked tail so securely that it cannot slip, nor be likely to readily cut through the skin, and tether it in shallow water, when it usually attaches itself to the bottom of the canoe. When, as the result of frequent use and heavy strain, the tail of


  ― 242 ―
the sucker is so deeply cut by the line that it is in danger of being completely severed, a hole is callously bored right through the body beside the backbone, and the line passed through it for additional security.

Turtle being wanted, the blacks voyage out each in a bark canoe, which weighs about 40 lbs., is 8 feet long, 2 feet beam and 1 foot deep midships, where the sides are much depressed, leaving little more than an inch of freeboard. There is a good sheer forward and a slight tilt at the stern, while the bottom is level. Occasionally two men fit themselves into a canoe of the dimensions given. The canoe is constructed of a single sheet of bark, preferably of “Gulgong” (Eucalyptus robusta) or “Carr-lee” (Acacia aulacocarpa), or “Wee-ree” (Calophyllum inophyllum) brought neatly together at the ends, which are sewn with strips of lawyer cane. Pieces of lawyer cane are sometimes also stitched in to represent stem and stern posts, and the chaffing pieces also are of cane, though occasionally thin pliant saplings are strapped and sewn on. Across the bow and the stern are stays of cane, with generally a stronger thwart midships. When new, and the stitches of yellow cane regular and bright, the canoe represents about the neatest and nattiest of the few constructive efforts of the blacks, and is as buoyant as a duck. The seams are caulked with a resinous gum, “Tambarang,” of the jungle-tree known as “Arral” (Evodia accedens), and is prepared by being powdered on a flat stone previously moistened with water. The powdered resin is melted by heat, allowed to solidify, and pounded and melted again, and after being rolled and kneaded into a lump, is wrapped in a leaf until wanted. The finished article, which is also used as a cement, is known as “Toon-coo.”

Motor power for the canoe is a shovel-shaped piece of bark 5 inches by 3½ inches, each man having a pair. Ever and anon the aft man ejects leakage by a rapid succession of dexterous back strokes of his paddle.

Naked and unashamed, the blacks are well equipped for sport. They may have three or four harpoons of their


  ― 243 ―
own manufacture, besides a live fire-stick lying on a piece of bark sprinkled with sand, or they may carry a couple of dry sticks for raising a fire by friction. The haft of the harpoon is probably red or orange mangrove (Bruguiera rheedi), heavy and tough. It has been duly seasoned and straightened by immersion in running water and exposure to fire. At the heavy end it is hollowed out to a depth of 4 inches. The point is preferably of one of the black palms (Archontophœnix Jardinei), and a barb is strapped to it with the fibre of the “Man-djar” (Hibiscus tiliaceous) and cemented with “Toon-coo.”

I have never known one of these barbs to break or come loose, so adept are the blacks in securing them. The point is about 6 inches long, and on the barbless end is tightly wound successive layers of fibrous bark, until its size is adjusted to the socket in the haft. Above the swathing of bark a strong line is made fast; the padded end is fitted into the socket, the line is made taut along the whole length of the haft, and secured by three or four half hitches about a foot from the thin end. A neat coil of perhaps 50 yards of line lies in the bottom of the canoe. Probably each of the blacks will have his fishing-line, for sometimes the turtle do not rise according to expectations. At high tide these feed among the rocks close to the shore, at low water out among the coral on the reef, and the hunters wait and watch and fish silently and with all passivity. Then, when maybe they have caught schnapper, red bream and parrot-fish, they drift among the turtle, and the sport begins.

In sight of the game the sucker which has been adhering to the bottom of the canoe is tugged off and thrown in its direction. As a preliminary the disc and shoulders of the sucker are vigorously scrubbed with dry sand or the palm of the hand, to remove the slime and to excite the ruling passion of the fish. It makes a dash for a more congenial companionship than an insipid canoe. The line by which it is secured is made from the bark of the “Boo-bah” (Ficus fasciculata) and is of two strands, so light


  ― 244 ―
as not to seriously encumber the sucker, and yet strong enough to withstand a considerable strain. Two small loops are made in the line about an interval of 2 fathoms from the sucker, to act as indicators.

As soon as the sucker has attached itself to the turtle, a slight pull is given and the startled turtle makes a rush, the line being eased out smartly. Then sport of the kind that a salmon-fisher enjoys when he has hooked a 40-pounder begins. The turtle goes as he pleases; but when he begins to tire, he finds that there is a certain check upon him—slow, steady, never-ceasing. After ten minutes or so a critical phase of the sport occurs. The turtle bobs up to the surface for a gulp of air, and should he catch sight of the occupants of the canoe, his start and sudden descent may result in such a severe tug that the sucker is divorced. But the blacks watch, and in their experience judge to a nicety when and where the turtle may rise; telegrams along the line from the sucker give precise information. They crouch low on their knees in the canoe, as the game emerges, with half-shut eyes and dives again without having ascertained the cause of the trifling annoyance to which he is being subjected. The line is shortened up. Perhaps the turtle sulks among the rocks and coral, and endeavours to free himself from the sucker by rubbing against the boulders. Knowing all the wiles and manœuvres, the blacks play the game accordingly, and hour after hour may pass, they giving and taking line with fine skill and the utmost patience. The turtle has become accustomed to the encumbrance, and visits the surface oftener for air. One of the harpoons is raised, and as the turtle gleams grey, a couple of fathoms or so under the water, the canoe is smartly paddled towards the spot whence it will emerge, and before it can get a mouthful of air the barbed point, with a strong line attached, is sticking a couple of inches deep in its shoulder.

There is a mad splash—a little maelstrom of foam and ripples, the line runs out to its full length, and the


  ― 245 ―
canoe careers about, accurately steered by the aft man, in the erratic course of the wounded creature. As it tires, the heavy haft of the harpoon secured by the half hitches round the thin end being a considerable drag, the line is shortened up, but too much trust is not placed on a single line; some time may pass before the canoe is brought within striking distance again. When that moment arrives, a second harpoon is sent into the flesh below the edge of the carapace at the rear. Unable to break away, the turtle is hauled close alongside the canoe, secured by the flippers and towed ashore. I have known blacks, after harpooning a turtle, to be towed 6 miles out to sea before it came their turn to do the towing.

How they accomplish the feat of securing a turtle that may weigh a couple of hundredweight from a frail bark canoe, in which a white man can scarcely sit and preserve his balance, is astonishing. In a lively sea the blacks sit back, tilting up the stem to meet the coming wave, and then put their weight forward to ease it down, paddling, manœuvring with the line and baling all the time. The mere paddling about in the canoe is a feat beyond the dexterity of an ordinary man.

It must not be concluded that these blacks invariably have the co-operation of a sucker in securing turtle. Its use is comparatively rare. Generally both turtle and dugong are harpooned as they rise to the surface to breathe, the sportsmen being very cunning and skilful. They descry the turtle on the bottom, and softly follow its movements as it feeds on the marine vegetation, and then as it rises harpoon it; or they follow one that has betrayed itself by rising, observation and experience enabling them to judge fairly accurately when and where it is likely to rise again. But patience, solemn silence, and the avoidance of anything like sudden movements, are among the principal rules to be observed.

In passing, on the point of the turtle endeavouring to rid itself of the sucker, a European pearl-sheller told me of a unique experience that befell him in Torres Straits.


  ― 246 ―
Groping along the bottom, pushing his way against an impetuous current, he was almost knocked down by a move-on sort of shove. Instinctively his hand clutched the life-line, when he was again pushed disrespectfully, and in the greenish light saw that a monstrous turtle was using him as the afflicted Scotch were said to use the stones set up by the humane and sympathetic Duke of Argyle, and without so much as invoking a blessing.

A “Kummaorie”

Having caught their turtle and brought it ashore, and having seen the extent to which the tail of the sucker (which has been faithful to its host to the death) has been cut by the line, and having decided that it will do one time more and put it back in the water tethered, or “that fella no good now,” and cast it callously on the sand, to writhe about until dead, the blacks proceed to the cooking. Possibly the camp decides upon a “Kummaorie.”

A big fire is made and a dozen or so smooth stones about the size of saucers put on the embers to get red hot. In the meantime the turtle is killed, the head, neck, and sometimes the two fore flippers, removed. The entrails and stomach are taken out, and after being roughly cleansed are put back into the cavity. A hole is scraped in the sand, and the turtle stuck tail-first into it, the sand being banked up so that it remains upright. Then the red-hot stones are lifted with sticks and dropped into the turtle, hissing and spluttering, and stirred about with a stout stick. Another hole has been scooped in the sand and paved with stones, upon which a roaring fire is made. When the stones are hot through, the fire is scraped away, and the steaming turtle eased down from its upright position, care being taken not to allow any of the gravy to waste, and carefully deposited on the hot stones—carapace down. Quickly, so that none of the “smell” escapes, the whole is covered with leaves—native banana, native ginger, palms, etc., and over all is raised a mound


  ― 247 ―
of sand. In the morning the flesh is thoroughly cooked. The plastron (lower shell) is lifted off, and in the carapace is a rich, thick soup. No blood or any of the juices of the meat have gone to waste—the finest of meat extracts, the very quintessence of turtle, remains. What would your gourmands give for a plate of this genuine article? Who may say he has tasted turtle soup—pure and unadulterated—unless he has “Kummaoried” his turtle to obtain it? With balls of grass the blacks sop up the brown oily soup, loudly smacking and sucking their lips to emphasise appreciation. Then there are the white flesh and the glutin, the best of all fattening foods; and having eaten to repletion for a couple of days, the diet palls, and they begin to speak in shockingly disrespectful terms of turtle.

Weather Disturbers

In the arid parts of Australia, where rain rarely occurs, the blacks have acquired much out-of-the-way knowledge on the means of obtaining water. White men, unable to read the secret signs of its existence, have perished in all the agonies of thirst in country in which water, from a black fellow's point of view, was plentiful and comparatively easy to reach. Here there is never any anxiety on the subject. The minds of the blacks turn rather upon attempts to account for the rain, at times excessive and discomforting. Bad weather, in common with other untoward circumstances, is frequently ascribed to the machinations of evilly disposed boys. A boy may accept the credit or have the greatness thrust upon him of the manufacture of a gale which has brought about general discomfort, and to spite him, regardless of consequence to others, another boy will promise a still more destructive breeze next year. And so the game of wanton interference with the meteorological conditions of the continent proceeds, each successive infliction being arranged to serve out the author of the one preceding. It may be that the instigator of a gale lives far away, at the Palm Islands,


  ― 248 ―
or on Hinchinbrook, or at Mourilyan. Those who are terrified or inconvenienced agree to ascribe it to him, and having done so there is nothing of the mysterious to explain away. Usually the boy upon whom the responsibility is fixed is not available for cross-examination; but that renders the fact all the more conclusive. Here is the storm. Peter of the Palms must have made it.

An old gin known as Kitty, and who lived on Hinchinbrook Island, was famed on account of her successful manipulation of the weather. She was a grim personage—held in respect, if not awe, because of the peculiar distinctions ascribed to her. She could command not only the wind and the rain, but the thunder and lightning also, and to offend her was to run the risk of bringing about a terrifying storm. Years after her death blacks had faith in her potency for ill. One of the few white men who have attempted to climb the highest peaks of the island mountain, informed me that when he reached a certain elevation, the boys who accompanied him never spoke above an awe-struck whisper, and solemnly reproved him whensoever he uttered an unguarded exclamation. They were afraid that the debil-debil might be aroused; that Kitty would resent the intrusion of her haunt. At last they refused to go higher, and the ascent up in the dreaded regions was continued alone, while they abandoned themselves to sinister prognostics. One lonely night was spent high up on the mountain, and when the adventurer came back on his tracks in the morning, the boys were surprised to find that no harm had befallen him. To go into the very stronghold of mischievous and vindictive spirits, and to come away again, was to them almost beyond comprehension, and because no hurricane swooped down upon them, as they hurried to the lower and safer levels, nothing short of the marvellous.

However fantastic this supposition of human influence on the weather, there is an inclination to treat it with a semblance of respect when it is borne in mind that up to a comparatively recent date a similar belief prevailed even


  ― 249 ―
in enlightened England. Addison has a sarcastic reference to the superstition in one of his delightful essays. Detailing the news brought from his country seat by Sir Roger de Coverley, he says that the good knight informed him that Moll White was dead, and that about a month after her death, the wind was so very high that it blew down the end of one of his barns. “But for my own part,” says Sir Roger, “I do not think that the old woman had any hand in it.” In this particular, blacks are not so very far in the wake of races quite respectable in other points of civilisation.

Among other causes to which bad weather is ascribed is the eating by the young men of the porcupine (echidna), a dainty reserved for the wise, conservative old men. If young men should eat of the forbidden flesh, a terrible calamity will befall—the clouds will “come down altogether.” One day Tom picked up a young porcupine before it had time to dig a refuge in the soil, and took it to his camp alive. That afternoon a south-east gale sprang up, masses of rain-clouds driving tumultuously to the mountains of the mainland, but Tom was still youthful, and we felt fairly safe in respect of the stability of the dull and heavy, and wind-swept firmament. As we watched, a cloud settled on the summit of Clump Point mountain, assuming shape as fancy pictures the Banshee—drooping head and shoulders, and arms with pendant drapery uplifted as in imprecation. The boys, in awe-struck attitude, pointed to the vapoury spectre, and prognosticated fearsome rain and wind. It all came during the night. Next morning one of the boys was eager to declare that the nocturnal tempest was due to Tom, who had eaten the porcupine. We had seen his weird mother-in-law, aged and decrepid, preparing it for supper. When Tom appeared, he was duly denounced, and challenged with the responsibility of the storm. “No!” he cried with scorn. “Me no eat 'em that fella porcupine; chuck 'em away.” He had intended to, but the thought of the apparition on Clump Point mountain, and of the awful responsibility of


  ― 250 ―
causing the collapse of the clouds had taken away his inclination.

But the other boy was not to have his theories as to the weather brushed aside lightly. It was “that fella along a mountain,” who caused the trouble, or else “another boy alonga Hinchinbrook!” Having thus completely and satisfactorily settled the point, his face assumed a slow, wise smile, and his agitated mind rested. Was it not all another palpable proof, a precedent to be cited, of the manner in which a no-good-boy wantonly brought about a big wind?

Most of the dainties are forbidden the young members of the camp. Bony bream and bony herring will be passed on to the boys and girls, and, so too, the rough parts of turtle; but the sweet fish and flesh are retained by the old and lusty men, who proclaim that they alone may eat of such things with impunity. No youngster will dare to partake of echidna (“coom-be-yan”) at the risk of the prescribed consequences; and to the old men the fiction stands in the place (as was recently pointed out) of an annuity or old age pension.

A Dinner-Party

To fare sumptuously every day was not the lot of the natives of Dunk Island. In excessively rainy weather they were often glad of the coarsest and hardest of foods. Certain sharks are eaten with avidity whenever they are secured; but some species are too rank and tough to be endurable under any but extraordinary circumstances. Oysters were always plentiful, but a diet restricted to the most delicate of molluscs palls on the palate even of a black fellow. Ordinarily, food was abundant. For the most part it had only to be picked up and cooked. Frequently it was eaten on the spot, fresh from bountiful Nature's hands; but blacks appreciate changes of diet—even when the change is retrogressive—from the well-cooked,


  ― 251 ―
clean food of a white household to that of the sodden and strong stuffs common to the camp. When, as sometimes happened, the desire for novelty came, the whole population would paddle away to the mainland or to one or other of the adjacent islands, voyages being undertaken as far away as distant Hinchinbroook. Turtle do not favour the beaches and sandbanks of Dunk Island generally as safe depositories for their innumerable eggs, and when the longing came for these delicacies the inhabitants would with one accord travel to those islands in the security of which turtle still exhibit faith. The drift of the population hither and thither was not due to the scarcity of food but to a wayward impulse. As a rule there was little for the population to do save to eat, drink, laze away the hotter hours of the day, and “corrobboree” at night.

Astonishment can scarcely be withheld when an attempt is made to catalogue the available foods of the island, the variety and quantity. No effort was made at cultivation. Blacks took no heed of the morrow, but accepted the fruits of the earth without thought of inciting Nature to produce better or more abundantly, and yet how plenteous were her gifts!

Permitting imagination to soar away into regions of romance, one might picture a dinner-party of the bygone days, the lap of Mother Earth furnished with edibles and dainties, and the hungry and expectant members of the camp squatted round in anticipation of the various courses. Such a scene would be worthy of being classed among the most improbable; but as it would not be absolutely impossible, may not an attempt be made to treat it as a reality?

The repast might be initiated with a few oysters on the shells (with a choice of three or four varieties); a selection of many fish would be succeeded by real turtle (“padg-e-gal”) soup (in the original shell), and made as before described; the joint, a huge piece of dugong (“pal-an-gul”) kummaoried, rich and excellent, with entrées of turtle cutlets and baked


  ― 252 ―
grubs (“tam-boon”), ivory white with yellow heads, as neat and pretty a dish as could be seen, and rather rare and novel too. When the beetles (Appectrogastra flavipilis) into which these stolid grubs and fidgetty nymphs develop, are chopped out of decayed wood, they have the odour of truffles, and emit two distinct squeaky notes from the throat and the abdominal segments respectively. Each maintains a duet with itself until the hot embers impose silence and convert them into dainty nutty morsels. Roast scrub fowl eggs would be no novelty, and baked crayfish (“too-lac”), bluey-white and leathery—“such stuff as dreams are made on”—might lend a decorative effect. Raw echinus (“kier-bang”), saline and tonic, would clear the palate for succeeding delicacies.

The tough sweet yam (“pun-dinoo”), the heart of the Alexandra palm (“koobin-karra”), the hard rhizome of Bowenia spectabilis (“moo-nah”) after being allowed weeks to decompose, the core of the tree fern (“kalo-joo”), the long root-stock of Curculigo ensifolia (“harpee”) crisp and slightly bitter, the broad beans of the white mangrove (“kum-moo-roo”), would stand as vegetables.

Sweets would be the weakest part of the menu. One pudding might certainly be included, vermicelli (shredded bean-tree nuts—“tinda-burra”) with honey and orange-coloured balsamic custard, scraped from the outside of the drupes of the Pandanus odoratissimus (“pim-nar”).

Dessert, on the other hand, might be plentiful and varied. “Bed-yew-rie” (Ximenia americana), thirst-allaying and palate-sharpening; “Top-kie” (Herbert River cherry, Antedisma Dallachyanum), resembling red currants in flavour; “Pool-boo-nong” (finger cherry, Rhodomyrtus macrocarpa), sweet, soft and appeasing; “Panga-panga,” raspberry (Rubus rosæfolius); “Koo-badg-aroo” (Leichhardt-tree, Sarcocephalus cordatus), resembling a strawberry in shape, but brown, spicy and hot; “Murl-kue-kee” (snow-white berries of Eugenia suborbicularis), vapid, and as insipid as an immature medlar; “Raroo” (Careya australis), mealy and biting. Various figs, ranging in size from a


  ― 253 ―
large red currant to a tennis-ball, and in colour from white through all the tints from pale yellow and green to red, purple and black, sweet and generally mawkish. The banana would be there in the Musa Banksia (“boo-gar-oo”), although “close up all bone”; but the Davidsonian plum, plentiful on the mainland, would be absent. The scape of the Elettaria Scottiana, oozing viscid nectar, might stand as a sweetmeat.

Then, dallying with tomahawks and flat stones with the tough nuts of the “Moo-jee” (Terminalia melanocarpa), and the drupes of the “Can-kee” (Pandanus aquaticus) to extract the narrow sweet kernels, and sipping the while cordial compounded of the larvæ of green tree-ants (“book-gruin”), acidulous and nippy, the men might indulge in after-dinner stories and reminiscences, as the gins and piccaninnies drink heartily of water sweetened with sugar-bag (honey-comb), and chew the seeds contained in the china-blue pericarp of the native ginger—Ool-pun (Alpinia cærula).

Many vegetable foods would still be unenumerated, and there would be numerous shell-fish—periwinkles, cockles, mussels, scallops, dolphins, besides crabs. On rare occasions a scrub fowl (the blacks had no reliable means of capturing that wary bird, and when fortune favoured, it was an instance of bad luck on its part), with pigeons, carpet snakes, and sea-birds' eggs might make high tea.

Black Art

Time and diligent search revealed the location on the island of two art galleries, or rather independent studios, where there are exhibited works of distinct character. Tradition points to the existence of a third, the discovery of which gives zest to each exploratory expedition. Possibly it may also display original exploits in the realms of fancy, and so confirm the opinion that the black artists were not mere copyists of each other, but belonged to different schools, each having his own method and allowing his talent free and untrammelled development.




  ― 254 ―

What may be designated the Lower Studio is on the eastern slope, and is only to be approached from the sea in calm weather, the alternative route being a tiresome climb, a long and tormenting struggle through the jungle, and a descent among a confusion of rocks and boulders. It is situated about a couple of hundred feet above sea-level, quite hidden in the leafy wilderness which covers that aspect of the island from high-water mark to the summit of the ridge. Unless the spot was indicated, one might search for it for years in vain, and though I had made frequent inquiries, its existence was made known only by chance, its importance being considered insignificant compared with the other studio, the glories of which had frequently been descanted upon. Taking the sea-route, there is a natural harbour available, just capacious enough for a small dingy, and up above the rocks, swept bare by the surges, a dense and tangled scrub “whereto the climber upwards turns his face,” and taking advantage of such aids as aerial roots, slim saplings, and the reed-like growths of the so-called native ginger, begins the steep ascent. Where the rock does not emerge from the surface, the black soil is loose and kept in perpetual cultivation by scrub fowl, the wonder being that earth reposes at such an angle. But for interlacing and matted roots all must slide down to the sea.

A few minutes' exertion lands one at the portal of the studio, which is of the lean-to order of architecture, a granite boulder having one fairly vertical face being over-shadowed by a much higher rock having a dip of about 60 degrees.

Here originally there were five exhibits. Two have weathered away almost to nothingness, some faint streaks and blotches of red earth, in which medium all the pictures have been executed, alone remaining. Those subjects that are readily decipherable are mutilated after the style of certain much-prized antiques.

Of those which have successfully withstood the ravages of time, two apparently represent lizards, and the third


  ― 255 ―
seems to portray a monstrosity—a human being with a rudimentary tail. A German philosopher might possibly build upon this embryonic tail a theory to prove that the Australian aboriginal is indeed and in fact the missing link, and thereby excel in ethnological venture those who merely recognise in him the relic from a prehistoric age of man. Could it not be argued that the picture reveals an act of unconscious cerebration — an instinctive knowledge of ancestors with tails?

However that may be, the unconscious artist took further artless liberties with the human form divine. He had been at pains, too, to smooth down the face of the rock for the reception of the unshaded daubs of terra-cotta, using peradventure the flat stone upon which he was wont to bruise the hot and biting roots of the aroid (Colocasia macrorrhiza) which formed part of his diet. The utensil lies there at the entrance where he left it; the plants grow in profusion close by among the rocks; but of the artist there is no record, save the crude and grotesque figures in fading red on the grey granite.

Most of the central figure is clearly discernible; but parts of the outline have become blurred and irregular. Tradition says that all the figures once had black heads—the only attempts at the introduction of a second colour—but no traces of the black heads are now visible. They must have succumbed to the tender but irresistible assaults of Time long ago. In one case, fact seems to belie tradition, for there exist faint suggestions of a red head—and a red-headed black is as rare as a black with a tail; but the traces are so extremely vague and indeterminate as to render any attempt at restoration hopeless. But does not this obscurity and partial dismemberment lend an air of antiquity, much prized elsewhere, to these savage frescoes?

Of quite a different order are the works in the Upper Studio at the sign of the White Stripe. This lies close to the backbone of the island, in the heart of a bewildering jumble of immense rocks overgrown with jungle. Circumstantial


  ― 256 ―
accounts of the treasures there to be seen had determined me to persevere in attempts to discover it; but though the traditions of the blacks were strengthened by a mild sort of enthusiasm, and the exhibition of no little pride, they did but slight service towards revealing the precise locality. None of the living remnants of the race had seen the paintings. All trusted to the saying of “old men” and had faith. Experience had taught me to accept with caution and reserve legends founded on the unverified testimony of “old men” which had passed down to the present generation; but being much interested, and having become elated with the hope of discovering that which had not been seen by white folks, nor, indeed, by any living person, I also trusted and persevered.

From ships that pass to the East may be seen a bold white streak on the face of a huge rock, so sharply defined and accurate in alignment that it might be mistaken for a guide to mariners, or rather a warning, for the floor of the ocean is strewn with patches of coral, and the rocks are singularly forbidding, save on calm days. Opinion current among the blacks asserted that the paintings were on a rock below the disjointed precipice on the top of the ridge made conspicuous by the broad white band. The sign was found to be due to the bleaching of the rock face by the drainage from a mass of stag's horn fern. Possessed of this information, which proved in the long run to be trustworthy, several exploratory trips were undertaken. To reach the locality from Brammo Bay, one must cross the middle of the backbone of the island, and descend some little distance on the Pacific slope.

I scaled and scrambled over and crawled upon huge rocks, peered into gloomy crevices with daylight edges fringed with ferns and orchids, squeezed through narrow tunnels, and groped in dark recesses without finding any evidence of prehistoric art. Blacks do not care to venture into places where twilight always reigns, though they are curious to learn the experiences and sensations of other explorers of the gloom. At last, however, patience was


  ― 257 ―
rewarded, and beneath a great granite rock, which on three previous excursions had been overlooked, the paintings were discovered. In their execution the artist must have lain on his back, for the “cave” does not permit one to sit upright in it, except towards the wide and expansive front, and the subjects are on the ceiling, which is fairly flat. The floor, thick with a fine brown dust mingled with shining specks of decomposed granite, and dimpled with hundreds of pitfalls of the ant-lion, slopes upward. It is cool, and a dry, secure spot. Not even the torrential rains of many decades of wet seasons have damped the floor. One feels as though he were disturbing the dust of ages; when sitting back to admire the decorated ceiling, he necessarily imprints patterns which are the replicas of those made by flesh and bone long since numbered among the anonymous dead.

The sea laves the hot rocks 600 feet below, and booms and gobbles in the cool crevices; but up here the outlook is obscured by rocks and giant trees, and an artistic soul, longing for some method of expression, might serenely gratify itself in accordance with its lights—crude though they were. Here, at the entrance, lie a couple of charred sticks, significant of the last fire of the artist, which smouldered out perhaps half a century ago. On the very door-step is a disc of pearl-shell, the discarded beginning of a fish-hook. These relics give to the scene a pathetic interest. As I looked at them ponderingly, a frog far in the back of the cave gave a discordant, echoing croak, which started the sulky and suspicious black boy who attended me into an abrupt exclamation of semi-fright; while a scrub fowl, scratching for its living overhead, dislodged a chip of granite which went clicking down the rocks. “Tom,” at the instant, felt that the spirit of the departed was manifesting, in the hollow tones of a frog and the activity of a bird, resentment at the intrusion of his haunts, and was warning us to begone. But we had come far on a toilsome errand, and were not to be scared away by trifles, though a transient feeling of reluctance to disturb the solemnity of the studio could not be withheld.




  ― 258 ―

Remembering the fervid praises of the treasures by those who had not seen them, a sense of disappointment when they came to be examined was inevitable. They are not to be classed in any standard beyond that displayed on early school-slates; but imperfect as they are, they possess a certain symmetry and proportion, and the facts that they are where they are, and that the artist—dead and forgotten—had no light or leading, and was in other respects probably one of the most rude, most uncouth of human beings, are sufficient to lend to the drawings an interest as absorbing (though of a nature quite apart) as that with which the average individual contemplates the stiff works of masters of Continental fame.

One able critic of aboriginal art refers to similar rock paintings as frescoes, for lack of a significant title. Apparently the rock surface was slightly smoothed where inequalities existed—in one case the design follows the ridges and hollows—the subjects being worked in in dry earth of a chalky nature, dull red in colour. Animated nature and still life have been studied and reproduced. The turtle is true, and the most conspicuous and sharply-defined study the least convincing. It resembles those fantastic interwoven shapes that some men in fits of abstraction or idleness sketch on their own blotting-pads, and which signify nothing.

Comparing the works of the two studios, there is little doubt that there were at least two artists native of Dunk Island in times past, and in that respect the island was infinitely superior to its present state. Each appears to have effected a different kind of work—one devoting himself to realistic reptiles and the human form debased, and the other almost solely to the creation of conventional designs, and the representation of the animals and of weapons of his age. One illustrated man, and even gave to one of his reptiles a semi-human shape; the other exercised an exuberant fancy for ornamentation. Each bequeathed to the present day and generation works that are at least free from the subtleties of art.




  ― 259 ―

Most of us have had moments of rapture before the glowing embodiment of the inspiration of some great artist, whose gifts have been developed to maturity by enthusiastic and patient striving for perfection. Do not these clumsy drawings, too, reveal that which, considering their environment, is talent—original and unacademic. Here is the sheer beginning, the spontaneous germ of art, the labouring of a savage soul controlled by wilful æsthetic emotions. For these pictures are not figurative, not mere signs and symbols capable of elucidation, but the earliest and only efforts of an illiterate race, a race in intellectual infancy, towards the ideal—a forlorn but none the less sincere attempt to reach the “light that quickens dreams to deeds.”

The last of the series of “Black Art” pictures is not local. It occurs on the reverse of a shield, the spear-punctured lower edge of which verifies its eventful history. The warrior-artist silhouetted a sweetheart's figure, where, at supreme moments, it came before his fancy and gave the battle to his hands.

A Poisonous Food

One of the chief vegetable foods of the blacks is the fruit of “tinda-burra” (Moreton Bay chestnut—Castanospermum australe). The plentiful pea-shaped flowers range in colour from apple-green, pale yellow, orange to scarlet, and contain large quantities of nectar, which attracts multitudes of birds and insects. Blacks regard this tree with special favour and consideration. A casual remark, as I observed the industry of insects about the flowers, that the bean-tree was good for bees, elicited the scornful response, “Good for man!” The tree is of graceful shape, the bole often pillar-like in its symmetry, and the wood hard and durable and of pleasing colour, and so beautifully grained that it is fast becoming popular for furniture and cabinet-making. It bears a prolific crop of large beans, from two to five in each of its squat pods, but they are, as Mr Standfast


  ― 260 ―
found the waters of Jordan, “to the palate bitter, and to the stomach cold,” and require special treatment in order to eliminate a poisonous principle. Many chemists analysed the beans (one finding that they may be converted into excellent starch) without discovering any noxious element; but as horses, cattle, and pigs die if they eat the raw bean, and a mere fragment is sufficient to give human beings great pain, followed by most unpleasant consequences, the research was continued, until within quite a recent date the presence of saponin was detected. Before science made its discovery, the blacks were very positive on the point of the poisonous qualities of the bean, and took measures to eliminate it. In some parts of the State the beans, after being steeped in water for several days, are dried in the sun, roasted in hot ashes, and pounded between stones into a coarse kind of meal, which may be kept for an indefinite period. When required for use the meal is mixed with water, made into a thin cake or damper, and baked in the ashes. Prepared in this way the cake resembles a coarse ship's biscuit. In other parts, the beans are scraped by means of mussel-shells into a vermicelli-like substance, prior to soaking in water. Our blacks have a more ingenious method of preparation, and employ a specially formed culinary implement, which is used for no other purpose. They take the commonest of the land shells—“kurra-dju” (Xanthomelon pachystyla)—and breaking away the apex grind down the back on a stone until but little more than half its bulk remains. The upper edges being carefully worked to a fine edge, the only housewifery implement that the blacks possess is perfect. With the implement in the right hand, between the thumb and the second finger—the sharp edge resting on the thumb-nail—the beans are planed, the operator being able to regulate the thickness of the shaving to a nicety.

It is women's work to collect the beans, make the shell-planes, and do the shredding. In the first place the beans are cooked, the oven consisting of hot stones covered with leaves. In three or four hours they are taken out and


  ― 261 ―
planed, a dilly-bag (basket made of narrow strips of lawyer cane or grass) full of the shavings is immersed in running water for two or three days, the food being then ready for consumption without further preparation. In appearance it resembles coarse tapioca, and it has no particular flavour. To give it zest, some have a shell containing sea-water beside them when they dine, into which each portion of the mess is dipped. As saponin is very soluble in water, by soaking the shredded beans for a few days the blacks resort to an absolutely perfect method of converting a poisonous substance into a valuable and sustaining, if tasteless, food. No doubt, made up into a pudding with eggs, milk, sugar and flavouring, shredded beans would pass without comment as a substitute for tapioca.

Message-Sticks

There came to our beach one afternoon some poor exiles from Princess Charlotte Bay—300 miles to the north. Exiled they felt themselves to be, and were longing to return to their own country, although their engagement for a six months' cruise in quest of the passive bêche-de-mer had but just begun. One boy stepped along with an air of pride and importance. His companions were deferential to a certain extent, but they, too, exhibited an unusual demeanour. Some of the glory and honour that shone in Mattie's face was reflected in theirs. With the assurance of an ambassador bearing high credentials he saluted me—

“Hello, Mister! Good day.”

“Good day,” I responded. “You come from that cutter?”

Mattie—“Yes, mister. Mickie sit down here, now? Me got 'em letter. Brother belonga gin, belonga Mickie; him gib it!”

“No; Mickie sit down alonga Palm Islands. Come back, bi'-mby.”




  ― 262 ―

Mattie (with a downcast air)—“My word! Bo'sun (the brother-in-law) gib it letter belonga Mickie.”

“Where letter?” I asked.

Mattie—“Me got 'em,” and drawing out a very soiled little parcel, he proudly exposed a piece of greyish wood, about the size and shape of a lead pencil, on which had been cut two continuous intersecting grooves. “Me giv' 'em Mickie; Bo'sun alonga Cooktown. He want to come up this way now.”

The letter was a mere token of material expression of the fact that the sender was in the land of the living, and of his faith in the bearer, who was charged with all the personal messages and news. It was a sad rebuff to Mattie, elated with responsibility and eager to unburden himself of the latest domestic intelligence, to find that Mickie was not on the spot to receive it all. And, after fondling the wooden document for a while, he wrapped it up and carefully bestowed it within the bosom of his shirt. The disappointment was general. The gleam faded from the faces of the boys. For several days, first one and then another was entrusted with the honourable custody of the missive. Whoever possessed it for the time being was the most favoured individual. His worthiness for the office he acknowledged with an amusing air of self-consciousness and pride. The transmission of a letter is not an ordinary occurrence, and though there is an entire absence of form and ceremony in its delivery, the rarity of the event lends to it novelty and importance.

Aboriginal letters are of great variety, and some there are who profess to interpret them. The despatches are, however, invariably, in my experience, transmitted from hand to hand, the news of the day being recapitulated at the same time. It is not essential that the unstudied cuts and scratches on wood should have any significance or be capable of intelligible rendering. Though blacks profess to be able to send messages by means of sticks alone, the pretension is not recognised by those who have crucially investigated it.




  ― 263 ―

On a certain station a youthful son of the proprietor was accidentally drowned in a creek not far from the homestead. The grief of the parents was participated in by all engaged on the station, for the boy, full of promise, had been a general favourite. None seemed more sorrowful and gloomy than the blacks camped in the neighbourhood, and when the first shock of sorrow was of the past, they were eager to send the news to distant friends. A letter was laboriously composed. It was a short piece of wood, narrow and flat; an undulating groove ran from end to end on one side, midway was an intersecting notch. These were the principal characteristics, but there were other small marks and scratches. Bearing this as his credentials, a messenger departed, and in a week or so members of camps hundreds of miles away had seen the letter and were in possession of all the details of the sad event, the messenger in the meantime having returned. The letter was duly credited with having conveyed the particulars. Is it not obvious, however, that the news had been transmitted orally, and that the crude carvings on the stick merely indicated an attempt to give verisimilitude to the intelligence—the wavy line indicating the creek, and the notch the fatal water-hole. If not, then a black's message-stick is a model of literary condensation, their characters marvels of comprehensiveness and exactitude.

Another letter is before me—one of the best specimens with regard to workmanship I have ever seen. Upon one edge of a piece of brown wood 6 inches long, 1 inch broad, flat and rounded off at the edges and ends, there are five notches, and on the opposite edge a single notch. Close to the end is a faint, crude representation of a broad arrow, below which is a confusion of small cuts, in a variety of angles, none quite vertical, some quite horizontal. On the reverse is a single—almost perpendicular—cut, and a bold X, and near the point, two shallow, indistinct diverging cuts. So far no one to whom the letter has been submitted has given a satisfactory reading. Blacks frankly admit that they do not understand it. They examine it


  ― 264 ―
curiously, and almost invariably remark—“Some fella mak' em.” No attempt to decipher it is undertaken, because no doubt it was never intended to be read. Yet a plausible elucidation is at hand. The single notch, let it be said, represents a black who wishes to let five white fellows (who have made inquiries in that direction) know that a corrobboree is to begin before sundown, the setting sun being represented by the broad arrow, which seems to dip over the end of the stick. The guests are expected to bring rum to produce a bewildering, unsteady effect upon the whole camp—none, big or little, but will stagger about in all directions and finally lie down. On the other hand the guests are not to bring “one fella” policeman with handcuffs (the cross), otherwise all will decamp—the two last are seen vanishing into space. By a rare coincidence this very free interpretation could be made to apply to an actuality at the time the “letter” was received, but as a matter of fact it came from quite a different source to the black fellow who had engaged to let some students of the aboriginal character know when the next corrobboree would take place. It still remains undecipherable. My investigations do not support the theory that the blacks are capable of recording the simplest event by means of a system of so-called picture-writing, but rather that message-sticks have no meaning apart from verbal explanations. Blacks profess to be able to send messages which another may understand, but the tests applied locally invariably break down.

Another message-stick was made on the premises by George, but not to order. A genuine, unprompted natural effort, it is merely a slip of pine, 4 inches long, a quarter of an inch broad and flat, upon which are cut spiral intersecting grooves. George's birthplace is Cooktown, and his message-stick resembles in design that brought by Mattie from Bo'sun of Cooktown for Mickie of the Palms. Now George professes to be able to write English, but he is so shy and diffident over the accomplishment that neither persuasion nor offer of reward induces him to


  ― 265 ―
practise it. When he produced the “letter,” more than usual interest was taken in it, for it seemed to offer an exceptional opportunity for ascertaining the extent of his literary pretensions. I asked him—“Who this for, George?” George looked at the stick long and curiously with a puzzled, concentrated expression, as one might assume when examining a novel and interesting problem demanding prompt solution. With an enlightening smile he in time replied—“This for Charlie.”

“Charlie” is the name of a boy who recently visited the island, but who hitherto had not been known by George.

“Well, what this letter talk about?” A very long pause ensued during which George appeared to be putting his imaginative powers to frightful over-exertion. His forehead wrinkled, his lips twitched, his head moved this way and that, once or twice a gleam of inspiration passed over his face, and then the expression of the deep and puzzled thinker came on again. Finally he said—“Y-e-e-s. Me tell 'em, sometimes me see Toby.”

Toby is the tallest of the survivors of Dunk Island, another acquaintance of George's, who refers to him as a hard case, for it is said Toby's affections are very fitful and uncertain.

“Then that letter tell 'em something more?” The strenuous pause, the desperate plunge into thought again, and George continued—“This for Johnny Tritton, before alonga Cooktown; now walk about somewhere down here. Might be catch 'em alonga mainland.”

This message-stick was freshly made, and its meaning, had it possessed any, might have been repeated pat. But it was evident that the boy was putting a devastating strain upon an unexuberant and tardy wit when he endeavoured to ascribe to it a literary rendering. His hesitancy and contradictions were at least amusingly ingenuous.

Exceptional opportunities were available in this neighbourhood recently for the formation of an opinion upon the value of message-sticks for the transmission of


  ― 266 ―
intelligence. The bushman who on horseback carried His Majesty's mails inland among the settlers and to distant stations, was frequently also entrusted with the delivery of message-sticks by blacks along the route. Invariably the stick was accompanied by a verbal communication—a request for some article (a pipe, a knife, looking-glass, handkerchief) or an inquiry as to the whereabouts or welfare of some relative or friend. The mailman quickly found that the often elaborately graven stick was to no purpose whatever without the verbal message. Frequently the sticks would become far more hopelessly mixed up than the babes in Pinafore; but as long as he recollected the message aright, not the slightest concern or dissatisfaction was manifested.

Hooks of Pearl

In this neighbourhood the making of pearl-shell fish-hooks is one of the lost arts. The old men may tell how they used to be made, but are not able to afford any satisfactory practical demonstration. Therefore, to obtain absolutely authentic examples, it was necessary to indulge in the unwonted pastime of antiquarian research. During an unsystematic, unmethodical overhauling of the shell heap of an extensive kitchen midden—to apply a very dignified title to a long deserted camp — interesting testimony to the diligence and patience of the deceased occupants was obtained. It was evident that the sea had been largely drawn upon for supplies, if only on account of the many abortive and abandoned attempts at fish-hooks in more or less advanced stages of completion. The brittleness of the fabric and the crudeness of the tools employed had evidently put the patience of the makers to severe task, who for one satisfactory hook must have contemplated many disappointments. The art must be judged as critically by the exhibition of its failures as by its perfections, as Beau Nash did the tying of his


  ― 267 ―
cravats. “Those are our failures,” the spirits of the departed, brooding over the site of the camp, might have sighed, as we sorted out crude and unfashioned fragments. Presently the discovery of a small specimen established the standard of perfection—a crescent of pearl, which alone was ample recompense for the afternoon's research. Smaller than the average hook, it represented an excellent object-lesson in patience and skill. Many other examples, some complete, have since been found, and have been arranged for illustration to exhibit the process of construction in several stages. Do they not confirm the opinion that the maker of pearl-shell fish-hooks suffered many mishaps and disappointments, and that he had high courage in discarding any that evidenced a fault?


Pearl Shell Fish-hooks. Various stages of completion.


The method of manufacture was to reduce by chipping with a sharp-edged piece of quartz a portion of a black-lip mother-of-pearl shell to a disc. A central hole was then chipped—not bored or drilled — with another tool of quartz. The hole was gradually enlarged by the use of a terminal of one of the staghorn corals (Madepora laxa) until a ring had been formed. Then a segment was cut away, leaving a rough crescent, which was ground down with coral files, and the ends sharpened by rubbing on smooth slate.

Discs were also cut out of gold-lip mother-of-pearl shell, but by what means there is no evidence to tell. When such a prize as a gold-lip shell was found, it was used to the last possible fragment. Most frequently the black-lip mother-of-pearl was the material whence the hooks were fashioned, and, when none other was available, the hammer oyster. In one case an unsuccessful endeavour had been made to fashion a hook from a piece of plate-glass, obtained, no doubt, from the wreck of some long-forgotten ship. The fractured disc lying among other relics of the handicraft spoke for itself.

Not only have many samples of partially-made hooks been found, but also the tools employed in the process.


  ― 268 ―
The sharp-edged fragment of quartz used to chip away the shell, the anvil of soft slate upon which the shell rested during the operation, the quartz chisel for chipping the central hole, the coral terminals, resembling rat-tail files, and the smooth stone upon which the rough edges of the hook were ground down and finished.

Hooks without barbs and manufactured of such materials as pearl-shell and tortoiseshell may throw light upon the Homeric quotation—“caught fish with the horn of the ox.” In those far-off days, bronze wire rope, similar in design to the steel rope which is of common use in the present time, was employed. Ancient Greeks, though they anticipated one of the necessities of trade nowadays, depended upon fish-hooks resembling those just being abandoned by the Australian blacks. Fish are guileless creatures. They are captured to-day with hooks of the style upon which fishermen of the Homeric age depended.

From the appearance of the camps, and the age of the islander who took part in the various searches, and who was ready to admit that though pearl-shell hooks were used when he was a piccaninny he had never seen one made, I judge the age of these relics of a prehistoric art to be between thirty and forty years.

This boy has supplied samples of hooks made by himself with the aid of files, etc., in imitation of the old style, being careful to explain that the old men made them much better than any one could in these degenerate days of steel. Two of these modern hooks bound to bark lines are illustrated. What was the origin of the peculiar pattern of the pearl-shell fish-hooks? To this question, those who maintain that no handiwork of man exists which does not borrow from nature, or from something precedent to itself, may find a satisfactory answer offhand. As it weathers on the beach, the basal valve of the commonest of the oysters, of these waters occasionally assumes a crude crescent. Indeed, several of these fragments have at odd times attracted attention, for they have so closely resembled pearl-shell hooks in the rough that second glances have


  ― 269 ―
been necessary to dispose of the illusion that they were actually rejects from some old-time camp. Is it not reasonable to suppose that the original design was copied from this elemental model, as, in like manner the boomerang is traceable to a leaf? The pattern is so profoundly persistent in the minds of the blacks of to-day, that in fashioning a hook from a piece of straight wire they invariably form a crescent, though the superiority of the shape approved by civilisation must have been exemplified to them times out of number. In this particular the blacks seem unconsciously to follow the idea of their ancestors as birds obey instinct in the building of nests and in migratory flights.

Piccaninnies at this date remind us of the genesis of the boomerang as they sport with the sickle-shaped leaves (or rather phyllodia) of the Acacia holcocarpa as with miniature boomerangs. The piccaninny of the remote past chuckled gleefully as the jerked leaf returned to it. As a boy he fashioned a larger and permanent toy, surreptitiously using his father's stone tomahawk and shell knife, while the old man was after wallaby with a waddy. As a young man, hunting or fighting, he found his boyish toy a very effective missile. Even for a straight shot it had a longer range and far higher velocity, with less strength expenditure, than the waddy or nulla-nulla; and its homing flight had practical if not frequent uses. In his childhood, adolescence and maturity the black of to-day so graphically summarises a chapter in the history of his race that he who runs may read.

In the origin of the boomerang and the shell fish-hook we have instances, hardly to be doubted, of direct inspirations from Nature, proofs of the art and the infinite patience with which she sets her copies and expounds her texts.

Wild Dynamite

All the blacks of my acquaintance have had the rough edges of savagedom worn down. Consequently I lay no


  ― 270 ―
claim to original research or to the possession of any but common knowledge of the race at large. Learned societies and learned men have done and are doing all that is possible to acquire and accumulate information of the fast vanishing race. I merely record odd incidents, which may or may not prove useful and of interest, or which may bear repetition. An occasional gleam of satisfaction is vouchsafed even to casual and superficial students of human nature.

The supply of bait run out one day when we were fishing off the rocks with throw-lines. Mickie said—“We catch 'em plenty little fella fish with wild dynamite.” I asked him what he knew about dynamite. “Not white fella's dynamite. Wild dynamite—I show you.”

Growing on the blistering rocks, with roots, down in the crevices, was a lowly vine, or rather a diffuse, creeping shrub with myrtle-like leaves and racemes of white flowers. “That fella wild dynamite,” said Mickie, as he tore up several strands of the plant and bunched them, leaves and all, in his hand. He made a small bundle, and going to an isolated pool in the rocks in which were small fish he beat the leaves with a nulla-nulla, dipping the bruised mass frequently in the water. In a few minutes the fish were darting about erratically, apparently making frantic efforts to get out of the water. One by one they became stupefied and helpless, floating belly up. Mickie filled his hat with them, and as the soporific effects of the juice of the leaves passed off, the remaining fish recovered and were soon swimming about again as if nothing had happened. Mickie had seen dynamite used to kill fish wholesale, hence his adaptation of the name of the plant known to him as “Pagg-arra,” and to botanists as Derris scandens.

Another method by which the blacks secure fish in pools left by the receding tide is to scrape off the inner bark of the “Koie-yan” (Faradaya splendida) with a shell and spread it evenly on the bottom of a shallow pit in the sand, and place thereon stones made hot in the fire, or they may rub the powdered bark on hot stones. While still warm the stones are thrown into the water,


  ― 271 ―
when the fish become helpless. They die if left in water so impregnated; while the effects of the Derris scandens is merely temporarily soporific. How blacks became acquainted with this process of speedily extracting the toxic principle of the Faradaya, and as speedily dissipating it, is unknown. One generation passes on the knowledge to the other without explanation, and it is accepted as a matter of course, without comment or inquiry.

A Cavern and Its Legend

Caves and caverns in the rocks and the tops of the mountains are not favourite resorts of blacks. According to them nearly every mountain has its mysterious lagoon, which none but old men have visited, but which teems with fish and waterfowl. When direct inquiries are made as to the precise locality of any particular lagoon, invariably inconclusive evidence is tendered. “Old man, he bin see 'em”; and, the old man is never forthcoming for cross-examination. The origin of the romance, no doubt, is to be attributed to the desire of the blacks to account to themselves for the water which glitters on the face of the rocks far up the mountains. One boy gave an exceptionally graphic description of a lagoon on the top of one of the highest peaks of Hinchinbrook Island, in which all manner of sea fish revelled. When doubt was expressed as to the possibility of sea-water and sea-fish getting up so far “on top” and it was suggested—“What you think, that old man humbug you?” “Yes,” was the ready response; “me think that old fella no tell true. Him humbug.” Some blacks possess something wiser than knowledge.

On the northern aspect of Dunk Island, where the sea swirls about the buttresses of the hills, there is a cavern only approachable by boat. The mouth is overhung by vines and ferns, and through the moss which covers the lintel water trickles and splashes with pleasant sound. When the bronze orchid lavishly decorates the rocks with


  ― 272 ―
its crinkled flowers of dull gold, the entrance has a specific character; and quite another when the glossy leaves of the umbrella-tree form the relief and its long radiating spikes of dull red, bead-like flowers attract the brilliant sun-bird and big blue and green and red butterflies. Even when the sea is lustrous the cavern, with all the artfulness and grace of the decorations of its portals, is a black blotch—the entrance to something unknowable and unknown—at least to the blacks. None had ever ventured near it and they never will. They tell you how it came to be made. How a long, long time ago, a big man, “all a same debil-debil,” took out with his mighty fingers a plug of rock and put it “on top alonga Hinchinbrook.” Now the particular decapitated pinnacle of Hinchinbrook is 20 miles away, and out of all proportion. But these facts do not affect the legitimacy of the legend. There is the hole, and there on the top of the far-away mountain the prodigious plug demonstrative evidence too obvious to be set aside on any such plea as the eternal fitness of things. Is not the blue point of the mountain a defiantly triumphant fact? Is not the legend authenticated by tradition and confirmed by topography?

Why, therefore, doubt it for a moment?

And the hole—it goes a long, long way under the mountain. It is a bad place, a very bad place. No one has ever been there. Suppose any fella go inside, bi'mby that fella sick, bi'mby that fella die.

Braving all the honest traditions, one fine day I took a lantern in the boat and induced the boys to row to the entrance of the cave. Neither would venture in; indeed, they did all they could to dissuade me, protesting that evil was sure to befall. A minute's exploration showed that the cave did not extend 30 feet, and that it was dry, and resonant with “the whispering sound of the cool colonnade,” with no suggestion of unwholesomeness or weirdness. But the blacks still pass it by. The legend is as indestructible as the odour of attar of roses. Although the boys persist in their account of the origin of the cave, it is known to


  ― 273 ―
them as “Coo-bee co-tan-you,” which signifies “that hole made by the meteor,” or, literally, “falling-star hole.”

Romance, too, follows the Hinchinbrook pinnacle. Some local blacks regard it with awe, believing that it covers a deep hole in the mountain in which the winds and rain are pent up. When a malignant “debil-debil” lifts the peak away the elements escape, roaring and hissing with anger and mischief. When tired, they retire sulkily to the hole, which the “debil-debil” blocks with the monstrous rock. Fine weather then prevails, and the rock, which has been hidden away among the mists by the fiend, becomes visible once more.

A Soulful Dance

Of the many corrobborees that I have witnessed, the most novel in conception was performed on Dunk Island by blacks who came from the neighbourhood of Princess Charlotte Bay, some 200 miles to the north.

The imitation of the frolicsome skip and wing movements of the native companion is one of the typical dances of the aboriginals frequenting open plains where the great birds assemble. In its performance the men—decorated with streaks and daubs of white and pink clay, and wearing in their hair down and feathers—form a circle, and bowing their bodies towards the centre, chuckle in undertones to the pianissimo tapping of boomerangs and the beating of resonant logs. In strict time, to a crescendo accompaniment, the performers throw out their arms, extend their necks downward and upward, simultaneously utter squawks in imitation of the bird, and finally whirl about, flapping their arms, ceasing instantly by a common impulse. The ballet is modelled in accordance with a study of Nature.

The corrobboree of the Princess Charlotte Bay boys also owes its origin to Nature, but Nature in one of her most unpoetical moods—a mood as typical of Constantinople as of their native shores, for its motive is nothing more than an everyday dog-fight.




  ― 274 ―

Shall the uncultured blacks not have their own way when they seek entertainment, holding “as it were the mirror up to Nature,” and finding that it reflects the commonest of all themes? They among all the nations of the world alone have discovered what to them is music and the poetry of motion in an occurrence that has no geographical limitations, is not restricted by language, nor to be withered by age.

While the orchestra taps its boomerangs and claps its hands and grunts, two boys in mere nature progress towards the fire in a series of stiff, stilty jumps, the legs from the hips to the ankles being rigid; then the knees shake in a rapid succession of spasmodic jerks; the actors emit sounds resembling the preliminary growling and snarling of a couple of angry dogs. Action and utterance develop in speed and time as the fight begins in earnest, and the art of the performance consists in its duration—the powers of sustained effort, the accuracy of time maintained between the orchestra and the actors, and the fidelity to nature of the vocal effects. A singularly uncouth subject for an opera or even a ballet—the snarling, scuffling and snapping of quarrelsome dogs whose fury is working up to a climax, and it soon becomes as monotonous to unaccustomed ears as the masterpieces of some German composers to those whose musical education is below the required standard; but the boys will spend the best part of the long night in its unvarying repetition.

Once a variation did take place. “Yellowbelly” (pronounced decently “Yellowby”) danced first in the company of giggling “Peter;” and then fat “Charley” and big “Johnny,” shy “Mammeroo” and little deaf “Antony,” in turns, his body glistened with perspiration, and his eyes sparkled with the joy of a phenomenal accomplishment. All beholders were filled with wonder and gratification. It was Yellowby's night out. The spirit of Terpsichore was upon him. His enthusiasm amounted to exultation. He was astonishing not only the silent and subdued natives of Dunk Island, but even his own familiar friends.


  ― 275 ―
Never had any seen such a classic interpretation of the theme, such brilliant leg movement, nor heard such realistic growling and snapping and intermittent yelps, such muffled, sob-like inspirations. Yellowby danced as dances the artist, so graphically interpreting the subject that the bewildered orchestra forgot itself. All were borne away in spirit to the scene of some far-off, familiar camp, where the scents of decayed fish and turtle-bones, and of a multitude of uncleanly dogs commingled with the bitter smoke of mangrove wood fires, where amid the yells of gins and the screeches of piccaninnies and the walloping of men, two mangy curs noisily wrestled. It brought home sweet home to each of the exiles, so vividly that all sat still and transfixed, and as the last chord of the orchestra “trembled away into silence,” Yellowby, panting and sweating, gasped as he fell flat on the sand—“No good you fella corrobboree like that fella, belonga me fella.” But for the collapse of the orchestra, due to his own inimitable art, he would have danced till dawn.

A Song Without Words

Mickie is a famous vocalist, although his repertoire is limited. He sings lustily and with no little art, putting considerable expression into his phrases, and ever and anon taking a sharp but studied rest to increase his emphasis, when he will burst forth again with full-throated ease. His masterpiece is not original. Indeed he claims no title to the gifts of a composer. “Jacky,” a Mackay boy, taught Mickie his favourite romance, and it came to Jacky in a dream. Mickie explains—“Cousin alonga that fella die. Jacky go to sleep. That fella dead man all a same like debil-debil—come close up and tell 'em corrobboree close up ear belonga Jacky.”

“What that debil-debil say?”

Mickie—“No talk—that fella. Just tell 'em corrobboree. No talk.”

It was just a song without words—the final phrases


  ― 276 ―
being three guttural gasps, diluendo, which Mickie says represent the wail of the “debil-debil” as he retires into the obscurity of spirit-land.

Mickie sings this song of inspiration most vigorously, when Jinny, his portly spouse, comes to “wash 'em plate” in the evening, and she explains with a fat chuckle—“Mickie corrobboree loud fella. He fright. He think subpose he corrobboree blenty debil-debil no come up.”

Origin of the Southern Cross

Blacks are students of natural events. The winds have their specific titles, and they catalogue all the brighter and more conspicuous stars and planets, while their astronomical legends are quaint and entertaining.

According to Mickie, the Southern Cross is of earthly origin. He thus “repeats the story of its birth.”

“You see that fella. That one me call 'em dooey-dooey—all a same shubel-nose shark, like that fella you bin shoot longa lagoon. Two fella, more big, come close up behind dooey-dooey, two fella black boy. Black boys bin fishing alonga reef close up alonga where red mark, alonga Cape Marlow—you know. They bin sit down alonga canoe. Bi'mby spear 'em that dooey-dooey—beeg fella, my word! That dooey-dooey when catch 'em spear he go down quick, come up under canoe capsize 'em. Two fella boy swim about long time by that reef; no catch 'em that canoe. Swim; swim l-o-n-g way; no catch 'em beach; go outside; follow canoe all time. One fella say—‘Brother, where we now?’ ‘Long way yet. Swim more far, brother.’ Bi'mby two fella talk—‘Where now, brother?’ ‘Long way outside. Magnetic close up now. We two fella swim more long way. Bi'mby catch 'em Barrier.’ One fella catch 'em hand—‘Come along, brother, youn-me go outside.’

“Two fella boy swim-swim-swim. Go outside altogether; leave 'em Barrier behind. Swim; finish; good-bye;


  ― 277 ―
no come back! Swim where cloud catch 'em sea. Swim up-up-long way up! You see now. Sit down up there altogether. Dooey-dooey first time; two fella boy come behind!”

Does not this stand comparison with that referred to by the Scientific American in answering the question, “Why do you refer to the Great Bear as feminine?” We must go back into the age of classical mythology for the reason. It was known to the Egyptians, who called it hippopotamus. The people of southern Europe saw in the same stars the more familiar figure of a bear, and the legends which grew up around it were finally given permanent shape by Ovid in his Metamorphoses. As he tells the story, Callisto, an Arcadian nymph, was beloved by Jupiter. Juno, in fierce anger, turned her into a bear, depriving her of speech that she might not appeal to Jupiter. Her son, Arcas, while hunting, came upon her, and failing to recognise her in her metamorphosed form, raised his bow to shoot. Jupiter, moved by pity, prevented the matricide by transforming the son into a bear, and took them both up to the heavens, where they were placed among the constellations.

Crocodile Catching

Though they have a wholesome dread of crocodiles generally, the blacks of the Lower Tully River (some 5 miles down the coast) have, in a limited circle, the reputation of indulging in the sport of catching them for food. Natives of the locality tell me that the last occasion of the death of a crocodile in the manner to be described was very many years ago. Some would have you believe the practice is of common occurrence. The story goes (though for its truth I do not vouch), that having located a crocodile in a reach of the river when the tide has run out, the blacks form a cordon across, and harry it by splashing the water and maintaining a continuous commotion.


  ― 278 ―
The crocodile is poked out of secluded nooks beside the bank and from under submerged logs, never being allowed a moment's peace. When it is thoroughly cowed (and it is an undoubted fact that crocodiles may be frightened into passiveness), a rope of lawyer vine is passed round a convenient tree and held by half a dozen boys, while a running noose is made on the other end. A daring black dives into the water, and cautiously approaching the bewildered creature, slips the noose over its head and backs away. Should he turn his face, the blacks say the crocodile would immediately seize him. The party on the bank hauls on the line, and in spite of protests and struggling the game is landed, to be chopped and beaten to death with tomahawks and nulla-nullas. Then follows a feast, the inevitable surfeit, and the dire conclusion that crocodile as “tucker” is no good. The flesh is said to be “All a same turtle. Little more hard fella!” My investigations lead to the opinion that a crocodile was once caught in the manner described, and that upon a single instance the proud feat has been multiplied by the score.

Suicide by Crocodile

It has been said that Australian blacks never commit suicide. An instance which goes in proof of the contrary occurred not many months ago. All the creeks and rivers flowing from the coastal range to the sea are more or less infested with crocodiles. In crossing creeks, blacks take every precaution against surprise, rafts of buoyant logs strapped together with lawyer vine being used. These rafts are continually drifting across to the island, proving how general is their use. Maria Creek (about a dozen miles or so up the coast) is well known to be a popular resort of the crocodile, and at the mouth, where the blacks wade at low-water, an unusually big fellow had his headquarters. A member of the Clump Point tribe, painfully afflicted with


  ― 279 ―
a vexatious skin disease, was fishing at the mouth of the creek when his hook fouled. To a companion he said he would dive to get it clear. His friend endeavoured to dissuade him, reminding him of the crocodile which they had seen but a short time before. But the boy, worn with pain and weary with never-ending irritation, said if he was taken—“No matter. Good job. Me finished then.” He dived, and there was a commotion in the water. The boy appeared on the surface, making frantic appeals for help, while the crocodile worried him. He escaped for a moment, and his friend clutched his hand and drew him to the bank, only to have him torn from his grasp. The blacks believe the crocodile took the fish bait in the first instance and lured the boy to dive. The boy certainly knew the risk he ran when he did so.

A new, if not altogether agreeable, sensation is added to the gentle art if it is realised that a cruel and stealthy beast is engaged in a similar pastime, with the fisherman as the object of its sport.

Disappearance of Blacks

The rapid disappearance of blacks from localities which held a considerable population causes wonder. In the early days—less than a couple of decades past—they swarmed on the mainland opposite Dunk Island. Now the numbers are few. Within sight of Brammo Bay is the scene of an official “dispersal” of those alleged to have been responsible for the murder of some of the crew of a wrecked vessel, who had drifted ashore on a raft. One boy bears to this day the mark of a bullet on his cheek, received when his mother fled for her life, and vainly, with him an infant perched on her shoulders.

In those days “troublesome” blacks were disposed of with scant ceremony. An incident has been repeated to me several times. A mob of “myalls” (wild blacks)—they were all myalls then—was employed by a selector to clear


  ― 280 ―
the jungle from his land. They worked, but did not get the anticipated recompense, and thereupon helped themselves, spearing and eating a bullock, and disappeared. After a time the selector professed forgiveness, and, the fears of the blacks of punishment having been allayed, set them to work again. One day a bucket of milk was brought to the camp at dinner-time and served out with pannikins. The milk had been poisoned. “One fella feel 'em here,” said my informant, clasping his stomach. “Run away; tumble down; finish. 'Nother boy run away; finish. Just now plenty dead everywhere. Some fella sing out all a same bullocky.” Possibly this may be greeted as another version of the familiar story of poisoned flour or damper. It is mentioned here as an instance from the bad old days when both blacks and whites were offhand in their relations with each other. Such episodes are of the past. The present is the age of official protection, and perhaps just a trifle too much interference and meddlesomeness.

Two blacks of the district confessed upon their trial that they had killed their master for so slight an offence as refusal to give them part of his own dinner of meat. On the other hand, an instance of the callousness of the white man may be cited. In a fit of the sulks one of the boys of the camp threw down some blankets he was carrying, and made off into the scrub. It was considered necessary to impress the others, and unhappy chance gave the opportunity. A strange and perfectly innocent boy appeared on the opposite bank of the creek. The “boss” was a noted shot, and as the boy sauntered along he deliberately fired at him. The body fell into the water and drifted down stream. One of the boys for whose discipline the wanton murder was committed related the incident to me.




  ― 281 ―

Chapter II

George: A Mixed Character

GEORGE, who considered himself as accomplished and as cultivated as a white man, was assisting his master in the building of a dinghy. Contemplating the work of his unaccustomed hands in a rueful frame of mind, the boss recited, “Thou fatal and perfidious barque, built in eclipse and rigged with curses dark!” “Ah,” said he, “you bin hear that before, George?” “No,” replied the boy; “I no bin hear 'em. What that? Irish talk?”

A few days after, George peered into one of the rooms of the house, the walls of which were decorated with prints, among them some studies of the nude. He sniggered. “What you laugh at, George?” “Me laugh along that picture—naked. That French woman, I think, Boss!” He was evidently of opinion that all true and patriotic Irishmen talk in verse, and in throaty tones, and that the customary habit of French ladies is “the altogether.”

Proud of his personal appearance, George shaved regularly once a week, borrowing a mirror to assist in the operation. He was wont to apply the lather from pungent kerosene soap with a discarded tooth-brush which he had picked up. Long use had thinned the bristles woefully, but the brush was used faithfully and with grave deliberation. One morning he came and said—“Boss, you got any more brush belonga shaving? This fella close up lose 'em whisker altogether.”

The sensational episodes of his trooper days provided George with unending themes. He gave an account to a friend of the suppression of a black rogue, a faithful report


  ― 282 ―
of which is presented as an example of unbowdlerised pidgin English.

George—“You bin hear about Mr Limsee have fight? My word, he fight proper; close up killed. We three fella ride about. Cap'n—big strong boy that—me and Mr Limsee. Wild boy—boy from outside; Myall—beggar that fella—longa gully. Hit Mr Limsee. He bin have long fella stick, like that one Tom take a longa fight—short handle. Heavy fella that—carn lif'em easy, one hand. Mr Limsee tumble down. Get up. That boy kill 'em one time more hard. My word, strong fella boy that. Catch 'em Mr Limsee—tchuk longa ground, hard fella—like that. Me and Cap'n come. Mr Limsee alonga ground yet—‘Hello! Mr Limsee, you bin hurt?’ ‘Yes, my boy! hurt plenty. Not much; only little bit. That fella boy hit me alonga sword. You catch that fella. Hold'em.’ Me and Cap'n say—‘You no run away, you boy.’ ‘Me no fright.’ He have 'em spear. Me tell 'em—‘You no run away. Me catch you.’ He say—‘Me no fright, you fella.’ Me say—‘You no run away. I shoot you.’ He say all a time—‘Me no fright. Me fight you.’ Me say—‘You fool, you carn fight alonga this fella bullet. He catch you blurry quick.’ That fella stop one place. We two fella go up alongside. Cap'n he say—‘Hold up your hand. Le' me look your hand?' He hold up hand. Quick we put 'em han'cup. That fella no savee han'cup before. He bin sing out loud—loud like anything. We two fella laugh plenty. Mr Limsee tie 'em up hand longa tree, and belt him proper. Belt him plenty longa whip. My word, that fella sing out—sing out—sing out. Mr Limsee belt him more. All time he sing out. Bi'mby let 'em go. He bad fella boy that altogether. We fella—go home along camp. Mr Limsee feel 'em sore tchoulder. Nex’ day that boy—very tchausey fella—come up along camp. He say—‘Me want fight that fella Cap'n.’ Cap'n come up. That fella catch 'em, Cap'n tchuk him hard alonga ground. Get up; tchuk him two time. Head go close up alonga stone. Two fella wrastle all about long time. Cap'n strong fella.


  ― 283 ―
That boy more strong. Knock 'em about like anything. Bi'mby come back he have spear—three wire spear—long handle. Tchuk 'em spear. Catch 'em Cap'n longa side—here. Wire come out nother side—here. He carn stay—tumble down. Good boy that; my mate long time. Some fella go alonga house tell 'em Mr Limsee—‘That boy bin kill you, fight long a camp. Cap'n catch 'em spear longa inside.’ Mr Limsee come down. He say—‘Cap'n, my boy, I think you finish now; me very sorry for you.’ Bad place for spear longa side. Hollow inside. Suppose spear go along a leg and arm, no matter. Suppose go inside, hollow place inside, you finish quick. Plenty times me bin see 'em man finish that way. Mr Limsee he very sorry. We catch that boy. Put han'cup behind, lika that way. My word he carn run away now. Chain alonga leg. Mr Limsee bi'mby send 'em down Cooktown. That fella no more come back. He go along Sen'eleena (St Helena penal establishment). Me bin think he bin get two years. Cap'n he carn stay. Two days that fella dead. He bin good mate, me sorry. Mr Limsee he very sorry. Good fella longa boy.”

Once George illuminated his conversation with an aphorism. Describing a battle between the Tully River blacks and those of Clump Point, in which his mate, Tom of Dunk Island (leader of the Clump Point party), had been severely wounded, he said—“'Nother fella boy, from outside, come up behind Tom. He no look out that way. That boy tchuk 'em boomerang. Boomerang stick in leg belonga Tom. Tom no feel 'em first time. He stan' up yet. Bi'mby when want walk about, tumble down. Look out. Hello! see'em boomerang alonga leg. He no more can walk about.”

The boss remarked—“Might be long time, Tom feel 'em leg sore.”

George—“Ah! me like see 'em kill alonga head. Finish 'em one time. Danger nebber dead.” Whether George wished to enforce the opinion that in battle nothing short of death was glorious, or that Tom though wounded


  ― 284 ―
was still valorous and would live to fight again, was not clear, but “Danger nebber dead,” probably represents the only aboriginal aphorism extant.

George is not the least superstitious. He takes everything for granted. Rain, in his opinion, comes from a big tank up above somewhere. Asked as to his belief in the personal “debil-debil,” of whom the mainland boys have such dread that few will stir out after dark, he said with a guffaw—“Me nebber bin see one yet. Suppose me see 'em, me run 'em!” George is, therefore, as yet unable to give a description of the fiend; but from hearsay authority declares that it possesses three eyes, two in the ordinary position, and one at the back of the head. It is believed that the third eye insures the “debil-debil” against all possible surprises, thus preserving the mystery of identity.

Though he has not a shadow of respect for the “debil-debil,” George has a firm faith in the existence in the neighbourhood of Cooktown of a camp of what he calls “groun' gins.” His experience with these mysterious subterranean sirens he thus describes—

“Little bit outside Cooktown camp belonga groun' gins. Me and Sargen' go look big corrobboree; my word. Some gins come out alonga groun' from hole. When go down, groun' close up himself, like winda. My word, me fright. Me shake. One good fella nice gin come up. Sargen' say—‘You go corrobboree dance along that fella.’ Me say—‘We go home now, me fright. We want go alonga town. This no good place.’ Sargen’ laugh little bit. He say—‘No, my boy, you no fright. All right here. You dance alonga that fella gin—good nice gin.’ Me go up. Me feel 'em fright. Feel 'em cold inside. Too much fright. My word; han’ belonga that fella gin—cold like anything. That gin say—‘Where you from?’ Me say—‘Me come from alonga town.’ That gin say—‘What you look out?’ Me say—‘Me look out bullocky, musser 'em cattle. Tail 'em up. Look out weaner alonga paddick. Plenty hard work.’ Me dance little bit alonga that gin.


  ― 285 ―
Not much. Too fright. Bi'mby that gin go down below. Groun' shut 'em up. All day down below. Come up night time. Carn come up alonga sun. Soft fella that. Suppose come up alonga sun, sun kill 'em. Too sof' altogether.”

Cooktown blacks, according to George, use a much lighter sporting spear than that in vogue in these parts. Instead of a slender sapling (preferably of red mangrove), straightened and toughened patiently over the fire, he would provide himself with the scape of a grass tree (Xanthorrhea arborea), true and straight as a billiard cue, light, and 8 or 10 feet long. Into a socket in the thicker end he would insert a single ¼-inch steel point, 18 inches long, or three pieces of No. 8 wire, with the sharpened points slightly spread.

The merit of his weapon was the subject of frequent debate, the Dunk Island natives arguing in favour of a heavier spear, but George showed that his was effective as well as economic. During a discussion, George told the following story, which, it will be noticed, has in some details, its parallel in a tragic incident in the history of England. No attempt is made to refine George's language:—

“This fella spear kill plenty. Kangaroo, wallaby, fish—kill 'em all asame. He go ri' through longa kangaroo. One time me see 'em catch one fella boy. Brother belonga me—Billy—strong fella that. One time we go after kangaroo. Billy walk about close up, me sit down alonga rock; me plant me'self. 'Nother boy close up. He plant. We no see that fella. Bi'mby me see little fella wallaby feed about. Me bin whistle alonga my brother. ‘Here wallaby. Come this way; quiet!’ my brother come up. 'Tchuk spear, miss wallaby, catch 'em that other fella boy, here. He bin sing out—cry like anything. My brother fright. That boy sing out—‘Billy, you; what for you spear me.’ Billy run away, that boy sing out—‘Billy. No, you run away. Come up; pull out spear, quick fella!’ Billy run away. Me sit down quiet. No


  ― 286 ―
make noise. Me hear that fella cry, cry, sing out like anything. He carn walk about. Me go quiet along a grass long way. Come round 'nother side. That boy no bin see me. Bi'mby me see gins—big mob. Sing out—‘One fella boy bin catch 'em spear. He very bad. Close up dead now.’ Billy plant himself long way. Boys and gins come up, where boy sing out. ‘Carry 'em alonga camp.’ Me go long way, where auntie belonga me sit down. That spear carn pull 'em out. He got hook. All a time that boy sing out, ‘Pull out spear.’ Bi'mby Billy come back. He very sorry. He say—‘Me no wan' spear you. Me no look out you. Me wan' catch 'em wallaby.’ That boy say, ‘All ri', Billy. You good mate belonga me.’ Three days that spear inside yet. Me come alonga camp. That boy look 'em all ri’. Me say—‘Me very sorry. Me think you dead now.’ He say—‘Me no dead. Me feel all ri'. Me want pull out spear.’ Old men pull out hard. Carn shift 'em. Old men say—‘We cut 'em now.’ Get knife, sharpen 'em, cut 'em, cut 'em, cut 'em. Three strong boys pull 'em spear. Pull 'em hard altogether. Pull out plenty beef longa that hook. That boy no sing out. My word. He carn stop. Two weeks dead. Gins no bin bury 'em. What you think? Cut 'em up beef from bone; put beef in bark, put white paint alonga bark, tie 'em up and hung up 'em a longa dilly-bag. My word, puff! Bi'mby you se-mell 'em stink.”

George was not pressed to display his accomplishments. He chose during many months to hold himself in reserve, and to live up to the reputation of being quite a scholar, as far as scholarship goes among blacks. But in accordance with expectations, his pride and enthusiasm got the better of him. He produced two scraps of paper, on each of which were a number of sinuous lines and scrawls, saying—

“You write all asame this kind?”

“No,” I said, “I no write like that.”

“This easy fella? All the time me write this kind.”




  ― 287 ―

“Well, what you write?” George's attention at once became concentrated, and gazing steadfastly on the paper for a minute or so for the marshalling of his wits, said—“This fella say Coleman Riber, Coen Riber? Horse Dead Creek, Massac (Massacre) Riber, Big Morehead, Kennedy Riber, Laura Riber.” These are the names of some of the streams north from Cooktown, George's country. On the other scrap of paper, according to him, the names of some of the islands in this neighbourhood were written. Though the papers were transposed and turned upside down, George could read them with equal facility. The list of rivers would be read for the islands, and the islands for the rivers, quite indifferently, and with entertaining naivete. But he treasured the papers, and continued to delude his fellows with the display of what they considered to be wonderful cleverness.

Yab-oo-ragoo, otherwise “Mickie”

“Mislike me not for my complexion”

He said that his name was Mickie, and that he was an Irishman, and a native of the great Palm Island—40 miles south. He hath no personal comeliness—his face is his great misfortune. Though he asserts with pride his nationality, he admits that his mother, now among the stars, “sat down alonga 'nother side,” and his complexion, or rather what is seen of it through an artless layer of charcoal and grease, applied out of respect to the memory of his deceased brother-in-law, shows no Celtic trace. Yet he has a keen appreciation of fun, has ready wit, and, according to his own showing, is not averse to a shindy, so that, perhaps his given name is at least characteristic of his assumed race. A flat overhanging forehead, keen black eyes, a broad-rooted, unobtrusive nose, a most capacious mouth, beard and whiskers thin and unkempt, and a fierce-looking moustache, a head of hair which in boyhood days had probably been a mass of crisp curls, but now shaggy tufts,


  ― 288 ―
matted and uneven, altogether a shockingly repulsive physiognomy, and yet an “honest Injin” in every respect, and one who would always look on the happy side of life, but for twinges of neuralgia—“monda” he calls it—which rack his head and face with pain. I saw only the peaceful side of Mickie's nature, and therefore this chronicle will be unsensational as well as imperfect. There is a tradition that the Palm Island blacks are of a milder, less bellicose disposition, than those of the mainland opposite. Many years ago when a party of bushmen, fresh from the excitement and weariness of the Gilbert rush, reposed for a few days on the soft grey sand of Challenger Bay, the spot was invaded by a band of mainland natives. In the early dawn the peace-loving Palm Islanders awoke the friendly whites with the news that a “big fella mob” was coming across in canoes. Under ordinary circumstances they would have fled to the jungle-covered hills until the invaders had retired, but the knowledge that the whites had a couple of guns, and a good supply of shot, inspired a high degree of temporary courage. Possibly the extraordinary courage of the islanders in thus awaiting the attack put the invaders on their guard, for they would not approach nearer than 50 yards. A closer range was desired, for there was a special barrel loaded with coarse salt, and the invaders were innocent of clothing. However, a round of duck-shot had some effect, though the blacks who escaped the pickling slapped themselves in a defiant and grossly-contemptuous manner. Each who did so, however, grieved, for another round was fired, and each hero must have depended upon the good offices of his brother in distress in picking out the pellets. This is said to be the last occasion on which the placid Palm Islanders saw an enemy land upon their shores. Mickie did not remember the invasion, or if he did so, he was not anxious to demonstrate that his ancestors were not cast in the heroic mould. Probably all recollection of the escapade is lost to the natives of the Palms, and I am driven to accept the white man's uncorroborated version of it.




  ― 289 ―

Mickie is very proud of his well-conditioned spouse, “Jinny”—“Missus Michael,” as Mickie calls her when in the sportive vein—and Jinny, or “Penti-byer,” her maiden name, reciprocates the regard, and sees that the dilly-bag, which does duty for the larder, is supplied with yams, nuts, roots and shell-fish, Mickie being responsible for the fish—speared in the lagoon at low tide—and the scrub-fowl eggs, and the ivory white grubs, etc., upon which they live when there is no “white fella” sitting down. When Providence sends a “white fella,” they appreciate flour, tea, sugar, potatoes, meat, and all sorts of game, from cockatoos to flying-foxes. Once Mickie was asked how he managed to win the favour of such a fine gin. “Unkl belonga her giv 'em me,” he replied. There was no marriage ceremony. There was no knocking out of a tooth, or the administration of a stunning blow on the head with a nulla-nulla, no eating of maize-pudding from the same plate, no drinking brandy together, no “hand fasting,” nor boring of the bride's ears by the bridegroom, no tying of hands, nor smearing with each other's blood, nor binding together with ropes of grass; simply, “Unkl belonga her giv 'em me.” Once in his possession, however, and Mickie proceeded to set his mark on his bride, so that should any dispute arise as to identity, he at least would have authentic brands. With an apparently studied array of cicatrices, each 3 inches long and half an inch wide, on her arms and shoulders, Mickie marked Jinny for his own. The couple have one girl—Mickie prefers to use the word “daw-tah”—and his child had been but lately received into the bosom of the family, after several years' exile among the whites. It is somewhat of a trouble that “Minnie” had almost forgotten her native tongue, and that her parents have to yabber to her in English. According to them it will be a year before Minnie regains lingual facility. In the meantime great pains are being taken with her education, and her accomplishments promise to be varied, though entirely unornamental. She will in time be able to recognise at a glance the particular kind of decayed timber in which the delicious


  ― 290 ―
white grub resides, will know that the nut of the cycad has to be immersed in a running stream before it is “good fella,” and how to grind the kernel into flour, and how to mould the dough into a German sausage-shaped damper; she will be able to walk about the reef, picking up blacklip oysters and clams, without lacerating the soles of her feet, and to make a dilly-bag, and, finally, to enjoy a smoke.

Mickie appreciates a joke. When Jinny complained that the scrub caught her brand new pipe and had broken it short off, Mickie with an extravagant grimace softly urged her to go along Townsville and buy another.

He is also superstitious. After dark he will not move a yard from his camp without a flaring torch of paper bark, a fiery aspersorium for the scaring of the “debil-debil.” His opinions on the supernatural are unsatisfactory. He does not know what the “debil-debil” is like, or what form the ill-will of that mystic being would take—nothing but “that fella sit down alonga scrub,” and that he has “long fella needle alonga hand”; and so he carries and waves about his paper bark torch to scare this viewless and dreaded enemy.

Mickie's views as to the future are not quite explicit. “Suppose me go bung, me go alonga sky. Bi'mby jump up 'nother fella.” He is not at all certain whether the transformation would be into a white man or not; in fact he appears absolutely indifferent. Another time he will say—“Suppose me go bung. Good-bye, finish; no come back. Plenty fella alonga Palm Island go bung. He no come back.” Daylight disperses all his fears. In point of fact he has nothing to fear. His foes are dead, and there is no poisonous snake or offensive animal on the Palms. Once he sprang suddenly and excitedly into the air as we tramped through the long grass on the edge of the sweetly-smelling jungle, with the exclamation, “Little fella snake!” Being reminded that he had boldly asserted that there was no bad snakes on the island, Mickie replied—“That fella no bad. Only make'm foot big.” He never missed a chance


  ― 291 ―
of securing a hatful of grubs, which, together with the chrysalids and the full-grown beetle (brown and glossy) were devoured after being warmed through on the ashes. When the tomahawk in the process of cutting out damaged a grub, Mickie with a leer of satisfaction would eat the wriggling insect with a feigned apology—“Me bin cut that fella.” Baked in the ashes the chrysalids have a wholesome, clean appearance, with a flavour of coco-nut, and the “white fella” always came in for his share.

Mickie's bush craft, his knowledge of the habits of birds and insects and the ways of fish, is enviable. Signs and sounds quite indeterminate to “white fellas” are full of meaning to him. Of course, by failure to comprehend such things, no doubt he has many a time gone hungry, and the keenness of his appetite has so sharpened his perceptions that he is seldom at fault now. The scratching of a scrub fowl among decayed leaves is heard in the jungle at an extraordinary distance, and a splash or ripple far out on the edge of the reef tells him that a shark or kingfish is driving the mullet into the lagoon, where he may easily spear them. He can tell to a quarter of an hour when the fish will leave off biting; he hears the scamper of the iguana in the grass when the “white fella” fails to catch a sound, and knows when the giant crabs will be “walking about” in the mangroves. He is trustworthy and obliging, and ready to impart all the lore he possesses, an expert boomerang thrower, a dead shot with a nulla-nulla, and an eater of everything that comes in his way except “pigee-pigee.” Having long had the pleasure of his acquaintance, I can cordially wish him a never-failing supply of “patter” and tobacco, and surcease of “monda”; and what more can the heart of a blackfellow desire—save rum?

Tom: His Wives—His Battles

Tom has been thrice married—at least he has possessed three wives. For a few months he had two at a time, and placidly endured the consequences.




  ― 292 ―

Of the bride of his youth history has no word—for Tom is the only historian of that period, and he ever bears sorrows in silence.

Nelly, whose country borders the beach of the mainland opposite, could not speak his language when he fought for her fairly and honourably, and won her from her first man. Though reared but a little over 2 miles apart, these twain have totally different words for the same objects. During married life each has added to the vocabulary of the other.

When we took possession of the island, Nelly would glide into the jungle like a frightened snake and hide for days. She was wild, suspicious, uncleanly, uncouth—a combination of all the shortcomings of the savage. Now she lights the fire every morning, kneads the bread, makes the porridge and the coffee, feeds the fowls, washes plates and clothes, scrubs floors, and generally does the work of a domestic. She is cheerfully industrious, emphatic in her admiration of pictures, and smokes continuously, preferring a pipe ornamented with “lead,” for she has all the woman's love of show. From the most quarrelsome and vixenish gin of the camp she has been transformed into a decent-minded peacemaker—always ready to atone for the misbehaviour of others, and to display without a trace of self-glorification the virtue of self-sacrifice. Nelly is never happier than when working about the house, except when she saunters off on a Sunday morning, in the glare of a new dress, and with the smoke curling from her ornamented pipe, beneath a hat which, in variety of tints, shames the sunset sky.

Students of ethnology who may scan these lines may find food for reflection in the fact that Tom and Nelly offer exceptions to the rules that the totems of Australian blacks generally refer to food, and that those whose totems are alike do not marry. Tom's totemic title, “Kitalbarra,” is derived from a splinter of a rock off an islet to the southeast of Dunk Island. “Oongle-bi,” Nelly's affinity, is a rock on the summit of a hill on the mainland, not far from her


  ― 293 ―
birthplace. The plea of the rocks was not raised as any just cause or impediment to the match when Tom by force of arms espoused Nelly. “Jimmy,” Tom and Nelly's son, born in civilisation, bears a second name, that of a deceased uncle, “Toola-un-guy,” the totemic rendering of which is now unknown. Another “Jimmy,” a native of Hinchinbrook, is differentiated by “Yaeki-muggie,” the title of the sandspit of one of the Brook Islands.

The confusion of tongues between Tom and Nelly may be briefly illustrated—

                                     
TOM (“Kitalbarra”). NELLY (“Oongle-bi”). 
Sun.  Wee-yee.  Car-rie. 
Moon.  Yil-can.  Car-cal-oon. 
Sky.  Aln-pun.  Moogah-car-boon. 
Mainland.  Yungl-man.  Mung-un. 
Island.  Cul-qua-yah.  Moan-mitte. 
Sea.  Mutta.  Yoo-moo. 
Fire.  Wam-pui.  Poon-nee. 
Water.  Cam-moo.  Pan-nahr. 
Rain.  Yukan.  Yukan. 
Man.  Mah-al.  Yer-rah. 
Woman.  Rit-tee.  Ee-bee. 
Baby.  Eee-bee.  Koo-jal. 
Head.  Poo-you.  Oom-poo. 
Foot.  Pin-kin.  Chin-nah. 
Leg.  Waka.  Too-joo. 
Hand.  Man-dee.  Mul-lah. 
Fish.  Tar-boo.  Kooyah. 
Bird.  Poong-an.  Toon-doo. 

The big-eyed walking fish of the mangroves, which the learned have named Periophthalmus koelreuteri, Tom knows as “manning-tsang,” and Nelly as “mourn.”

During one of his bachelordom interludes a smart young gin known as “Dolly” attracted Tom's fancy. He had just “signed on” for a six months' cruise with the master of a bêche-de-mer schooner. Dolly smiled so sweetly upon


  ― 294 ―
Tom that Charley, her boy, raged furiously. Tom—never demonstrative, always cool and deep—obtaining an advance from his captain, bought, among a few other attractive trifles, an extremely gaudy dress, and having artlessly displayed the finery, took it all on board the schooner, which was to sail the following morning at daylight.

During the evening Dolly strolled casually from the camp and the society of the fuming Charley, and disappeared. Tom had quite a trousseau, new and bright, for his sweetheart, when she clambered on board, naked, wet, and with shining eyes. Next morning Charley tracked her along the beach. An old and soiled dress—his gift—on a little promontory of rocks about a mile from the anchorage of the schooner completed the love-story.

This intrigue took place many years ago, but Charley was so deeply mortified that he hates Tom to this day, and Tom is an uncomfortable fellow for anyone disposed to resentfulness.

We know, because he says so, that Tom fought for her, and that Nelly gladly accepted the protection of the staunchest man of the district. Tom, in his surly moments, is exquisitely cruel; but Nelly's devotion is unaffected. Her vanity led her to flaunt her gaudy hat in the hut. Tom reproved such flashness—he invariably selects the gayest shirts himself—by burning the hat and all the newly-acquired finery. Nelly struck back, and Tom, as her eyes were big and ablaze with fury, threw—at the cost of burnt fingers—a handful of hot sand and ashes into her face. From Tom's point of view it was a splendid feat—one of those bold and effective master-strokes that only a ready and determined sportsman could conceive and on the instant carry into effect. Nelly's eyes were closed for weeks—well-nigh for ever—and the skin peeled off her face; but she consented to the cruel punishment without a murmur after the first shriek of agony, and won Tom to good temper and tolerance of her vanity by all sorts of happy concessions.

How many such tiffs—tough and smart—has poor


  ― 295 ―
Nelly borne? Her grief has been so sore that she has torn her hair out by the roots in frenzy and stamped upon it; but Tom, surly and impassive Tom, is her lord as well as her most exacting master, and in their own way they are devoted to one another.

The roughest cross Nelly was called upon to bear was the presence of Tom's third wife—“Little Jinny”—the manner of whose wooing and home-coming is to be told.

News came from Lucinda Point to Clump Point—passed from one to another—that Tom's half-brother (a purely fictional relationship) had died, leaving a young widow. According to Tom's rendering of the matrimonial laws, he was the rightful heir. The widow was all that his half-brother had left that was of the slightest consequence.

Tom, telling the circumstances, asked for a holiday that he might personally lay claim to his inheritance. Reminded that he had one wife, he frankly declared in Nelly's presence, and she seemed to acquiesce, that she was no good; but that the other one was a “good fella” in every respect, even to washing plates and scrubbing floors.

His holiday was granted. He went away with money in his pockets, blankets, several changes of raiment—among them Nelly's best dress and hat, dilly-bags brightly coloured, and weapons—boomerang, two black palm spears, a great wooden sword, a shield decorated with a complicated pattern in red and white earth, and a flashing new tomahawk.

So he departed, with Nelly's best wishes, and full of hope and expectation, promising to return in two weeks.

Two months slipped past, and one evening a forlorn, ragged, lean scarecrow of a black boy—without a hat, unshaven, without a blanket, and even destitute of a pipe, clambered over the side of the steamer, and dropped into the boat without a word. It was Tom!

In shreds and patches the history of his experience was related. He had arrived at Lucinda, had charmed “Little Jinny” with his manly presence and spruceness and the amount of his personal property, supplemented by the


  ― 296 ―
display and free bestowal of Nelly's choicest finery, and had, as a matter of course, been compelled to fight for her. He had been beaten, terribly beaten. One ear had been viciously “marked,” a triangular slice being missing (a subsequent combat removed all trace of this mark), and he showed the meritorious scar of a spear-wound on the arm.

Having failed in the stand-up fight, he had resorted to stratagem, had been foiled, and forced to flee, abandoning everything, even to that last vestige of independence—his pipe.

We knew that he had been hard pressed, for on going gaily away he had volunteered to bring a fat young pig from one of the wild herds of Hinchinbrook, and he came back empty-handed. He talks of the pig—how fat and very young it was—even to this day. He came with his life—that was all, and a threadbare sort of life it was at that.

Several months went by—a black boy recovers condition in a day or two as does a starved dog—and Tom had saved money. He never forgets, never swerves from a purpose. He is as determined as a dung-beetle.

Another leave of absence was granted. A second raid was made upon Nelly's wardrobe—two big bailer shells. Elated, freshly shaved and smiling, he was a different sort from the individual who had shamefacedly slipped over the side of the steamer, bereft of everything but life.

He said he would be back in two weeks, and to the day he appeared. His youthful third wife he handed down into the boat, and the boat was full of their luggage. Ah, that desolated camp at Lucinda! The young lady's trousseau was complete even to lingerie. He had won the fight, and the bride and the spoils were his.

Poor Nelly! She welcomed “Little Jinny” effusively, and “Little Jinny” gave her a dress and a second-best hat. Life for a couple of days at the camp was idyllic. Then they took back the gifts of clothing, and turned Nelly out of the hut. She built a separate establishment—a dome of dried


  ― 297 ―
grass on bent sticks, and in it she wept and upbraided, and fired up frequently under the torments of jealousy.

Shrill squabbles were of daily occurrence, until the great Peacemaker removed Tom's favourite wife. And who more sorely grieved than Nelly!

Will the title bear a few words as to Tom the hunter? Was ever a keener, a more patient, a more self-possessed, and consequently a more successful, sportsman? He it was who, from a cranky punt (no white man would venture out to sea in such a craft,) at three o'clock one windy afternoon, harpooned an immense bull-turtle, which towed him towards the Barrier Reef, into the track of the big steamers 4 miles to the east. He battled with the game all the afternoon and evening, overcame it at “the dead waste and middle of the night,” and towed it back to the beach, landing after thirteen hours' continuous work. Tom accomplished the feat in a strong breeze and with a turtle diving and tugging, when he might have cut the line at any moment and paddled home comfortably.

He is as much at home on the top of a bloodwood tree, hanging round a swaying limb while cutting out a “bee nest,” as in a frail bark canoe among the sharks on the skirts of a shoal of bonito.

As we neared the beach one day a big sea-mullet came into view. Without a moment's hesitation, and as it flashed past the boat, Tom, using the oar as a spear, hit the slippery fish with such precision and force as to impale it. He will harpoon a turtle as it rushes away from the boat, 5 feet beneath the surface, with the coolness of a billiard-player, and with unerring accuracy “taking off” for the speed of the boat and the refraction of the water. All the ways and habits of fish, and their favourite feeding-grounds, are to him as pages of an open book.

A groper, more voracious and bolder than usual, followed a safely-hooked perch from the dim coral garden, worrying it like a bull-dog. As the struggling fish splashed on the surface the groper, abandoning its illegitimate prey,


  ― 298 ―
swerved swiftly downwards. The retreat was a second too late, for Tom had seized the harpoon lying athwart the boat, and though the fish appeared through a fathom and a half of water, a vague, fleeting, contorted shadow, he reached it. The barbed point passed through it, carrying a foot or two of the line, and a 30-pounder was added to our catch at one stroke and without a tremor of excitement on Tom's part.

He sailed his punt—12 feet long and 4 feet wide—6 miles, loaded with eight adults, eight piccaninnies, five dogs, a cat, blankets for the crowd, and all the frowsy miscellanea of a black's camp. It was not a boatload that landed on the beach: it was a procession. But Tom would go to sea on a chip. His skill as a sailor of small boats is largely a manifestation of characteristic caution, his precept being—“Subpose big seas come one, one—all right. Subpose come two, two—look out!”

“Little Jinny” in Life and in Death

She was called “Little Jinny” to distinguish her from another of the blacks about the place—a great, good-natured, giggling creature who laughs perpetually and grows ever fatter. There was nothing in common between the two. Indeed they frequently had differences, for “Jinny” proper is industrious, obliging, cheerful, and full of fun, while she, “Little Jinny,” was silent, sulky, and ever averse from toil.

Tom, her man, alternately petted and beat her. She, no doubt, deserved both, for she was proud and haughty for a black gin, and as venomous at times as a scorpion. His hand is heavy, and when he lifted it in anger poor “Little Jinny” suffered—but suffered in silence. Her chastisements were not frequent, but they seemed to increase her loyalty towards her lord and master.

From a European standpoint, “Little Jinny” had little of


  ― 299 ―
which to be vain. She had a fuzzy head of hair. Some, like fur, crept down across her brows, giving her face a singularly unbecoming cast. I did not notice this peculiar uncomeliness until she was dying, and I felt then more than ever that she was not to be judged in accordance with our standard of beauty—though she had many of our little weaknesses. Her ignorance of civilised ways was pathetic, yet she was vain and coquettish as the fairest of her sex. And her besetting vanity was endeavouring to be a “lady.” Work was sordid, for she wore garments which made her the leader of fashion. She possessed a pair of—well, a bifurcated garment—and her whole life was spent in trying to live up to it—or them. She succeeded to a certain extent. Her ways were mincing and precise, and she lazed away her days quite artistically. A can of water was too heavy for her to carry, less than two hours “spell” at a time quite an offence to her ideal of the amount of repose that a lady wearing the bifurcated garment should permit herself. She was wont to sit in the shade of the mango-tree and pretend to do a little gardening. It was all pretence. What she really loved to do was to wander among the bloodwoods—with Tom, of course—with next to nothing on, the next to nothing being the drawers. There, you have them. Then you saw her at her best—or rather worst, for she was a thin sapling of a girl, of a dull coppery colour, and the garment was not always snowy-white.

Hers, after all, was an ideal existence. She had plenty to eat, as much tobacco as was good for her, and outer raiment that in gaudiness outrivalled the flame-tree and the yellow hibiscus. She was the favourite of two consorts, and only when her pride and scorpion-like attributes got the better of her was she corrected.

Now, just the other morning, Tom announced that “Little Jinny” was sick “along a bingey” (stomach), and suggested that salt medicine might do her good. It was quite a common occurrence for her to be sick. It was such an easy and excellent excuse for a day's holiday,


  ― 300 ―
when she would bask on the soft grey sand and smoke, gazing across the placid bay and waiting for meal-times. So no one took her sickness seriously. Subsequent inquiries, however, elicited the fact that “Little Jinny” had eaten little or no tucker the day prior to Tom's application for medicine on her behalf, and that she was really entitled to sympathy of the most practical kind. But no one had the least suspicion of the fact. Dinner-time came and she did not appear, though she was strolling about the flat below the house, apparently only a “little bit sick,” as Tom reported when he came up to his work.

“That one all right to-morrow,” was the reply to an inquiry.

But at five o'clock Tom visited his hut, and hurried back for medicine. “Little Jinny” was very bad. We went down with remedies that seemed fit from his diagnosis of the case and description of the symptoms, and there lay “Little Jinny,” obviously dying. She had never complained nor whimpered when Tom's heavy hand had corrected her, though the dried trickle of blood had been seen on her forehead, and now that she lay a-dying, with her figure strangely swollen, she moaned only when Tom, with his heavy hand, sought to squeeze out the dead man, “all the same like debil-debil,” who was, according to him, the cause of the trouble.

But it was all too implacable and crafty a “debil-debil” for Tom to cast out. We did our best with brandy and steaming flannels; but it was all so useless, for none understood the sickness, or how to prescribe a remedy that might be effective. Our helplessness was grievous. We could only repeat the sips of brandy and water, and endeavour to warm the chilly little body with steamy flannels.

All did something. Even Nelly, the second best wife, who had had to play a very subordinate part in the camp, and whom “Little Jinny” had slapped and had abused with all the volubility of spite and temper, crouched beside her dying rival, chafing her cold hands and warming her cheeks.




  ― 301 ―

And here was the most touching incident of the pathetic scene. We had brandy and blankets and flannels wherewith to endeavour to afford relief. Poor Nelly had nothing. Her poverty was grim, but she had some resource. She had no means of alleviating the suffering save those which spendthrift Nature provided—the smooth oily leaf of the “Raroo.” She used these aromatic leaves, all that she had, with no little art and tenderness. Warming them over the fire until the oil exuded, she would apply them to the hairy jowl of the girl, and anon to her furry forehead and cheeks.

While there is life there is hope is evidently Nelly's creed, and so she crunched and warmed the pungently odorous leaves, and rubbed the hands that had often smitten her in anger. Poor Nelly sighed piteously as she continued her work, while Tom massaged the body of the girl, hoping to expel the “debil-debil.” His theory was, and is, that some man whom “Little Jinny” had known down about Hinchinbrook had died, and his “debil-debil all the same like dead man,” had “sat down” in “Little Jinny's bingey,”—hence her distended condition.

His efforts to cast out this personal “debil” were futile, and as the poor creature lapsed into unconsciousness he would blow gusty breaths upon her big black eyes. It was his method of revivification. In my ignorance I knew none more to the purpose. But it was all in vain. The great eyes of this specimen of uncivilised humanity clouded over, and then brightened. She moaned in response to Tom's well-intended but too forcible massaging. Nelly applied without ceasing the one means of relief that she possessed, the heated “Raroo” leaf, to cheek and forehead, while we exhausted our woefully meagre stock of knowledge in endeavouring to ease the last moments of the dying.

But poor “Little Jinny's” creditor was not to be denied. He was exacting, cruelly exacting, imperious, implacable. He would have the uttermost farthing's worth of her poor, crude life.

Nelly might sigh and use the whole armful of “Raroo”


  ― 302 ―
leaves; Tom might massage, and the others do their best, which was pitiably poor, and their uttermost, which was ever so mean and little, the Conquering Worm would have its victim. And so with a few long-drawn, gulping sighs, each at a longer interval than the last, until the final one, “Little Jinny” passed away as the sun touched the dark blue barrier of mountains across the channel to the west.

Then Nelly's sighs changed into a wail, in which the other members of the camp joined, a penetrating falsetto cry which continued for two days, mingled with the strong man's expression of woe, a low, weird yet not inharmonious hum. For two days they chanted the virtues of the dead, told of her likes and dislikes, and of their grief, crouching beside the blanket-covered form. Then they buried her in the smoky hut in which she lived, digging a shallow grave in the black sand, and there she rests with them.

Tom has put on the mourning of his tribe, and will not for several years eat of a certain fish associated with “Little Jinny's” original name. Nor can he bear to be reminded of her. The day after she was buried he spent the hours between daylight and sunset wandering about wherever “Little Jinny” had been wont, obliterating the tracks made by her feet. With the keenest of sight, which is one of the superior qualifications of the race, he discerned the tracks on the sandy, forest-clad flat, and rubbed them out with his foot.

Just as love-lorn Orlando ran about the forest of Arden carving on

“Every tree
The fair, the chaste, the unexpressive she,”

so this rough, rude savage, spent the whole day smothering the marks that would “sad remembrance bring” of the poor creature for whom he had that kind of feeling that in the savage stands for love. Nature would have performed the office as effectually, and perhaps more tenderly, but Tom's hasty grief drove him remorselessly, until no outward and visible sign of the dead girl remained to challenge it.

When I ponder upon Nelly's “Raroo” leaves and Tom's


  ― 303 ―
terrible and precise earnestness in blotting out the memory of the past, I am convinced that this race, despised and neglected of men, can be as devoted to one another as truly as we who are so superior to them in many attributes.

The Language Test

Casual investigations confirm the opinion that the language of the natives of Dunk, Hinchinbrook and the intervening isles was mutually understood. Certainly there are more terms in common with Dunk Island and the southern end of Hinchinbrook—40 miles away—than with Dunk Island and the adjacent mainland. In pre-white folks days amicable intercourse between the natives of the islands and of the mainland was unknown though the islanders frequently visited one another. Hence no doubt their dominant character and higher order of intelligence generally. Literally the insular was a floating population, and derived the advantage of intercommunication. That of the mainland was stationary. It groped dimly in the jungle, each sept, isolated by bewildering differences in language, cramped, narrow, suspicious. Tribes whose country came within 2 or 3 miles of the sea never intruded on the beach, and the Beachcombers dared not venture beyond recognised limits. To this day Tom will not “walk about” inland unless he is in possession of real superiority in the matter of arms, or has a following in force. He professes fear of the primordial savagery of the “man alonga bush.”

Last of the Line

The last King of Dunk Island—known to the whites as “Jimmy”—was a tall, lanky man, irreclaimably truculent, incapable of recognising the dominance of those who bestowed his Christian name. Long after most of his fellows had submitted in a more or less kindly spirit to the o'ermastering race, “Jimmy” held aloof, and in his


  ― 304 ―
savage, self-reliant way, deemed himself a worthy foe of the best of them. Often he endeavoured to persuade his companions to join him in a policy of active resentment. Once, when remonstrated with on account of some offence against the rights of property, he assumed a hostile disposition, and calling upon others, took up a spear, determined if possible to rouse a revolt. Few in number, the whites could not permit their authority to be questioned, and a demonstration with a rifle silenced all show of opposition. “Jimmy,” disgusted with the docility of his fellows, departed, uttering wrath and threatenings, and was no more seen in the vicinity. This incident took place nearly twenty years ago on the mainland. “King Jimmy, the Irreconcilable,” died a natural death. He does not sleep with his fathers on his native soil, but at Tam o' Shanter Point, nor are any of his acts and deeds remembered, save that which illustrates his hatred of the whites, and his bold and truculent spirit.

None of those who remain is equal to the last of the royal line in stature. Toby stands 5 feet 7½ inches. Tom, 5 feet 7 inches. Brow, 5 feet 2¾ inches, and Willie, 5 feet 2 inches. Tom's expanded chest measures 36½ inches, and Toby's, 36; Brow's, 34½, Willie's, 34 inches.




  ― 305 ―

Chapter III

Attributes and Anecdotes

BLACKS possess acquirements which white people cannot successfully imitate, are industrious in fashioning weapons and in the invention and practice of primitive forms of amusement, and are in many respects entertaining subjects to those who apply themselves, though superficially, to the study of their habits and customs. On the impulse of the moment they are generous or cruel, erratic, purposeless, unstable as water.

The cat's cradle of childhood's days, in the hands of a black who has practised the pastime, becomes most elaborate. He makes complicated designs never dreamt of by the whites—fish, palm-trees, turtles, snakes, birds flying, men and women, etc. etc., the variety being endless. Toy darts and toy boomerangs are common, and the system of signalling by gesture comprehensive and excellent. The Queensland Government has taken means for the preservation of knowledge of many of the sports and pastimes, as well as the language and habits of the blacks, being impressed with the urgency of so doing by the rapid decrease in their numbers. Many have been hastened from the world by a new and seductive vice. Chinese cultivators of bananas found the blacks useful, and rewarded them with the ashes from their opium-pipes. Mixed with water the dregs form a warm and comforting beverage, but its effects were terrible. The fiery liquors of mean whites, and diseases contracted from the depraved, killed off many of the original lords of the soil. Opium was supplying the finishing touches when the Australian Federal Government, by an act of conscious virtue, for-bade its introduction to the Commonwealth, save for use


  ― 306 ―
as a drug. Indirectly the blacks have been saved from demoralisation which threatened to become precipitate—that is to say, in those localities where the smuggling of opium has been suppressed.

The dwindling away of the race is, however, inevitable. A few anecdotes may perhaps throw unaccustomed light upon attributes not generally understood, and show that the Australian aboriginal, uncouth savage as he is, is not altogether devoid of smartness and good-humour.

Common and Individual Rights

Australian blacks have been referred to as socialists, and even communists. Certainly they repudiate thrift, and may therefore be said to side with some socialists, and their camp customs embody communistic principles. The cunningness and zeal with which they enforce individual rights in property may be cited in connection with a food tree. When a neighbouring estate was first settled, in the jungle on the site selected for the house were several magnificent bean-trees. One was about to be felled, when an old man, chief of the camp close by, made it known through an interpreter that food-bearing trees were not to be cut down. Eventually a bargain was struck, the whole of the trees on the spot being purchased from the old man, the pioneers being glad of the opportunity of establishing goodwill by a friendly understanding. The day following, another patriarch of the camp appeared and made it known that he, too, had property rights in the trees, and demanded payment. Without formally recognising his claim, but with the idea of strengthening the bond of good-fellowship, his price was also paid. Again a third old man made a similar demand, explaining that neither of the others had the right of disposing of his individual interests. He, too, was sent away content. In the course of a day or two a young man presented his claim, expounding the law of the country and the camp, which was to the purpose that


  ― 307 ―
no single person or any number of persons, individually or collectively, was or were entitled to barter the rights and property of another. The bean-trees especially were subject to the law of entail. The old men, the young soothsayer explained, could not legally deprive him of his rights to the fruit of the trees that had been the property of his as well as their ancestors, though he, disingenuously, was quite ready for a personal consideration to forego his privileges. He, too, was for peace sake made happy; and it was there and then explained by the settlers, definitely and determinedly, that no more payment for the particular trees about to be sacrificed on the altar of civilisation would be made. In future the laws of the camps were to be restricted to the hundreds of other bean-trees in the jungle, each of which, if wanted, would be the subject of special negotiation.

The “Debil-Debil”

Blacks in their attempts to give verisimilitude to the “debil-debil” generally describe that personage as having hands fitted with hooks or sharp needles. An intelligent boy of the Cape York Peninsula added a few thrilling details on an occasion, when, to allay his fears, his Boss had promised to shoot the “debil-debil” should the boy be molested. “No more carn shoot that fella, Boss. All asame sum-moke.” The boy said that the “debil-debil” had arms like the lawyer vine—long and set with spurs—and dwelt in the heart of the mountains, in the thickest jungle. “Subpose,” said the terrified boy, “black fella might hear 'em, that debil-debil tching out, altogether no more yabber little bit (keep silence). Altogether tell 'um um-boi-ya (medicine man). That one trow'um wookoo (message-stick) alonga scrub. He trow'um pire stick, ung-kurra, eparra ung neera, arwona-deer (north, south, west, east). He sit down little bit. Bi'mby that one ah-anaburra (scrub turkey) he plenty 'tching out. Altogether black fella make 'um big fella fire. He no more sleep.


  ― 308 ―
He look out all time. Bi'mby, longa morning he altogether yan. He looked out 'nother fella yamber (camp). Ole man plenty time bin yabba me debil-debil before long time, bin catch 'em ole man ole woman. He no more see 'em. He find 'em little bit yetin (skin) longa yil-gil-gil (lawyer vine). Ole man bin yabba some time debil-debil 'tching out like it big fella oor-bung-ah (big wind) first time; bi'mby tching out all asame youn-me bin hear 'em. Black fella he no more see 'em nuthin. One time altogether been see 'em like it sum-moke. He yan. Debil-debil come up. Me no bin see 'em. Me bin hear 'em one time. Me close up ar-tum-ena (baby).”

Another boy gave quite a different personality to the “debil-debil.” “Big fella. All asame dead man. All bone, no more meat.” Eyes of fire were added as finishing touches.

Clothing Superfluous

The parents of our domesticated blacks not only never wore clothes, but hardly knew what clothes were. They needed none for warmth. At anyrate, blankets or cloaks beaten out of the inner bark of a particular fig-tree (Ficus ehretioides) were the only covering they had. Not every one possessed even a fig-tree blanket. During inclement weather they squatted in their humpies, or braved the elements “with honour clad.” Thinking no evil, clothing for decency's sake was superfluous. Clothes are worn at the present day, partly as a concession to the fastidiousness of the whites, and largely from vanity. Our blacks are exceedingly fond of dress; the more glaring and clashing the colours the greater the joy of possession.

The party go off in the shimmer of Sunday's finery, and just out of sight all will be discarded and “planted,” for the favourite costume for the walk-about is that of the previous generation. Having spent the whole day in blissful innocence of clothes, they return in the evening in their gaudy attire, fresh as from a comic garden-party.




  ― 309 ―

Brother and Sister

As they grow up, brothers assume towards their sisters an attitude of reserve almost amounting to repugnance. The boy will not eat anything the sister has cooked, nor knowingly touch anything she has handled. The more contemptuous and austere his bearing towards her the more proper it is. Nelly's brother paid a visit to the island, and she cooked a huge damper at the kitchen stove. When it was taken to the camp, hot and fragrant, “Billy” at once inquired who had cooked it. Nelly, wishing that her brother should not deprive himself of his share, told a white lie in the one word, “Missis!” Billy ate heartily and was none the worse, while Nelly, who is fond of Billy, notwithstanding his official detestation of her, chuckled at the successful deception.

The Rainbow

One of childhood's most fascinating fables was, that at the places where the rainbow touched the earth would be found a bag of gold and glittering gems. Among some North Queensland blacks almost exactly the same fairy tale is current. “Muhr-amalee,” remarked a boy, pointing to a rainbow which seemed to spring from the Island of Bedarra. “That fella no good. Hot, burning. Alonga my country too many. Come out alonga ground, bend over, go down. Subpose me go close up kill 'em along spear, run away and plant. Bi'mby come back, find plenty red stone, yalla stone. Fill 'em up dilly-bag. Old man bin tell 'em. Me no go close up along Muhr-amalee. Too fright!”

Swimming Feats

In their endurance as long-distance swimmers, and in the ease with which they perform various incompatible operations in the water, there are few to equal the coastal


  ― 310 ―
blacks of North Queensland. For a trifling consideration they will successfully undertake feats which prove that they are almost as much at home in deep water as upon land, and when put to the test their strength and hardihood are extraordinary. Boys employed on bêche-de-mer boats become almost amphibious. Some, as they swim and dive, collect the fish into a heap on the bottom of the sea until they have a parcel worthy of being taken to the attendant dinghy, alongside which they will come with arms so full as to restrict movement to a singular wriggle of the shoulders. What would be an extremely awkward burden for a white man on shore, the expert black boy carries as he swims with ease, in the course of his daily round and common task.

During the Princess Charlotte Bay cyclone one of the survivors, after an absence of nearly twenty-four hours, came ashore. He explained that the boat of which he had been one of the crew was “drowned finish,” and that the sea had taken him out towards the Barrier. He swam for a long time, and at last got tired and went to sleep, and for the best part of that frantic night he slept as he swam. Then the wind changed, and he came in with it, landing very little the worse. Others, on the same occasion, swam for fifteen and twenty hours; but “Dick” was the only one who went far out to sea, had a night's rest, landed fairly fresh, and seemed to accept the experience as a matter of course.

Again, three boys and a gin—Charley, Belle Vue, Tom and Mary—were sailing out to a reef in a little dingy, when they sighted a turtle basking on the surface. Charley and Belle Vue jumped overboard and seized the turtle. It was a monster, and so strong that they called for help, and Tom plunged in to their assistance. Mary, frightened of being alone in the boat, also sprang overboard, taking her blanket with her, and the boat speedily sailed and drifted beyond reach. Charley and Belle Vue at once swam to a beacon marking a submerged reef about a mile away, but Tom and Mary, being caught in the current, were swept


  ― 311 ―
past the only available resting-place. They were 8 miles from shore. Tom soon began to flounder, but Mary, keeping her heart and her precious blanket, cheered him on, and, changing her course, took a “fair wind down,” as she afterwards said, towards a distant point of the mainland. Lifting the giant despair from her boy's shoulders with encouraging words, holding him up occasionally when he got tired, and clinging all the time to the only piece of personal property she possessed, Mary eventually landed in a quiet bay. Tom was so exhausted that she had to drag him up on the sand, and having made him comfortable with her safe but sodden blanket, she hurried into town to report the circumstances to the police. A boat was sent to the rescue of Charley and Belle Vue, still clinging to the beacon, and the derelict dinghy was picked up. Nothing was lost but the turtle.

Smoke Signals

It is many years since a black boy at Port Darwin remarked casually to his master, a Government official there, “Steamer him come on; him sit down lame fella,” and began to limp across the room. He said that the steamer was a long way away; but “blackfella he make 'em smoke; blackfella bin tell 'em.”

Four days after the steamer Guthrie slowly entered the port with her machinery badly disabled.

Thunder Factory

A boy who had visited towns, listening intently to a reverberating peal of thunder asked—“How make 'em that row, Boss? He got big wheel?

Home keeping blacks have homely wits. Having no experience of the rumble and rattle of traffic they ascribe to thunder a mysterious origin, and indicate though with reserve, the very place where it is made. The swirl of a


  ― 312 ―
creek in the mainland has excavated a circular water hole in a soft rock, brick red in colour. This hole is the local thunder factory, and the blacks were wont to hang fish hooks across it from pieces of lawyer cane, with the idea of ensnaring the young thunder before it had the chance of becoming big and formidable.

The Oracle

Divination by means of the intestines of animals is practised by the blacks in some parts of North Queensland. A young gin died suddenly on the lower Johnstone River. Immediately after, the young men of the camp went out hunting, bringing back a wallaby. The entrails were removed, and an old woman—the Atropos of the camp—stretched them between her fingers in half-yard lengths, simultaneously pronouncing the title of a tribe in the district. The tribe, the name of which was being uttered as the gut parted, was denounced as the source of the witchcraft which had occasioned the untimely death of the gin. Vengeance followed as a matter of course.

A Real Letter

Sam, a boy living in the Russell River scrub, spoke thus to his master:—

“One fella boy, Dick, he come up fight along me four days.”

“How you know, Sam?” asked the boss.

“Dick, he bin make 'em this one letter,” replied Sam, picking up a palm leaf from which all the leaflets save seven, had been torn. Three of the seven had been turned down at the terminal point, and Sam continued his explanation. “He no come Monday, he no come Tuesday, he no come Wednesday, he come Thursday,” indicating the first upright leaflet.

Sam said that he had an outstanding quarrel with Dick


  ― 313 ―
and had expected the challenge conveyed by the letter he had picked up on the track that morning.

When Thursday came Dick appeared well armed, and the two had an earnest, honourable and exhilarating combat and parted good friends.

A Black Degenerate

A remarkable case is in the early records of the Lower Murray (between New South Wales and Victoria), and was quoted long since. A number of blacks died in agonising convulsions. Some thirty had succumbed, before a dear old German doctor, who wandered up and down the river, a loved and welcome guest at every station, happened along when a gin was stricken. He diagnosed strychnine poisoning. The greatest mystery surrounded the affair, and some of the whites undertook to watch the camp. A clue was furnished by the old doctor, who, when attending to the dying gin, noticed that one of the men seemed to find her sufferings most diverting. He laughed, wandered away, and returned time after time, repeating to himself before each outburst—“My word, plenty kick it, that fella!” Somebody remembered that this black, who rejoiced in the name of Tommy Simpson, had been almost tickled to death when he saw a dog dying at the station from strychnine. He was watched, and some of the powder he had stolen from a bottle in the store discovered in a piece of opossum skin inside a very dilapidated old hat. Taxed with the crime, he made free admission of his guilt, but was apparently incapable of realising that he had done any wrong. It seemed that his chief reason for keeping his secret so long was that he wanted to have the fun all to himself. The other blacks were very differently impressed; they surrounded Tommy Simpson and speared him until he died. To the last, Tommy's ruling frame of mind was surprise, and he went to his death quite unable to understand why his fellows should have made such a fuss about his little joke.




  ― 314 ―

Jumped at a Conclusion

Occasionally black boys have the misfortune to do exactly the wrong thing with the best intentions. A bêche-de-mer schooner sadly in need of a coat of paint, ran into a northern port and brought up alongside a similar but tidy craft, which at the time was laid up. In obedience to natural curiosity the captain went on board the idle vessel and had a good look over her, paced off some of her dimensions and mentally approved her lines. In the morning he brought out a quantity of black paint with which a friend who had taken pity of the weather-beaten condition of his vessel had presented him, and ordered his boys to begin work. Then he went ashore, spending a most agreeable morning among his friends. Just before dinner a chum asked him what his boys were doing. He replied, “Oh, before I left I set them to work to paint the ship.” “Do you know what ship they are painting?” asked the friend. “Yes! I am jolly well sure it's mine.” “Well, you had better go and see how they are getting on.” He went, and found all hands merrily at work painting the strange vessel. They had in excess of industry covered one of her neat white sides completely, having jumped at the conclusion that the captain had bought her. It was an expensive blunder, and a practical lesson in the chemistry of colours. A large quantity of white paint had to be bought to smother the black coat, and another lot of black paint for his own woe-begone craft.

Pride of Race

“Harry” was a splendid specimen of humanity. Tall, lithesome, handsome, intelligent, proud of superior abilities, prouder of his style. In his time he played many parts. A stockrider, when he would appear in a gay shirt, tight white moleskins, cabbage-tree hat, flash riding-boots with glittering spurs. A bullock driver, when his costume


  ― 315 ―
would be more subdued, but when he would be fully equipped, even to the chirpy phrases in which working bullocks are accustomed to be addressed. Then as a vagrant black, when his attire would be nothing at all in camp, and little more than a frowsy blanket when visiting the town. But in all of his characters he had an unconstrained contempt for Chinese, and delighted in ridiculing and frightening them. In the part of a bullock-driver he drew up his team in front of a store. The manager shouted—“Don't want that load here, Harry! You tak 'em to back store. You savee?” The “savee” touched Harry's dignity. “What for you say savee? You take me for a blurry Chinaman?”

Class distinction prevails even among the race. “Polly,” in her own estimation, was highly civilised, and posed haughtily before her uncultured cousins. Looking across to the mainland beach one day, she said—“Whiteman walk about over there, longa beach.” Then, gazing more fixedly, and with all possible disdain in her tones—“No; only nigger!”

Nearly all civilised blacks have exalted opinions of themselves. It is told that Marsh, the aboriginal bowler, of Sydney, wanted to join the Australian Natives' Association, and on being black-balled said—“Those fellows, Australian natives! My people were leading people in Australia when their people were supping porridge in Scotland or digging potatoes in Ireland.” When Marsh and Henry met as rival fast bowlers in a match between Queensland and New South Wales, it was proposed to the former that he should be introduced to the Queenslander. “What!” he ejaculated—“that myall? No, thank you. It's quite bad enough to meet him on the field. Why, the fellow would want to go in to tea with me. Give him a 'possum.” These yarns may be too good to be true, but they at least illustrate a well-recognised phase of aboriginal character.




  ― 316 ―

“Yankee Charley”

At rare intervals one finds a black who knows how to drive a bargain. “Yankee Charley” came, badly wanting a shirt. The only one available was valued at 2s. 6d., and Charley produced 2s., protesting that that represented his total capital, the extreme limit of his financial resources—his uttermost farthing, as it were. At that sum the Boss disposed of the shirt, for the need of the stranger within his gates threatened to become shocking, as “Yankee Charley” possessed few of the “artificial contrivances that hold society together.” Retiring to the scrub, Charley took off his ruined singlet, came back smiling in his new shirt, and with delightful candour tendered 6d. for a flash handkerchief. He got it for his smartness.

Myall's Baking

When blacks are introduced to the ways of white men, singular, often grotesque episodes occur. A big, shy, clumsy fellow endeavouring to put on a shirt as a pair of “combinations” does cut an absurd figure, and the first efforts of many meddling and unskilled cooks to make a “damper” are often pathetic failures. Not long since a bêche-de-mer fisherman engaged a crew from the tablelands at the back of Princess Charlotte Bay. Never having been on board a schooner before, and being absolutely innocent of the ways of the whites, they found “damper” unpalatable, and flour was given them that they might prepare it after their own methods. Some nuts (“koie-ie,” Cryptocaria Palmerstoni, for example) blacks toast until the shell (impregnated with resin) starts into a blaze and the kernel falls out. The kernels are then chewed and ejected until sufficient dough is available for a cake, which is flattened out between green leaves and toasted. The dough “rises” as though leavened with yeast, but this lightness is considered a fault, for the dough


  ― 317 ―
is taken out, squeezed between hands moistened with spittle until it becomes sodden. Then it is bound again tightly in green leaves in long rolls, and buried in the hot ashes till cooked. Such cakes are said to be very nice. They must be nutritious for the blacks among whom Koi-ie is one of the principal foods are fat and agile fellows. These Princess Charlotte Bay boys cooked their flour in a somewhat similar way. The result was a sodden, tough, dirty damper, the sight of which roused the not usually tender susceptibilities of the owner of the boat. Taking pity on the untutored boys, he had a proper damper made with soda and acid and a due proportion of salt. It turned out a beauty, so spongy and light that it almost lifted the lid off the camp oven, in which it was baked. The boys accepted it, but not without manifestations of doubt and suspicion. They presently returned in a solid and unanimous deputation loudly proclaiming that the boss was a humbug, and had cheated them, the bread being full of holes containing no “ki-ki” whatever, while they made “ki-ki” as dense as the deck, which they tapped with their feet significantly and about which there was no palpably hollow fraud. At first the boss failed to understand, for the blacks had little even of pidgin English. When he did realise the true state of the case he wasted no breath in explanations. The blacks catered for themselves in the future, and got fat and saucy on the diet of plain flour and water, so cooked that sometimes it was like half-burnt deal, and as often a sticky, ropy mess.

Everything for a Name

To the blacks of North Queensland there is a great deal in a name. When a piccaninny is born, the first request is—“You put 'em (or make 'em) name belonga that fella!” When a strange boy, a myall, “comes in” he wants a name, and until he gets it he is as forlorn as an ownerless dog. Anything does, from “Adam” to “Yellow-belly” or “Belle


  ― 318 ―
Vue.” He seems as proud of the new possession as a white boy of his first pair of trousers, and soon forgets his original name. “What name belonga you, your country?” I asked an alert boy. “I bin lose 'em; I no find 'em. Boss, he catch 'em alonga paper!”

The Knightly Growth

Wallace, in his Malay Archipelago, gives an amusing account of a native who was superbly vain of an isolated tuft of hair on the one side of his chin, the only semblance of beard he possessed. A black boy on one of the inland stations left with a mob of travelling cattle for the south. When he returned after many days, two hairs had sprouted from a mole on his cheek, and he was for ever fondling them with pride and pleasure.

“Hello! Jacky!” exclaimed the manager of the station, noticing him on his return for the first time. “You catch 'em plenty whisker now,” and feinted to pluck out the twin hairs.

Jacky started back in dismay. “You no broke 'em! You no broke 'em!”

Another boy showed that the cruel edge of vanity which prompts others to dye their hair is felt by the race. White hairs began to mingle with the black of his moustache, and one by one he plucked them out. The moustache became thinner and thinner, until the lip was as bare as a baby's cheek, while the fraudulently youthful appearance gave obvious satisfaction.

Honour and Glory

As we sat enjoying the cool moonlight, Mickie announced that Jinny desired an interview. “All right, Mickie, tell her come along.” “No, bi'mby. When finish wash 'em plate.” That duty disposed of, Mickie—“Now Boss.” “Well, come along, Jinny. What you want?” “No, Boss; I no want talk alonga you, Mickie humbug


  ― 319 ―
you. What for you humbug Boss, Mickie?” Jinny was bashful, for the subject was momentous, touched her pride, and had been depressing her gaiety for many weeks. Presently she came and with emphatic deliberation said—“Boss—No—good—Missis—call—out—Jinny! Jinny! When want wash 'em plate. More better you hammer 'em that fella, all asame Essie!” Jinny did not wish that the missis should be chastised, but that she should be summoned to the plate washing with the pomp and ceremony of a dinner gong, as the maid used to do in a more civilised home.

Fire Jump Up

Mickie and Jinny once paid a visit to town, and Jinny, making an afternoon call, was invited to have a cup of tea. She said, “Never mind, Missis. Fire, he no burn.” A gas stove was available, and Jinny jumped and exclaimed as the blue flame sprang from nowhere. Wherever the lady of the house pleased to apply a match the fire came. Next morning Mickie was brought round to witness the wonder, Jinny asking—“Missis. You show 'em Mickie fire jump up all about!”

Slop Teeth

A lady up North was asked by her black maid, whose face had been terribly battered by her infuriated husband, to send to the shop for new teeth, in payment of which she tendered half-a-crown, promising “two bob more” as wages accumulated. This is a fact, and therefore comparable with the anecdote which tells that a military bandmaster demanded the return of a set of teeth supplied at the regiment's expense to a cornet player who had been granted his discharge.

A Fascinated Boy

Seas swamped a small cutter as she was beating across the bar of a Northern river. Exerting themselves to the


  ― 320 ―
utmost, the owners, with two black boys, managed to save the boat, but all the food on board was ruined, and blankets and clothing saturated. Hungry and dejected the party prepared to put away the time until the weather calmed. In the afternoon, fortune smiled. Another cutter came in sight, and with the assistance of those on shore, managed to get into safety and shelter. All hands were liberally treated to needful refreshment. “Say when!” said the cheery Boss, as he poured a revivifying dose of whisky into a pannikin held by the expectant but shivering boy. The elixir gurgled and glittered before his fascinated eyes until the pannikin held enough for two stiff nobblers, without evoking any polite verbal restraint. “My word!” said the Boss, at last, “that boy can't say when.”

Awkward Cross-Examination

Mickie and Jinny being privileged became familiar, and spoke all sorts of confidences in the ears of their mistress. Visitors came, an old friend and her daughters, a blond and a brunette. The contrast in the types of the girls puzzled Mickie. He took an early opportunity to cross-examine one from whom he thought he could obtain confidential information. “What Gwen sister belonga Glad?” he asked. “Yes, Mickie.” “Same mother?” queried Mickie. “Yes, of course.” Then came without hesitation or reserve the dumbfounding question: “Same father?”

The Only Rock

Some may sneer when absolute originality is claimed for the following little anecdote, for almost a facsimile of it happens to be among the most time-honoured of jests. Rounding Clump Point in a light centre-board cutter, the Boss, who was steering, asked Willie, whose local knowledge was being relied on: “Any stone here, Willie?” “Yes,” was the response, “one fella.” The words were yet on the lips of the boy when the centre-board jumped with


  ― 321 ―
a clang. “Why you no tell me before?” angrily remonstrated the Boss. Willie—“No more. Only one fella. You catch 'em!”

Saw the Joke

Our blacks saw “friends” on the mainland beach, and lit two signal fires. Mickie said, “Me tell 'em that fella bring basket.” Cross-examined, he had to admit that the two fires merely signified a general invitation to his mainland friends to come across. Then—“That fella got 'em basket, me get 'em.” A friend doubted the range of the black's vision, which was truly telescopic, as we frequently verified with a pair of powerful field glasses, but not to be thought inferior in this respect, he solemnly declared that he saw Jinny's cousin on the beach strike a light for his pipe. At first the irony of the remark was not appreciated, then Jinny (after vainly peering across the sea), saw the joke and gave a wild exhilarating exhibition of amusement. She sat down and rolled about shouting and screeching, hardly able to tell Mickie the fun, and when he was let into it the pantomime was the more extravagant. The outburst continued throughout the day at intervals, Jinny apologising for her boisterousness with reiterations—“Misser Johnssing say he been see 'em cousin belonga me light 'em pipe!” Jinny still rehearses the story at frequent intervals, and with hysterical outbursts.

Zebra's Vanity

To half civilised blacks a racecourse is an earthly paradise; a jockey, a sort of demi-god. A lady shut up her house one race day, leaving “Zebra” in charge. Returning, she was amazed to find one of the big rooms open, and to hear the buzz of a sewing machine. Zebra, trouserless, scarcely took the trouble to look round as he informed her—“Me make 'em trouser all a same Yarraman (horse).” His desire for tight riding breeches was not


  ― 322 ―
restrained, and the consequence was in the nature of a disaster.

Laura's Traits

Laura was a bad girl. Like Topsy, she acknowledged her naughtiness, but never attempted to reform. A considerable quantity of milk had disappeared from a jug, and her mistress asked—“You been drink milk, Laura?” “No, missis, me no drink 'em.” But the tell-tale moustache of cream still lingered on her lips. Laura lived in a quiet home, where there were no children, and few dishes to wash. The State Orphanage was not far away, and the children thereof paraded every day on their way to the State school. Gazing at the long procession marching two by two Laura, with a far away look in her eyes, said—“Missis. Me no like wash 'em plate belonga these fellas!” Laura was wont to be sent to Sunday school, where her ways were precise and demure, and where her natural smartness gained her credit, and many good conduct tickets. Once she was overheard at her devotions—“Please, Mr God, make missis strong woman, make missis good woman!” She was sick, and her mistress insisted upon administering castor oil, but Laura made a fuss. At last her mistress said—“All right, Laura, suppose you no take 'em medicine, I go for doctor.” “No, no, missis. Me die meself!”

A variety troupe visited the town, and Laura was taken to a performance. Among the “freaks” were General Mite and his consort. Laura came back with this proud boast—“I bin shake hands alonga piccaniny!”

Royal Blankets

Nelly was extravagantly fond of pictures; anything, from an illustrated advertisement up, pleased her, and when the subject was not very obvious to her she would indifferently gaze lovingly upon it upside down. A pair of fine photographs of King Edward and Queen Alexandra in all the sumptuousness


  ― 323 ―
of their coronation robes was shown her, and she was told that “fella King belonga whiteman. That fella Queen wife, you know.” Putting her democratic forefinger on each alternately, Nelly said—“That fella man; that fella Missis! My word! Got 'nother kind blanket!”

His Daily Bread

The Government of Queensland is conscientiously performing the duty of smoothing the pillows of the dying race. On the coast several mission stations have been established where the blacks of the neighbourhood are gathered together and, under discipline tempered with a strong religious element, taught to take care of themselves. The system is under the supervision of an experienced official, entitled the “Chief Protector of Aboriginals,” and he tells a story which throws rays of light in more than one direction.

A plump boy, who several months before had been consigned to a mission station quite out of the neighbourhood, presented himself at the head office, and with a rather rueful countenance answered a few of the preliminary inquiries of the Protector. Confidence having been gained, particular questions were asked.

“Yis,” said the boy, “me bin stockrider belonga Yenda. Come down alonga town have spell.”

“But you belong to Fraser Island mission station.”

“Yis, me bin alonga that place.”

“Why you no stop? That very good place.”

“Nahr! No blurry good.”

“You get plenty tucker—plenty everything that place.”

This provoked a trailing exclamation of dissent and disgust. “N-a-hr! Blenty ask it—no get 'em. Ebery morning tell that big fella Boss (with an upward jerk of the head) gib it daily-bread. Dinner-time tell it gib it daily-bread. One time more alonga tea tell it that big fella Boss gib it daily-bread.”




  ― 324 ―

“Well, you get plenty.”

“N-a-hr! No get 'em. Get 'em corn (with a spit) all asame horse.”

Hominy, with prayer, is the standing dish at that station.

Human Nature

Among the most cunning of civilised blacks was a gentleman, well up in years, known as Michael Edward. He had been everywhere and had seen everything, and was full of what we call worldly wisdom. His conceit in himself led him to eat abundantly, drink all he could and at anybody's expense, smoke continuously, do as little work as possible, though apparently with lavish expenditure of industry, dress flashily and talk big. In pursuit of these things he behaved as should a cute student of human nature. Sent by Mrs Jenkins, his then mistress, with a message, he arrived as some tempting pastry was taken from the oven. He eyed it all with such riotous admiration, that an invitation to taste a tart was felt compulsory. Michael Edward assented with a “Yus, please, Missis.” The tart was but a trifle light as air in his capacious maw, and another went the same way with loud smacking of huge lips. Then, with a lively sense of the continuance of such favour, he said—“My word, Missis, you mo' better cook than Missis Jenkin!”

A police magistrate had a blackfellow in his employ very much addicted to beer. The black was brought before His Worship charged as a “drunk and disorderly.” The magistrate lectured him severely, but paid his fine on condition that he would never drink again. A month later the culprit was again in the court, and the magistrate, who was rather in love with his own eloquence, proceeded to read the offender a severe lecture and to threaten him with awful punishment. At the most impressive point the black broke in with—“Go on, Croker! Shut up and pay 'em money. Me want finish 'em fence!”




  ― 325 ―

An Apt Retort

A meeting between a steamer smartly captained and a sailing boat steered by a smart black boy familiar with the rules of the road at sea was taking place. The steamer having too much way on, the boat narrowly escaped being run down. “Why didn't you keep out of the road,” yelled the captain, “Why do you let the nigger steer?” Tom in reply, “Why you no luff up? You got blurry steamer, I no got 'em!”

Missis's Trousers

Lady Constance Mackenzie is not the only bold female who rides astride in befitting costume. On some North Queensland cattle stations, squatters' wives and daughters have adopted divided skirts, and black gins employed as stockriders wear shirts and trousers, which are returned to the store when not in active service. One bleak evening—and it can be bleak on the North-Western Downs—the tender heart of a new jackeroo storekeeper was touched by the sight of two black boys quaking with the cold, the attire of each being limited to a singlet tugged down to its extreme limit.

“You no got trousers?” he asked.

“Baal got 'em!”

“All right. Me give you fella some,” and the storeman produced two pairs well worn, which were thankfully accepted.

Half an hour later one of the boys returned, bursting with indignant language. “What for, you blurry fool. You bin gib it my missis's trousers?”

Dull-Witted

At a western station the manager, in order to save a fence newly erected, thought to satisfy the blacks by leaving a loose coil of wire here and there for spear heads. But


  ― 326 ―
instead of taking that generous hint, the natives invariably cut out from the fence what they wanted. On another station in the same district, when a fence was under construction small coils of loose wire were left every few hundred yards as a tribute or free will offering; but in this case they again overlooked the loose stuff and cut what they wanted from the strained wire.

Strategy

Incomprehensibly dull as blacks frequently are they occasionally exhibit shrewdness which is all the more remarkable because of its unexpectedness. As the station hands were busy erecting buildings in newly opened up country, the blacks sent an envoy to engage their attention while others of the tribe cut off the iron bracing from the paddock gates wherewith to make tomahawks. They succeeded in completely despoiling one gate before they were disturbed.

Literal Truth

A black boy of more than ordinary intelligence, who had been sent to fill a couple of tubs with water, sauntered back with a self-satisfied air and said—“Me finish 'em!”

The master found that the boy, as a preliminary, had fitted one tub into the other.

Magic that did not Work

Under the spell of the first sensations of Christianity, Lucy found and took unauthorised possession of a gold cross. Retiring to a secluded spot on the bank of the river, she hung the cross to a string round her neck, imagining it to be a charm, by the magic of which she would become a white girl. Twenty-four hours of patient expectancy passed without any change in Lucy's complexion, so she lost faith in the golden symbol, and bartered it to a


  ― 327 ―
Malay pieman for cakes. Then good Christian folks charged her with the theft of the cross, and the pieman with receiving it, knowing it to have been stolen. Lucy was pardoned, but the pagan went to prison.

Anti-Climax

A boy was asked if he thought Jimmy Governor (a notorious desperado who had given the New South Wales police much trouble) ought to be hanged. “Baal. No fear hang 'em; too good.”

“What you do then?”

“Me! me punch 'em nose!”

Little Fella Creek Sailor

Ponto, a boy well known in North Queensland, and one of the few aboriginals whose memory is honoured by tombstones, was once taken by his master to Sydney. He saw many wonders, being particularly impressed by the appearance of the men-of-war's-men.

A month or so after his return he was away among the mountains with his master and a friend who was wearing a jersey.

“You sailor, Bob?” asked Ponto.

“Yes, Ponto. I'm sailor-man.”

“No. You no sailor,” responded Ponto decisively.

“Yes. I tell you true. I'm sailor.”

Ponto: “Ah! me think you no big salt-water sailor. You only little fella creek sailor. You no got jacket—flash collar, knife alonga string!”

A Fateful Bargain

A squatter, travelling on foot with his black boy, came to a river almost a “banker,” and there was no recourse but to swim. After Charcoal had taken a couple of trips with


  ― 328 ―
the clothes, the Boss told the boy to swim alongside him, in case of emergency. Halfway across, just as the Boss was feeling that there was some risk in swimming a flooded river in which were many snags, Charcoal cheerily observed—“Suppose you drowned finish, Boss, you gib me you pipe?” Summing up all the possibilities in a second, the Boss gasped out—“No; you bin get pipe when I'm across!” The boy's aid was prompt and effective.

Excusable Bias

Two of the beachcombing class resumed an oft-recurring discussion on the seaworthiness of their respective dinghies. Tom, the silent black boy, a more experienced boatman than either, listened as he watched his own frail bark canoe dancing like a feather in response to every ripple.

“Tom!” shouted one of the disputants, “suppose you want to go out in big wind and big sea, which boat you take? This one belonga me, or that one belonga your Boss?”

Tom glanced at the boats with the eye of an expert, paused in the exercise of his judgment, and said with emphasis—“Me take 'em my boat!”

The Trial Scene

“Boiling Down,” a boy with a not very reputable past, had once stood his trial for a serious offence. On returning to his free hills, he was wont to describe with rare art the trial scene.

Clearing a patch of ground, he would place one chip to represent the judge—“big fella master”; a small chip would be His Honour's associate; twelve chips were the jurymen; three were the lawyers; a big chip between two others was “Boiling Down” with attendant policemen, and many scattered about stood for the audience.

Having arranged his properties, the boy would proceed.

“Big fella master, he bin say—‘Boinin' Down, you hear


  ― 329 ―
me? You guinty—you not guinty?’ Me bin say ‘Guinty!' ”

At this point “Boiling Down” invariably broke into such paroxsyms of laughter that further utterance was impossible. Often as he attempted it, his narrative of the proceedings ended in such violent mirth that his hearers could not restrain themselves from joining in. They were obliged to acknowledge that he looked upon the affair as the funniest incident of his life.

A Reflection on the Horse

A boy accustomed to see his master—the owner of a station—jump his horse over the gate instead of stopping to open it, tried to follow. The horse cantered up grandly, seemed to gather himself for the jump, and baulked. The boy shot out of the saddle and over the gate. As he picked himself up and shook the dust from his clothes he glared back at the horse, saying—“You blurry liar!”

Triumph of Matter over Mind

Out on a station in the Burketown district an athletic black boy was employed. Trained by some friends, Charley developed such fleetness of foot that it was decided to enter him in sports which took place at Normanton and Croydon. In order that the public might be properly surprised, it was planned that Charley should run into second place at Normanton, and that at Croydon all possible honours were to be his.

Immediately before starting at Normanton, Charley was told that he was not to win, because his backers wanted to make big money at Croydon.

Charley ran a good second most of the way, made a spurt, and breasted the tape yards to the good.

Taken aside, his friends angrily remonstrated with him. “Look here, Charley, what's the matter? I bin tell you run second. You come first—you spoil everything!”

“Carn help it, Dick. Carn help it. Me bin bolt.”




  ― 330 ―

The Ruse that Failed

Miners in isolated camps where writing paper is not always available, scribble their orders for rations upon hastily torn margins of newspapers. A cute old black fellow named Bill who had frequently been entrusted with such notes and had borne away goods presented a scrap of paper innocent of writing at the store.

“What? This from Tom?” asked the storekeeper naming one of his customers while he ran his eye over the paper.

“Yowi! Tom bin make 'em.”

“What this fella talk?”

“That fella talk plour; sugar, tea; two stick Derby,” and, as a brilliant after thought—“bottle rum!”

“All right, by and bye,” remarked the storekeeper.

The old man waited, and when it at last dawned upon him that his dodge for the pledging of Tom's credit had failed, stole away, convinced no doubt that there was some magic in the making of letters that he did not quite comprehend.

The Big Word

A tracker, known as Billy Williams—who had passed out of the police service after many years of duty during which he had added largely to his burden of original sin and knowledge of English—stole a valuable diamond ring from the landlord of an hotel. Detected, and promptly brought before two justices of the peace, Billy pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to three months' imprisonment.

While escorting him to the lockup, the officer in charge remarked—“Well, Billy, you lucky fella. You only get three months. I been think you in for a sixer.”

Billy—“By golly, Jack, me bin think me be disqualified for life.”




  ― 331 ―

Mickie's Version

Mickie is apt at repeating the sayings of others. Often his rendering of a commonplace becomes humorous by reason of a slight verbal twist. As the boys toiled to supplant a glorious strip of primeval jungle by a few formal rows of bananas, the boss, glancing over the ruined vegetation, remarked in encouraging tones—

“Well, we are getting on fine! Getting on like a house on fire!”

For half an hour or so the boys hacked and chopped away at the vines and trees, and then Mickie swept the scene with a comprehensive glance, saying—“We getting on good fella now. All a same burning down house.”

Honourable Johnny

Johnny was much averse from work. “Work, work, work, all asame bullocky,” as he put it, rasped on his feelings. At midday he was taking his ease, while others toiled packing stones on a breakwater. One of them called out—“Why you no work, Johnny? You sit down all the time.” Johnny—“Me bin work close up daylight. You lazy black niggers only work when Boss look out.”

The Transformation

The wife of a squatter was about to leave the station for a few years, that her daughters might have the opportunity of acquiring accomplishments unobtainable in the Bush. When the hour of departure arrived, the blacks about the place loudly expressed their sorrow. One soft-hearted creature exclaimed amid the tears—“Good-bye, Miss Madge—good-bye, Miss Yola; me no see little girls any more. Two fella going away, try learn be lady!”

Money-Making Trick

A boy who had visited a town and had been taken to a circus, gathered the camp together on the night of his


  ― 332 ―
return, and having given an account of the wonders he had seen, announced that he could make money. Satisfaction at such gift being tempered by doubt, the boy took his stand before the expectant semicircle, and having admirably mimicked a conjuror's patter, shouted—“Money!” A half-crown flashed in the air—to be deftly caught and exhibited on the boy's palm.

This trick was repeated nightly. Conscious of the independence that money gives, the whole camp became demoralised, until investigation showed that the boy had a trained confederate, in the person of his gin, who, standing apart, on the word, flicked the half-crown in the air. The boy lost his reputation as a maker of money, and his sole coin that self-same night.

Honourable Chastisement

At a camp of the Native Mounted Police the sergeant reported a trooper for beating his gin. “What you bin doing, Paddy?” asked the sub-inspector. “You bin hammer 'em Topsy?” Paddy, at the salute—“Yes, sir, please sir, me bin hammer 'em that fella. That fella too flash; me no bin hammer 'em all asame black-fella. Hammer 'em all asame white man, alonga strap.” Considering the customary means a black adopts to correct the indiscretions of his spouse, Paddy's offence was judged far too trivial for punishment. Topsy, too, was quite vain that Paddy had chastised her with all dignity and indulgence of a white man.

“And You Too”

Two ladies, who were wont to meet at infrequent intervals, spent the delightful morning in the settlement of arrears of gossip, while two black gins sat in the shade of a mango-tree, smoked incessantly and did nothing


  ― 333 ―
placidly. At dinner-time the latter began to chatter volubly, and the mistress of the house, in an outburst of vicarious energy, called from the verandah—“Come, Topsy—come, Rosey. You do nothing all day. You two fella talk all the time.”

Rosey—“Yes; me fella yabber, yabber, plenty—all asame white woman.”

Paradise

The beliefs of blacks on the subject of “the otherwhere” seem to be varied and adjustable to individual likes and predilections. Some indeed have no faith whatever in statements as to existence following upon death. Others assert that a delightful country is reached after a long and pleasant journey, that there reunion with relatives and friends takes place, and happiness is in store for all, good and bad alike.

An intelligent boy was asked if after death all went along the same road to the aboriginal paradise. He was reminded that he was a good fellow, and that one of the members of the camp was notoriously a rogue.

“Mootee go along a you, all asame place? That fella no good. You good fella.”

“Yes,” he answered. “All one track me fella go. Good track—blenty tchugar-bag, blenty hegg, blenty wallaby, close up. You no wan' run about. Catch 'em blenty close up. Bi'mby me go long way. Me come more better country—blenty everything. Father belonga me sit down. He got two good young fella gins. My word, good one gins. He say—‘Hello! you come up? You sit down here altogether. Two fella good gins belonga you!' ”

This was paradise!




  ― 334 ―

Chapter IV

And this our Life

“I would admonish the world that all persons, indifferently, are not fit for this sort of diversion.”


WHEREAS the average town-dweller could not endure the commonplaces of Nature which entertain me, rouse my wonder, enliven my imagination, and gratify my inmost thoughts, so his pursuits are to me devoid of purpose, insipid, dismally unsatisfactory. To one whose everyday admission (apology if you like) is that he is not as other men are—fond of society and of society's occupations, pastimes, refinements, and (pardon) illusions—the unsoiled jungle is more desirable than all the prim parks and clipped gardens; all this amplitude of time and space than the one “crowded hour.” Here I came to my birthright—a heritage of nothing save the most glorious of all possessions: freedom—freedom beyond the dreams of most men in its comprehensiveness and exactitude. These few haphazard notes refer to the exercise of rare independence. They cannot be otherwise than trivial and dull, but they at least fulfil the purpose to which I was pledged. They reveal my puny efforts to be none other than myself. So tranquil, so uniform are our days, that but for the diary—the civilised substitute for the notched stick—count of them might be lost. And this extorts yet another confession. One year, Good Friday passed, and Easter-time had progressed to the joyful Monday, ere cognisance of the season came. Speedy is the descent to the automaton. A mechanical mis-entry in the diary threw all the orderly days of the week into a whirling jumble. We knew not Wednesday from Thursday, nor Thursday from Friday, though we calculated and checked notes of the transactions and


  ― 335 ―
traits of successive days. To what purpose was the effort to memorise one day from another when all were precisely alike in colour and uneventfulness? Each day had been blue—radiantly blue—nothing more. And the entries in the diary set at naught dogmatic assertions of disproof. But the steamer cuts a deep weekly notch. We jolted into it and became harmonised once more with the rigid calendar of the workaday world.

Thus we keep the noiseless tenor of our way, finding in life if not great and gaudy pleasures, at least content and relief from many of the vexations that gnaw away the lives of the multitude. Though it was acknowledged a long time ago to be—indecorous—an abominable thing for a man to commend his ways; though his mode of living may not commend itself to others; though it may seem blank and colourless, thin and watery, devoid of expectation, and the hope of fame, name, and that kind of success which comes of the acquirement of riches, yet—and in a spirit of thankfulness be it said—the obscure and minor part the writer plays in the tragic-comedy of life affords gratification. He does what he likes to do. He frankly confesses that he sought isolation because of the lack of those qualities which make for dutiful citizenship, because of indifference to the ordinary enchantments of the kaleidoscopic world, not because of any lack of appreciation of the wisdom of the majority. He has dared to be what he is, rather than submit to be pulled this way and that on the rack of fashion and custom.

Remember that “the measure of choosing well is whether a man likes what he has chosen.” Other men have other ranks to take, other fates to command. Do not politicians and publicists; professional men and princes of trade; those who toil for others, with brain or hands; the charitable and the miserly; those who pine if removed from the noise and breath of the crowd; those who spend their days in meditation and study; those who live conscientiously every moment in “the gateway of the life eternal”; those who are at enmity to law and order; the


  ― 336 ―
honest toiler and the impostor, the thief and the rogue, each and all respectively find pleasure in the particular walk of life he elects to take? “Each to the favourite happiness attends.” When God gave manna to His people, every Israelite found in it what best pleased him. “The young tasted bread, the old honey, and the children oil.” No doubt an expert burglar feels as keen a sense of joy in the planning and execution of a deed of darkness demanding originality, skill, daring and resourcefulness, as does the humane surgeon in the performance of an operation for the salvation of a valuable life, or as does his lordship the bishop in the delivery of a homily overflowing with persuasive eloquence. The burglar has his appreciation of pleasure, and the others theirs; and so long as the pleasures of the individual are not immoral and dishonourable, do not trespass upon the rights and liberties of others, let each pursue that which allures.

In the long run he will find himself responsible to himself; and if his days have been ill spent, and his opportunities slighted, his the punishment and the remorse. But—

“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal—that is your success.”

previous
no next