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  ― 412 ―

Of the Aborigines.

There is no subject connected with New South Wales, or Australia, less understood in England than the character and condition of the aboriginal natives. They have been described as the lowest in the scale of humanity, yet I found those who accompanied me superior in penetration and judgment to the white men composing my party. Their means of subsistence and their habits, are both extremely simple; but they are adjusted with admirable fitness to the few resources afforded by such a country, in its wild state. What these resources are, and how they are economised by the natives, can only be learnt by an extensive acquaintance with the interior; and the knowledge of a few simple facts, bearing on this subject, may not be wholly devoid of interest.

Fire, grass, kangaroos, and human inhabitants, seem all dependent on each other for existence in Australia; for any one of these being wanting, the others could no longer continue. Fire is necessary to burn the grass, and form those open forests, in which we find the large forest-kangaroo; the native applies that fire to the grass at certain seasons, in order that a young green crop may subsequently spring up, and so attract and enable him to kill or take the kangaroo with nets. In summer, the burning of long grass also discloses vermin, birds' nests, &c., on which the females and children, who chiefly burn the grass, feed. But for this simple process, the Australian woods had probably contained as thick a jungle as those of New Zealand or America, instead of the open forests in which the white men


  ― 413 ―
now find grass for their cattle, to the exclusion of the kangaroo, which is well-known to forsake all those parts of the colony where cattle run. The intrusion therefore of cattle is by itself sufficient to produce the extirpation of the native race, by limiting their means of existence; and this must work such extensive changes in Australia as never entered into the contemplation of the local authorities. The squatters, it is true, have also been obliged to burn the old grass occasionally on their runs; but so little has this been understood by the Imperial Government that an order against the burning of the grass was once sent out, on the representations of a traveller in the south. The omission of the annual periodical burning by natives, of the grass and young saplings, has already produced in the open forest lands nearest to Sydney, thick forests of young trees, where, formerly, a man might gallop without impediment, and see whole miles before him. Kangaroos are no longer to be seen there; the grass is choked by underwood; neither are there natives to burn the grass, nor is fire longer desirable there amongst the fences of the settler. The occupation of the territory by the white race seems thus to involve, as an inevitable result, the extirpation of the aborigines; and it may well be pleaded, in extenuation of any adverse feelings these may show towards the white men, that these consequences, although so little considered by the intruders, must be obvious to the natives, with their usual acuteness, as soon as cattle enter on their territory. The foregoing journal affords instances of the habits of the natives in these respects. Silently, but surely, that extirpation of aborigines is going forward in grazing


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districts, even where protectors of aborigines have been most active; and in Van Diemen's Land, the race has been extirpated, even before that of the kangaroos, under an agency still more destructive.

It would be but natural, even admitting these aboriginal inhabitants to be, as men, “only a little lower than the angels,” that they should feel disposed, when urged by hunger, to help themselves to some of the cattle or sheep that had fattened on the green pastures kept clear for kangaroos from time immemorial by the fires of the natives and their forefathers; but such cases have been, nevertheless, of rare occurrence, partly because much human life has been sacrificed to the manes of sheep or cattle. No orders of the local government can prevent the perpetration of these atrocities. Government Orders have been put forth in formal obedience to injunctions from home, and the policy of the local authorities has not been influenced by less humane motives.

It would ill become me to disparage the character of the aborigines, for one of that unfortunate race has been my “guide, companion, councillor, and friend,” on the most eventful occasions during this last Journey of Discovery. Yuranigh was small and slender in person, but (as the youth Dicky said, and I believed,) he was of most determined courage and resolution. His intelligence and his judgment rendered him so necessary to me, that he was ever at my elbow, whether on foot or horseback. Confidence in him was never misplaced. He well knew the character of all the white men of the party. Nothing escaped his penetrating eye and quick ear. His brief but oracular sentences were found to be


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sage, though uttered by one deemed a savage; and his affection and kindness towards the little native Dicky seemed quite paternal. The younger was the willing servant of the elder; who obliged him to wash and clean himself before he allowed him to sleep near him. Yuranigh was particularly clean in his person, frequently washing, and his glossy shining black hair, always well-combed, gave him an uncommonly clean and decent appearance. He had promised himself and Dicky a great reception on returning to Sydney, and was perhaps disappointed. Dicky had never before seen houses, and Yuranigh took much delight in showing him the theatre, and whatever else was likely to gratify his curiosity.

The boy was all questions and observation. I was at a loss how to make these natives comfortable; or suitably reward their services. The new Governor kindly granted the small gratuity asked for Yuranigh, and Dicky became a favourite in my family. Both these natives loathed the idea of returning to the woods, as savages; and, as if captivated with the scenes of activity around them, both expressed a desire “to work and live like white men.” This shows that, when treated on a footing of equality, as these had been in my party, the Australian native might be induced to take part in the labours of white men; but at the first annoyance, the old freedom of the bush seems to overmaster their resolutions, and attracts them back to it. Yuranigh was engaged (for wages, and under regular agreement,) as stockman to a gentleman who had cattle in the north, and he took an affecting leave of my family. I carried Dicky to my house in the country, with the intention of having him educated there with my children, provided


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a tutor could be found, which seemed doubtful when I left the colony. It has been long a favourite project with me, to educate an aboriginal native, as a husband for Ballandella, and that their children should form, at least, one civilized family of the native race, upon which the influence of education and religious principles might be fairly tried. This has never yet been done, although the experiment is one of much interest. It seems scarcely practicable, except by withdrawing the married couple to another country, where the children might be educated, and kept clear of all predilections for a life in the woods. I thought of sending such a pair to some congenial climate, such as the South of Europe, where they should be taught the whole art of cultivating the grape, fig, and olive, as well as the management of other productions of similar latitudes in that hemisphere. They might return to Australia with their family in ten or twelve years; when, in speaking a different language from those about them, they would be less open to the influences that interpose between the employers and the employed in that colony; while the utility of their employment might be of some benefit to it. Were this experiment to succeed, the decent and comfortable condition afforded by industry might raise the aborigines in their own estimation, and inspire them with hope to attain to a state of equality with the white men, which, without having some such examples set before them, must seem to them unattainable. The half-clad native finds himself in a degraded position in the presence of the white population: a mere outcast, obliged to beg a little bread. In his native woods, the “noble savage” knows no such degrading necessity.—All there participate in,


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and have a share of, Nature's gifts. These, scanty though they be, are open to all. Experience here has proved, and the history of the aborigines of other countries has shown, the absurdity of expecting that any men, “as free as Nature first made man,” will condescend to leave their woods, and come under all the restraints imposed by civilisation, purely from choice, unless they can do so on terms of the most perfect equality. Surely it behoves the nation so active in the suppression of slavery to consider betimes, in taking up new countries, how the aboriginal races can be preserved; and how the evil effects of spirituous liquors, of gunpowder, and of diseases more inimical to them than even slavery, may be counteracted.

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