A. L. (Arthur Lincoln) Haydon.

The trooper police of Australia; a record of mounted police work in the commonwealth from the earliest days of settlement to the present time online

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Online LibraryA. L. (Arthur Lincoln) HaydonThe trooper police of Australia; a record of mounted police work in the commonwealth from the earliest days of settlement to the present time → online text (page 22 of 32)
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tion. What place it will take in the federation of States
it is not hard to predict. Its natural resources are only half
understood. It is rich in pastoral land ; it offers induce-
ments to the planter of tobacco, tea, india-rubber, cotton and
other products ; and its mineral wealth of gold, silver, tin
and copper is undoubted. The intelligent observer of
Australian affairs, therefore, will watch the development of
the new province with the keenest interest.



284



CHAPTER XVI

THE ABORIGINES

Origin Physical characteristics Mental qualities Spears Sword v.
shield Native huts Art Corrobborees Superstitions " You bin
settled this time " Singing a man dead A misunderstanding In-
stances of fidelity A dark page of history Eloquent figures " All
gone ! dead ! " A point of view Tasmanian aborigines " The
Black Line " Myall Creek massacre A salutary lesson Queens-
land barbarities The aboriginal to-day Increase of half-castes
State problems.

IN the preceding chapters much reference has been made
to the natives of Australia. It is essential that some-
thing further should be said with regard to their history and
customs, in order that the reader may properly understand
the nature of the people with whom the mounted police
come so much in contact. We write and speak easily of
them as " the blackfellows," but there are many points of
difference between the tribes of one State and another, in
physique, in mental qualities and hi various other respects.
The origin of the native races of the continent is too pro-
found a subject for discussion here. It is in itself the text
of a whole volume. Most probably the bulk of the abori-
gines are of Melanesian stock, with infusions of blood from
India and parts of Asia. To speak of them as blacks is
not precisely correct. The majority of the tribes are of a
dark brown chocolate colour ; only a few here and there
approach the sable hue of the negro. As a rule the hair is
straight, differing from that of the now extinct Tasmanian

-285-



THE TROOPER POLICE

natives, who were frizzly-haired. Whether these Tasmanians
represented the original inhabitants of Australia is a moot
point in ethnology. It is not unlikely that they did, as they
were inferior racially to the blacks of the mainland.

Regarded from a physical standpoint the blackfellows
do not compare unfavourably with European peoples.
The Aruntas, an important tribe found in the central part
of the interior, average about five and a half feet in height.
Against these, however, are many tribes among whom the
standard of height is much nearer six feet. In the northern
districts, where the aboriginal is in his more primitive state,
one meets with numerous fine specimens of manhood. The
upper portions of the body are usually very well developed,
being indicative of great strength, but the legs are generally
slender. Several writers on the Australian natives mention
cases of actual giants, one blackfellow having been close
on seven feet in height. The evidence of the explorers,
Eyre, Mitchell and Leichhardt, among others, is instructive
in this respect.

Describing some of the tribes he encountered Eyre wrote :
" They were well-built, muscular men, average height five to
six feet, men with fine, round deep chests, indicating great
bodily strength, remarkably erect and upright hi their
carriage, with much natural grace and dignity of demeanour.
The eye is generally large, black, and expressive, with the
eyelashes long. When met for the first time in his native
wilds there is frequently a fearless intrepidity of manner, an
ingenuous openness of look, and a propriety of behaviour,
about the aboriginal inhabitant of Australia which makes his
appearance peculiarly prepossessing." According to Leich-
hardt, the Moreton Bay blacks were a fine race of men, tall
and well made, and their bodies individually, as well as the

286



THE ABORIGINES

groups which they formed, would have delighted the eye
of an artist.

In facial appearance the blacks vary considerably.
If we are to believe some observers, the general type is brutal
and repulsive ; others declare that good looks are not rare,
and that the features are usually well formed. This con-
flict of opinion is quite explicable. The aboriginal is a
human puzzle. In some parts he is negroid in type, with
thick lips, large mouth, and broad flattened nose. A des-
cription of a Victorian native runs thus : " The brow was
comparatively low and retreating, the eyebrows prominent
and shaggy, eyes fairly large, and the white of a smoky
yellowish tinge ; the nose large and broad, the nostrils wide ;
the mouth large ; the lips thick ; the cheekbones high ;
small and receding jaw, somewhat projecting ; the teeth
large. The trunk in front was completely covered with
dense hair, which spread over the shoulders and down the
outside of the upper arm. The beard was thick, long and
curly, with a tendency to fall in ringlets." Elsewhere one
meets with more pleasing characteristics. A high rounded
forehead, with straight well-shaped nose, and full, but not
thick, lips, combine to stamp the face as belonging to a
totally different race.

To generalise, therefore, on this point is impossible.
One must regard the natives as a heterogeneous people, and
judge their physical standard accordingly. A distinguished
ethnologist has remarked that a circle of five hundred miles
round Port Essington, on the northern coast near Melville
Island, would enclose an equal number of tribes, varying in
colour from deep black to the reddish yellow of the Poly-
nesians, and presenting very many diversified racial types.

Although in the north the blacks show a marked in-
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THE TROOPER POLICE

fusion of Malay and Papuan blood, they cannot be identified
with either of these peoples. Nor are they, generally speak-
ing, Negroes or Mongolians. It is highly probable, as Pro-
fessor Keane avers, that they are Caucasian in origin and
more particularly allied to the Dravidians of India. At
various periods in their history there have been intermixtures
with other races, and thus have arisen the numerous wide
points of difference. We may not unreasonably assume,
taking Australia as a whole, that the aboriginal population
has sprung from at least two human stocks, one Melanesian,
and the other Caucasian of later date.

It is when we come to consider the mental qualities of the
Australian blackfellow that we find ourselves justified in
ranking him low in the social scale. He lives in a tribe,
or family, in which the leadership is not hereditary but is
assumed by the ablest man. He has no art of writing and a
pictorial art of very crude form. He possesses little sense
of number, seldom being able to count beyond five or ten.
Anything above this simple computation is expressed by
" many." An amusing illustration of this weakness is
often quoted. A blackfellow, who had accompanied his
master on a trip to Sydney, was, on his return, questioned
by the boundary-rider, " Well, Jacky, did you see many
people in Sydney ? " Jacky gasped. " My word ! Tousands !
Millions ! very nearly fifty ! " Furthermore, the native
leads a nomadic (existence, living principally on the game of
the land kangaroo, wombats, opossums, birds, lizards, and
the like and knows nothing of agriculture. It is a wretched
existence on the whole, for the country is not one that yields
an abundance of food. The blackfellow, in short, is more
primitive and animal than perhaps any other savage race
on the globe.

388



THE ABORIGINES

As becomes a people living so purely in the wild state
the aborigines have developed certain arts and crafts to a
degree which bespeaks a very high intelligence. One need
only refer to their marvellous powers of tracking human
beings and animals, for example. This is a subject which
demands fuller treatment in its own place. Hardly less
wonderful is it that so debased beings as the blacks should
have discovered the principle of the boomerang. In the
construction of their other weapons, spears, clubs and
throwing sticks of various kinds, they have advanced little
beyond neolithic man. Before the coming of the white men
to their country they made their spear-heads, knives and
axes entirely of stone, bone or wood. They had no knowledge
of metals. Their domestic utensils, too, are primitive and
crude, being mostly made from skins and reeds.

The war-spear of the native is longer than that used in
hunting game. It is often eight or nine feet long. For
these weapons the thin stem of the eucalyptus is selected,
the wood being straightened and hardened by intense heat.
The heads will be of quartz or flint, shaped by means of chip-
ping stones, or of glass or metal which its owner has learnt
to use. In the throwing of his spears the blackfellow displays
remarkable dexterity. He has evolved a throwing-stick,
called a woomera, by means of which he can hurl a spear
from sixty to a hundred yards with great precision. In
battle the warriors protect their bodies with small wooden
shields, but they are quite equal to catching a spear in full
flight and throwing it back at the enemy.

As an instance of aboriginal skill in combat the following
story may be told. It is vouched for by the mounted police
officer who enjoyed the experience. He says : " I was out
with a party of troopers in search of some blacks who had,

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THE TROOPER POLICE

been committing depredations in the flocks of the settlers
near Port Fairy. While crossing a valley in front of my men
I came face to face with the chief of those of whom I was in
search. He, too, was alone, and made an immediate attack
by throwing his spears, which all missed me. The rain had
wetted the priming in my pistols, and as they were useless I
rode up to cut him down with my sword ; but such was his
astonishing dexterity hi defending himself with his shield
(only a narrow piece of wood), that beyond a few nicks
of the fingers I was unable to touch him. Several times I
tried to ride him down, but he doubled himself under his
shield like a ball and the horse jumped over him. After
being apparently ridden down several times he drove his
' liangle ' so firmly into the front of the horse's nose that
he was unable to pull it out again. The horse bled so freely
that I was compelled to abandon the contest, and the native
escaped. He was not only a brave man, but a savage of
splendid physique, with a chest like a bullock's. I heard
afterwards that he was very proud of the sword cuts on his
shield."

In detail of construction and ornamentation native
weapons vary a great deal. Some tribes fashion their
shields and waddies (wooden clubs thrown by the hand) very
roughly ; others expend no little time and care hi carving
patterns upon the handles. Similarly the so-called wooden
swords may be plain or elaborate in design. Spear-heads
take several forms, being barbed, half-barbed and double-
barbed as desired. Without going into particulars, it may
be said that the weapons of the Queensland blacks are
superior to those of Victoria and the more western States.
Their spears, which are sometimes nine and a half feet long,
are more or less coloured near the ends with red and white

290



THE ABORIGINES

clay. For the purpose of binding on the barbs the sinew of
a wallaby's tail or cord made from the bark of a tree is used.
The binding will then be covered with bees-wax or a pre-
paration of the gum of the grass tree.

A feature of more civilised tribes is the erection of
suitable dwelling-places. The low state of the Australian
aboriginal in the bush is marked by the simple form of hut
which he builds for shelter. A mia mia, or wurley, is hastily
constructed with twigs and bushes and covered with bark or
turf. It is only intended to be a " break-wind," a tempor-
ary residence, for the occupants may be expected to move to
another spot in the course of a few weeks or even days.
Only a few tribes have acquired the art of erecting more
substantial and permanent huts. The native of the far
north has profited by the example set him by more advanced
people, as the Papuans, and has learnt how to build himself
a roomy, comfortable house of wood and clay. At the
other extreme we have the cave-dwellers of certain districts,
leading a life that is almost devoid of creature comforts.

The blackfellow, we have noted, has no high sense of art.
This is true, but, as is the case with many savage tribes, he
delights in ornamenting his own body with pigments. Red
and white are the principal colours used. In war time the
native smeared with stripes of red ochre and white clay on
chest, arms and legs, and with his hair similarly coloured, is
a hideous object. When in mourning or prepared for a
corrobboree he is decorated with white only. The early
explorers were frequently confronted with parties of blacks
in all the glory of their war-paint. On his first journey along
the Murray, Sturt once came upon a large number of natives
thus attired. They presented a dreadful spectacle, he says.
Some, who had marked their ribs, thighs, and faces with a

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THE TROOPER POLICE

white pigment, looked like skeletons ; whilst others were
daubed over with red and yellow ochre, and their bodies
shone with the grease that had been rubbed over them. In
the background were many who had the appearance of
having had buckets of whitewash emptied over their heads.
A favourite pattern among the men is that of a snake
twined round the leg or extending along the arm. The
custom of painting the body with circles and squares of
more or less regular design is not now so common.

In this crude, barbaric form of self-adornment one
object in view probably is to strike terror into the heart of an
enemy. Hideously painted masks are worn by some tribes
for this purpose. It is actuated also by a natural personal
vanity, while its insistence in religious and other tribal
ceremonies gives it another distinct significance. In the
few cave paintings executed by the aborigines or their more
primitive predecessors we find the same bold colouring.
Note the striking figures observed by Grey in Western
Australia. At the entrance to a cave he was startled to
see what he took to be a gigantic head bending down from
a rock and staring at him.

" It would be impossible," he writes, " to convey in words
an adequate idea of this uncouth and savage figure. The
dimensions were length of head and face, 2 ft. ; width
of face, 17 in. ; length from bottom of face to navel, 2 ft. 6 in.
Its head was encircled by bright red rays, something like
the rays which one sees proceeding from the sun when de-
picted on the signboard of a public-house ; inside this came
a broad strip of very brilliant red, which was coped by lines
of white, but both inside and outside of this red space were
narrow stripes of a still deeper red, intended probably to
mark its boundaries ; the face was painted vividly white,

292



THE ABORIGINES

and the eyes black, being, however, surrounded by red and
yellow lines ; the body, hands, and arms were outlined in
red, the body being curiously painted with red stripes and
bars.

" Upon the rock which formed the left-hand wall of this
cave, and which partly faced you on entering, was a very
singular painting, vividly coloured, representing four
heads joined together. From the mild expression of the
countenances I imagined them to be females, and they ap-
peared to be drawn in such a manner and in such a position
as to look up at the principal figure which I have described ;
each had a very remarkable head-dress, coloured with a
deep bright blue, and one had a necklace on. Both of the
lower figures had a sort of dress painted with red in the same
manner as that of the principal figure, and one of them had
a band round her waist. Each of the four faces was marked
by a totally distinct expression of countenance ; and although
none of them had mouths, two, I thought, were otherwise
rather good looking. The whole painting was executed on
a white ground, and its dimensions were total length of
painting, 3 ft. 6| in. ; breadth across the two upper heads,
2 ft. 6 in. ; breadth across the two lower ones, 3 ft. 1 in."

Among the numerous other drawings which the cave
contained were figures of men and kangaroos, some with an
obvious attempt at humour ; but the majority were rough
and badly executed and not always recognisable. As
examples of aboriginal art, however, they are worthy of our
attention, the more so as only two other instances of cave
painting in Australia are on record.

The effect produced by a corrobboree with its painted
attendants is striking in the extreme. This spectacular
dance is not always of a religious character, but is simply the

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THE TROOPER POLICE

expression of the savage's delight in play. It is dramatic
and often variable at the will of the performers, fresh move-
ments being constantly introduced. The " figures " executed
may represent scenes of the chase, when some of the men
will act the part of kangaroos or emus. If it is a " war "
dance, then a mimic battle will take place with wonderful
realism. In one instance it was a representation of a
cattle raid that was staged. First were seen the cattle
(personated by natives) lying down among the trees. Then
came the raiders, stealing noiselessly through the bush
with their spears and leaping suddenly upon their prey.
After the performance of killing and cutting up some car-
cases had been gone through, the sound of horsemen was
heard. The spectators then witnessed a thrilling conflict
between the cattle-raiders and another party of blacks,
who were intended to represent white stockmen, the drama
concluding with the rout of the latter, to everyone's huge
delight. As a rule males are the chief performers, the women
keeping on the outskirts and assisting to supply the vocal
music.

A corrobboree is held at night, in a piece of the bush
specially selected for the purpose, and fires are lighted to
illumine the scene. There is no limit to the number con-
cerned. There may be two or three hundred natives, or a
mere handful. All, however, are fantastically painted and
adorned with white perpendicular lines on face and chest, and
with feathers and bunches of grass attached to the hair,
wrists and ankles. The dancers are nude except for the
few ornaments they wear, and carry light wooden clubs or
spears with which they beat time on the ground. Apart from
these performers are the singers, who keep up a monotonous
chant. When the dance begins the leaders advance, and

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THE ABORIGINES

their followers form and reform in various figures, shouting,
singing, and stamping their feet in repetition. In many
one may say most cases these movements are concerted,
so that a certain order is maintained. But it is not often
that a corrobboree dance is identical with a previous one
in every respect. It is usually in the dances having a
religious, or rather, superstitious significance as the well-
known " Molongo " that we meet with one common to
several tribes.

Savage peoples are invariably steeped in superstition.
With the Australian aboriginal the world particularly
the world of darkness is controlled by evil spirits. This
phase, again, is one that might be enlarged upon inde-
finitely. Along with this primitive belief in ghosts and
sorceries one finds a curious fatalism among the black-
fellows. It is common knowledge, for instance, that a
native who takes it into his head for some reason that he is
going to die, will almost certainly verify the prediction.
A mounted police officer told the writer of a case in point.
Charlie, a tracker who had not been long in the police
service, one day got injured by falling on a sharp-pointed
stake. The wound was a nasty one, but not at all dangerous.
While the bleeding was being stopped a trooper foolishly
remarked, " My word, Charlie, you bin settled this time ! "
Charlie took this jest in all seriousness, and regarded him-
self as doomed. Next morning he was found dead in the
camp.

In certain parts of the country the blacks carry " sug-
gestion " so far as to actually " sing a man dead." An
individual who has trespassed against tribal law in some
unpardonable way is singled out for punishment. Headed
by the old women and the witch-doctors, a large portion

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THE TROOPER POLICE

of the tribe set out to find the offender and commence to
sing his death dirge. The luckless victim accepts the situ-
ation and goes away into the bush to die.

That the black is not without a sense of humour is
evident to any one who has intimate knowledge of him.
He has the simple enjoyment of a child in the games
peculiar to his race. But it is not always safe to joke with
him. The savage mind is quick to take offence, even
where none is intended, and passion is easily aroused. An
old settler tells an amusing story of how unwittingly he
insulted a native servant of his. Wananna had been away
from the station for some weeks ; when he returned he was
accompanied by a young gin, his newly-married wife. As
the two approached the master hailed the black with,
" Well, old man, and how have you been getting on ? " In
a moment Wananna's grinning face changed expression, and,
springing forward, he seized the other by the throat. The
black was in a terrible rage. " You no call me old man,"
he said again and again. To have such an epithet applied
to him in the presence of his young wife was an intolerable
insult. And it was some time before the station owner could
make him understand the meaning of the familiar term.

Such, then, is the Australian blackfellow as we know him
to-day. To what has been said above it must be added that
he is notoriously treacherous and untrustworthy. The
mounted police themselves are always wary with their
black trackers, for years of service with the force will not
eradicate the instinct to turn on the white man and kill if
opportunity presents itself and there is anything to be
gained thereby. Over confidence in the natives, coupled
with carelessness, has brought about many a tragedy in the
bush.

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THE ABORIGINES

At the same time there are not a few outstanding in-
stances of fidelity on the part of the blacks which would
appear to give the lie to the general acceptance of their
character. One recalls the faithful Wylie, the companion
of Eyre during the latter 's journey along the shores of the
Great Australian Bight ; Jackey-Jackey, who tended poor
Kennedy to the last and buried the dead explorer in the
scrub ; and Warburton's boy, Charlie, who did so much to
save his party from a terrible fate in the desert. Of equal
interest is Sir John Forrest's tribute to his faithful com-
panion, "Billy Noongale," a Beverley native who accom-
panied the explorer from Perth to Adelaide in 1870. These
examples of loyalty, however, are rare. They only go
to show that in certain conditions the black is capable of
displaying the finest qualities. As a rule his attachment is
personal. The police know this. A native tracker con-
siders himself the servant of an individual trooper, not of
the force as a whole. Despite Wylies and Jackey-Jackeys the
aboriginal in the main does not belie his unsavoury reputation.

It remains now to speak of the treatment of the blacks
by the white men. This brings us to a dark page in Aus-
tralian history, a page one would willingly blot out if it
were possible. But no account of the aborigines would be
complete without this long tale of cruelty and oppression.
The process of elimination was rapid in the early years of
the colony. Let the official figures speak for themselves.
In 1800 the native population was estimated at 150,000 ;
it was probably more, for the first settlers could make but
a rough computation. Half a century later the number
was about 55,000. Since then they have been steadily
diminishing year by year, and their ultimate extinction as a
race is inevitable.

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THE TROOPER POLICE

In his volume, The Living Races of Mankind, the
Rev. H. N. Hutchinson gives a striking illustration of the
changes wrought by a few years. He says : " When Mr.
Lloyd first landed in Geelong, in 1837, the Barrabool tribe
numbered nearly three hundred, and fine-looking fellows
they were. When he went away in 1853, there were not
many left. Seeing so few natives about, he began to make
inquiries about some of his dark friends of early days.
The reply he received is so pathetic that it may be given as
far as possible in the very words : ' Aha, Mitter Looyed !
Ballyyang dead, Jaga-jaga dead, Panigerong dead (and
many others they named). The stranger white man came



Online LibraryA. L. (Arthur Lincoln) HaydonThe trooper police of Australia; a record of mounted police work in the commonwealth from the earliest days of settlement to the present time → online text (page 22 of 32)