Carl Lumholtz.

Among cannibals; an account of four years' travels in Australia and of camp life with the aborigines of Queensland online

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utensils which Mr. Gardiner had provided them with. They
could be seen everywhere, even in the kitchen, where they
always tried to keep on good terms with the cook, but they
were not allowed to enter the sitting-room.

Mr. Gardiner liked to have these savages about him, still
it was no easy matter to manage them. When he was with
them, one would not think that he had much heart, for he
addressed them in a harsh tone, and scolded them terribly
when they had done anything wrong. If the camp became
too unruly, he sometimes had to go out in the night and
frighten them with a rifle shot. This was quite necessary in
order to maintain discipline, though he was in reality good-

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ness itself ; he even protected their women against the white
working men on the neighbouring plantation.

It cannot be denied that he was too liberal toward the
blacks. They were quite spoiled, and did not appreciate his
disinterestedness ; the result was that they became bold and
aggressive. He told me himself that they would steal from
him whenever they got a chance, and everything had to be
kept under lock and key ; he could never let the axes and
knives which they used lie out of doors, and once a black
man even broke in and stole. That, however, was an un-
common occurrence.

Upon the whole their civilisation was of a rather low
order. Eleven days before my arrival they had killed and
eaten a man of another tribe on some hills near the farm.
They returned triumphant, and boasted of their inhuman
act. When they were abused for having eaten a man,
they gradually became silent, and understood that it was
something which the whites did not do and which accordingly
was not right. This is always the habit of the Australian
natives : as long as they remain in their native condition
they make no secret of their cannibalism, but continued
intercourse with the whites teaches them to regard it as
something which is not covime il faut. Yet they keep up
this infamous custom in secret before abandoning it alto-

I was continually with the natives, both during the day
and in the evening, hunting animals, and I was very much
amused by the companionship of these children of nature.
The blacks of Herbert river gave me from the very beginning
an increased interest in the Australian race.

The boomerang was rare in these regions, for in the
large scrubs there is no use for it. On the other hand I
frequently saw another weapon, the " nolla-noUa " or club, the
warlike weapon of the Australian native most commonly in
use. It is a piece of hard and heavy wood sharpened to a
point at both ends. One end is thick, and tapers gradually
to the other end, which is made rough in order to give the
' hand a more secure hold ; in using the weapon the heavy
end is thrown back before it is hurled.

No great pains are taken in the making of these clubs.

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The majority of them are about two feet long. At a dis-
tance of ten to twelve yards the native will hit an object
with a tolerable degree of certainty, but only small animals
can be killed with this weapon.

As a weapon for hunting, the club is also of great service
in another way. The small
end is used for digging up
the ground and loosening it
when the native wants to
bring out bandicoots, rats,
roots, and similar things.
With it he searches for eggs
in the remarkable mounds
of the talegalla. With his
nolla-nolla he pounds at the
trees to learn whether they
are sound, and picks out
the larvae from the decayed

One day an egg of a
cassowary was brought to
me ; this bird, although it
is nearly akin to the ostrich
and emu, does not, like the
latter, frequent the open
plains, but the thick brush-
wood. The Australian cas-
sowary is found in Northern
Queensland, from Herbert
river northwards, in all the
large vine -scrubs on the
banks of the rivers and on
the high mountains of the

For some time I made daily visits to the river bank and
caught the beautiful green and blue Ortltoptera, which from
ten to eleven o'clock in the morning were found flitting among
the trees and bushes.

In the vicinity of Mr. Gardiner's farm there were both
coffee and tobacco plantations, where the plants throve very

" NOLLA-NOLLAS," CLUBS (j size).

a, c, from Central Queensland, near
Rockhampton ; b, from Northern Queens-
land, Herbert Vale. The thicker end of
that marked c is usually stained dark brown.

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well. According to the owner's idea, however, the proper
varieties had not yet been found. He had a tobacco factory
near the plantation, but the tobacco produced here was so
inferior in quality that the more fastidious even of the blacks
disdained it Tobacco thrives very well everywhere in
Northern Queensland, and like cinchona, quinine, arrow-
root, rice, and cotton, which wherever planted have thriven
well, its cultivation is doubtless destined to become an import-
ant industry. It is only necessary to find the variety adapted
to the climate. It requires great care, and the owner told
me that he was obliged to look after every plant daily.

Although my visit to Mr. Gardiner's farm was both
interesting and agreeable, I longed to get to my destination.
Originally I intended to go there on foot and get some of
the blacks to carry my baggage, but Mr. Gardiner surprised
me one day by offering me an old horse (Kassik) which he
had kept in pasture for a year and a half on the other side
of the river. I was permitted to keep him as a pack-horse
as long as I pleased. He likewise placed a saddle-horse at
my disposal for a limited time. I felt very grateful for this
liberal offer, which I accepted with pleasure, as it would
relieve me from many difficulties.

Cheerful and happy, I started on my journey in beautiful,
sunny spring weather, following the river upwards. All about
me was fresh and green. Light green patches of grass and
thriving vine-scrubs, by the side of brooks and streams, which
crossed my path on their course down to the river, passed
in pleasing succession. The dark green vine-scrubs which
extended along the banks on both sides of the river gave the
landscape its most conspicuous character, and contrasted well
with the light green spots. The bottom of the valley was
flat and fertile. Before me I saw continually the scrub-clad
hills, the foot of which I knew to be my destination. It
was on these mountains that I based so many hopes. It is
true that Mr. Scott, the owner of this deserted cattle station,
which he had kindly invited me to use as my headquarters,
had warned me that I was coming to a poor place, where
I must renounce every comfort. I was well aware of
this, but was prepared to submit to various kinds of
privation if I could but get the opportunity of living amid

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this instructive Nature, where I anticipated such great results.
It was impossible to be melancholy in the midst of such
wonderful surroundings ! All was bright and inspiring.

On the evening of the second day, as I was approaching
Herbert Vale, I constantly heard a peculiar whistling sound
in the grass, which I could not comprehend. On dismounting,
I found that it came from an infinite number of small grass-
hoppers which were not yet fully developed. They retreated
before my horses, and were so numerous that the blades of
grass literally bent under their weight Herbert river is
sometimes visited by vast swarms of grasshoppers, which do
considerable damage to the young sugar-cane.

Darkness set in, but I continued to ride three-quarters of
an hour after sunset. Several times I was obliged to dismount
in order to look for the direction of the path. When at
length I could no longer find my way in the darkness of
the night, I suddenly scented smoke, and after going a few
steps in that direction I discovered that the grass had been
recently burnt Far away, the stumps of trees still shone
with fresh embers. Fortunately I came across a camp
of blacks near the river's bank. To the great terror of the
natives I entered their camp, but quieted them immediately
by showing them tobacco, for two pieces of which currency
I induced one of them to be my guide to Herbert Vale.

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Headquarters at Herbert Vale — Civilised blacks — Domestic life — Nelly the
cook — Cats — Swimming in fat — My bill of fare — Killing the bullock —
— Strong stomachs and bad fare.

Arriving at the entrance to the yard, I met a white object,
which proved to be a Kanaka in his Sunday clothes. He
took my horses under his care and called the superintendent
of the station, who was an old white man. A bureau, a
couple of wooden chairs, and a camp-bed constituted the entire
furniture of my room. The bed, in which I slept exceed-
ingly well, possessed the unexampled luxury of two thick
canvas sheets, and I had been prudent enough to bring with
me a heavy double woollen blanket. At breakfast I asked
the old man to introduce me to some of the blacks, whose
assistance I needed, for I could accomplish nothing without
them. I therefore also inquired whether there were any
" civilised " ones among them. The answer was, that for the
last two years he had permitted them to come to the station,
and consequently some of them might have the right to this
title. To know that they will be killed if they murder a
white man, to be fond of wearing the garments and ornaments
of white people, and to smoke tobacco, is all that is required
in order to be styled " civilised " among the Australian
blacks, though sometimes they do learn a little more than
that. These so-called " civilised " blacks look upon their
savage brethren with more or less contempt, and call them

^ A tree {Acacia pendula) which grows extensively in the less civilised districts
is called by the Europeans myall. This word was soon applied by the whites as
a term for the wild blacks who frequented these large remote myall woods.
Strange to say, the blacks soon adopted this term themselves and used it as an
epithet of abuse, and hence it soon came to mean a person of no culture.

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We had not finished our breakfast when we saw their
heads peeping through the gate ; — all were men armed with
spears, as they were just going out to hunt the wallaby.
Most of them were slender
and tolerably well built,
though on the average small.
Their height varied greatly.
One of them, a lean and
slender fellow, called by the
old man Tommy, who I
afterwards learned had five
wives, was distinguished for
his stature ; but he was
scarcely over 5 feet 8 inches
in height. Their faces varied
conspicuously, some having
longer noses than I had ob-
served before among the
Australian natives, but very
flat ; all were entirely naked.
Some of them wore about
.their necks a sort of yellow
band made of hollow straws
cut into small pieces. This :

band was wound several peculiar position of natives
times round the neck.

The old superintendent pointed out one of these blacks,
called Jacky, who knew a few English words. He was
a square-built, well-proportioned man, in good physical
condition, with a cunning but good-natured face. As
he was considered the most civilised person of the lot,
I tried to make him explain to the others that I desired
to obtain . all things creeping on the ground or flying in
the air, and that I would give them tobacco for what
they brought me. I also wanted one of them to go
with me and find tshukki-tshukki. This word is used
to the civilised blacks to indicate birds. Jacky said he
would "belong to me" to-morrow, but now they were all
going out hunting ; he added that they would bring me
something when they returned in the evening. Jacky was

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the only one with whom I could talk ; the others were

I observed that some rested in a most peculiar position,
a habit which I have often noticed since then. They stood
on one foot, and placed the sole of the other on the inside
of the thigh a little above the knee. The whole person was
easily supported by a spear (p. 77)}

The blacks left us, and I took this opportunity of
studying my surroundings. Herbert Vale, which belongs to
the Scott Brothers, had been abandoned as a cattle station,
because the soil along the lower part of the river proved to
be so excellent for sugar- growing that it rose in value
and became too expensive for cattle-raising. The English-
man always knows how to make himself comfortable, so the
station had comparatively good houses, and for this reason
the owners had left an old white man in charge of the
property. His chief duty was to keep the blacks from
setting fire to the houses when they burned the grass while

Around the whole property there was a natural hedge
of sharp thorns. Passing through a little gate we came to
a two-storied wooden house painted red, the first floor
of which was used for kitchen and dining-room. The
kitchen was quite primitive, having neither floor nor door.
The main building, a low one-storied house, stood a few steps
farther to the west nearer the river.

On the side facing Herbert river I had access from my
room to a spacious verandah, from which there was a fine
view far up the river. Besides these two buildings, a large
store-house, in which the superintendent kept a supply of
flour, sugar, tea, and tobacco, gave the impression of wealth.

Mr. Scott had made a large garden, which now unfor-
tunately was in an entirely dilapidated condition, as the old
superintendent made no use of it ; the only thing he culti-
vated being some sweet-potatoes (Batatas edulis). The only
care which the garden received was that the grass was mown
now and then when it became too high, in order to keep
it from smothering the trees. In spite of the miserable

^ This custom also prevails among the inhabitants of the Soudan and the
White Nile district. See James's Soudan.

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condition of the garden it was a pleasure to see that even
in these uncivilised regions there existed a taste for the
beauties and comforts of life, and not simply a love of money.
The cheerful houses among the thriving trees could not fail
to gladden the traveller, whose eyes in this part of the
country rarely witness other than primitive cabins of bark.
In Northern Queensland it is even more rare to find things
done simply for comfort than it is farther south ; farther
west and north the country becomes still more wild and
uncivilised. The desire to earn money seems to monopolise
everything, and there is no time to think of such a luxury as
a garden. Of course occasionally a bed of cabbage, carrots,
sweet -potatoes, and the like, might be found, but fruit or
shady trees are looked for in vain.

In the middle of the garden stood a bread-tree, but it
did not thrive ; this was also the case with a few cocoanut-
palms. Conquat, loquat, and guava-trees, on the other hand,
bear excellent fruit. A granadilla, which twined itself grace-
fully round an old fig-tree, furnished us for Christmas with
a small amount of palatable fruit. A part of the garden
might be called an orange-orchard, which bore oranges in
abundance, but, alas, they were, chiefly from want of care,
too sour to be eaten. The mango-tree yielded the best fruit
to be found in the whole garden.

Herbert Vale lies about forty miles above the mouth
of Herbert river, i8° S. lat ; its rainfall is about ninety
inches annually. The locality is exceedingly beautiful,
occupying a high plain on the eastern bank of the river where
the latter makes a bend. The bottom of the river valley
is very flat, and dotted with grass and brushwood. In the
distance in almost every direction appear mountainous
uplands covered to the very horizon with dense scrubs,
now and then broken by an opening, through which pic-
turesque waterfalls may be seen dashing down the hillside,
greatly enlivening the sombre groves. The streams which
form these waterfalls often unite and empty into Herbert
river, and along their whole course they are bordered with
scrub on both sides. The mountains are the same as those
extending hundreds of miles northward to Cape York.

In the afternoon the natives returned, but, alas, it was a

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disagreeable surprise to find what they had brought for
me — the thigh and tail of a kangaroo — in their estimation
the most valuable thing they could procure. It was always
difficult to make them understand what I wanted. I suc-
ceeded better after I had coaxed them to tell me what
animals they knew and what they called them. Notwith-
standing the fact that they knew they would be well paid
for what they might bring, they rarely found anything of
interest ; they were too lazy and too stupid to care for any-
thing beyond the present moment If my efforts were to pro-
duce any result, I would have to go with them myself, and stay
with them early and late, well supplied with tobacco, a small
amount of which will induce them to do anything in their
power. For some time I succeeded in keeping one man,
who accompanied me on all my tours. Thus I made
excursions in the neighbourhood of Herbert Vale until
towards the close of October, always attended by the blacks.

I was deeply interested in the study of the Australian
natives, who are supposed to be the lowest order of the
human race. I went with them on their excursions through
the dense scrubs ; I admired their skill in climbing the tall
gum-trees ; and wondered at their keen and trained senses,
by which they discovered animals in the most, surprising
manner. We hunted the cassowary or dug out from the
earth bandicoots and Dasyuridce — not a day passed on
which we did not go out on some hunting expedition ; in
short, I was constantly with them, and frequently spent the
evenings in their camp, which, as a rule, was pitched near
the station. As I gradually became able to make myself
understood, my interest in this remarkable and most primitive
race of people increased.

Mr. Scott's keeper at the station was a peevish, conceited
old man, who spent most of his time sleeping in a sort of
cot which he had placed on the verandah. He had left the
care of the house entirely to a Kanaka. This latter had
purchased from the tribe in the neighbourhood of Herbert
Vale a girl, Nelly, for his wife, and the main burden of
housekeeping was put upon her. The only thing that the
Kanaka did himself was to milk the cow in the morning,
bake the damper, and chop the fuel for the kitchen. There

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was not much variety in our bill of fare: salt beef and
damper, damper and salt beef, were the standing dishes at
all three meals. On two occasions a chicken was killed,
which was prepared in the plainest manner ; the head being
chopped off, it was stripped of its feathers, and at once
put into the kettle to boil. For a time we also had sweet-
potatoes, which Nelly placed on the table for breakfast,
dinner, and supper as long as they lasted. No care was
bestowed on our hens, however ; they laid many eggs, which
Nelly, our skilful cook, invariably did her best to serve in an
almost petrified condition.

The old man delighted in a numerous family of cats ;
for, in his opinion, after a woman, a cat was the chief source
of domestic comfort. As soon as they heard the sound of
kettle and plates, they gathered in large numbers from all
quarters. As a rule a couple of them could be seen in the
forenoon sleeping among the washed plates on the kitchen
table, while the fowls wandered about everywhere. The cock
crowed on the dining-room table, and the hens laid their
eggs on the hearthstone. It was indeed strange to see how
little pains the old man took to make himself comfortable.
How nice he could have made it here if he only had taken
some interest in the affairs of the household ! Besides the
chickens, he had, as we have seen, a cow, and at times fresh
meat, for there were several cattle for slaughter left on the
deserted station.

In the long run salt beef and damper make rather un-
wholesome food, and though I therefore repeatedly tried to
give Nelly lessons in cooking, my efforts were fruitless. I
wanted her to fry the beef, but she used such a quantity of
fat that it took away all my appetite. Too old to make any
progress in the art of cooking, Nelly clung to her former
habits, and preferred to boil salt beef and sweet-potatoes, if
she had any. However, I must confess that she had great
talent for making the fire burn. Sometimes the fat caught
fire, and in this manner I got rid of the detestable fluid ; but
then the meat was burnt to a cinder.

The fact that the old man evidently did not like me
to meddle with the kitchen affairs made it all the more
difficult to bring about any reformation in the culinary


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department ; he preferred to keep matters in the old groove
and could not bear any interference on the part of an
epicure. Nelly had a high opinion of her own ability. When
with a pipe in her mouth, she was washing plates and
knives, satisfaction beamed from her dark brown face. Her
appetite was marvellous ; she not only devoured incredible
quantities in the kitchen, but also constantly secured food
by bartering with her black friends, for she appeared not
to have lost her appetite for their plain messes even after
her elevation as the white man's cook. She always had a
supply of baskets filled with various kinds of vegetable pro-
visions of the plainest sort hanging in the kitchen.

The highest ideal of these natives' existence is to have
plenty to eat, and Nelly ate most of the time. When she
was not engaged in this her favourite occupation, she
smoked tobacco, and when she neither ate nor smoked she
slept Thus her existence was a happy one, marred only by
an occasional flogging from her husband. In her domestic
troubles she was as a rule the wronged party, but being the
weaker of the two she of course could never claim the victory,
which was determined by fisticuffs.

Old Walters, the keeper, had forbidden the black men
to come within the enclosure, but the women had free
admittance. In course of time the most courageous ones
ventured not only to pass through the gate but even to steal
into the kitchen. They tried to keep on good terms with
Nelly, who now and then would save a bite of food for
them, especially if they aided her with the work, which of
course served them as a convenient pretext. They took
every opportunity of helping themselves to tallow and meat,
the women doing the stealing by day and the men by night.

I cannot deny that it annoyed me to know that the food
was prepared by the blacks ; for the women who washed the
dishes were naked, and filthy in the extreme, and moreover
the natives were troubled with skin diseases, so that both the
old man and myself were liable to catch the infection. Such
diseases, the faithful attendants of civilisation, have also
found their way to the natives of the Herbert river region.
Fortunately but few were sufficiently advanced in civilisation.
Nor were there very many who ventured into the kitchen,

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at least at first ; but as they gradually became acquainted with


the place their number increased in the same proportion
as their respect for the keeper diminished.

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The external mark of civilisation among the Australian
natives is usually a European shirt which has been white,
but which, on account of age and want of washing, has
assumed a colour thoroughly in harmony with the complexion
of its owner. Nor is a common English clay pipe ever
wanting to complete the impression of being a ** gentleman "
among his colleagues, to say nothing of a felt hat, which in
the eyes of the Australian native is the chief mark of distinc-
tion between a white and a black man. They usually ask
the white man for a civilised name, and if this request is
granted they are constantly called by it among their com-

The natives on Herbert river near my headquarters had
just begun to enter this state of civilisation, but very few of
them had succeeded in obtaining a shirt or an old hat. The

Online LibraryCarl LumholtzAmong cannibals; an account of four years' travels in Australia and of camp life with the aborigines of Queensland → online text (page 7 of 35)