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Home -> David W Carnegie -> Spinifex and Sand -> Part 5 Chapter 17

Spinifex and Sand - Part 5 Chapter 17

1. Part 1 Chapter 1

2. Part 1 Chapter 2

3. Part 1 Chapter 3

4. Part 2 Chapter 1

5. Part 2 Chapter 2

6. Part 2 Chapter 3

7. Part 3 Chapter 1

8. Part 3 Chapter 2

9. Part 3 Chapter 3

10. Part 3 Chapter 4

11. Part 3 Chapter 5

12. Part 3 Chapter 6

13. Part 3 Chapter 7

14. Part 4 Chapter 1

15. Part 5 Chapter 1

16. Part 5 Chapter 2

17. Part 5 Chapter 3

18. Part 5 Chapter 4

19. Part 5 Chapter 5

20. Part 5 Chapter 6

21. Part 5 Chapter 7

22. Part 5 Chapter 8

23. Part 5 Chapter 9

24. Part 5 Chapter 10

25. Part 5 Chapter 11

26. Part 5 Chapter 12

27. Part 5 Chapter 13

28. Part 5 Chapter 14

29. Part 5 Chapter 15

30. Part 5 Chapter 16

31. Part 5 Chapter 17

32. Part 5 Chapter 18

33. Part 5 Appendix

34. Part 6 Chapter 1

35. Part 6 Chapter 2

36. Part 6 Chapter 3

37. Part 6 Chapter 4

38. Part 6 Chapter 5

39. Part 6 Chapter 6

40. Part 6 Chapter 7

41. Part 6 Chapter 8

42. Part 6 Chapter 9

43. Part 6 Chapter 10

44. Appendix



It may not at first be very clear what the gaol and police force are used
for, since the white population numbers so few. However, the aboriginals
are pretty numerous throughout Kimberley, and are a constant source of
vexation and annoyance to the squatters, whose cattle are frequently
killed and driven wild by native depredators. A squatter, far from being
allowed to take the law into his own hands, even when he catches the
blacks in the act of slaying his cattle--not only for food but as often
as not for mere devilment--has to ride into Hall's Creek and report to the
police, and so gives time for the offenders to disappear. The troopers,
when they do make a capture of the culprits, bring them in on chains,
to the police quarters. By the Warden, through a tame boy as interpreter,
they are tried, and either acquitted and sent back to their country or
sentenced to a turn of imprisonment and handed over to the gaoler. In
gaol they have a remarkably good time, fed upon beef, bread, jam, and
water, and made to do useful work, such as drawing and carrying water,
making roads, &c. They work in small chain-gangs--a necessary precaution
since there is only one gaoler to perhaps fifteen prisoners--are clothed
in felt hats and short canvas kilts, and except that they are deprived of
their freedom have probably as comfortable a time as they ever had during
their lives.

From time to time there have been grave accusations of cruelty made by
well-meaning busybodies against the squatters of the North and
North-West. Occasional cases have been proved beyond all question, cases
of the most revolting brutality. But from these exceptional instances it
is hardly fair to class the whole squatting population as savage.
ruffians. Since I have had the opportunity of seeing what treatment is
meted out I feel it is a duty to give every prominence to what has come
under my notice. First of all, let us take it for granted that the white
men's civilisation must advance; that, I suppose, most will admit. This
being the case, what becomes of the aboriginal? He is driven from his
hunting-grounds and retaliates by slaughtering the invading cattle. What
steps is the white pioneer, who may have no more than one companion, to
take to protect his own? If he quietly submits his herd will be wiped
out, and he and his mate afterwards. By inspiring fear alone is he able
to hold his position. He must therefore either use his rifle and say
nothing about it, or send perhaps 150 miles for the troopers. After a
time, during which he carries his life in his hands--for a couple of
hundred natives, savage and treacherous, are not the pleasantest
neighbours--he succeeds in convincing the natives that he intends to stop
where he is. What then do they do? Do they move to fresh hunting-grounds?
They might, for there is ample room. No, they prefer to live round
about the station, a source of constant anxiety and annoyance.
Consequently we find to-day a large number of natives permanently camped
round every homestead, living on the squatter's bounty. Too lazy to hunt,
too idle and useless to work, they loaf about the place, living on the
meat that is given them on killing-days, and on figs and seeds, when in
season, between times. Thus, though the squatter takes their country he
feeds them for ever after. A smart boy may be trained and partially
educated, and becomes useful amongst the horses and so forth, and some
few are always employed about the station--the rest just lie about and
gorge themselves at the slaughter-yards, and then wait until they can
again do so.

It has been suggested that reserves should be set apart for the
dispossessed natives. This would, in the opinion of those best able to
express one, never succeed, for once the white man is established the
blacks will collect round him, and though, as I have mentioned, there
remains more than half the Kimberley division untouched by whites,
forming a reserve ready to hand, yet the natives prefer to live a
hand-to-mouth existence where food can be obtained without trouble,
rather than retreat into another region where game abounds, and there
continue their existence as wandering savages. Round Hall's Creek there
is always a camp of blacks, varying from twenty to fifty or one hundred,
who live as best they can without hunting.

On Christmas Day a hundred or so rolled up to receive the Aboriginal
Board's liberal bounty--a Board fortunately now reconstructed, for it was
continually the cause of much friction between the squatters, the
Government, and itself, in the days when it was not controlled by the
Government, as it now is. Six pounds sterling was set aside for the
Warden to provide food and raiment for the natives under his
jurisdiction. Six pounds per annum per two thousand aboriginals--for such
is their reputed number--seems hardly adequate. Perhaps if the gentlemen
responsible for this state of affairs had concerned themselves more about
the aboriginals, and less about the supposed barbaric cruelty of the
squatters, the objects of their mission would have been better served.
However, whilst the black-fellow must remain content with his scanty
allowance, it is found expedient to send an inexperienced youth, fresh
from England, from place to place to make a report on the treatment of
the aboriginals, at a salary of 500 pounds a year. And a fine collection
of yarns he produced--for naturally no one could resist "pulling his leg"
to the last degree! However, this question has at last been put into the
hands of those best calculated to know something about it; for though the
Government is neither perfect nor infallible, yet the colonists are
likely to understand a purely local matter better than a Board of
gentlemen lately from home.

They were a merry lot of people, the blacks round Hall's Creek, and
appeared to see the best sides of a deadly dull existence. Their ways and
habits are now so mingled with ideas gathered from the whites that they
are not worth much attention. Dancing is their great amusement, and
though on Christmas Day we made them compete in running, jumping, and
spear-throwing, they take but little interest in such recreations. Though
known to Australian readers, a description of such a dance may prove of
interest to some in the old country.


The entertainment begins after sundown, and on special occasions may be
kept up for two or three days and nights in succession. A moonlit night
is nearly always made the occasion for a corroboree, to which no
significance is attached, and which may be simply held for the amusement
the actual performance affords.

Descriptions of the great dances attendant on the initiation of a boy
into manhood, and its accompanying brutal rites, find a more suitable
place in scientific works than in a book intended for the general reader.
I will therefore merely describe some of the dances which are performed
for entertainment.

The word corroboree is applied equally to the dance, the whole festival,
or the actual chant which accompanies the dancing.

Men and women, the men especially, deck themselves out with tufts of emu
feathers, fastened in the hair or tied round the arm, or stuck in the
waist-belt of plaited hair; paint their bodies with a white paint or wash
made from "Kopi" (gypsum similar to that found by the shores of salt
lakes), with an occasional dab of red ochre (paint made from a sandstone
impregnated with iron), and fix up their hair into a sort of mop bound
back by bands of string. Thus bedecked and painted, and carrying their
spears and boomerangs, they present a rather weird appearance.

A flat, clear space being chosen, the audience seat themselves, men and
women, who, unless the moon is bright, light fires, which they replenish
from time to time. The dancers are all men, young warriors and older men,
but no greybeards. The orchestra consists of some half-dozen men, who
clap together two sticks or boomerangs; in time to this "music" a
wailing dirge is chanted over and over again, now rising in spasmodic
jerks and yelled forth with fierce vehemence, now falling to a prolonged
mumbled plaint. Keeping time to the sticks, the women smack their thighs
with great energy. The monotonous chant may have little or no sense, and
may be merely the repetition of one sentence, such as "Good fella,
white fella, sit down 'longa Hall's Creek," or something with an equally
silly meaning. The dancers in the meantime go through all sorts of queer
movements and pantomimes. First, we may have the kangaroo corroboree, in
which a man hops towards the musicians and back again, to be followed in
turn by every other dancer and finally by the whole lot, who advance
hopping together, ending up with a wild yell, in which all join.

Then we may have the emu-corroboree, where each in his turn stalks
solemnly around with the right arm raised, with elbow bent, wrist and
hand horizontal and poked backwards and forwards, to represent the emu's
neck and head. The left hand held behind the back, like that of a shy
official expecting a tip, stands for the emu's tail. Thus they advance
slowly and jerkily with back bent and arm pointing now this way, now
that, like an inquisitive emu who is not sure of his ground.

Next the mallee-hen builds her nest, and each dancer comes forward at a
mincing trot, in his hands a few twigs and leaves, which he deposits in
front of the "orchestra," and, having built his nest, retires. And so
they go on mimicking with laughable accuracy the more common beasts and

The most comical dance in which they all joined--that is all the
dancers--was one in which they stood on tiptoe, with knees bent and
shaking together as if with fear, then giving forth a sort of hissing
noise, through fiercely clenched teeth, they quickly advanced in three or
four lines and retired trotting backwards. This ended with a prolonged
howl and shrieks of laughter. The energy with which they dance is
extraordinary--shaking their spears and grunting, they advance with knees
raised, like high-stepping horses, until the thigh is almost horizontal,
now one leg now the other, with a will, and then one, two, down come the
feet together with a thud, the dancers striking their spears in the
ground, growling out savagely a sound that I can only express as "woomph,
woomph"--with what a smack their flat feet meet the ground, and what a
shrieking yell goes up from all throats as they stop!

To enliven the performance they use flat carved sticks, some eight inches
long, and of a pointed oval shape. Through a hole in one point they
thread a string, with which the stick is rapidly swung round, making a
booming noise--"Bull-roarers" is the general white-fellows' name for
them. Amongst some native prisoners brought in from the Sturt I saw a
primitive wooden horn, on which a sort of blast could be blown. No doubt
this, too, has its place in their performances.

I am told they keep up these corroborees as long as three days and
nights, though certainly not dancing all the time. Probably the stick
clapping is kept up by relays of performers. I have heard the chant go on
all one night and well into the next day, with hardly a break.

Hall's Creek is a great place for corroborees, for there are gathered
together boys from all parts of Central Australia, Northern Territory,
and Queensland, brought by coastal overlanders. These boys all know
different chants and dances, and are consequently in great request at the
local black-fellows' evening parties. Warri told me he had learnt several
new songs; however, they appeared to my evidently untrained ear to be all
exactly alike.

We were to have had a very swell festival at Christmas, but it somehow
fell through. I fancy the blacks were not given sufficient notice.

The blacks, in addition to these simple festive gatherings, have solemn
dances for the purpose of promoting the growth of edible seeds and roots,
of increasing the rainfall, or the numbers of the animals and reptiles on
which they feed. But more important still are those connected with their
barbarous, but sacred, rites and ceremonials.

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