THE JOURNEY HOME
RETURN JOURNEY BEGINS
We left Hall's Creek, on our return journey, on March 22, 1897. Taking
the road to Flora Valley we passed Brockman--where, by the way, lives a
famous person, known by the unique title of "Mother Deadfinish." This
good lady is the most curious of her sex that I have ever seen; now a
little dried-up, wizened old woman of Heaven knows what age, she was in
her younger days a lady of wonderful energy. She came overland from
Queensland, accompanying her husband who, in the early days of the rush,
sought to turn an honest penny by the sale of "sly grog." However, he
died on the road, so his mourning widow carried through the job without
him, and successfully withstood the trials of the journey, including
heat, fever, and blacks. The latter were very numerous, and gave great
trouble to the early diggers, spearing their horses and very often the
men themselves. Many skirmishes ensued, and, so it is said, "Mother
Deadfinish" handled her Winchester with the best of them! Eventually
she arrived at the diggings, and has been there ever since, making a
living by the sale of goat's milk, fowls, eggs, and a few vegetables. She
is quite a character and worth talking to, but not always worth listening
to; for her language is notorious; indeed, it is a recognised form of
amusement for the diggers to bring into their conversation certain
topics, such as the Warden, or the Police, who are so especially
distasteful to her that ordinary language cannot express her feelings. In
the same way that a boy delights to stir up a monkey and hear him
chatter, the fossicker bent on recreation rouses the old lady to feats of
swearing far beyond the scope of most people. No man has yet been found
who could withstand her onslaught. I saw her angry once! She positively
alarmed me; the three witches in Macbeth thrown into one would be of no
account in comparison. Had she lived a century or two ago she would
infallibly have been burnt.
A few miles past the Brockman the auriferous country is cut off by what
is locally known as the "Sandstone"--a sheer, wall-like range named the
Just below the gorge where the Elvire River (a tributary of the Ord
River) breaks through the range is situated Flora Valley Cattle Station,
the property of the brothers Gordon. A charming little place, after the
rains; the homestead stands on a high bank above the river, here fringed
with high, shady trees. Beyond the homestead and the yards, a fine plain
of grass stretches out, surrounded by rough and rocky hills. As charming
as their little place were the owners, the most kind-hearted and
hospitable folk it is possible to imagine. Here we stayed a few days to
get some meat salted for our journey; nothing would satisfy the two
brothers but that they must find the finest bullock on their run, kill
it, and give it to us. Flora Valley is a great place for the blacks, who
live there in scores, camped by the river, and fed by the kind-hearted
squatters. Leaving the station and travelling South-East, our route lay
through a few low hills, and then we came out upon the Denison Downs,
most magnificent plains of grass.
The first few days of a journey are most unsettled, saddles do not fit,
packs will not ride, the animals will not agree, and dozens of like
annoyances. Our three new camels, Bluey, Hughie, and Wattie, were almost
unmanageable; for not only had they been running loose for some time, but
had never been well behaved or well looked after. Bluey was a dreadfully
wild brute, and all but brought Warri, who was riding him, to grief;
after bucking and plunging and trying all manner of tricks, he stampeded
at his fullest speed, with his head towards some overhanging branches,
under which he might have passed with impunity, but they must have
crushed Warri EN ROUTE.
Luckily I was just in time to get Highlander between the tree and the
camel, and so saved a nasty accident. Besides these small troubles,
Breaden and Godfrey were suffering agonies from "sandy blight," a sort of
ophthalmia, which is made almost unbearable by the clouds of flies, the
heat, the glare, and the dust. Breaden luckily was able to rest in a dark
room at Flora Valley and recovered, or at least sufficiently so to be
able to travel; Godfrey was very bad indeed, quite blind and helpless. At
night we pitched his mosquito-net for him--for these insects are simply
ravenous, and would eat one alive or send one mad in this part of the
country--and made him as comfortable as possible; in the morning, until I
had bathed his eyes with warm water he was blinded by the matter running
from them: then during the day he sat blindfolded on The Monk, one of the
horses--a most unpleasant condition for travelling.
Fortunately it was not for long, for soon we cut the Sturt Creek, and,
following it, reached the Denison Downs Homestead--the last settlement to
the southward, and I should say the most out-of-the-way habitation in
Australia of to-day. The nearest neighbours are nearly one hundred miles
by road, at Flora Valley; in every other direction there is a blank,
hundreds of miles in extent. A solitary enough spot in all conscience!
Yet for the last ten years two men have lived here, taking their chances
of sickness, drought, floods, and natives; raising cattle in peace and
contentment. Terribly rough, uncouth chaps, of course? Not a bit of
it!--two men, gentlemen by birth and education, one the brother of a
bishop, the other a man who started life as an artist in Paris. A rough
life does not necessarily make a rough man, and here we have the proof,
for Messrs. Stretch and Weekes are as fine a pair of gentlemen as need
be. How they came to migrate to such a spot is soon told; they brought
cattle over during the rush, hoping to make a large fortune; however, the
rush "petered out," half their cattle died, and with the remainder they
formed their station, and have remained there ever since, year by year
increasing their herd, now numbering some four thousand head, and looking
forward to the time when they hope to be well repaid for their labours. A
large, single-roomed iron shed, on the bank of a fine big pool, is their
home, and there with their flocks and herds they live, like the
patriarchs of old, happy and contented. In fact, the only people I have
ever come across, who seemed really satisfied with life are some of these
Numerous natives were collected round the station, and about them Mr.
Stretch told me many interesting things. Their marriage laws were
expounded to me over and over again, but without pencil and paper nothing
can be learned, so confusing are they.
It was not until my return that I worked out the following relationships,
but I feel confident of their accuracy:--
The aboriginals of Northern and Central Australia are governed in their
social life by marriage laws and class systems of the most intricate
kind. It is generally supposed that these laws have for their object
prevention of consanguinity and incest. The laws are strictly adhered to,
any offender against them being punished by death. I owe the information
on this subject to Mr. Stretch, who took great pains to make clear to me
the fundamental principles, from which I have worked out the various
combinations. I have tried to arrange these laws and the relationships
resulting from them in an intelligible form, and have been greatly aided
by a paper by Mr. Gillen, published in the "Horn Scientific Expedition,"
on the McDonnell Range tribes. I was unable to get the tribal names, but
this, for the purposes of explanation only, is unnecessary.
The aboriginals in question belong to the Eastern district of Kimberley
generally, and more particularly to the Sturt Creek. These natives are
descended from eight original couples, who have given their names to the
eight classes into which the tribe is now divided.
For simplicity's sake I will assume that in place of eight there were
four original classes. This will illustrate the principle equally well,
and be far less involved.
Let A, B, C, and D represent the names of the four classes--to one of
which every native belongs.
1. The first law is that--Natives belonging to class A may only
intermarry with class B, and natives belonging to C may only intermarry
with class D.
2. The progeny of a man and woman of intermarrying classes is of a
different class from either father or mother.
Thus a man of class B marries a woman of class A, but their offspring
(male or female) is of class D.
Let Am represent a male of class A.
Let Af represent a female of class A, and similarly Bm, Bf, &c.
Let Ap represent progeny who belong to class A, and similarly Bp, Cp,
Law 2 may now be set down as under--
Af + Bm Am + Bf Cf + Dm Cm + Df
------- ------- ------- -------
Dp Cp Bp Ap
3. The first law holds good with the progeny of these combinations, i.e.,
Dp can only marry one of class C--though neither the father nor mother of
Dp could marry into class C; similarly for Cp, &c.
4. Dp recognises as father or mother all members of classes A and B;
similarly Cp, &c.
This explains the seeming absurdity of the answer one receives from
natives to questions concerning their relationships to others. An old man,
for instance, may point out a young girl and say, "That one my mother,"
for the girl belongs to the same class as his actual father or mother.
5. All the progeny of classes A and B are brothers and sisters; similarly
C and D.
Thus taking Dp2 to represent the progeny of an Ap and a Bp
Af + Bm Ap + Bp
All of class Dp recognise class Dp2 (though of another generation) as
brothers and sisters. For this reason there is no absurdity in a small
boy pointing out a very aged woman as his sister.
6. A man may have as many wives as he can get, so long as these laws are
Let us now see what degrees of kindred are prohibited by these laws.
Let us take the case of a man of class A. He can only marry a woman of
class B, whose parents must therefore have belonged to classes C and D her
mother being a C and her father a D.
Therefore his wife's mother and father belong to classes with which he
may not intermarry.
Therefore a man may not marry--
1. His mother-in-law.
2. The sister of his wife's mother.
3. The sister of his wife's father.
4. Nor the sister of any one of the three.
5. Nor can he marry his sister.
But he may marry--
His wife's sisters (sisters by blood or tribal class).
And as far as I can see, no law prevents a man from marrying his
grandmother should he so desire.