The Passing of the Aborigines
Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 210
Publication Date: 1938
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Written by a somewhat controversial figure, this is the memoir of Daisy Bates, a self taught anthropologist who spent almost 4 decades studying Aboriginal life. Although this book became a highly influential international bestseller, its disreputable claims regarding Aboriginal cannibalism and infanticide, and the 'doomed' fate of the Aboriginal race, led to it being criticised as inaccurate and defamatory towards Aboriginal Australians.
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Perth from King’s Park. I can never look down on the panorama of that young and lovely city from the natural parkland on the crest of Mount Eliza that is its crowning glory without a vision of the past, the dim and timeless past when a sylvan people wandered its woods untrammelled, with no care or thought for yesterday or tomorrow, or of a world other than their own. Scarcely a hundred years have passed since that symmetry of streets and suburbs was a pathless bushland, a tangle of trees and scrub and swamp with the broad blue ribbon of river running through it, widening from a thread of silver at the foot of the ranges to the estuary marshes and the sea.
Through it all, a kangaroo skin slung carelessly over his shoulders, a few spears in his hand, strode the first landlord, catching fish in the river-shallows, spearing the emu and the kangaroo, and finding the roots and fruits that were his daily bread. His women and children meekly followed, carrying his spare weapons, their own household gods, and perhaps a baby swung in the kangaroo-skin bag. Every spring and gully, every quaintly distorted tree, every patch of red ochre or white pipe-clay was his landmark, and every point, hill, valley, slope or flat from the river’s source to its mouth had its name. Simple in his needs in a land of plenty, knowing none other than the age-old laws of life, and mating, and death, that have been his through the unreasoning centuries, he was a barbarian, but his lot was happy. As far as humans can, he lived in perfect amity with his fellows.
For hundreds of miles about him the people of the country were all his kindred, and the campfires dotting the river-flats, and the ranges, and the sea-coasts, and the great timber-forests were fires of friendliness.
As I dream, the red glow of those fires of fancy grows hard and cold and yellow, regular as the street-lights of a city, and the ranges beyond them are lost in the shadow-even as the last of their people. Of the songs that rang to the stars in the far-off time there is no echo. The black man survived the coming of the white for little more than one lifetime. When Captain Stirling landed on the coast in 1829, he computed the aboriginal population of what he had marked out as the metropolitan area at 1,500 natives. In 1907 we buried Joobaitch, last of the Perth tribe.
As I dream over the orphaned land of the Bibbulmum, [See Chapter VII.] my thoughts fly back, too, to the events which brought me on a second visit to Australia after a period of journalism in London with W.T. Stead, on the Review of Reviews, back to the stone-age nomads whom I had but glimpsed on my first visit to Australia, but among whom the rest of my life was to be cast. It was in 1899 that circumstances made possible my return to Australia. Just before I left London a letter had been published in The Times containing strong allegations of cruelty to Western Australian aborigines by the white settlers of the North–West. I called upon The Times, stated that I was going to Western Australia and offered to make full investigation of the charges, and to write them the results. The offer was accepted.
While friends were bidding me farewell, one of them espied a kindly old Roman Catholic padre on deck, and asked him to “keep an eye” on me on the voyage out. The priest was an Italian named Martelli, and on the deck the first evening we embarked on a delightful friendship that lasted till his death. I studied Italian under his tutelage, until one day I mentioned the subject of the Australian natives, and showed Dean Martelli the letter in The Times. Italian grammars were promptly put aside as I gained my first knowledge of the remnants of a fading race, and the problem they afforded the Government and the missions in the Western State. I learned also of the Beagle Bay Mission, away in the wilds of the North–West, where the Trappist fathers had come from their beautiful old home monasteries among the vineyards of Sept Fons in France in rigours and difficulties to minister to the aborigines in the vicinity of Broome.
Shortly after I landed in Perth, I obtained a buggy and horses and camp-gear, and journeyed by sea to Port Hedland. Arrived at that remote port, I stayed at a licensed shanty with earthen floors and blue blankets, where the hermit crabs from the seashore nibbled my feet every time I put them to the floor. I then traversed in my buggy eight hundred miles of country, taking six months to accomplish it. I could not prove one charge of cruelty, except that of “giving offal to natives instead of good meat,” and “sending them away from the stations without food when work was slack.” So far as these were concerned, I found that the favourite parts of any animal, large or small, were the entrails, which were torn out of the beast and eaten half raw. Later, on my own station, I discovered that the blacks insisted on a “pink-hi” or walkabout season-they could not live without it-and that they would not carry flour and tea, preferring their own bush tucker. Once in my inexperience, I myself packed up a plenitude of provisions for them, tied neatly in bundles on their heads, with new shirts and trousers and medicines and other conveniences I thought they might need. A few days after they had gone, riding to an outlying windmill, I came across a snow-storm of the flour that they had playfully thrown at each other. The tea and sugar had been consumed at this first well, and the trousers and sundries were deposited in a tree-fork.
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