Northern Queensland – The Aborigines
In 1891, after managing the store for eleven years, the company gave me a holiday for twelve months on full pay.
And it was then that I found my good wife in Goulburn, New South Wales.
On our return to Queensland, she was the first white woman in that part of Australia, and the first white woman the blacks had seen.
I might tell you that before I was married, I had ten years of doing my own cooking. I’m quite an expert at it, and for seven years, I never saw at a distance, a white woman, and I assure you, when I met the first lady to talk to, I really didn’t know what to say, having conversed with men and blacks, only all that time around.
The north Queensland blacks have shiny jet-black skin with thick projecting scars in places on their bodies as ornaments.
These scars they make by cutting long deep gashes with a piece of quartz and poisoning it with some gum of a tree and rubbing into the wound.
They never wash themselves, but keep greasing themselves with animal fat from head to foot which gives them always this shiny appearance and mostly smell.
And again they make signals. These they make by setting fire to a hollow tree which would cause a long streak of smoke to rise, and before long one would see another smoke like that in a different direction, caused by another tribe.
They have different countries to live in, marked off by some mountains, and exchange countries at certain times of the year.
At times they have wars, but don’t do each other much harm. One or two might get killed, and the opposition tribe eats them, but mostly the war ends with a great tongue thrashing.
The tribes stand all lined up opposite each other and the whole thing is one continuous jabber.
The members of each tribe are marked in a particular way. The blacks where I was living had their front tooth out, and the next tribe would have the other tooth out, and so on.
They are marked when they are about twelve years of age, at which age they go over into manhood.
The father of the children takes a specially prepared hardwood round stick, places this against the tooth, and with the nulla-nulla, hits the stick with one blow and knocks the tooth out, amongst great rejoicing in the tribe.
The women are treated in the same way.
From childhood on, they all have a hole cut in the centre partition of the nose, and through this, they push a reed about six inches long. It is a bright yellow type of reed about a quarter of an inch thick.
This is the kind of ornament they wear when they mean mischief. It’s a sign amongst them that they are blood sticky.
Men, women, and children never wear any clothing. At one time the government sent me up 400 pairs of blankets to disperse among the blacks on Queen’s Birthday. I got some of the miners to give me a hand to round them up and give each a good pair of blankets. But next day, the blankets were lying all along the river and creeks – wouldn’t be bothered carrying them.
Their mode of living is in the sand of the rivers and creeks in the open with the boiling hot sun shining on them.
The men mostly lay about and sleep during the daytime while the gins and children go out hunting. At night they talk and corroboree all the time early in the morning.
They have their spears when camping, sticking in the sand along side of them and have very small fires burning.
The gins have to do the most work, such as hunting. The men only hunt big game whenever they feel very hungry.
The gins have to give everything they find to the blackfellows and they are not allowed to eat in front of the men
always a few yards behind them. The blackfellow eats what he wants of it first, then he throws the remains over his shoulder to the gin. Like throwing a bone to a dog.
These blacks eat anything and everything that crawls or walks – even white ant eggs which they scoop up by the handfuls and eat them. The white wood grubs, they’re very fond of, and they just throw them in their mouth alive.
All animals are thrown on the fire, the hair singed off, and almost eaten direct.
I made it a thing to study and learn everything about the blacks and could talk to them in their own language.
Through a blackboy I had, he used to tell me he had often eaten human flesh. He used to say, “White man taste all the same – too much salt. Chinaman very nice, and the blackfellow is the best eaten of all”
The only thing a north Queensland black will not eat is pork.
They will kill wild pigs just for the killing sake, but never eat them.
I had no idea of this at first, and found it out only by accident.
It happened one day that I had a general clean-up in the storeroom, and there found about thirty-five to forty pounds of bacon, much spoilt.
There were lots of blacks about the place at the time, so I thought I would give them a good feed.
I handed this bacon to the first man who had a good look at it and smelt it for a minute of two.
Then all at once he went to the wood heap, chopped a lump off it with an axe, and started rubbing himself all over with it. He then passed it on to the next, and about 100 of them repeated the same thing.
This is the way my nice bacon was treated.
They can throw spears over 100 yards but cannot make sure of their aim.
Some are good shots at up to fifty yards, at which distance I have seen them hit small articles about three inches square.
The spears, they make up to sixteen feet long, with two, three, four barbs on them.
But for fishing, they only use plain spears and are very quick and hit their mark every time. They stand on the rocks overhanging the water holes and as they see a fish passing, they throw in the spear.
Sometimes I used to take a mob of blacks with me and put charges of dynamite in the water holes.
They used to dive in and bring the fish on land and we used to get a hundred-weight with one shot.
Such was my method of catching fish.
It is a law among them that only a certain number of gins remain living.
All the rest they let live until they are between four to five years of age, when on certain days, when the moon is full, they all meet for a great corroboree.
The father of the child kills it with a nulla-nulla and it is roasted whole.
The chief of the tribe has the head for his part of it.
I never forget when I saw this gruesome affair once myself and I think if ever I could have shot blackfellows, I could have done so then.
My own black boy told me one day that the blacks had killed a certain little gin, about five years old, who I knew well, having given the child many times a little to eat.
The blacks were camped in the river about 100 yards from the store and I went down to them as usual well armed.
I knew the father of this child, and in their own language, I asked him about her.
He was sitting in front of a big heap of steaming sand, which I knew was one of their ovens.
The blackfellow pointed towards this heap and I thereupon kicked the sand away, and here to my horror, I saw this poor unfortunate child half roasted already.
It took me all my time I can assure you to keep from shooting this beast of a blackfellow.
But I thought of a better plan.
In post haste, I went up to the store and got my double barrel breach-loading gun.
I may here mention that in most cases I used coarse salt and pepper to shoot them with, and therefore, always had a stock of these cartridges.
On this occasion, I took a number of the cartridges and went quietly down to the black camp.
The blacks numbered about 400 all told, and at about twenty yards, I opened fire on them with salt and pepper, and I can assure you, they scattered in all directions leaving all their weapons behind, which I piled in heaps and burned.
The poor unfortunate child, I put in a box and buried on the bank of the river.
So I only had the satisfaction of keeping them from eating it.