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A contemporary description of Aboriginals

An extract from “The Present Picture of New South Wales (1811)”, by David Dickinson Mann



Speaking generally of the natives, they are a filthy, disagreeable race of people; nor is it my opinion that any measures which could be adopted would ever make them otherwise.

Their wars are as frequent as usual, and are attended with as much cruelty both towards men and women. They are still ready at all times to commit depredations upon the Indian corn, whenever there is a probability of their attempts being attended with the desired success; and this predatory disposition renders it frequently necessary to send detachments of the military to disperse them; but the utmost care is taken to prevent any fatal circumstances from attending these acts of needful hostility, and orders are uniformly issued never to fire upon the natives, unless any particularly irritating act should render such a measure expedient. They are amazingly expert at throwing the spear, and will launch it with unerring aim to a distance of thirty to sixty yards. I myself have seen a lad hurl his spear at a hawk-eagle (a bird which, with wings expanded, measures from seven to ten feet), flying in the air, with such velocity and correctness as to pierce his object, and bring the feathered victim to the earth. This circumstance will tend to shew how soon the youth of these tribes are trained to the use of the spear, and the dexterity to which they attain in this art before they reach the age of manhood. Indeed, instances are by no means uncommon, where an army of natives is seen following a youthful leader of fifteen or sixteen years of age, and obeying his directions implicitly, because his previous conduct had been characterised by remarkable vigour of body, and intrepidity of mind--virtues which qualify natives of every age and rank for the highest honours and the most marked distinctions amongst these untutored sons of nature. Their attachment to savage life is unconquerable; nor can the strongest allurements tempt them to exchange their wild residences in the recesses of the country, for the comforts of European life. A singular instance of this fact occurred in the case of Be-ne-long, who was brought to England by Governor Phillip, and returned with Governor Hunter. For some time after his return, it is true, he assumed the manners, the dress, and the consequence of an European, and treated his countrymen with a distance which evinced the sense he entertained of his own increased importance; and this disposition was encouraged by every method which suggested itself to the minds of those of the colony with whom he associated; but, notwithstanding so much pains had been taken for his improvement, both when separated from his countrymen, and since his return to New South Wales, he has subsequently taken to the woods again, returned to his old habits, and now lives in the same manner as those who have never mixed with the civilised world. Sometimes, indeed, he holds intercourse with the colony; but every effort uniformly fails to draw him once again into the circle of polished society, since he prefers to taste of liberty amongst his native scenes, to the unsatisfactory gratification which arises from an association with strangers, however kind their treatment of him, and however superior to his own enjoyments.

Yet there are many of the natives who feel no disinclination to mix with the inhabitants occasionally--to take their share in the labours and the reward of those who toil. Amongst these there are five in particular, to whom our countrymen have given the names of Bull Dog, Bidgy Bidgy, Bundell, Bloody Jack, and another whose name I cannot call to recollection, but who had a farm of four acres and upwards, planted with maize, at Hawkesbury, which he held by permission of Governor King; and the other four made themselves extremely useful on board colonial vessels employed in the fishing and sealing trade, for which they are in the regular receipt of wages. They strive, by every means in their power, to make themselves appear like the sailors with whom they associate, by copying their customs, and imitating their manners; such as swearing, using a great quantity of tobacco, drinking grog, and other similar habits. These natives are the only ones, I believe, who are inclined to industrious behaviour, and they have most certainly rendered more essential services to the colony than any others of their countrymen, who, in general, content themselves with assisting to draw nets for fish, for the purpose of coming in for a share of the produce of others toil.

The general pursuits of the natives, their manners and customs, have been so accurately described by preceding writers on the subject, that I shall forbear from entering into more minute particulars, which would swell my sketch far beyond its intended limits, and could add nothing to the knowledge of which the well-informed reader is already possessed. It will be sufficient to remark, that such as the inhabitants of the interior of New Holland were represented ten years since, they still remain, as the antecedent remarks must sufficiently illustrate: The jealousy of the new settlers, which originally existed, has indeed entirely vanished; but the proximity of a civilised colony has not tended in the least to polish the native rudeness and barbarism, which mark the behaviour of the original inhabitants of this remote spot of the universe.

End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of The Present Picture of New South Wales (1811), by David Dickinson Mann



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