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Chapter NumberVI
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Full Date1895-01-05
Page Number31
Word Count3368
Last Corrected2018-05-07
Newspaper TitleLeader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 - 1918)
Trove TitleOld Time Reminiscences. A True Record of Early Adventures
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By James Kirby, a Colonist of 1840.

Chapter VI. More Trouble With the Blacks.

Although we often saw the blacks at a distance, and across the river, they never came, as formerly, to our hut. A sentry was always stationed in the reeds, watching us and those

who came to it. What motive they had in thus watching we never knew, still there always was a watch, and every day the head of a black to be seen just above the reeds aoross the river. He would be relieved several times during the day. When I said they never came up to our hut now, I should have said in the daytime, but they always watched it at night, and were continually about it, and looking through tha port holes. These port holes were small squares cut in the slab walls, just large enough to put the muzzle of a gun through when he wanted to flre from the interior of the hut. We never all went to bed, but two of us took it in turns to watch for two hours and a half at a time. It is most wonderful how people get reconciled to danger when they are surrounded by it. I have been in most dangerous places, and had many very narrow escapes, but thought nothing of it because I was used to it, but I would not do it now for all Victoria. Use, they say, is second nature. The greatest shock I ever got was caused by a most simple thing. While sitting by our hut fire one night, or rather about an hour before daylight, Martin, who always watched with me, told me there was a black

looking through the porthole just behind him. Now Martin was given to draw very much on his imagination. I was sitting nearly asleep when he gave me a slight kick, and told me about the man looking through the hole behind him. I felt sleepy and uncomfortable, and knowing Martin's weakness for romancing, I said. "What nonsense, how could you possibly see a blaok there when you are sitting with your back to the port hole?" He said, "Never you mind, I tell you, there is a black fellow there." This made me still more annoyed, and I stood up and made some remarks about his always trying to raise false alarms, and I walked boldly up to the port hole never thinking a blaok was really there ; I put my eye to the hole to look out. when the black gave an ugly grunt and spat right in my eye. This was too much for me, it so shocked and unnerved me that I became quite sick. I had been in lots of danger, but never felt so frightened as I did at that abominable trick. Wild dogs or dingoes were very numerous, kangaroo and emu not so much so. When we first became acquainted with the blacks they had a few of these dingoes domesticated. They used to follow the blacks from camp to camp, and when out hunting, but I don't think they were of much use to them. I had two splendid kangaroo dogs which always went with me, and one day. when just riding out of a pine ridge I saw two emus on the plain and not far off ; I put my dogs on to them and they had a splendid chase, the emus took a turn when they got up the plain a bit and were making for the mallee, the dogs in hot pursuit, I galloped for the mallee and just as I was entering it I saw a number of blacks running across the plain and coming in my direction. A short distance in the mallee my dogs caught one of the emus, the blacks were up in no time. It appears they had been sneaking up on these emus on the plain, but I did not see them. Of course, as my dogs had killed the emu, they thought I was going to take it away, but I made signs to them to take it, at which they seemed surprised and very much pleased. I called my dogs away and left them to do what they liked with the emu and thought no more about it, but the circumstance of catching the emu and giving it to tho blacks was the means of saving my life a few months afterwards. Tha blacks seemed to think it most wonderful that my dogs could run so fast ; they had never seen any of our useful dogs and it quite astonished them, and when I called to the dogs, which were eagerly killing the emu, and said, "Come on here, dogs," and they obeyed my call, the astonishment of the blacks knew no bounds ; they shouted, clapped their hands and wondered, I have no doubt they thought the dogs could speak if they liked. The blacks that came up when I killed the emu chiefly beionged to our place, and I don't think they were such a bad lot as those down the river, but they were quite bad enough, so much so that it was quite dangerous for our cook to go to the river (which was not over 300 yards from our hut) for a bucket of water without one or two of us going with him for protection; they very nearly had him once, so we never gave them a chance again, and he got strict orders never to go for a bucket of watar without some of us were with him and well armed. As the blacks were so very bad we had to keep the cattle in as close quarters as we could, and always tried to avoid any of them straying down the river. One day I came on some tracks of cattle going down the river, and I had no right to have followed them unless Peter were with me, but the tracks seemed to be so recently made that I could not resist the temptation of following them up, and, if possible, overtaking them and bringing them back before the blacks killed them, which they were sure to do if they caught them down that way. Accordingly I followed at a pretty good pace, cantering all the time, occasionally getting off to see if the droppings were warm or cold. Every time I dismounted I got more encourage ment to follow on. By this time I was some distance along the narrow, dangerous passage I have before spoken of, and as the droppings were quite warm and the tracks so fresh, I could not make up my mind to turn back, especially as I expected every minute to come in sight of the cattle. I also knew if I did not get them now, they would never be got, for the blacks would kill them or they would get so far down the river that they would join with wild cattle, so I still pushed on, and at last caught sight of them. I was soon up to them and turned their heads for home. There were about 25 head, all nice bullocks. I found my horse was very tired, for I had ridden him a long way that day. However I had not driven the cattle more than a couple of miles along the dangerous pass when he knocked up completely, so I had to dismount and drive him and the cattle on foot. I was thinking what a pretty mess I should be in if the blacks came across me in this predicament, and going along as fast as I oould with these thoughts in my mind, I was more than astonished at finding a couple of blacks right at my side. Where they came from I could not say. They caught hold of me, and in less than a minute there were blacks all round me. There must have been 25 or 30 of them. I thought my last hour had come. About the first thing they did was to

undress me. They took off everything I had on, and examined me and my clothes also. The buttons on my clothes seemed to amuse them very much. They would put a button through the buttonhole, and laugh and yabber and when they put a button through the wrong hole It caused very great laughter and antics. I had a belt around my body with two pistols in it, they could not undo the buckle of the belt, so I undid it for them, and as they did not take very much notice of it when it was off (it was not as good as the buttons) I kept the belt and pistols in my hand and dropped them close to my feet. I was in hopes they would Ieave it there, for I was waiting to see what they would do next, and if I saw them raise a spear I meant to have one shot anyway. After they had satisfied themselves with the buttons and my clothes they had a big yabber, and, although I did not know what they said, I caught two words that I did know the meaning of, and they were the words "cal " and "memmo." "Cal" signified dog and "memmo" meant emu, and the black who made use of them seemed to be telling the others in a very excited way about something, and looking and pointing at me now and again. At last I conceived the idea that he was telling them about my dogs having killed the emu mentioned in the last chapter, and later on I found such was the case, for they came up to me excitedly, gave me my clothes, watched me fix the buttons, patted me on the baok and let me go. I felt quite sure then, and I do now (nearly 50 years after), that my life was spared owing to my dogs killing the emu and to my not laying any claim to it, but riding away and letting them have it. In reality I did not want the emu, and should have left it where it was even if there had not been any blacks there, but, fortunately for me, the beggars dld not know that, and they considered I had given them a splendid present, for they were very fond of emu flesh and it was very rarely they got any, for emus were not very plentiful, and, moreover, very hard to capture. The sheep were at our place now, as I said before, and the two shepherds took them out every day to feed, and so far the blacks had not

interfered with them, and the shepherds became more contented and began to think that the blacks would not molest them again ; but one fine morning, soon after the sheep were taken out and had not gone a mile from the hut the blacks made a rush on them. They came running out of the reeds and threw spears at the shepherds, who had a very narrow escape from being murdered. Peter and I had our horses up and saddled, and had just finished our breakfast, when Bill the shepherd came galloping up to the hut, and said the blacks had taken the sheep, and were making for the river with them. He told us the blacks suddenly cams out of the reeds, and let fly a lot of spears at Jack and himself. We needed no proof of this, for there was a long spear stuck into the hind quarter of Bill's horse, but it was a reed spear and we had no difficulty in pulling it out. The reed spears were always used for long shots. The jagged ones were meant for close quarters and could not be thrown more than about 50 yards, but the read spears they could throw about 150 yards or more. We could see the blacks driving the sheep towards the river from our hut; Peter and I jumped on our horses and rode toward the river, the others following on foot. We had to ride through weeds that had been burnt, and the ground was soft and wet, so that we could not go on at any great speed. Indeed those on foot could go nearly as fast as we. When the blacks saw us coming, they used every exertion to get the sheep across the river before we could oome up to them, but we were a little too quick for them, And when they saw we were getting uncomfortably close they abandoned the sheep, ran for the river and swam across, and when out of gun shot, as they supposed, on the other side, they made all sorts of grimaces and put their bodies in most insulting positions. There was one fellow who made himself very conspicuous and put himself into a most insulting position, viz., "giving a back." He was a long way. off, but Peter said, " Have a crack at that infernal fellow, Jim, with your rlfle; I believe you could hit him." No sooner said than done, for I took good aim (after adjusting the sight), and the ball took effect in the most fleshy part of his body. However it did not cripple him, for he ran and squealed like mad; that " put a set" on that fellow anyway. The blacks of Australia never had any kings or chiefs, although it has been told, believed and written that they had; and in the face of all this I have the assurance to say they never had any such thing. I know it, and have had plenty of proof of it, not only on the Murray, but in many other parts of the colony, and I again repeat the assertion. They had certain law, or rather rules, that they used to be governed by. For instance, if a raid or attack were about to be made on another tribe, they would never think of making it without consulting with the " old men " of their tribe ; and after the matter had been talked over by the old men, and they had decided that an attack should be made, in all likelihood it would be, but it would not be compulsory, the tribe would do just as they liked about it. And again, they would never attack white men without having a meeting and a talk with the old men first ; and it is owing to this that it used to be said and believed that one white man with a gun could scatter a whole tribe of blacks. This is quite true, for I have frequently come suddenly on a mob of them, and they would run in all directions, and to a person who did not know their rules it would seem that they were a lot of cowards ; but let them have a talk with the old men the night before, and then see whether they would run. Not they ; they would stand their ground most manfully. I have seen them in such circumstances, and they would walk over their dead comrades as though they were nothing but black logs. My experience of the blacks of this colony is that they are a particularly brave lot. It is not one gun, or even a dozen, that would frighten them if they have had this talk with the old men ; but without that they are like a lot of chickens in a barn yard when a dog chases them. I again repeat, there were no chiefs. Many a white man has been gulled by the blacks about this "chief " question. The "new chum" white fellow in most cases has either read or heard that savages had chiefs — the school books would teli them that — and when the new chum came in contact with the blacks of this colony his first question almost would be, " Who chief ?" or "Who king?" Some of the blacks, just to please the new chum, would say " Me ohief, me king." "Oh! you king, eh!" "Yes, me king, me Billy," "Ah! I see, you King Billy." He would then go home to his wife, if he had one, and tell her and his family that he had seen the blacks and had an Interview with their King Billy. This kind of rubbish gets talked about and believed, and some other fool will get a brass plate half moon shape with a little chain to it and the words " This is King Billy, chief of tbe Yarra Yarra tribe " or some other foolery like it, engraved on it. This plate will then be given to Billy to wear, the chain put over his head and the brass plate hanging on his breast. Billy is proud of this and often gets an extra piece of damper or maybe a glass of rum through having gulled the white man with the belief that he was a ohief. During the time the blacks were peaceable with us we had many opportunities of ascertaining their ideas about various matters. We found that they had no Idea of a Supreme Being, but they had a great idea of some spirit that was all badness ; they were very superstitious and had a great dread of something in the way of a spirit which they were very frightened of in the dark. This imaginary spirit they called "Nutcha." I have known them when In camp at night and singing their monotonous songs and laughing, for one to look round in the dark and say in an undertone " Nutcha; in a moment all would be as still as death. They would never travel at night for fear of "Nutcha " and whenever they made an attaok on their fellow tribes they always did it at the dawn of day, because "Nutcha" was off by that time. They also displayed a great amount ot superstition when burying their dead. Now, all the blacks in a tribe were called after some animal, bird, creeping thing, or fish, and when a black man or lubra died the body would be buried in a sand hill or some place that could easily be excavated. When the corpse is buried and the grave filled up the lubras walk over it with their feet as close together as possible, or rather, it is more like a shuffle than a walk, and by keeplng the feet close together little ridges are formed between the feet, and those ridges were made on the grave in the shape of a diamond ; the grave being carefully swept with boughs or a bundle of long soft grass. Every morning for a considerable time the lubras visit the grave at daylight and search very carefully for any tracks that have been made over it during the night. Supposing that they discovered the tracks of an opossum and the deceased had been named "Ooramo" (which In English means opossum), they would hurry back to camp and tell what they had seen. They then have a great confab and put their wits to work to find out if there is a black in some other tribe who is unfortunate enough to be an enemy, and to be called "Coramo," and upon ascertaining that there exists such a person, they will later on attack the tribe at daylight and kill the black and take out his kidney fat and anoint themselves with it, and they firmly believe that that blackfellow, just because he bore the same name as the dead friend, was the

sole cause of his death. It is through this belief that such frequent wars occur with the different tribes, hence their always burning small fires at night, for they are always in dread of being sneaked upon, and never feel safe. (To Be Continued.)