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sit on the ground like Turks, with their opossum cloaks folded up in their laps, on which, as on so many drums, they beat with their open hands, at the same time singing together in unison and in perfect time their monotonous “ Maley—maley—ma-a-ma!” The leader of the musicians is generally a man, who stands striking two sticks together, and by voice and gesture animates them. The dancers usually move in a line ; they strike their toes and heels alternately on the ground, bending their bodies, and turning out the knees in imitation of kangaroos, frogs, and other animals. One of the dancers commonly acts as clown, and excites mirth by his antics; and the precision with which the dancers all move together, the lurid glare of the fires, the pleasing rhythm of the song, and the quick, animating beat of the sticks and rugs, produce an effect wild indeed, but pleasing and harmonious.
In diet the taste of the aborigines is not epicurean ; opossums, kangaroos, emus, or other birds, reptiles, maggots, beetles, ants, gumgrubs, animals that have died a natural death, whether cat, dog, old horse, or bullock, are all eaten with avidity. Should a rotten old hack die, they will crowd to the spot, strip off the skin, and voraciously devour putrid lumps which their impatience scarcely allows them to warm, much less cook.
The principal weapons of the aborigines are the
spear, the waddy, or club, and, since the arrival of the white man, the axe or common chopper, and small crowbar. Other weapons there are, both offensive and defensive, but as they are only of occasional use, we shall not stop here to mention them.
Opossums may be considered their staple food: to obtain these the native will climb gigantic trees, making notches with a light chisel-pointed iron bar as he ascends for the insertion of his toes and hands. With equal address and ingenuity, he catches water-fowl by covering his head with rushes, and wading cautiously through the water till within reach of the unsuspecting birds, which he suddenly seizes. He is swift of foot; walks, runs, and climbs with ease and grace; and his organs of sight, hearing, smell, and touch are much more keen than those of the white man. His language is guttural, but euphonious. His mode of warfare, as compared with that of civilized nations, is puerile.
There are no chiefs or heads of the tribes, and no marriage laws exist; polygamy is common, and every member of the tribe takes as many females under his protection, as the extent of his power or influence enables him to lay hold of. Courtship, in the European sense, is unknown. The men have, at a certain age, one or more of their front teeth knocked out; they then patrol the country in quest of lubras, or gins, as the wives are called.
Adelaide and Melbourne are neutral ground, and there these worthies may be observed, their bodies besmeared with paint, and their heads decorated with feathers, to give them a seductive appearance, prying about in quest of a partner. At their approach, the black damsels fly in dismay; a chase ensues, the inamorato, on overtaking the maiden of his choice, stuns her with a blow of his waddy, carries her off, and she becomes his gin, or lubra, or I should say slave, for they treat their women with less kindness than an Englishman shows to his dog.
The aborigines have no belief in God, but they believe in the existence of an evil spirit, which they call “ Dibble-dibble,” and propitiate by offerings. Of this evil spirit they have a great dread. They believe he is very powerful, and they attribute to him all diseases or accidents. The old men, in nearly every tribe, are soothsayers, or wise men, who profess to hold communion with the “evil spirit,” to control the wind and rain, to interpret dreams, which are always considered ominous, and to foretel events. Eclipses, meteors, and other natural phenomena, cause direful consternation; and their superstitious fears prevent them from moving about in the dark. They have an
undefined notion of futurity, and believe in the transmigration of bodies. They say: fellow go in ground, come up white fellow;" in this manner they acount for the arrival of the whites among them. They have no conception, however, of future rewards and punishments. The horrible practice of infanticide, and even cannibalism, is of occasional occurrence among these children of the wilds. The women seldom let a half-caste child live; and when interrogated on the subject, they say: “Knock him piccaniny on head, him piccaniny plenty no good!”
The idea generally entertained among civilized nations that all savages are hardy and healthy, is a mistake. The constitution of the Australian black is peculiarly delicate. From childhood he shoots up to manhood like a reed, and while yet in the years of youth, his bloom fades, his form changes, and he becomes stiff, withered, and frightfully ugly. The mind undergoes an equally perceptible change; and the kind, open, generous, light-hearted youth,