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The Euahlayi Tribe Part 18

If an Australian Wagner could be born we might hope for a musical adaptation of corroborees. Wagner was essentially the exponent of folk-lore music, wherein must be expressed the fundamentals of human passion unrefined.

The most celebrated weapon is probably the boomerang the most celebrated kind to whites, though not most useful to blacks, is the Bubberab, or returning boomerang. These are made chiefly of Gidya and Myall. Here these 'Come backs' are never carved, are more curved than the ordinary boomerang, and were greased, rubbed with charred grass, and warmed before being used, so that the slightest warp would be straightened. It is marvellous the accuracy with which an adept can throw one of these weapons, locating it on the exact place to which he wishes it to return.

Gidya is the favourite wood for boomerangs. They are first roughly shaped, then thrown into water and soaked for two or three days; taken out and made into the proper shape, rubbed with charred grass, greased well, and carved in various designs with an opossum's tooth.

Boomerangs have many uses--in peace two clicked together as a musical instrument, as a war weapon, and as a weapon in the chase. Its last and rapidly approaching use will be as a curio for collectors.

Billah, or spears, are made of Belah (swamp oak) or Gidya. These too are cut roughly first and thrown into water, then cut a little more, thrown into water again, and so day after day until finished. Sometimes they are carved with a running featherstitch-like pattern from end to end, sometimes have bingles, or barbs, cut down one or both sides; some barbarous things with barbs pointing both ways, so that they could be neither pushed out nor drawn through a wound; some are plain, painted at each end or darkened with poison tips.

Billah are war weapons; a larger kind called Moornin are used for spearing emu.

Woggarahs, the hatchet-shaped weapons, were made of Myall, Gidya, and other woods, carved as were boomerangs, each carver usually having a favourite design by which his weapons were recognised.

Booreens, or shields, were of three kinds: a narrow kind made of hardwood, a broad flat kind of Kurrajong, and a medium-sized one of Birah, or whitewood, all painted in coloured designs. It is wonderful the way a man can defend himself single-handed against a number of men, he having only a narrow shield, the only defence he is allowed when he has to stand his trial for a breach of the laws.

Their tomahawks, or Cumbees, were of dark-green stone, of which there is none in this district, so it must have been obtained by barter, as in the first instance were the flat, light Booreens from the Queensland side, and the grass-tree gum from the Narrabri mountains side, for which Gidya boomerangs were given in exchange.

The stone tomahawks have a handle put over one end of the stone, gummed on with beefwood gum, then drawn together under the stone, crossed, and the two ends tied together as a handle, with sinews of emus, opossums, or kangaroos.

Muggils, or stone knives, are just sharpened pieces of stone.

Moorooleh are plain waddies used in war and for killing game; a smaller kind called Boodthul are thrown for amusement.

Boondees are heavy-headed clubs used in war.

The black fellow won't allow his womenkind a heaven of rest, for the spirit women are supposed to make weapons which the wirreenuns journey towards the sunset clouds to get--the women's heaven is in the west--giving in exchange animal food and opossum rugs, no animals being there.

For carrying water they used to make bags of opossum skins. To prepare the skins they would pluck the hair off, and, after cleansing them well, sew up the skins with sinews, leaving only the neck open. They would fill this vessel with air and hang it out to dry.

As, a water vessel, to mix their drinks and medicines in, they used Binguies or Coolamons, a deep, canoe-shaped vessel cut out of solid wood, carved sometimes and painted, a string handle to it. They used little bark vessels to drink out of, like shallow basins, cut from excrescences on eucalyptus trees; these were called wirree. A larger bark vessel they used for holding water, honey, or anything liquid.

While on the subject of personal decoration I forgot the Moobir, or cuts on the bodies, some of which are tribal marks, some marks of mourning, some merely of ornamentation. Both men and women are seen with these marks in the Narran district; some huge wales on the skin from the shoulders half-way down the back, some on the chest and the forepart of the arms. They are cut with a stone knife, licked along by the medicine man, filled in with charcoal, and the skin let grow over.

Various reasons are given for these marks: some say they are to give strength, others as a tribal sign, others just to took pretty. Some give the final reason for everything, 'Because Byamee say so.'

In summer the blacks are great bathers, and play all sorts of games in the water. Their soap is clay; they rub themselves with that, the women plastering it under their arms again and again; the little children rub themselves all over with it, then tumble into the water to wash it off.

In winter they forgo bathing, and rub themselves with liberal applications of grease.

The old blacks used to have very good teeth; they never ate without afterwards rinsing out their mouths, and sometimes munched up charcoal to purify them. But the younger generation have discarded the mouth-rinsing habit, and not yet attained to a tooth-brush: result, gradual deterioration in teeth, a deterioration probably helped by the drinking of hot liquids. Blacks of the old time drank nothing hot.

Perhaps, too, their tough meats gave muscular strength to their jaws.

To blacks, kissing is a 'white foolishness,' also handshaking; in olden times even to smell a stranger was considered a risk.

CHAPTER XV

THE AMUSEMENTS OF BLACKS

A very favourite game of the old men was skipping--Brambahl, they called it.

They had a long rope, a man at each end to swing it. When it is in full swing in goes the skipper. After skipping in an ordinary way for a few rounds, he begins the variations, which consist, amongst other things, of his taking thorns out of his feet, digging as if for larv' of ants, digging yams, grinding grass-seed, jumping like a frog, doing a sort of cobbler's dance, striking an attitude as if looking for something in the distance, running out, snatching up a child, and skipping with it in his arms, or lying flat down on the ground, measuring his full length in that position, rising and letting the rope slip under him; the rope going the whole time, of course, never varying in pace nor pausing for any of the variations.

The one who can most successfully vary the performance is victor. Old men of over seventy seemed the best at skipping.

There is great excitement over Bubberah, or come-back boomerang throwing.

Every candidate has a little fire, where, after having rubbed his bubberah with charred grass and fat, he warms it, eyes it up and down to see that it is true, then out he comes, weapon in hand. He looks at the winning spot, and with a scientific flourish of his arm sends his bubberah forth on its circular flight; you would think it was going into the Beyond, when it curves round and comes gyrating back to the given spot. Here again the old ones score.

Wungoolay is another old game.

A number of black fellows arm themselves with a number of spears, or rather pointed sticks, between four and five feet long, called widyu-widyu. Two men take the wungoolays, which are pieces of bark, either squared or roughly rounded, about fifteen inches in diameter.

These men go about fifty yards from each other; first one and then another throws the wungoolays, which roll swiftly along the ground past the men with the spears, who are stationed midway between the other two a few yards from the path of the wungoolays, which, as they come rolling rapidly past, the men try to spear with their widyu-widyu; he who hits the most, wins the game. It looks easy enough, but here again the old men scored.

For Gurril Boodthul, if a bush is not at hand, a bushy branch of a tree is stuck up. The men arm themselves with small boodthuls, or miniature waddies, then stand a few feet behind the bush, which varies from five to eight feet or so in height at competitions. They throw their boodthuls in turn; these have to skim through the top of the bush, which seems to give them fresh impetus instead of slackening them. The distance they go beyond is the test of a good thrower; over three hundred yards is not unusual. As practice in this game is kept up, the young men hold their own.

There is another throwing stick somewhat larger than the gurril boodthul, which only weighs about three ounces, and is about a foot in length. The other stick is thrown to touch the ground, then bound on, sometimes making one high long leap, sometimes a series of jumps, as a flat pebble does when thrown along the water in the game children call 'ducks and drakes.'

Yahweerh is a sort of sham trial fight. One man has a bark shield, and he has to defend himself with it from the bark toy boomerangs the others throw. Here again the old men win. Their games, which old and young alike play, are distinctly childish.

Boogalah, or ball, is one. In playing this all of one Dhe, or totem, are partners. The ball, made of sewn-up kangaroo skin, is thrown in the air; whoever catches it goes with his or her division--for women join in this game--into a group in the middle, the other circling round. The ball is thrown in the air, and if one of the circle outside the centre ring catches it, then his side namely, all his totem--go into the middle, the others circling round, and so on. The totem keeping it longest wins.

Goomboobooddoo, or wrestling, is a great Boorah-time entertainment.

Family clan against clan. Kubbee against Hippi, and so on. A Hippi, for example, will go into a ring and plant there a mudgee, or painted stick with a bunch of feathers at the top. In will run a Kubbee and try to make off with the stick; Hippi will grapple with him, and a wrestling match comes off. Into the ring will go others of each side wrestling in their turn. The side that finally throws the most men, and gets the mudgee, wins. Before wrestling matches, there is much greasing of bodies to make them slippery.

Wimberoo was a favourite fireside game. A big fire was made of leafy branches. Each player got a dry Coolabah leaf, warmed it until it bent a little, then placed it on two fingers and hit it with one into where the current of air, caused by the flame, caught it and bore it aloft.

They all jerked their leaves together, and anxiously watched whose would go the highest. Each watched his leaf descend, caught it, and began again. So on until tired.

Woolbooldarn is an absolutely infantile game. A low, overhanging branch of a tree is chosen, and as many as it will bear, old and young, men and women, straddle it; and, holding on to the higher overhanging branches, they swing up and down with as much spring as they can get out of the branch they are on.

Whagoo is just like our I hide and seek.'

Gooumoorhs, or corroborees, are of course their greatest entertainment, their opera, ballet, and the rest; only they reverse the usual order of things obtaining elsewhere. The women form the orchestra, the men are the dancers, as a rule, though women do on occasions take part too. The dancers rarely sing while performing their evolutions, though they will end up a measure at times with a loud 'Ooh! Ooh!' or 'Wahl Wah!'

There are two dances they think very clever: one a sort of in and out movement with the knees, while keeping the feet close together.

Another, which they called I shivering of the chest,' a sort of drawing in and out of their breath, causing a vibratory motion.

Then they give a sort of Sandow performance all in time to the music.

They first start the muscles of their legs showing, then the arms, and down the sides of the chest. I am afraid I was not educated up to be appreciative of any of these special wonders, though Matah and others said their muscular training was marvellous.

From a spectacular point of view I thought much more interesting a corroboree illustrating the coming of the first steamer up the Barwon.

The steamer was made--for the corroboree, I mean--of logs with mud layered over them, painted up, a hollow log for a funnel in the middle.

There was a little opening in the far side of the steamer in which a fire was made, the smoke issuing through the hollow log in the most realistic fashion. The blacks who first came on the stage were all supposed to represent various birds disturbed by this strange sight--cranes, pelicans, black swans, and ducks. The peculiarities of each bird were well imitated; and as each section in turn was startled, their cries were realistically given. Hearing which, on the scene came some armed black fellows, who, seeing what the birds had seen, started back in astonishment, seemed to have a great dumb-show palaver, then one by one, clutching their weapons, they came forward to more closely examine the new 'debbil debbil.' Here some one would stoke the fire, out would belch through the funnel a big smoke and a lapping flame, away went the blacks into the bush as if too terrified to stay. But you can't describe a corroboree, it wants the scenic effects of the grim bush: tapering, dark Belahs, Coolabahs contorted into quaint shapes and excrescences by extremes of flood and drought, and their grotesqueness lit up by the flickering fires, until the trees themselves look like demons of the night, and the painted black fellows their attendant spirits stealing into the firelight from what seems a vast, dark, unknown Beyond.

Chapter end

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