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Among the Aborigines


Mrs. Daisy Bates Eulogised  


[Recently Miss C. L. Ruxton, of Gov- ernment House, Perth, paid a visit to Mrs. Daisy Bates and the native camps at Ooldea on the Trans-Australian

Railway. At the request of "The Sun-   day Times" Miss Ruxton readily con-   sented to write her impressions of the   visit, which are given below, and will  

we are sure prove both interesting and instructive.]

When Mrs. Daisy Bates invited me to spend a few days at her native camp in South Australia, I accepted with pleasure. All that I had read about the Australian aborigines had interes- ted me very much, so I was glad to have the opportunity of seeing some of their manners and customs for myself. I left Perth on July 16, and after rather a wearisome journey of 999 miles ar- rived on the afternoon of the 18th at Ooldea, a lonely little siding on the Trans-Australian Railway, situated on the fringe of the great Nullarbor Plain, and consisting merely of two or three houses belonging to the railway


Mrs. Bates, with a number of her black friends, met me at the siding, and I confess that my first view of the South Australian aborigines was most disappointing. Clad in the motley rags of civilisation, they looked a most miserable, degenerate race; but I rather altered my opinion when I knew   them better. After considerable delay and a good deal of chattering, my baggage was put into a camel buggy, which had come into Ooldea that morning, and had been commandeered by my hostess to convey me and my luggage, which consisted, chiefly, of stores for the natives, to our camp nearly a mile distant. We both got in, so did as many of the natives as could

find standing room, the rest hanging on  

behind or running after us with shouts and screams.

The camels set off across the bush     at a good pace, which gradually be-  

came faster and faster, until I fully

realised what the feelings of a shuttle-  

cock must be, and remarked that I had always imagined that camels, especial- ly in harness, maintained a slow and dignified gait. Mrs. Bates informed me that I was enjoying the unique experi-   ence of being run away with in a  

camel buggy, the old native driver muttering that "they soon finissem us up." However, some very steep sand- hills checked their wild career, and we arrived intact at our little camp, which consisted of an enclosure, surrounded by cut bushes about 3ft. high, two lit-   tle tents, one having been kindly sent  

up from Perth for me by the Govern- ment; a table, made out of a packing case, two chairs, a camp stool, and open fireplace with a tripod, a few cooking utensils, and a large number of kerosene tins. Everything was   beautifully clean and neat.  

As the natives, numbering now about   80, not including babies and dogs, were   all standing round outside the enclo-

sure, with looks of eager expectancy,   obviously the first thing to do was to   unpack the stores, and when I laid on   the table a number of old pipes—some   given to me by His Excellency, others   by Mr. E. Chase, as well as some lbs.  

of tobacco, a deep groan of wonder and   admiration came from the old men,   forgetting their good manners, rushed   in, grabbing as many pipes as they   could, but at a word from Mrs. Bates  

they put them back on the table, though I saw one of them secrete a pipe in his back hair, and then come forward innocently to receive another. We then distributed tea, sugar, flour,   and biscuits. Soon numerous little fires were alight all round our camp,

tea and damper being the order of the evening.

As soon as it began to grow dusk, one by one the groups returned to the shelter of their own camp about a quarter of a mile from ours, no native liking to be out after dark for fear of "debbil debbils."

Miss Daisy Bates' Camp in the Abo' Country

The incessant chattering, whining of children, and barking of dogs ceased, and all was silent. Such a silence— the silence of the bush—there is no other like it. It was a wonderful even- ing. The vast Nullarbor Plain, stretch- ing away below our tents into infinity, was glowing with the evening glory; now steeped in crimson, then changing to rose, green, and amber, fading at last away into a delicate mauve, until the rising full moon turned all to silver.

After an excellent supper of eggs, potatoes roasted in the ashes, damper, and tea, sounds of weird music warned us that it was time to set off to the natives' camp for the e'enma, or cor- roboree, which was to be given in my


I shall never forget my first sight of the camp by moonlight, with the countless fires, the fantastic shapes of the mallee gums, native cork and black oak trees, the dusky figures creeping in and out of the bushes, was unlike anything I had seen before.

The men and boys who were to take part in the corroboree had discarded their rags, and I had sent word to say that I did not want them to dance in "whitefella" clothes, so they were in full warlike attire, which consisted of a great deal of red and white paint in various designs, according to the to- tem to which they belonged—a girdle made of dozens of strands of soft string, spun from wombat or rabbit or human hair, when procurable. I be- lieve that the hair of every mother-in- law becomes the son-in-law's pro-   perty as soon as he is betrothed, and must be delivered up when asked for. A tassel fastened to the girdle, a piece of pearl shell round the neck or a

Some of the crowd waiting for us at Ooldea Station

string of human hair, and a polished

white bone about six inches long   through the nostrils completed the cos-  


Many styles of hairdressing were in vogue; some ornamented with colored bands, drawn tight across the fore- heads; some with white and red fea- thers; and others had white rosettes over each ear, made of green sticks peeled to within an inch of the top, the curled white shavings, like plumes, were most effective. They all had kajji (spears), jurding (clubs), and dharra (shields), and looked very different

from the tatterdemalian crew I had seen that afternoon at the siding.

The old men and women sat round in circles, beating on the ground with their clubs, and really making ryth- mical sounds, singing at the same time what sounded like a strange Gregorian chant. At first the music was soft and slow, growing louder and faster until it reached its highest pitch, and then   the dancers dashed out of the bushes with astounding cries, brandishing their weapons and performing several grotesque kinds of dances. One of these interested me very much.

A man, supposed to be a kangaroo,  

lay on the ground asleep, while several others, representing dingoes, danced around him, uttering short barks and howls, keeping time with the music, and trying to strike him with their spears and clubs, but he always man- aged to hop away. We were then told to turn our backs and not look, and

after a brief interval we were reques-  

ted to turn round again, but neither   kangaroo nor dingoes were visible.     However, presently we saw the sand in front of us moving; out came the  

head of the kangaroo man, and then  

the rest of his body; he then disap-  

peared from sight into the bushes. The   meaning of this totem dance is, briefly,   this: No man of the kangaroo totem   can die, for even though put into the

ground he will rise out of it, and if he  

has kept his tribal laws and has been   good "blackfella" he is taken up by the Great Spirit of his Totem, who lives in

one of the constellations. A legend  

touching rather closely on to our   Christian belief.  

A great honor was paid me. I was  

told that I might look on at one of their secret spirit dances, which no   woman may look at on pain of death.   At a given signal every woman and   child in the camp had to retire some   distance, turn their backs, and hide their faces in the sand.  

The old men then started a most dis-  

mal dirge. About a dozen little fires  

were rapidly lit by two men running in

front of the others, while the rest of the performers, with the strangest of gestures and gyrations, danced in and     out of the fires, making a curious hiss- ing noise. It was certainly a very

creepy performance, and I believe Mrs.     Bates and I are the only women who  

have seen it.  

This finished the corroboree. It was   past 11 o'clock, so we walked back in the beautiful moonlight to our lonely little camp.

Next day we paid a visit to the Ool- dea Soak, about four miles distant. Mr. Murray having kindly telegraphed that

I might keep the camel buggy for an- other day, we set off in it, accompanied by two small boys. The Soak is well worth a visit. In the centre of a val- ley surrounded entirely by very high  

sandhills, any amount of good fresh

water is to be found quite near the surface, though a few feet further

down it becomes bitter and undrink-

able. Many wells have been sunk, a pumping station has been established, and I am told that 10,000 gallons are pumped daily down to Ooldea to sup- ply the stations on the line.

We halted in the bush for our lun- cheon of cheese, damper, and tea with- out milk. The boys dug up a very

large bardee, or milberte, as they call

it, which they brought me as a great delicacy. It was a fat white grub, about four inches long. They expected me to eat it then and there, but I in- sisted on cooking it in the hot ashes, and it took a good deal of courage to eat part of it, although it really tasted like an oyster flavored with almonds. They brought me also a little snake, six inches long, with yellow and black stripes all round its body. This I flatly declined to eat, and managed to get it into a matchbox, which I filled with sand. I brought it back to Perth alive, but as it did not prove a wel- come guest I took it over to the Zoo- logical Gardens, and presented it to Mr. Le Souef, who told me that it was a rainbow snake, very venomous, and

it was the first one he had seen. The  

legend attached to it comes from the

North. There was once a violent hail-   storm, and the natives, who had never   seen hailstones before, watched them

disappearing into the ground, and  

concluded that they had burrowed in.  

One of them, more enterprising than  

the rest, began to dig, and instead of  

the little white stones, found a number   of tiny snakes with colored lines round   their bodies. A rainbow appearing at   the same time, they decided that the   hailstones were the rainbow's eggs, and   hatched out into snakes in the ground; so they believe that a rainbow snake   brings hail and rain, and, curiously   enough, the day after I brought my  

little snake back to Perth there was a  

heavy hailstorm.  

There happened to be a larger mob  

of natives than usual in the Ooldea  

camp, consisting of families from se-   veral different groups—some from the  

Musgrove and Everard Ranges and  

from the local Ganggungarra, Beejin-  

jarra, and Gagganumgri groups. They   are a wandering people, journeying from water hole to water hole, seldom

staying long in any place, and subsist-  

ing chiefly on reptiles, insects, roots, and berries.

In the summer their dwellings con-  

sist merely of a few cut bushes to  

serve as break wind; in winter they build beehive huts of branches, and have a fire always burning in front.

Their relationships are quite beyond   me. Only three generations count—

child, parent, grandparent. When these

are finished they begin again, and your   great-grandmother becomes your    

child! I am told that when once I get  

to the root of the matter, it will be   quite easy to understand why a grown man will call a boy "uncle" and a baby  

girl "mother," but I doubt my intellect   ever being able to grasp these compli-

cated relationships. Mrs. Bates is  

"kabbarli" (grandmother), and I am

"kabbarli mallaing" (grandmother's younger sister) to the whole tribe.

I cannot speak too highly of the courtesy, good manners, and honesty of these natives. If any of them came to our camp while we were having a meal, they always retired to some dis-     tance and turned their backs. The day

we went to the Ooldea Soak we were   away for several hours. Not a thing had been touched, though all the stores were quite easily got at. Nothing was locked up, but there was not a footprint on the sand. Not a soul had been inside our enclosure, which I think speaks well for Mrs. Bates' teaching. They were always ready to help to carry water and fetch the firewood. They brought me all kinds of things to eat— roots and berries, some of them quite edible; reptiles of all sorts, iguanas, snakes, and even a barking lizard.

The old men came over one morning   and showed me how they spin rabbit and wombat fur into string, by rubbing it on their bare legs, then winding it on     to a spindle made out of willow sticks. They also taught me how to make a

fire by rubbing a hard and soft wood together in the sawing method, and as   a great favour allowed me to see them use the "kalligura" or bull-roarer—an instrument of a very mysterious and sacred nature. It is a piece of wood slightly hollowed out on one side, about 18 inches long and a quarter of an inch   thick. A string is passed through a hole at one end: the man swings it round his head until the string is taut. It makes the most unearthly sounds imaginable, which carry a great dis- tance. This kalligura is always care-

fully hidden from the women and chil- dren, and whenever it is heard they know that they must not come near. I cannot end this inadequate account

of my very interesting visit to the Ool- dea Native Camp without saying a few words about the work which Mrs. Bates is doing among this remnant of

The foraging platoon produce an iguana for my supper

a fast-dying race—one of the most an-   cient races in existence.

Her great object is to bring some little comfort and happiness into their lives, the women being her special care, for their lives are indeed miser- able. Every cruelty is practised on them; every burden is laid upon them. They are the last to be fed; even the dogs are of greater account.

Mrs. Bates tries to teach the natives   honesty. By her courtesy to them she

teaches them to be courteous. She im-     presses upon them the terrible evils

of cannibalism, cases of which occur-   red in the camp not many months ago   among natives who recently came down from the ranges. She does her utmost to prevent them mixing with white people, and urges them to keep their tribal laws, which are very strict as regards marriage, but which are rapidly being cast on one side. All day long they come with their troubles and ailments to her tent. "Kabbarli,

Kabbarli," is the never-ceasing call.     She listens to them with the greatest patience and kindness, and she has a wonderful influence over them. One night by her tact and her wonderful knowledge of their ways and dialects, she prevented what would have been a fight between two groups certain to   have ended in bloodshed.

Very few realise what a lonely, self- sacrificing life she leads, and when I saw her kneeling, as I often did, in the

sand, beside some of these poor, suf-   fering creatures, rubbing their chests   with linaments or dressing some   wounds, I felt sure that the words "In-   asmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto Me," were true in her


Native with sacred totem in his hair. This is rarely shown

to whites

The day I left the natives came to bid me good-bye, bringing me many   beautiful specimens of weapons, etc.,   and when the train left the little sid- ing of Ooldea I felt that the interest of my four days' visit would more than repay me for the 2000 miles of railway   travelling.

The Town Hall, Inverness, where the First Cabinet  

meeting ever held in Scotland took place.