Here’s a contemporary historical account that the AWM could use for its proposed Frontier War display. Might even be of interest to Mr Pascoe.
“When Mr. Wedge first landed at Port Phillip he found seven families of natives residing in their huts near the encampment which had been formed by the settlers who had just arrived with sheep. The most friendly understanding subsisted between them. About a fourth of the number were hunting. They returned in the evening with a plentiful supply, consisting of edable roots which they had dug up Kangaroo rats and calkeit or a species of ant in the fly state collected from the hollows of trees. Notwithstanding this, however, they possessed either of food or convenience, especially knives and blankets. One of the blacks in particular named Murradonnanuke manifested a very earnest desire to be on friendly terms, and has been mainly instrumental in confirming the peaceable intercourse that has since been established, although pointed out by Buckley as one who was much dreaded by the other chiefs on account of his treachery.
These people are, we regret to say decided cannibals. They do not however, indulge in this horrible propensity, except in two cases, the one in consuming the bodies of hostile tribes killed in battle, and the other, we shudder to relate it, on their own offspring. The women are accustomed to nurse and suckle their children until three or four years old, and in order to get rid of the trouble and inconvenience of finding sustenance for two should a second be born, before the oldest is weaned, they destroy the youngest immediately after its birth. There are some mothers also among them who destroy their offspring from mere wantonness, and one female the wife of Nullumbord was pointed out to Mr. Wedge as having destroyed ten out eleven of her children.
The increase of the tribes is of course by this murderous means, materially kept down. Polygamy however is common, few of the men having less than two wives and some four or more. The women are the slaves of the men and they are severely chastised by their husbands on the least fault or neglect of duty, even on the occasion of want of success in hunting or procuring food. To do this the unfeeling males take the burning brands from the fire and cast with force and too sure an aim at their oppressed victims. Surely the work of colonization, and the possession of this beautiful territory by civilized christians is to be accounted a human benefit and not an unjustifiable encroachment.
On the death of a husband his wives whatever be their number become the property of the eldest of his brothers or of the next of kin. The men are jealous of their wives, and when any culpable intrigue is discovered it very generally leads to the death of the offender, unless the latter be powerful or wealthy and gives in return some weighty compensation. Infidelity is however uncommon amongst them. In bestowing daughters for wives they are promised as soon as they born, and on those occasions the parents receive presents of food, opossum or kangaroo skin rugs, spears &c from the person to whom she is betrothed, and these arrangements are considered as binding as the marriage knot among us. The men are prohibited from looking at the mother of the girl given to them in marriage, which singular custom is observed with the strictest caution.
The fights which occasionally take place, between the different tribes are not often fatal, though the weapons of war are very dangerous. But they are remarkably expert in avoiding a blow, and very generally escape unhurt. Their skill in tracing the path of a kangaroo or other animal would be almost incredible to a European. The slightest disarrangement of the grass, a broken twig, or the smallest thing that indicates the passing of an object is perceived and serves to guide pursuit. Their perceptions of seeing, hearing and smelling are remarkably acute, and their patient persevereance in watching for game is equally wonderful.
Their food, consists principally of kangaroo flesh, and other animals, fish, roots of various kinds, black swans, ducks, and many other birds, as well as reptiles. In their appetites they are quite voracious, and the quantity they devour at one meal, as Mr. Wedge says, “would astonish a London aldermen, although not so fastidious in the quality of the viands.”
They appear to be without any religious observance, although they evidently believe in a future state. They are, however, docile, and many of them assisted the first settlers in erecting their huts, being repaid for their services in bread or blankets. Their habitations are of the readiest construction, being composed of branches of trees, laid with tolerable compactness, inclining to an apex at an angle of about 45 degrees, forming in shape a segment of a circle or hemisphere.
They are of a cheerful and happy disposition, and in the evenings dance and sing for amusement. Before their entertainments, they paint and decorate themselves, tying dead boughs to their legs, and the women beating time with two sticks. Their dress consists of an opossum or kangaroo skin rug, very neatly sewed together with the sinews of the tail of the latter. Their whole body is commonly enveloped in this rug. The men are always armed with spears, and the women with a stick about five feet in length, with which they dig up the roots. In a family all those capable to assist in procuring food are furnished with blankets and nets. They live in small groups, each family having a separate mess, the father presiding at the repast, and distributing the food. They have only two meals a day, breakfast and supper.
They wear shields of two kinds—one as a protection against spears, and the other to ward off the blows of clubs. The last one is about 2½ feet long, with a round knob at the end, which is used as a missile, the other is about the same length, with a pointed hook at one end, which in its turn is shaped to an edge. When used they direct the face of the weapon to the adversary’s head, but when the point of the stick is the means of attack, it is pointed to the ribs.
“It is, says Mr. Wedge, a fearful instrument in the hands of a savage, whose dexterity in the use of this and all other weapons is truly great.”
They wear the small bone of the leg of the kangaroo, about 5 or 6 inches long, through the cartilage of the nose, the teeth of the kangaroo and other animals fastened in the hair, and folds of string made from the sinews of the emu’s legs, round their necks. These decorations serve much to heighten their savage appearance. They appear to be, very healthy, and free from cutaneous disorders, but Mr. Wedge observed some of them with scars on their faces, not unlike the marks occasioned by the small pox.
Their language is not harsh, but when the ear becomes accustomed to it, it becomes pleasing. The liquids and vowels preponderate. The following are specimens —Villamanata, station mount, Bellarine, hills on Indented Head, Barrabull, hills near Bungawillock, or Buckley’s falls—Modewarrie, the lake—Noondeit, a small pool on Indented Head, Curwee, a chain of lands a little west of Port Phillip.
They burn their dead who die a natural death, but the bodies of women and girls after death are frequently thrown across the branch of a tree, and suffered to be eaten by beasts and birds of prey. On the death of a husband or child, or an accident to either, the women lacerate and disfigure their faces.SOME ACCOUNT OF THE ABORIGINES OF PORT PHILLIP, The Hobart Town Courier, Fri 4 Nov 1836