‘We are sorry to hear that the droughts that have long prevailed at Hawkesbury are severely felt, the stubble corn being at this time much in want of rain. On some of the orchard grounds the late peaches have shared the fate of the early fruit, having mostly
fallen off the trees.’92
20th January, 1805
The following musings on Aboriginal beliefs in the afterlife provide a valuable insight into what Aboriginal people thought of white people. It is important to note that when quizzed about the afterlife the Aboriginal man paused before saying that he might come back as a white man. The Aboriginal man was not flattering the white man; he was attempting to make sense of the unknown in a rapidly changing world. His interrogator was probably right in surmising that the silence of the Aboriginal man signified a fear that the benefits of such a change would be a change for the worse, supporting my supposition that Aboriginal people thought the white people were Aboriginal souls gone astray during reincarnation.
The second paragraph reflects contemporary European frustration with Aboriginal unwillingness to relinquish the old ways and embrace the new. Even after several Aboriginal men had sailed to the far corners of the world and others had crewed coastal boats, all went back to a traditional life. Not only does this show the resilience of Aboriginal culture it also shows how little the strength of Aboriginal culture was understood by the outsiders.
“We are but little acquainted with the ideas entertained by these people of futurity, although from common observation it is discernible, that they are strongly infected with supertitious (sic) prejudices, which shew themselves in an unwillingness to travel in the dark, the application of remedies to diseases, and in many other shapes. One of them, advanced nearer to civilization than the generality of his brethren, interrogated as to his notion of what was to happen after death, replied with some embarrassment, that he did not know positively; but perhaps he might become a white man93. - Whether he conceived advantage were to be derived from such a change, the most courteous eloquence was incapable of extorting; so that, from his silence two inferences were to be drawn; the first, that if he really considered such a change a benefit, he could not consent to an avowal of his sentiments lest he should be suspected of flattery; and next, that if he was apprehensive of disadvantage from a reversed complexion, he had too much politeness to offend the person to whom he addressed himself. The suggestion was, however, crude and irreconciliable; for although humanity is apt to draw a flattering picture of future events, yet it is evident that this poor native gave no immediate preference to manners which he might and would be encouraged to adopt, could he consent to lay his own aside. Some few instances have shewn them capable of a grateful return for favour and protection; one or two have even engaged in coasting vessels but immediately on their return, embraced the shield and spear, and sank again into all their barbarous habits. – This may be readily accounted for, as even the most enlightened sometimes yield to juvenile prejudices, and it would be therefore unreasonable to expect that they should long renounce those customs to which in their early infancy they were inured, and to which also they are bound by every tie of natural affection.’94
3rd February, 1805
In considering the causes of conflict between Aboriginal people and settlers attention is invariably drawn to the prevalence of fighting over the corn harvest around April and May. This was related to the taking of the yam beds along waterways for farming and closer settlement. However, the settlers were also hunting game, as shown by the following extract, which also depleted Aboriginal food sources. As well, while current bush and native sarsaparilla were not part of the Aboriginal diet, settlers pushing further out in search of these plants as a treatment for scurvy must have interfered with Aboriginal food gathering. “The foresters lately abate in their ardour of hunting the Kangaroo, because the price like that of every other species of animal food, has unfortunately experienced a fall.”95
13th February, 1805
The following court transaction caused a stir among settler society because a white man was punished for striking a native.
James Houlding, a prisoner who some time since absconded from public labour, and was supposed to have taken to the woods, was on Monday apprehended on a farm at Prospect, and brought in; when he was ordered to work in the gaol gang till further ordered; as was also Thomas Brown, for wantonly striking a native’.96
Sunday, 24th March, 1805
Whatever the details of the case, the author’s use of the terms “barbarian”, “brutal rage” and “civilised Community” managed to turn the dispute into a conflict between brute savagery and civilisation.
‘At the above settlement97a circumstance occurred a few days since among the natives, at the detail of which humanity must shudder. A trivial misunderstanding having taken place between a woman and her male associate, the latter levelled his spear at the defenceless object, and with a horrible dexterity passed it through her body, the point entering the back below the shoulder, and re-appearing under the left breast. The unhappy victim of a brutal rage was then abandoned to her fate by this barbarian, who unconscious of his obligation to the sex for the nurture of his infant years, and without which he must have perished in neglect, had with impious treachery hurled the sanguinary weapon at a poor trembler, incapable of defence, and at the very moment looking up for his protection. Surely, no member of a civilised community can be challenged by conscience with an offence quite so barbarous and debasing - at least, for the honour of civilised society, it is as well to hope so. - But to return to the poor native, afflicted equally in mind and body. The spear could not be extracted, and remained in its described position for more than two whole days. Mr. ARNDELL, the residentary Surgeon at the settlement, rendered every assistance that humanity could suggest, to alleviate the sufferings, and to rescue, if possible, an unfortunate fellow creature from unmerited destruction. The weapon was still immoveable on Thursday night, when the unhappy creature appeared anxious to have it extracted at all hazards; but whether it be possible she can survive the operation the event alone can determine.’98