28th January 1933 cont. - churinga trade as casualties arrive

source icon The others employed the evening taking in churingas made of wood from the Ngalia for a little tea, flour and sugar. The evening meal again consisted of damper, (now quite good) rabbit and tea, the rabbit being cooked native way; whole except for the guts on the ashes.

Before starting off next morning the usual casualties began to pour in, mostly minor except for one man with a very nasty looking burst abscess on the angle of the jaw. As he wore a full beard and had followed the native practice of rubbing dirt into the afflicted spot, the job was not nice but I cut away the beard, washed off the dirt with warm water and potassium permanganate and put on a dressing. When we saw him last, the thing was nearly recovered and he hung round for a couple of days in gratitude.

I went across to another camp to inspect a woman whom Hezekiel said was very sick. He came to interpret for `the great white doctor'. I took a bottle of aspirin and some iodine. They were my total medicines apart from some potassium permanganate. She seemed to be in the last stages of pulmonary T.B. and she knew as well as I did the value of the aspirin I gave her. There was an immediate rush from all the women for the magic aspirin, and I doled out one each to quite a few. One woman with a very large baby at breast, was obviously pregnant.

I asked what happened if twins were born, and Hezekiel got into a long discussion. The upshot was that the head man of this group was called in. There was much more talk then Hezekiel said that twins were no good. One always had its brains knocked out. If a woman had a baby within two years of the last it was nearly always killed, particularly in a drought. There was much acting by the head man to confirm the bashing out of brains on the rocks, accompanied by a fierce sort of laughter. Some of the women covered their faces and seemed to cry and wail. It was a sore subject and one woman in particular, maybe 35 years old, seemed to have had the experience twice and was rather the butt of some of her female relatives, making her very irate, she screamed insults at everyone.

On the whole their attitude to death was very matter of fact and ephemeral, and Larnach had no trouble getting skulls. Close relatives went off and brought back skulls of quite recently dead fathers etc for a stick of tobacco. In these parts they were wrapped in bark and put up a tree.

I then went off to the north in the middle of a very hot day taking the gun and rifle, but only two cartridges for the gun. On the slopes I found many traces of rabbits, and tried to put something up from the tussocks and spinifex and bushes. I caught two rabbits by running them down. Although they ran uphill it seemed that I stood the heat better than they did.

The chase led me up the slopes from where I could see the smoke of a large grass fire to the south-east. Quite a few small groups of blacks were scattered about round the fire and in a number of other directions. The natives were deliberately spreading the fire. It was obvious that they were hunting parties using the fire to chase out small animals and larger game, though the smoke and distance hid a view of the results. Around mid-afternoon the fire died down and I could see that many of them were carrying kangaroos, emus and smaller catches. I started back and shot two more rabbits on the way down and saw places where the blacks had been digging out burrows.

There was a lot of noise coming from the main blacks camp and we heard bull roarers start up in the late evening. Most of the women and children, making a great noise, started running away from the camp. The noise died away as the sun set. then all of a sudden a great outburst of singing and beating of sticks came from the camp. I went over with Larnach and we could see a crowd of painted figures lined up in the light of many fires and stamping around in a circle. Larnach was keen to go closer but Hezekiel came after us and said we should come back as the bull roarers meant that we should go, as well as the women. I was all for discretion so we went back to our camp and I loaded the gun and the rifle, just in case.

The noise increased as the dancers worked themselves up, but after an hour or two some sort of row started with angry shouts and turmoil interspersed by single voices haranguing. A couple of particularly strident voices were obviously playing a very heated part in all this. It all came to a climax, there was a sudden pause, followed by great shouts, and then we heard laughter once more. The `music' started up, the fires got brighter and then voices of women and children started to drown out the men. I sneaked over to a safe distance and saw a dance in progress and counted at least five hundred natives at the party. There was a very strong smell of roasting meat even though the wind was blowing from the north.

The fires were flaring up with the burning fat. An argument broke out while I was watching and it looked and sounded very fierce for a few minutes. It was enough to make me feel safer back at our camp. I woke several times during the night and heard sounds of quarrels and much belligerence. Perhaps Pitchuri was responsible for this behaviour. The site of the corroboree seemed almost completely deserted by the time it was light enough too see clearly. One party came straight past us along the creek bed as though we were not there. Hezekiel was away until quite late, the camels having scattered more widely than usual.

We decided to make a move, so loaded the camels and set off along the course of the creek bed to the south on a very hot day indeed. By mid morning it got too hot in the creek bed, so we cut across a stony plain veering south-west, the heat haze and shimmer made it impossible to see more than a hundred yards or so. Small stones would sometimes look like overhanging cliffs and visa-versa. We were silent for once, just trying to endure. I felt an utterly insignificant pin-head in an infinity of red hot space, a sensation I shall never forget. The vortex of infinity. I lost track of time, direction and individuality. I was nothing, until suddenly a large rock and a big tree with the sun directly overhead broke into the spatial disorientation.

We unloaded and had lunch in the shade. We treated ourselves to a rare tin of peaches for lunch, but Murch had a sudden tantrum, refused nourishment and went off among the rocks to paint. He eventually came back and was glad to find we had kept his share. I passed the time by mixing a damper on the shovel and found that a very small fire was quite enough to produce an excellent loaf. A breeze got up from the west, very hot, and the air cleared enough to be able to see quite a distance, although the refraction of hot air still produced illusions and some dust blew up.

We lunched at a water hole where we attained a swim and in the afternoon and pushed on for about nine miles to a dry creek where we spent the night about a mile ahead of the tribe coming on. Here I again got a few rabbits to lessen the strain on the food supply and to keep Hezekiel happy.

Shortly after we set off again we came to a rock standing alone, with an absolutely flat top and about 5 feet high. The flat top was covered with round stones, obviously placed there. Hezekiel said that it was sacred to the honey-ant totem and that the stones hid the forbidden markings on its top. He was very uneasy about stumbling across it and would not approach. I would have been very interested in the drawings, but thought it wiser not to run the risk of upsetting the local tribe. They would have been certain to know if any of the stones were moved, and the camel tracks spoke for themselves. We also thought that the fact that we had been there and not interfered, would do us no harm and would make relations easier

A few minutes later having crossed a stoney ridge, we came on a small plain of whiter sand and to our great surprise, on a party including the mission boy, a small flock of goats travelling with him and a mixed group of natives. He now said that he was going to Mount Liebig and we joined up for a time with his party, but travelling faster, soon left them behind and followed a track that went west. We passed scattered groups of natives making in the same direction. We made an early camp on the bed of a creek, where a soak produced enough water of an indifferent but acceptable kind.

Towards evening the mission boys party arrived and camped a few hundred yards away. His groups now contained about 200. In the evening I went after rabbits, but had to walk a long way, as the natives had dug put the warrens nearby. The others employed the evening taking in churingas made of wood from a little group of Ngalia for a little flour and sugar. The evening meal consisted of rabbit cooked native style in its fur, damper and tea.

As Titus was travelling with a small flock of goats we did not get very far that morning and we gave him a lift on one of the camels as a change from donkey riding.

link to previous entry link to next entry