This is a story of, in part, the coming of white men to Australia.
Whether it is wholly true or not does not, perhaps, matter much.
It is true this far-that since the earliest times the aborigines did believe that a black man was taken by a great white spirit and he became the ancestor of the great white race. It was thought that this black man was so favoured by the god that he took him to his own realm, and that occasionally, at times remote from one another, some aborigine nearly as much favoured, was allowed to penetrate after death into the country of this white race and become white like the ones there, and then come back for a time to his people.
So we have many accounts of white people being taken to the hearts of the blacks just because they thought that perhaps those whites were the favoured blacks who came back.
Often a sear on the white man was the recognised mark; sometimes it was a peculiarity of hair; sometimes an uncommon walk, and sometimes there was some likeness in facial features. The blacks were all very quick to notice such things.
There are many stories of kindnesses done by the blacks at times when the white was powerless, and it is a fact that the traits of human character that make for benevolence and charity were pronounced in the autochonous inhabitants of this country.
All over Australia men and women watched for the return of the man who was taken to be the ancestor of a white race. On the great plains the vantage points were trees, but if there were an outstanding rocky eminence periodical pilgrimages were made to it. On the highlands the place was always a cool gully with moss and fern-grown sides, while on the coast it was always the highest of a line of sand-dunes or the top of a rock-bound promontory.
That white morning away back in the thousands of years ago that brought Allambee from his gunyah (he was called Allambee because he was slow in his movements), blinking at the sun that was just crawling up from beyond the edge of the sea, was just the same as the many white mornings that brought me out of my tent to look at the same sun steadily rising from beyond the horizon down on the New South Wales Coast, somewhere in the mists of my past.
But in Allambee's days there were different things everywhere. Whether of the animal world or the plant world or of the spirit world the aborigines were not clear, and from what they said, I believe that it was of the spirit world, for their belief in magic from above nature, and the supernatural in all things, was pathetically great.
The sky became brilliant. The sea was whitey-grey with specks of flashing silver coming from the sun to a wide mark just behind the breakers. These specks danced like shaking beads.
Away to the north the sea was calm and flat and still and light blue; away to the south it was just as calm and flat but a little bluer. The horizon was level and clear and sharp. The breakers were very lazy. They just reared up and broke in white foam and fell and came on and in. When they reached the beach they slipped in lines of tiny foam and turned and faded out. The beach was yellow and massed with shells and dry cuttlefish and a few old water-smoothed logs lay about on the sand. An irregular line of mesembryanthemum and marram-covered dunes stood then, and Xerotes rush with the pebbly and spikey flowers forbade unwary trampling. Big old gnarled Banksia serrata leaned over bowing to the sea, and the underscrub was leptospermum and bracken fern with a tangle of hibbertia and smilax and hardenbergias.
It was a clear patch that sloped to a wide rushy lagoon, and back of it all the flat-sided and sheer and dense-clad range.
Now, of this beauty all is gone but the sea and the sky, for white man is the despoiler of nature. The range is made bare. The lagoon is dried up. The banksias and the ferns and the bushes are all gone. The sand dunes are all torn away, and the shells are trampled and broken. The dust of civilisation and the dirt of coal mines and the dazing noise of industry-the, after all, useless industry-of white man, vilify the air.
When white men came the land was as Allambee saw it and as it had been for the ages. Whatever difference occurred was the difference of evolution, not of revolution. A flat patch of rock to the southwards that was edged with green mosses and sprays of seaweed caught the breakers and the mosses were sparkled and the seaweed swung with the water as it receded. When the tide was low and the waves just murmured and the seagulls swept the surface with their sharp wings there was a wide, low slope of beach.
Allambee walked amongst the sleeping people and stood on the sand dunes.
He saw a strange sight. A white man sat on the sea over against the flat patch of rock. He was very big.
He had flowing hair and a big mass of beard and his eyes could be seen even at a great distance. And in his hand he held a long spear.
Allambee had never seen such a spear before. He had never seen anything like this sight, for the man was huge and bright and white, and all about and belonging to this apparation was the same-huge and bright and white.
At first he was very frightened.
The sun came high up and the sparkling flashes became less and less and the white morning became blue and a little breeze sprang up in the north-east and came on in little pulses across the sea and stirred the leaves of the banksias.
The people moved and dogs stretched themselves and yawned.
Allambee forgot his fears and determined to go across to the rocks to see the big man who sat on the sea. He wanted to talk to him. The great stranger said that he had come to choose a good man to go with him to the place from whence he had come, for a king was wanted there to become an ancestor and to cause a race of people to come to inhabit the land and make it grow the beautiful things that were on other parts of the coast, especially that part which we call Illawarra. He asked Allambee if he would go, and though Allambee thought of his wife and his children and his people, he thought, too, that it would be fine to be a king, and what is so much better, an ancestor, so he consented to go. But he must return to the camp and have just one last look at those whom he really loved. He found his wife and his little brown baby on the sand dunes just where he had stood when he saw the big man out on the water. Others of the family group by this time were astir, and were either preparing food and weapons, or were trying to decide where they would hunt during the day. Many women were seated at fires, and watching to see the round stones become heated enough to use for baking meat and fish. Others were idly jabbing their digging sticks into the grass. The rest were either patting the dogs or just standing awaiting orders. Children were playing about-some in the lagoon and some on the sandy patches or amongst the green grass.
Some men were busy extracting the tough sinews from wallabies' legs to use as tying-string and binding their stone axes in the handles. Others were applying themselves to the cooking and the fashioning of weapons, as I have written.
None had gone to the beach. Only Allambee's wife had reached the sand-dunes, and there she sat awaiting her husband.
When he came he told her what had happened. She looked across to the rocks but she could see no man at all. She grew very much afraid, for she thought that if Allambee had seen any such thing he must be what the Scotch call "fey." So she said nothing, and taking her child close to her she rose simply, but with much trepidation and inward weakness, and went back to the camp.
All the people could see that something had occurred to Allambee, and the wife whispered that it was magical and no one spoke to him. They were afraid that he perhaps possessed magic power and that he might use it to their detriment or at least disadvantage.
So Allambee silently passed out from the people and going down to the rocks he waded into the water. Many of the family group went as far as the dunes and from there they watched. The principal watcher was his wife.
During many days that followed she went out there, and though other women tried to comfort her she would not be comforted. Her husband was not dead, therefore she did not wear the white clay that was usual, and that, being a dress of some sort, was, even in their distress because of the loss of a husband, a source of satisfaction. She did her work. She entered into the preparing of the food just as before. She tended her children. When the women went to the rocks either to the north or to the south to assist in the catching of crustaceans or the spearing of swimming fish or the trapping of eels, she went too. She made ropes of fur and bags of rushes and sea-grass, and she watched the black under her baby's skin gradually spreading over his little body, but in it all-during all her days, and while she was awake at night, she waited and longed for her husband.
She believed that one day he would come back and she would know him.
Then came the time when the king ordered the people to go to another part of the coast. While they were wending their way along the beach they came to a place where a creek spread itself out on the sand, and only a narrow bar separated it from the water of the sea.
Allambee's wife was the first to essay to pass along the bar. It was of sodden sand, and underneath that there was much soft and rotted weed. She sank. The sand was a patch of treacherous quicksand. Allambee's little boy was left without either father or mother. He was cared for by some of his relatives, for all those people whom Allambee, by the rules of his race, might have married were considered as much mother as the real mother, and Allambee's brothers as well as those brothers of the women he could have taken to wife were uncles, so no orphan could ever be without relatives. When he grew up he became a priest and he thought that his father was taken by a spirit for some great work and that his mother had joined him. This belief was shared by the people and Allambee's son was looked upon with more awe than reverence. He was under instruction for many months but the day came when he was accredited, and after that his ministrations were accepted and he grew to be of great importance. The people had moved back and forth many times. He knew all the story of his father, and every time that the camp was back near those flat rocks he spent many mornings on the sand-dunes gazing out to sea and hoping to find his father coming back with the great white spirit with whom he had gone away.
When again the tide was full and the rocks were covered and the breakers dashed against the cliffs and the beach was under water he did not bother to look. If the storm blew and the rain fell, and the wind lashed the leaves of the banksias and twirled the bushes and the streamers of marram that grew on the sandhills he thought it was no time to watch, for then the sea was very rough and no one, not even a spirit, could walk on it.
His day at last passed away and he went out into the beyond and his people buried him in the sand. All the rest of the people who died were buried in the shallow graves further up the beach, and after a time their bones were taken up and scattered, but a member of the immediate family took an arm bone or a shin bone (a radius or a tibia) and carried it for luck until it became uninteresting or a nuisance, when it was thrown away.
But a bone of a priest was never taken.
Each successive priest in his day watched on the sand-dunes.
Then came a day just like that day on which the great spirit man appeared. The sun came up out of the sea in a white sky as before and the sparkling spots danced and spread on the water and the waves were weary.
A priest stood on the sand-dunes. Away out on the ocean the great white thing appeared. It rolled with the water.
The priest ran to the slumbering people and soon the sand-dunes were lined with men and women and children who watched the unknown thing out on the sea.
The tide went out. They fully expected it to turn and come in, and to see Allambee with it. The story of him was as fresh in the knowledge of the tribe as if the happening of his going was one of only the day before. The priests, one after the other, kept the story green.
There was not much work done that day. And all the conversation was about Allambee and the expected coming. The white thing was the first of many that came, and it was seen that white men came from them and sometimes white women were with the men.
These men and women were of the race that Allambee went to be the ancestor of, and to this race belong all men who go out black and return white.