THE following pages are intended as a contribution to the study of the manners, customs, beliefs, and legends of the Aborigines of Australia. The area of my observation is mainly limited to the region occupied by the Euahlayi tribe of north-western New South Wales, who for twenty years were my neighbours on the Narran River. I have been acquainted since childhood with the natives, first in southern South Australia; next on my father's station on the Darling River, where I was saved by a native girl, when my sisters were drowned while bathing. I was intimate with the dispositions of the blacks, and was on friendly terms with them, before I began a regular attempt to inquire into their folk-lore and customary laws, at my husband's station on the Narran, due north of the Barwon River, the great affluent of the Murray River.
My tribe is a neighbour of that mentioned by Mr. Howitt as the 'Wollaroi, ' 'Yualloroi,' or 'Yualaroi.' I spell the tribal name 'Euahlayi'; the accent is on the second syllable--'You-ahl-ayi'; and the name is derived from the tribal word for the negative: Euahl, or Youal, 'No,' as in the case of the Kamilaroi (Kamil, 'No'), and many other tribes.
Mr. Howitt regards these tribes as on the limits of what he calls the 'Four Sub-Class' system. The people, that is to say, have not only the division into two 'phratries,' or 'exogamous moieties,' intermarrying, but also the four 'Matrimonial Classes' further regulating marriage. These classes bear the Kamilaroi names, of unknown
[1. Howitt, Native Tribes of South-East Australia, pp. 57, 467, 694, 769.]
meaning, Ipai, Kumbo, Murri, and Kubbi; but the names of the two main divisions, or phratries, are not those of the Kamilaroi--Dilbi and Kupathin.
The Euahlayi language, or dialect, is not identical with that of the great Kamilaroi tribe to their south-east, but is clearly allied with it, many names of animals being the same in both tongues. A few names of animals are shared with the Wirádjuri speech, as Mullian, Eagle Hawk; Pelican, Goolayyahlee (Wirádjuri, Gulaiguli). The term for the being called 'The All Father' by Mr. Howitt is also the term used by the Wirádjuri and Kamilaroi, 'Baiame' or 'Byamee.' The Euahlayi, however, possess myths, beliefs, and usages not recorded as extant among the Kamilaroi, but rather forming a link with the ideas of peoples dwelling much further west, such as the tribes, on Lake Eyre, and the southernmost Arunta of the centre. Thus, there is a limited and modified shape of the central and northern belief in reincarnation, and there is a great development of what are called by Mr. Howitt ' sub-totems,' which have been found most in a region of Northern Victoria, to the south of the Euahlayi. There is a belief in spirit-haunted trees, as among the Arunta, and there is a form of the Arunta myth of the 'Dream Time,' the age of pristine evolution.
The Euahlayi thus present a mixture of ideas and usages which appears to be somewhat peculiar and deserving of closer study than it has received. Mr. Howitt himself refers to the tribe very seldom. It will be asked, 'How far have the Euahlayi been brought under the influence of missionaries, and of European ideas in general?'
The nearest missionary settlement was founded after we settled among the Euahlayi, and was distant about one hundred miles, at Brewarrina. None of my native informants had been at any time, to my knowledge, under the influence of missionaries. They all wore shirts, and almost all of them trousers, on occasion; and all, except the old men, my chief sources, were employed by white settlers. We conversed in a kind of lingua franca. An informant, say Peter, would try to express himself in English, when he thought that I was not successful in following him in his own tongue. With Paddy, who had no English but a curse, I used two native women, one old, one younger, as interpreters, checking each other alternately. The younger natives themselves had lost the sense of some of the native words used by their elders, but the middle-aged interpreters were usually adequate. Occasionally there were disputes on linguistic points, when Paddy, a man already grey in 1845, would march off the scene, and need to be reconciled. They were on very good terms with me. They would exchange gifts with me: I might receive a carved weapon, and one of them some tobacco. The giving was not all on my side, by any means.
My anthropological reading was scanty, but I was well acquainted with and believed in Mr. Herbert Spencer's 'Ghost theory' of the origin of religion in the worship of ancestral spirits. What I learned from the natives surprised me, and shook my faith in Mr. Spencer's theory, with which it seemed incompatible.
In hearing the old blacks tell their legends you notice a great difference between them as raconteurs--some tell the bare plot or feature of the legend, others give descriptive touches all through. If they are strangers to their audience, they get it over as quickly as possible in a half-contemptuous way, as if saying, 'What do you want to know such rubbish for?' But if they know you well, and know you really are interested, then they tell you the stories as they would tell them to one another, giving them a new life and adding considerably to their poetical expression.