SOME of the blacks' methods of catching game I have seen practised, some have long since died out of use.
Of course the sportsmen knew the favourite watering-holes of the game. At such a place they made a rough break at each side, leaving an opening where the track was. Along this track they would lay a net with one end on the edge of the water; in the water they put sticks on the ends of which the birds rest to drink, the other ends are out in the trap. They would make a hole low down on each side of the net, and a man would hide in each.
A bird's watering-place, where the blacks trap them, is called Dheelgoolee. When the Dheelgoolee trapping begins, on the first day those who go out hunting must bring home their game alive to give the man at the Dheelgoolee luck. Then they never try to catch an emu or kangaroo, only iguana, opossum, piggiebillah, paddy melon, or bandicoot, all of which could be brought home alive. But after the first day they can kill as they go along.
All day some birds come to the Dheelgoolee-pigeons, gilahs, young crows, and others, and the man watching catches them. When the game was thick on the net, the men in the holes would catch hold of the ends of the sticks in the net and quickly turn them over the lower ends, thus entrapping all on the net. In the evening turkeys and such things as water at night-time, amongst which are opossums and paddy melons, would be trapped.
Ducks were trapped, too, by making bough breaks across the shallow part of the creek, with a net across the deep part from break to break. A couple of the men would go up stream to hunt the ducks down, and some would stay each side of the net armed with pieces of bark. The two hunters up stream frightened the ducks off the water, and sent them flying down stream to the trap. Should they seem flying too high as if to pass, the blacks would throw the pieces of bark high in the air, imitating, as they did so, the cry of hawks. Down the ducks would fly turning back; some of the men would whistle like ducks, others would throw bark again, giving the hawk's cry, which would frighten the birds, making them double back into the net, where they were quickly despatched by those waiting.
Murrahgul is another trap. This is a yard made all round a waterhole with one opening; about this opening they will fasten, from stumps or logs, strong strings with a slipping knot. The game, emu or kangaroo, would probably step into one of these string nooses, would try to pull its leg out; the harder it pulled the tighter the knot. Or the blacks might have put a sort of cross-bar overhead at the entrance, with hanging strings having a slip knot; in would go an emu's head, the bird would rush on and be strangled.
Boobeen is a primitive cornet, a hollowed piece of Bibbil wood, one end partially filled up with pine gum, and ornamented outside with carvings. To blow through it is an art, and the result rather like a big horn. The noise is said to be very like an emu's cry, and this emu bugle will certainly, they say, draw towards it a gundooee, or solitary emu.
The blacks used on the sandhills to make a deep hole to hide themselves in, usually only one though. From this hole they would run out a drain for about thirty yards. The man with the Boobeen would have a little break of bushes round him; scattered over the leaves he'd have emu feathers, and then he would have a strong string, on the end of which he would have a small branch with this he would place about midway emu feathers on it; down the drain.
When the emu answers the Boobeen's call, the bugler gets lower and slower with his call. The emu sees the feathered thing in the drain, comes inquisitively up and sniffs at it. The man in the hole pulls in the string slowly; the emu follows, on, on, until heedlessly he steps on a Murrahgul, or string trap, and is caught. The hunters would sometimes stalk kangaroo, holding in front of them boughs of trees or bushy young saplings, closing silently in and in, until at last the kangaroo were so closely surrounded by men armed with boondees and spears that there was no escape for them.
For catching emu they had a net made of string as thick as a clothes-line. These nets were made either of Kurrajong (Noongah) bark, or of Burraungah grass. The Kurrajong bark is stripped off the trees, beaten, chewed, and then teased. Then it was taken and rubbed, principally by the women on their legs, into strands.
The grass was used preferably to Kurrajong bark, as it was easier to work. The process of preparation was as follows:--
A hole was dug in the ground, some fire put in it, a. quantity of ordinary grass was put on the top of the coals, and on top of that a heap of Burraungah grass, that topped with ordinary grass.
Water was sprinkled over it all and the hole earthed up.
When it had been in long enough the earth was cleared away, and the grass, which was quite soft, taken out. It was then chewed and worked like the Kurrajong bark, than which it was much more pliable.
String was made of various thicknesses according to what it was required for.
Fishing nets were always smoked before being used, and all nets had little charm songs sung over them. In netting, their only implement was a piece of wood to wind their string on. An emu net was about five feet high, and between two and three hundred yards long.
When any one discovered a setting emu, they used not to disturb her at once and get her eggs, but returned to the camp, singing as they neared it a song known as the Noorunglely, or setting emu song; those in camp would recognise it, and sing back the reply. The black fellows having learnt where the nest was, would get their net and go out to camp near it. All that evening they would have an emu-hunting corroboree. The next morning at daylight they would erect their net into a sort of triangular-shaped yard, one side open. Black fellows would be stationed at each end of the net, and at stated intervals along the mirroon, as the net was called. When the others were all ready some of the blacks would make a wide circle round the emu, leaving open the side towards the net; they would close in gradually until they frightened the emu off her nest; she would run in the direction where she saw no black fellows and where the net was; the black fellows closing in behind, followed quickly. Poor Noorunglely floundered into the net, up rushed a black fellow and, seizing her, wrung her neck. Having secured her, they would next secure her eggs; that they might be a trifle stale was a matter of indifference to them.
Another old method was by making sort of brush yards and catching the emus in these.
One modern way is to run them down with kangaroo dogs, the same way with kangaroo; but at one time still another method obtained. A black fellow would get a long spear and fasten on the end a bunch of emu feathers. When he sighted an emu he would climb a tree, break some boughs to place beneath him, if the trees were thinly foliaged, to hide him from the emu, then he would let his spear dangle down. The emu, a most inquisitive bird, seeing the emu feathers, would investigate. Directly the bird was underneath the tree, the black fellow would grip his spear tightly and throw it at the emu, rarely, if ever, failing to hit it, though the emu might run wounded for a short distance, but the black fellow would be quickly after it to give it happy despatch.
If the emu got a good start even, it was easily tracked by the trail of blood. It has happened that a black fellow has not found his emu until the next day, when it was dead and the spear still in it; but usually very soon after the wounded birds start running the spear is shaken out.
Sometimes the blacks killed birds with their boomerangs, ducks in particular. I fancy this killing of ducks by a well-thrown boomerang is one of the feats that black fellows allow themselves to blow about. Every man has usually one subject, a speciality he considers of his own, and on that subject he waxes eloquent.
Pigeons, gilahs, and plains turkeys are also killed with boomerangs. Blacks' fishing-nets are about ten feet by five, a stick run through each end, for choice of Eurah wood. Eurah is a pretty drooping shrub with bell-shaped spotted flowers, having a horrible smell. The wood is very pliable. It is sometimes used instead of the sacred Dheal at funerals.
Two of the fishermen take the net into the creek, one at each end; they stand in a rather shallow place, holding the net upright in the water. Some other blacks go up stream and splash about, frightening the fish down towards the net. When those holding the net feel the fish in it, they fold the two sticks together and bring the net out.
To catch fish they also make small weirs and dams of stones, with narrow passages of stones leading to them. The fish are swept by the current into these yards, and there either caught by the blacks with their hands, or speared. The most celebrated of these stone fish-traps is at Brewarrina on the Barwon. It is said to have been made by Byamee, the god and culture-hero of these people, and his giant sons. He it was who established the rule that there should be a camping-ground in common for the various tribes where, during the fishing festival, peace should be strictly kept, all meeting to enjoy the fish, to do their share towards preserving the fisheries.
Each tribe has its particular yards; for another to take fish from these is theft. Each tribe keeps its yards in repair, replacing stones removed by floods, and so on.
These stony fish mazes are fully two hundred yards in length, substantially built; some huge boulders are amongst the stones which form these most intricate labyrinthine fish yards, which as traps are eminently successful, many thousands of Murray cod and other fish being caught in them.
Dingo pups, in the days when dingoes were plentiful, were a most esteemed delicacy. To eat dog is dangerous for a woman, as causing increased birth-pangs; that suggests dog must be rather good eating, some epicure wirreenun scaring women off it by making that assertion.
Ant larvæ, a special gift from some spirit in the stars, and frogs, are also thought good by camp epicures.
The blacks smear themselves over with the fat of fish or of almost any game they catch. It is supposed to keep their limbs supple, and give the admired ebony gloss to their skins which, by the way, are very fine grained. After a flood, when the water is running out of the tributaries of the creek, the blacks make a bough break beginning on each bank and almost meeting in the middle; across the gap they place a fishing-net which folds in like a bag, thus forming a fish-trap in which are caught any number of fish. Crayfish and mussels they caught by digging down their holes in the mud for them. Their mode of catching shrimps was very (with all apologies to scientists for using the word) primitive. Quite nude, the women sit down in the water, let the shrimps bite them; as they nip, seize them.
Iguanas burrow into the soft sand ridges and there remain during the winter, only coming out after the Curreequinquins--butcher birds--one of their sub-totems, sing their loudest to warn them that the winter is gone, calling Dooloomai, the thunder, to their aid lest their singing is not heard by their relations, who after the storms come out again in as good condition as when they disappeared.
Black men do not approve of women cooks. At least the old men, under the iron rule of ancient custom, will not eat bread made by gins, nor would they eat iguana, fish, piggiebillah, or anything like that if the inside were removed by a woman, though after themselves having prepared such things, they allow the gins to cook them--that is, if they have not young children or are enceinte; under those conditions they are unclean.