Under the Southern Cross
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The unreasonably high rates demanded as wages, we were told, had the effect of crippling many industries at Brisbane, and especially of hindering the successful development of agriculture, farmers in many instances being unable even to harvest their crops. This is a natural sequence of the mining attractions of the country. Queensland is probably as rich as any portion of Australia in other mineral deposits as well as in gold, abounding in copper, silver, tin, and coal, so that mining, first and foremost, absorbs the attention of large numbers at the expense of other enterprises. The immediate need of this province is more population and more laborers. We were told that liberal inducements were held out to acceptable people to come hither from the old country, but just what these inducements were it was not so easy to ascertain.
It is for the common interest both of England and her South Sea colonies that the rough, rude men who throng to the gold-diggings of those colonies should be in a measure counterbalanced by an influx of well-disposed and intelligent people, with such domestic associations as will insure their responsible and good citizenship. Families, where they can be induced to emigrate, should be offered the most liberal inducements, especially if they are persons possessing a knowledge of farming, – these would be a most valuable addition to the colony. Government can well afford to give to such desirable emigrants a free passage, and land on which to settle without a cent of first cost to them. The high rates of passage and the price charged for land in these colonies have together acted as prohibitory measures to new settlers going thither. There are millions of acres of good land in Australia and New Zealand which lie idle, and will continue to do so for a century to come, unless proper persons are induced by liberal terms to go and occupy them. There is a certain class in England and Great Britain generally to whom the agents of the colonies can well afford to be liberal and open-handed, and there are others upon whom all such liberality would be worse than thrown away. To cause a steady emigration from the old country the conditions must be made at first entirely for the benefit of the new-comer, and in the end his presence will redound to the permanent good of the colonies.
The cultivation of wheat is growing more and more general in Queensland, but the staple productions may be said to be wool and sugar. Coffee, tobacco, and cotton are also grown, but only to a limited extent, though the acreage devoted to the latter is said to be annually increasing. The laborers upon the plantations, and indeed the colored laborers both in town and country, are composed largely of South Sea Islanders, imported hither from both the near and far islands on the very objectionable Coolie principle which so long prevailed in Cuba. These laborers are engaged to serve a certain period, – say five years, – for which time the employer contracts to pay them six pounds sterling per annum, feeding and housing them in the mean time; and at the expiration of the term agreed upon he promises to return them to their island homes free of all cost to themselves.Of course this system is open to unlimited abuse, as was proved in the West Indies and elsewhere, resolving itself into a species of actual slavery. Besides which, under the guise of securing contract labor it has been proved that natives were forcibly abducted from their homes by unprincipled sea-captains, who realized a large amount of money per head for passage and for procuring the stolen islanders. One instance of this sort was related to us in detail, where a small coasting-vessel brought a large number of natives from an outlying island of the Feejee group, whence they were forcibly abducted, and treated with as much cruelty as formerly characterized the slave trade between Africa and Cuba. Even when imported under the fairest scheme that could be conceived, the ignorant "Kanacks," as they are called, cannot enforce their rights, and rarely ever see their homes again after having once left them. The contracts entered into between employers and these men are little more than a farce on the part of the principals, and are probably never consummated. It is gratifying to know that this iniquitous system of Coolie labor is becoming a thing of the past. Freely expressed public opinion has nearly abolished it, although its evil results are by no means yet outgrown.
It is clearly apparent to any observant person that the pastoral and agricultural interests are paramount to all others in Australia. This is amply proved by the published statistics of the past five years. Few persons not especially interested to inquire have any idea of the large amount of fresh meat shipped thither in refrigerator steamers, or of the aggregate amount of wool and flour exported thence to England, India, and China. The tenure upon which farm-lands are held in Queensland, as already intimated, seemed to us to be not a little confusing. In order to make men good citizens their land should be to them a freehold; that is, the title should be solely vested in themselves. The laws relating to this matter differ in the several colonies.
The semi-tropical climate of Queensland permits of the cultivation (as we have already stated) of pineapples, cotton, arrowroot, bananas, coffee, mangoes, and the like. The cotton is of the long and best staple. The planters here already compete with those of the West Indies in the product of the sugar-cane, three varieties of which are especially adapted to this climate; namely, the Burbon, the purple Java, and the yellow Otaheitan. It must not be forgotten that two thirds of this colony is within the tropics, stretching northward until it is separated from the Equator by eleven degrees only. Three tons of sugar to the acre is no uncommon yield upon the plantations of Queensland, and this too where the machinery used in the grinding and reducing is of a poor character. Were more modern methods adopted, the aggregate result would not only be much increased in quantity, but also in quality. The machinery used for this purpose in the Sandwich Islands – all brought from the United States – is infinitely better adapted to the purpose, besides being actually more economical in the long run. Some of the Queensland planters have taken pride in demonstrating that intelligent white labor is possible, and more profitable, all things considered, than any other. There is one characteristic of sugar-raising here which we should not omit to mention; namely, that several crops can be realized from one planting. The first crop is called the "plant" crop, and those that follow are known as "ratoon" crops, the latter continuing several years. In the West Indies and some other countries a first and second crop are realized from one planting; but the third year requires new planting.
This division of Australia is more than five times as large as the United Kingdom of Great Britain, possessing a world of undeveloped resources of the most promising character. When the great central railroad shall be built, – and it is believed that it will soon be under way, – an immense impulse will be given to Queensland. The sun here shines with a more tropical ardor and a more genial warmth than in New South Wales; the trees are of more varied shapes and of richer growth, – similar, in fact, to those of Central America. The palm takes the place of the eucalyptus to a certain extent, and the woods teem with the bunya-bunya, – a very desirable and ornamental tree, which belongs to the pine family. Here also abound the tulip-tree, rosewood, sandal-wood, and satin-wood, with other choice varieties not found farther south. The tulip-tree and the sour gourd recall the vegetation of equatorial Africa, which many of the natural products here very closely resemble.
We have spoken of the bunya-bunya tree. When it is full-grown it towers two hundred feet in the air; but when young, it throws out branches all about its base close to the earth and to a distance of several yards. Above these, smaller branches rise in regular gradation to the top, forming a perfect cone of dense foliage. At maturity it produces annually upon its apex a large cluster of fruit, which is nutritious and palatable, being eagerly consumed by both the natives and the whites. This product is similar to the chestnut in taste and appearance, each tree producing a bushel or more at a time. The bunya-bunya has a sort of mysterious significance with the "black fellows" as the aborigines are called, and no one is permitted to cut down one of these trees. The laws of the colony also forbid its destruction.
The aborigines are oftener met here than at the south, as they prefer to live in the more temperate climate, and where they can have the country more to themselves. They are all nomads, and probably do not number over twenty-five or thirty thousand, slowly but surely decreasing numerically before the advance of the whites. Even when first discovered they were but a handful of people, as it were, scattered over an immense continent. They have still no distinct notion of the building of houses in which to live, or at least they adopt none, though they have the example of the whites ever before them. As a rule they are hideously ugly, with flat noses, wide nostrils, and deep-sunken eyes wide apart. A bark covering, much ruder than anything which would content an American Indian, forms their only shelter, and they often burrow under the lee side of an overhanging rock. Unlike the Maoris of New Zealand, they have no settled abode, and are more nomadic than the Bedouins of the Desert. The skill of this people in tracking game or human beings is nearly equal to that of the blood-hound. In the early days of penal servitude they were specially employed by the authorities for this purpose, and have been known to conduct a pursuit after an escaping convict for a hundred miles without once losing his trail, and finally leading to his capture. In the more modern conflicts between the Bushrangers and the authorities they proved of great value, not as fighters, but as trackers.
Missionary effort among these Australian tribes seems to have been pretty much abandoned, and by intelligent people is considered to have been a failure. Like all savage races, they are full of superstitions. They pay little attention to marriage obligations, but buy and sell wives according to their fancy, the women acquiescing with quiet indifference. We were told of one practice among them so ridiculous that we doubted it when first we heard of it. Ocular demonstration, however, proved its reality. It appears that when a youth arrives at such an age that he aspires to be a man, so to speak, – to own property or to marry, – he is put through some cabalistic rites the nature of which they will not divulge. The initiation ceremony ends, however, by the aspirant having one of his front teeth knocked out, or broken off close to the gum. This is accomplished by means of a sharp blow from a stone shaped for the purpose. After this deforming process is accomplished, the youth is pronounced to be eligible to all the rights and privileges of the elders of his tribe. Any of these aborigines, therefore, whom you meet is sure to be minus a front tooth. By the bye, it is all important that this tooth-smashing business should be performed at the full of the moon, and it is followed by what is termed a grand "corrobberee," or feast. In old times, – not long ago, – the menu on such occasions was incomplete unless the principal dish consisted of human flesh; but if this practice still prevails, as many believe to be the case, it is indulged in secretly. We were informed that the only way of accounting for the lack of numbers among the children of the aborigines is on the theory that infanticide is still practised by the native tribes.
These savages are as fond of disfiguring themselves with yellow and red pigments as are our Western aborigines. The tribes in the northwestern part of Queensland are at constant enmity among themselves, and being naturally fond of quarrelling, like our Indians, they improve every opportunity to do so, frequently attacking and killing one another for the most trivial causes. Each tribe has its territory carefully marked off, and any infringement by another tribe is sure to end in bloodshed. It would seem as though everything conspired to wipe them from off the face of the earth. It is a remarkable fact that consumption causes the death of a considerable percentage of the tribes annually. They believe its victims to have become bewitched, having had an evil eye cast upon them; the result is that they redouble the incantations which they consider to be necessary to remove all illness.
The Australian blacks have a plenty of legends of the most barbaric character, but by no means void of poetic features. They believe that the earth was created by a being of supreme attributes, whom they call Nourelle, and who lives in the sky surrounded by children born without the intervention of woman. They entertain the idea that because the sun gives heat it needs fuel, and that when it descends below the horizon it procures a fresh supply for its fires. The stars are supposed to be the dwellings of departed chiefs. The serpent is believed to contain the spirit of a real devil. To eat the kidney of an enemy, it is thought, imparts to the one who swallows it the strength of the dead man. Any number above five these blacks express by saying, "It is as the leaves," – not to be counted. The white man's locomotive is an imprisoned fire-devil, kept under control by water. The lightning is the angry expression of some outraged god.
One singular tradition which this people have is to the following effect: In the beginning there was no death. The first created men and women were told not to go near a certain tree, in which lived a sacred bat. The woman one day approached the tree, whereupon the bat flew away; and after that came death. One would be glad to know if this fable antedates that more familiar and not dissimilar one of the Garden of Eden.
The period of the total extinction of this race cannot be far distant. Queensland is the only province where the Australian aborigines are still an element worth taking into account. Statistics show that they are dying at the rate of ten per cent per annum! The author asked an intelligent citizen of Brisbane what could be the cause of such mortality. "Oh," said he, in an airy way, "fire-arms and fire-water are doing the business for these black fellows." A remarkably comprehensive temperance lecture embraced in a single line, formulated by an old chief of these natives, occurs to us in this connection. He was one of the Brisbane tribe, and on a certain occasion said to a Government agent: "One drink is too much; two is not half enough." To taste was to drink to excess; abstinence with these people as with many white men is easy enough, but temperance in the use of spirits impossible.
The natives will accept work from the whites when driven to do so by want of food. Some of them work well and are liberally paid for it; but to insure this, liquor must be carefully kept from them. A single glass demoralizes, a second draught intoxicates. A drinking native is of no use to himself or any one else; and if he can get the means he rapidly drinks himself to death. The women are undersize as compared with the average of white people; but the males are athletic, excelling as axe-men and bullock-drivers, while on the sea-coast, when they work at all, they are good hands at the oar. Their hair is not curly like that of the Africans, but straight and silky like that of the Malays, and they have the long, attenuated limbs of the Hindu race.
As in all barbaric countries invaded by the whites, the native race fade rapidly away. Mr. Anthony Trollope depicted the true relative conditions of the races here when he said: "It was impossible to explain to the natives that a benevolent race of men had come to live among them, who were anxious to teach them all good things. Their kangaroos and fish were driven away, their land was taken from them, the strangers assumed to be masters, and the black man did not see the benevolence. The new-comers were Christians, and were ready enough to teach their religion if only the black man would learn it. The black man could not understand the religion, and did not want it, and to this day remains unimpressed by any of its influences. But the white man brought rum as well as religion, and the rum was impressive, though the religion was not." He adds significantly: "There was much spearing on one side and much shooting and hanging on the other."
The extent of the country is suggested by the fact, as given to us, that the natives in the far interior of the north, while they doubtless have heard of a white man have never yet seen one. Efforts have been freely made by philanthropic associations to ameliorate the condition of these blacks, but it seems impossible to turn them from their nomadic habits, – their instincts leading them to seek support as hunters, and after the manner of their forefathers, rather than by any more civilized pursuit. We were told of an instance of a young native lad of ten years, who was taken from his wild life by the mutual consent of all concerned, and brought to Brisbane to live with the whites and be educated. Great effort was made in his behalf, to render him in every respect comfortable and contented. He was placed at a suitable school, where he gradually developed an unusual degree of intelligence, showing much aptitude at learning, and becoming a favorite with both pupils and teachers. He lacked for nothing; was dressed like his associates and pleasantly domesticated. He remained several years among the whites apparently well satisfied with his surroundings, and great hopes came to be entertained that he would become thoroughly civilized, and exercise in manhood a strong influence for good among his native people. Finally at the age of nineteen he was suddenly missing, and no one could say what had become of him. After months of search, he was discovered to have returned secretly to his former home and associates, and was there found as naked and nomadic as the rest. No inducement could prevail upon him to return to a life among the whites.
There is a brief romance connected with the story of this youth which is not without interest. It appears that the young native, who was a fine specimen of his race, became warmly attached to the lovely daughter of the white family with whom he made his temporary home. The girl was about his own age, and it is believed that her refining influence over him was the secret of his remarkable studiousness and rapid progress in learning. After he was discovered among his own people, the young lady acknowledged that they had regarded each other with tenderest affection, and that the youth would long before have returned to his tribe but for her restraining influence. He regarded her with too much honest affection, however, to suggest even her going with him to share the hardships of his savage life, but told her that he grew hourly more restless and miserable, and that he must seek his native wilds. This girl was too sensible to argue against the manifest destiny of both their lives, and with a first and last kiss they separated forever. No one can say how it was with the savage youth, whose eyes had been opened to all there is of noble and good in civilization; but doubtless he was finally consoled by some dusky maiden of his tribe. As to her whom he left behind, her true woman heart was sorely tried; and after hiding her sorrow for some five years she died unmarried.
The most singular weapon possessed by these aborigines is one which originated with them, and is known as the boomerang, – of which every one has heard, but which perhaps few of our readers have seen. It is a weapon whose special peculiarities have caused it to pass into a synonym of anything which turns upon the person who uses it. It seems at first sight to be only a flat, crooked, or curved piece of polished wood, about twenty or twenty-four inches long (though these instruments vary in length), and three quarters of an inch in thickness. There is nothing particularly striking about this weapon until you see a native throw one; in doing which he carefully poises himself, makes a nice calculation as to the distance from him of the object he designs to hit, raises his arm above his head and brings it down with a sort of swoop, swiftly launching the curved wood from his hand. At first the boomerang skims along near the ground, then rises four or five feet, but only to sink again, and again to rise. As you carefully and curiously watch its course, and suppose it is just about to stop in its erratic career and drop to the ground, it suddenly ceases its forward flight and rapidly returns to the thrower. Sometimes in returning it takes a course similar to its outward gyrations; at other times it returns straight as an arrow, gently striking the thrower's body or falling to the ground at his feet. It is thought that no white man can exactly learn the trick of throwing this strange implement, and few ever attempt to throw one, – or rather we should say, few attempt it a second time; nor can the native himself explain how he does what we have described. "Me! I throw him, just so," – that is all the answer you can get from him. We were told that the most expert of the blacks will not only kill a bird at a considerable distance with the boomerang, but that they cause the bird to be brought back to them by the weapon. This last degree of expertness we certainly did not witness, nor do we exactly credit it; but we can vouch for the first, as we have described it.
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