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My Tropic Isle by E J Banfield

Part 4 out of 4

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at them before strangers significantly showed how frequently and
earnestly he talked to them when there was none else to share his

Now Rattlesnake Island, though close to a populous port, is one of the
more remote parts of the State of Queensland. News travels to and from it
at uncertain, fitful, and infrequent intervals. The Boer War had
progressed beyond the relief of Ladysmith stage ere the Recluse of
Rattlesnake knew that the Old England he loved so well and proudly was up
and asserting herself. At odd times a sailing boat would call, but the
Recluse was beginning to be what the polite folks benevolently term
"strange," and he would not always appear unless he knew his visitors.
Then he was among the most agreeable and entertaining of men, full of
anecdote and episode and quiet but true humour. A shrewd observer of
natural science, he availed himself of unique opportunities for
practical study. He conned first-hand the book of Nature, written large
and fair, and illuminated with living designs. My one memento of him is
the stiletto of a prodigious sting-ray. He had never seen a larger, nor
have I nor any one to whom I have shown it. The weapon measures 9
inches by an average width of half an inch. The birds that came to his
island, the reptiles, the frogs, and the fish of the sea--he knew them
all--and could tell quaint, fairy-like stories of his association with the
creatures that had become too familiar to be the least afraid of him.

One day a boat anchored off his bay, but the Recluse was not to be seen,
nor was the punt that he used found, nor were there any recent signs of
occupation about the exterior of the hut. In due course official search
was instituted. We may neglect or be indifferent to a man while he is
known to be in the land of the living; when he is not and until the
mystery of his fate is cleared up he becomes the object of earnest

In the comfortless dwelling was found a diary which told its own tale of
lonesomeness and starvation. Is there real pathos in the last writings of
this once vigorous and independent man?

May 19. Waded with spear all over flats for rays. Did not get a shot at
any. Very short commons.

May 23. I miss the tea and tobacco. Dug last row of sweet spuds. Very
patchy in size, but a perfect God-send just now.

May 26. Last kerosene. No reading at nights now.

He records catching a sting-ray and getting oysters.

June 2. Not a sign of a ray. Have to live off potatoes a bit. They, too,
will soon be done.

June 4. Added a P.S. to letters. A month gone and no chance to send them.
Hard cheese!

June 6. Another week will see me in extremis. Wish I had a fishing-line.

June 7. Got some oysters. Oh for a good beefsteak or a chop! No sign of
any boat. Lord help me!

June 9. Nearly skinned the oysters. What will I do when they are finished?

June 10. Dull; cold. Thank God for the sweet potatoes! They are my only
food now. No rays about; no fish in the trap, and the whole coast of the
island almost stripped of oysters. Only one candle left to cheer the

June 11. Miserable and hungry.

June 17. Cold and clear. Did not sleep well. The hunger woke me often.
This is fearful work.

On the 19th he got some coco-nuts, which were first-rate. With coco-nuts
and an occasional ray, he ekes out an existence, hungry, cheerless,
without light, without tobacco. A copy of "Barnaby Rudge" and a few old
papers represent his reading matter. He is glad when daylight comes.

July 3. Craft lay-to off Lorne Reef. Signalled by flag and fire from
hill. They took no notice. Strange! Government cutter, I think.

So his life drags on. He tries to re-read by firelight "Barnaby Rudge,"
which he must almost know by heart, but it is of no use. In the
taming of a monitor lizard he finds much amusement, recording his
satisfaction--"Goanna quite friendly."

July 6. Caught a small rock-cod; roasted it for supper.

His satisfaction after a good meal is evident from the entry--

"Quite happy and contented."

His hopes rise and fall on a diet of oysters and coco-nuts.

On July 22nd he hails with delight "a tin box of pears and condensed
milk" which drift on to the reef. These have been in the water for weeks
"but some are good." He writes thankfully "the milk is grand."

The diary described his life during the next few months "in a sort of
way." He builds a punt which he christens the GREAT EASTERN, the
launching of which is briefly chronicled: "Launched the GREAT EASTERN.
Sank below Plimsoll mark--like a sieve." He returns disheartened from one
or two trial trips, having to "man the pump." 'He complains of having
to dig up and eat little miniature sweet potatoes and asks piteously:
"What am I to do? I'm hungry and have nothing else!" His feet become cut
and sore, and in every day's entry is a plaintive wail at the pain.

Sept. 9. Treasure--a stranded coco-nut, quite good. A rare treat. My
teeth are sore through not being used.

Sept. 26. This continuous hunger begins to tell. My blood's poor and
sores won't heal. Can't help it! I can't better my lot in any way so
must just endure it.

Octr. 31. Surely to goodness something will happen to put an end to my
long drawn out misery. No sleep last night.

A "Goanna" that he killed and ate was a God-send.

Now. 6. Disappointed! Made sure of truffles after rain. None. No grub.
I get weaker and weaker. Can hardly crawl.

Now. 11. Done up! Lay down and went to sleep. No sign from shore. The
good Lord pity me in my weakness!

Novr. 12. Never thought I could get so weak and live. No sign anywhere.
Must try to catch some big green frogs--good food.

Novr. 13. So awfully weak.

Novr. 14. Too weak to look out for . . . (the writing becomes
unintelligible). Wrote my old friend . . . making over all property here
to him absolutely. Blowing too hard for punt. I dare not try to walk I'd
never get back.

The final entry is dated Nov. 15th:

"Caught three big frogs, cleaned and stewed them--delicious--like
chicken! What fools we are with our likes and dislikes!"

They searched the adjacent island and the coastline, and finally
concluded that the Recluse, having made a desperate attempt to reach the
mainland in his wretched punt, had become overcome with exhaustion, and
had drifted away to drown when the boat swamped in the breakers.

Six weeks or so after the date of the final entry in the diary a Chinese
fisherman found a punt near the mouth of a mangrove creek on the
mainland. In it was a skeleton, a fish spear, some empty oyster shells. A
few fair hairs adhered to patches of dried skin on the skull.

So the tale is told--a brief, passionate love idyll a strange, tedious,
and tragic epilogue.

Were ever the days and dreams of a strong man more completely dismantled
and dismembered by a passing flick of Cupid's wing!



"Caravans that from Bassora's gate
With Westward steps depart;
Or Mecca's pilgrims, confident of fate
And resolute of heart."

More of a Dutchman in build than Arab--broad-based, bandy-legged, stubby,
stolid, and slow; spare of his speech, but nimble with his fingers in all
that appertains to the rigging and working of small boats, as much at
ease in the water as a rollicking porpoise--such is Hamed of Jeddah.

His favourite garment is a light green woollen sweater. He wears other,
but less obvious things. His green sweater sets all else at naught. If it
be a fact that one of the pleasures to which the true Mohammedan looks
forward in the region of the blest is to recline in company with the
Houris on green sofas while contemplating the torments of the damned,
Hamed was merely foretasting that which is to come. The everlasting green
sweater became a torture--at least to me. Perhaps he was aware of the
fact, and because he knew that my damnation is inevitable his unsoothing
preliminary was merely human. For Hamed is amicable in all respects.

Though his sentiments may be truly Arabian, his figure, as I have
remarked, is a travesty on that of the typical Arabian--the Arab of the
boundless and comfortless desert. I have tried to picture him as a lean
and haughty mameluke in loose, white robes, mounted on a dust-distributing
camel, and, lance in hand, peering ferociously across the desert

"The desert with its shifting sand
And unimpeded sky."

But the tubby form in the green sweater and those bleached dungarees
shortened in defiance of all the prescriptions of fashion, positively
refuses to be glorified. Except for his swarthiness Hamed is
unreconcilable to the ideals of an Arab, and he has a most heretical
dislike to the desert. All his best qualities are under suppression on
dry land. He is the Arab of the dhow. His eyes are muddy. The pupils
begin to show opacity. He follows slowly and with stumbling steps through
the bush and often misses his way, for he cannot see far ahead and you
cannot always be looking backward and hailing him. Still, he is never
lost. When he fails to recognise landmarks and his guide is out of sight,
his cup-shaped ears detect the faintest call of the sea. Then he works in
a direct course to the beach, where everything is writ large and plain to
his understanding. Of his own motive he never ventures inland without a
compass, and with that in his hand he is safe, even in a strange place
and out of sound of the sea.

Hamed tells a wonderful story of a ride that befell him in his early
youth. By the way, there is something to be said of his age which,
according to his own account, varies. Sometimes he is 72, then 48, and
again 64 and 35. Like the present-day almanacs of his race, his age is
shifty and uncertain. Hamed's ride occurred "a long time ago"--that
hazy, half-obliterated mark on life's calendar. Pious Mohammedan that he
is, he undertook a pilgrimage to Medina. To that holy orgy he rode on a
donkey. So miraculous was the chief event of the journey that it is due
to Hamed that his own uncoloured version should be given.

"So hot the sun of my country you carn ride about alonga a day. Every
time you trabel alonga night--sit down daytime. We start. We ride all
night. I ride alonga dunkee. Sit down one day, ride night time. Dunkee he
no go quick--very slow. I am tired. That dunkee tired. B'mbi that dunkee
he talk. He say--'Hamed, you good man, you kind man. Subpose you no
hammer me too much I take you up, alonga Medina one time quick.' I say,
'I no want hammer you.' My word, that dunkee change!--dunkee before,
horse now--Arab horse. Puff! We along Medina! Wind bin take 'em!"
With the wind in his favour Hamed does wonders even now--at sea. It was
not seemly to suggest to him that cynical memory dulled the polish of his
story; but if there really are chinks in the world above at which they
listen to words from below, did the Prophet smile to hear the parable by
which his devout and faithful follower brought his own ride on the flying
mare up to date?

Having the unwonted privilege of cross-examining a man who had ridden or
rather been wafted to Medina specially that he might do homage at the
Tomb of the Prophet, I asked a few questions respecting the famous
coffin. Was it a fact that the coffin hung in the air on a wire so fine
that no one could see it? Was it, in fact, without lawful visible means
of support?

Hamed would neither deny nor confirm the legend. "I dunno what people
you! I bin tell-straight my yarn go one time like wind to Medina. What
more you want? I dunno what kind people you!" One mystery at a time is
enough for Hamed.

Hamed now deals in oysters. In the trade he had a partner--a fair lad of
Scandinavian origin named Adolphus. All these orientals have
extraordinary faith in the medicinal properties of the gall of
out-of-the-way creatures. That of a wallaby is prized; of a "goanna"
absolutely precious; while in respect of a crocodile, only a man who has
leisure to be ill and is determined to doctor himself on the reckless
principle of "blow the expense," could afford any such luxurious physic.
It is reckoned next in virtue to a text from the Koran written on board:
"Wash off the ink, drink the decoction, and lo! the cure is complete."
So, too, if the Lama doctor has no herbal medicines he prescribes
something symbolic. He writes the names of the remedies on scraps of
paper, moistens the paper with saliva, and rolls them into pills, which
the patient tosses down with the same perfect confidence as though they
were genuine medicaments, his faith leading him to believe that
swallowing a remedy or its name is equally efficacious.

A "goanna" scrambled for safety up a small tree. Adolphus undertook to
kill it. Hamed insisted on preemption of the gall, while yet the quaking
reptile certainly had the best title to it; but Hamed stood below and
some distance off, for he was nervous. Adolphus climbed the tree, killed
the "goanna" offhand, and threw it so that it fell close to Hamed, and
Hamed fell in a spasm of fright, upon recovering from which he chased
fair, fleet-footed, laughing Adolphus for half an hour--murder in his
pearly eyes, a mangrove waddy in his hand, frothy denunciations on his
lips, and nothing on his body but the green sweater. Peace was restored
on the presentation to him of the all-healing gall; and then Hamed
apologised, almost tearfully, explaining, "That goanna, when you chuck
heem, close broke heart of me!"

A dissolution of partnership was then and there decided on, and Hamed
thus detailed his sentiments to me:--

"That boy, I like heem too much. Good-for-working boy. Me and heem make
'em three-four beg oyster every day. He bin say: 'You carn be mate for
me!' He go along two Mulai boy. Dorphy [Adolphus] carn mek too much
now--one sheer belonga him, Mulai boy two sheers. Carn beat me--one sheer
one man." Hamed has clean-cut notions on the disadvantages of multiplicity
of partners.

Hamed has been to Europe, and there--he does not mention the country--he
was initiated into the mysteries of making Irish stew. In an outburst of
thankful confidence for some little entertainment at the table he let out
the secret in these terms: "Eerish sdoo you make 'em. Four potats, two
ungin, hav-dozen garleek, one hav-bucket water." At first it appeared
that he had obtained his knowledge from a passionate vegetarian, but upon
reflection we concluded that in his opinion meat was so essential an item
that it was to be taken for granted. Any one wishing to try the recipe
would be safe in adding "meat to taste."

Hamed revels in chillies, fiery, red, vitriolitic little things that
would bring tears to the eyes of a molten image. Even his recipe for
porridge (likewise obtained during his ever-memorable European travels)
is not complete without them: "Alonga one hand oot-meal, pannikan water,
one hav-handful chillies. My word, good fellow; eatem up quick; want 'em

Possibly Hamed might be considered by some folks a "common" man. He is
far from that, and the very opposite from commonplace, for some of the
magic of the coral seas has tinctured his blood. His career as a
pearl-shell diver has been illuminated by the discovery of pearls--big
and precious. In his youth and buoyancy he gambled them away. Now that
his heart is subdued and slow he still looks for pearls, and tempts coy
Fortune with dramatic sincerity and most untempting things. He wants one
pearl more, that he may acquire the means of travelling to his native
land. Hamed of Jeddah would die there.

So strenuous is his desire for one smile on the part of Fortune that
Hamed's favourite topic is pearls, and of the good old days when, if a
man found a patch where the grass was not too thick, he might pick up as
many as a hundred shells in a day. Under conditions and circumstances all
in favour, the diver relies upon an inevitable infirmity on the part of
the oyster for the revelation of its whereabouts.

"When man he dibe," says Hamed, "that go'lip quick he shut 'em mout. Carn
see 'em. Subpose open mout, man quick he see 'em--shove-em alonga beg."

At the peril of its life the oyster gapes.

Hamed cherishes thoroughly Oriental theories, too, for the wooing of
Chance, who (for Chance is very real and personal to him), he declares,
presides over the fortune and the fate of divers.

"Last night I bin drim. My word--good drim. Subpose you gibe one fowl he
make lucky--we get good pearl. Must be white fowl. Black fow!"--(and here
he lowered his voice to a mysteriously confidential whisper) "no good;
spoil 'em lucky!"

Months have elapsed since the sacrifice of the white fowl and the pouring
of its blood to the accompaniment of droning supplications on the face of
the contemptuous sea, and albeit the divination was cheerfully
suspicious, the sulky jade still look askance, and Hamed is still far
from Jeddah.


When Hamed of Jeddah left just before Christmas with four "begs" of
over-mature oysters, intended for the tickling of European palates, he was
not elated by the nearness of the hallowed time. Indeed, his state of
mind was quite contrary. He had none of that peace and goodwill towards
men with which those of us who are not Mohammedans adulate the approach
of the season.

His one-time partner, the fair and fleet-footed "Dorphy," had deserted him
for good and sufficient cause, and his hard old heart rebelled against
priggish Christians and their superior ways. Some of the tardiness of age
has come upon him. Though he had "worked" the oysters with all the
resourcefulness of the lone hand, the marketable results were less in
bulk than formerly. "Dorphy" had been wont to re-sort and classify
Hamed's gleanings, for Hamed's eyes are misty; also his desire to emulate
"Dorphy's" quickness was so ingenuous that in lieu of oysters he would
frequently stow away flat stones and pieces of coral. Such things may be
abomination in the eyes of the conscientious oyster-getter, but with
Hamed they helped to fill the "beg." Vain old Arab! He deceived no
one--in the end not even himself, for none of his fakes passed the final
inspection of clear-sighted "Dorphy," with whom the moralities of the
firm rested, but who in Hamed's eyes was a finicking precisian.

For weeks after his partner's withdrawal from the business Hamed was
perplexed. The swing of the seasons set the tides adversely. Hence his
complaint--"Water no much dry. Carn dry long. No good one man work
himself. Subpose have mate he give hand along nother man. One man messin'
abeaut. One small beg oyster one day. My word, 'Dorphy' smart
boy--good-for-working boy!"

As a lone hand--his honour thrown upon himself--Hamed was so precise and
methodic that by the time the second "beg," had been painfully
chipped off semi-submerged rocks, the first was past its prime. When the
third was full, the first was good merely in parts. On the completion of
the fourth "beg" one passed the neighbourhood of the first on the other
side with a precautionary sniff. It contained self-assertive relics.

But Hamed took all four "begs" with him in his little cutter, and "Billy,"
the toothless black boy, who lisped not in affectation but in
broad and conscious profusion, for a blow from a nulla-nulla years ago
deprived him for ever of the grace of distinct articulation, sailed with
him. No sensation of sorrow fretted me when on that lovely Monday morn I
saw the sail of the odoriferous cutter a mere fleck of saintly white on
the sky-line among the islands to the north. Can so lovely a thing be
burdened with so ponderous a smell? Will it not--if two more days of
windless weather prevail--ascend to the seventh heaven and tarnish the
glitter of the Pleiades? I mused as I strolled on the tide-smoothed
beach of my own scented isle.

Before his departure, Hamed had realised that his oysters had passed the
phase which Christians in their absurd queasiness prefer. Perhaps he
designed to trade them off on coloured folks with less sensitive organs
and no dainty prejudices. But his temper was consonant with, at least, my
perception of the condition of his oysters. It was bad; and he spoke
harsh things of white men, and of Christmas and of the doings of
Christians during the celebration of the birthday of the Founder of their
faith. Perhaps he was paying off in advance for the scorn with which his
fragrant oysters were sure to be received.

When a man who is with us, but not of us, deliberately expresses his
opinions about our faulty ways and contradictory customs, and when the
critic is disinterested, in matters of religion at any rate, however
humble he may, be, it is instructive to treat him as a philosopher. The
art of learning is to accept the teachings of everything, from a blade
of grass to an epic poem. Hamed moralised in angry mood. All the better.
Neither flattery nor fear was in his words.

The impatient oysters fuming in the tiny hold of his cutter merely gave
to his tongue a defiant stimulus. To me they were pathetically pleading
for a belated watery grave. A quaint sort of eloquence took command of
Hamed's tongue, and I suffered the oysters gladly as I listened.

"Ramadan! Ah! One month!" There were worlds of meaning and longing in
those few words. The pious Mohammedan, the exile, the patriot spoke,
uttering a prayer, a sigh, and a glorious hope in one breath. "Ramadan!
In my country one month holiday--quiet, clean, no row. First time burn old

"Come fill the cup, and in the fire of spring,
The winter garment of repentance fling."

"Wash everything. Clean out house. Put clothes clean--white like anything.
Sit down. One day eat nothing. Then feast plenty. Good goat of my
country--more fatter." (It was a graceless cut, for the previous day I
had given him a well-grown kid). "No messin' abeaut. Plenty talk with
friend. Walk about bazaar. Full up people--clean, nice. No row--nothing.
Subpose I make lucky. I find one pearl, I go along my own country for

With half-shut eyes Hamed dwelt silently on the bliss of his faraway
home, and woke snappily to the crude realities of his Christian

"Chrissmiss!" he sneered--" nothing. Messin' abeaut! You want to see
drunk man--Chrissmiss, plenty! You want to see row, plenty--Chrissmiss!
You want lissen bad language, plenty Chrissmiss! Subpose I am at that
place Cairnsee, Chrissmiss, I take my flattie anchor out along
inlet--keep quiet. My heart broke altogether from that drink.
Chrissmiss--mix 'em up plenty with drink and messin abeaut! Good job you
keep out of the way when Chrissmiss he come!"



"Behold the child by Nature's kindly law,
Pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw."


Not all the energies of the blacks of North Queensland in their natural
state are absorbed in the search for and pursuit and capture of food; nor
are all their toys imitative of weapons of offence or the chase. They
have their idle and softer hours when the instincts of the young men
and maidens turn towards recreations and pastimes, in some of which
considerable ingenuity and skill are exhibited, whilst their elders amuse
themselves by the practise of more or less useful domestic arts. Children
in their play are just as enthusiastic, preoccupied, and noisy as white
children, and the popularity of a game is subject, likewise, to spasmodic
exclusiveness. While the particular inclination lasts no other game is
held to be worth a rap for rational black boys to play, but the relish
the more speedily degenerates. In the ordinary concerns of life a black
boy is incapable of self-denial. His intensity for the time is almost
pathetic; his revulsion comic. Hence the cycle of the games is brief.
There are wide and dreary intervals.

Dr. Walter E. Roth, ex-Chief Protector of Aboriginals, and now Government
Resident at Pomeroon River, British Guiana, devotes a pamphlet to
descriptions of the "Games, Sports, and Pastimes" of Queensland
blacks, but since the work has not yet been published unofficially, and
since my own limited observations are confirmed generally by him, there
seems justification for offering references to a few of the means by
which the primitive people wile away time in good-humoured, gleeful
pastime. One feature of the sports of the blacks is that they play their
game for the sake of the game, not to gain the plaudits of an idle crowd
or in expectation of reward. Rivalry there undoubtedly is among them, but
the rivalry is disinterested. No chaplet of olive-leaves or parsley
decorates the brow of him who so throws the boomerang that it
accomplishes the farthest and most complicated flight. As the archers of
old England practised their sport, so do the blacks exhibit their
strength and skill, not as the modern lover of football, who pays others
to play for his amusement, and who, possibly, knows not the game save as
a spectator.

Some of the pastimes of the blacks are, of course, derivative from the
most engrossing passion of the race, the pursuit of game--animals, birds,
and fish--for food. Dr. Roth describes a pantomime in which three young
girls take part, and which is imitative of the felling of a tree for the
purpose of securing honey stored by bees in a hollow limb. Every detail
of the process is illustrated by expressive gestures, even to the
indication of the respective locations in the limb of the good comb
(which is tabu to women), and the inferior stuff (old brood and
drippings) to which the inferior sex is welcome. The whole episode is
graphically mimicked, down to the mixing of the honey with water as a

But such games have not come under my personal knowledge, and as I wish
to confine myself to those which I have witnessed, my catalogue must
needs be trivial, and far from exhaustive even in respect of the district
in which they are, alas! becoming obsolete. In these days of opium and
rum, leisure moments are not generally devoted to "becoming mirth."

The very first toy of the blacks in this neighbourhood is the most
cosmopolitan of all. No race of infant exercises over it a monopoly. It
belongs as well to the palace as the hovel, for it is none other than the
rattle. If proof were wanting that infants the world over have perceptive
qualities in common, and that the universal mother employs like means for
the development of them, the rattle would supply it. Here the toy which
each of us has gripped with gladness and slobbered over is found not
altogether in its most primitive form. It might, indeed, be classed as an
emblem of arrested development in art, for better things might reasonably
be expected of grown-up folks who in their infancy were wont to use such
a neat means of charming away fretfulness. The toy is a tiny spherical
basket of neatly interwoven thin strips of cane from one of the creeping
palms, in which is enclosed one of the smooth, hard, lead-coloured seeds
of the CAESALPINIA BONDUCELLA. The rattle, which is known by the name of
"Djawn," seems to be quite as effective as the more elaborate but less
neat varieties employed to amaze and pacify the infants of civilisation.
Similar seeds are used by Arabian children for necklaces, hence the
specific botanical name of the plant.

Measured ethnologically, perhaps the most primitive pastime is also one
of the most interesting, for it seems to indicate the evolution of the
spear. It may readily be believed that a black boy playing with a grass
dart exhibits one of the early stages which the spear passed ere it
reached its present form in the hands of his father with a wommera. As
the boy grows up, so does his spear grow with his growth, and lengthen
with his length. The grass dart is merely a stem of blady grass (IMPERATA
ARUNDINACEA), which the blacks know as "Jin-dagi," shortened to about
fifteen inches by the severance of the leaves, which is usually
accomplished by a quick nip with the teeth. The dart is taken between the
thumb and the second finger, the truncated ends of the leaves being
pressed against the tip of the first finger, by which and the
simultaneous impulse of the arm the dart is propelled. Accurate shots may
be made with the missile, which has a range up to about thirty yards,
with a penetrative force sufficient to pierce the skin. Occasionally the
boys of the camp in opposing sides indulge in mimic fights, when the air
rustles with the darts, and the yelling combatants exhibit expertness as
marksmen as well as extraordinary shrewdness in the special protection of
the face and other exposed and tender spots, and skill in dodging and

The "Wee-bah," another toy weapon (also obtained from blady grass),
might be designated an arrow, the flight, though not the impulse, being
similar. A single stem of grass is shortened to about fifteen inches. By
being drawn between the nails of the thumb and the first finger, the web
is separated from the midrib for about three inches. The sportsman
pinches the web end loosely between the lips. The split ends, held in the
left hand, are bent over a thin stick in the right hand. Upon the stick
being moved smartly forward, the web peels from each side to the midrib,
which shoots ahead with an arrow-like flight in the direction the
marksman designs.

Velocity, accuracy, and range are remarkable. The arrow will penetrate
the skin (the stem having an awl-like point) at a distance of ten or
fifteen yards, and twenty yards is not an uncommon limit to its range.
This is used for killing small birds, as well as in idle sport. A few
handfuls of blady grass supply a sheaf of missiles, and with such cheap
ammunition the sportsman is justified in providing himself profusely when
intent upon the destruction of shy birds. Noiseless and rapid, if the
shot misses there is no disturbing effect on the nerves of the bird. A
dry twig falling or a leaf rustling has no more elemental shock than the
flight of the dart. The unconscious bird hops about its business
unconcerned until a dart does its work. Birds which fall to this most
inartificial weapon are very small, but a black boy does not despise the
most minute morsels of food. He wastes nothing, and in such respects is
superior to many a white sportsman, who often shoots that for which he
has no appetite, and glories in a big bag irrespective of the capacity of
his stomach. No doubt the black boy, too, experiences the same exultant
passion when his grass dart impales a pert wren, as does his prototype
when the thud of a turkey on the plains is as an echo to the report of
his gun. The black boy singes off the feathers, slightly scorches the
flesh of his game and munches it whole, secures another sheaf of darts,
and goes a-shooting again.

Darts are also improvised from blady grass by two other methods, each a
prototype of the spear and wommera. The midrib is severed and the web
peeled therefrom for a few inches as in the "Weebah." The loose ends of
the web being retained between the thumb and the second finger, the
midrib peels off completely when the hand is propelled, the impulse being
transmitted to the dart. This, perhaps, is the earliest and most
primitive application of the principle embodied in the wommera. In the
third method the midrib is similarly severed and the web peeled for about
two inches; but the stalk is held in the hand, and, being jerked
forward, the midrib being torn from the web flies off, though not under
accurate control as to direction.

Quite as early a toy as the grass dart is the boomerang made by a boy's
father, or a companion older than himself, and which the youngest soon
learns to throw with skill. He graduates in the use of weapons nicely
graded to suit his growing strength, spending hours day after day in
earnest, honest exercise, until some other game happens to become
irresistibly fashionable.

A weapon intermediate between the "Jin-dagi" and the full-length spear
of manhood is the scape of the grass-tree (XANTHORRHEA ARBOREA), with
which youths fight furious battles, gradually perfecting themselves in
elusive tactics and in the training of hand and eye. A favourite set
target is the bulbous formicary of the white ant which disfigures so many
of the trees of the forest. Along tracks where the spears are readily
available there are few white-ant nests untormented by two or three. A
strong reed which flourishes on the margins of watercourses is played
with similarly, and by the time the youth has put aside youthful things
and has learnt to fashion a spear of tough wood he is an expert.

In order to acquire dexterity, the fish spear in the first instance is a
mere toy, and is used in play with as much vivacity and preoccupation as
marbles and tops and kites are by boys of Australian birth. A coloured
boy, in all the joyous abandon of the unclad, sports with a spear
suitable to his height and strength for a month together, floating chips
and scraps of bark in the water as targets, until hands and eyes are
brought into such subjection that the art is, as it were, burnt into his
blood, and a miss becomes rare. In the meantime he has also practised on
small fish, and soon he is a regular contributor to the larder.

What is known as the "Piar-piar" accomplishes the flight of the
boomerang, and is therefore termed familiarly the "little fella
boomerang." Before attempting to describe the toy, it is interesting to
note that the word "boomerang" is alien to these parts (Dunk Island),
though in almost universal use among the blacks. "Wungle" is the local
title. The "Piar-piar" is made from a strip from the side of the leaf of
one of the pandanus palms (PANDANUS PEDUNCULATUS). The prickles having
been sliced off with a knife or the finger nails, two distinct
half-hitches are made in reverse order. Each end is shortened and roughly
trimmed, the knots creased and squeezed to flatness between the teeth and
lips, and the toy is complete, the making having occupied less than a
minute. Before throwing the ends are slightly deflexed.

The toy is held in the right hand lightly between the thumb and the first
and second fingers, concave surface down, and is thrown to the left with
a quick upward turn of the wrist. After a short, rapid flight almost on
the plane of the hand of the thrower, the toy soars abruptly upwards,
and taking a sinistral course, returns, twirling rapidly, to the thrower,
occasionally making two complete revolutions. The ends are deflexed prior
to each throw. Boys and youths are fond of the "Piar-piar," and men of
sober year's do not disdain it, being frankly pleased when they succeed
in causing it to execute a more prolonged and graceful flight than

Another toy which has the soaring flight of the boomerang is made out of
two portions of the leaf of the pandanus palm stitched together in the
form of a St. Andrew's Cross. It is thrown like a boomerang, the flight
being circular, and when it is made to complete two revolutions round the
thrower that individual is manifestly pleased with himself. This is known
as "Birra-birra-goo."

Another form of aeroplane, "Par-gir-ah," comes from the pandanus
palm--its parts being plaited together. This is thrown high and descends
spirally, twisting so rapidly throughout its course that it appears to be
a solid disc. This is also used as a windmill, being affixed to a
spindle. Children run with the toy against the wind and find similar
ecstasy to those of whites of their age and kidney.

The sea-beach supplies in plenty a missile which, from the hands of a
black boy, has a fantastic flight. This is the bone of the cuttle-fish
("Krooghar"), which, when thrown concave surface down against the wind and
after the style of the boomerang, whirls rapidly and makes a decided
effort to return. It is also thrown along the surface of the sea as white
boys do "skipping stones," often reaching astonishing distances in a
wonderful series of skips.

"Cat's cradle" is popular in some camps, the ingenious and complicated
designs into which the string is woven far outstripping the art of the
white man, and leaving his wondering comprehension far behind. Toy boats
and canoes are favourite means of passing away time by those who live on
the beach; and while little girls dandle dolls of wood and bark, their
brothers and cousins laboriously chip stones in the shape of axes, and
used formerly to make fish-hooks of pearl shell, in imitation of the
handiwork of their elders. Boys are also given to trundling a disc of
bark, centrally perforated for a short cord, the art of the game being to
give the disc, while it revolves, an outward inclination. In these
degenerate days the top of a meat-tin is substituted for the decent bark
disc, in the making of which nice art was exhibited.

Several of the games of the youngsters are bad imitations of the sports
of the white. Just as their fathers find joy in a greasy, blackened,
imperfect pack of cards, throwing them down with significant gestures,
but in absolutely perfect ignorance of the rules of any game or capacity
to appreciate any number greater than three--so do the children make
believe to play cricket with a ball worlds away from a sphere (for it is
none other than a pandanus drupe), and a bat of any waddy.

But it is due to the crude folks who owned Australia not so very long
ago, to say that they had invented the top before the usurpers came
along. Tops are made from the fruit of one of the gourds which ripens
about the size of a small orange, the spindle being a smooth and slender
piece of wood secured with gum. The spinning is accomplished by revolving
the spindle between the palms of the hands, some being so expert in
administering momentum that the top "goes to sleep," before the eyes of
the smiling and exultant player. Dr. Roth chronicles the fact that the
piercing of the gourd to produce the hum has been introduced during
recent years. The blacks of the past certainly had no ear for music, but
now no top which cannot "cry" is worth spinning.

A more primitive top is the seed-vessel of the "Gulgong" (EUCALYPTUS
ROBUSTA), the pedicel of which is twirled between the thumb and second
finger. Such tops, of course, are the common property of bush boys, white
and black, but the latter seem to be more casual in the spinning, though
deriving quite as much glee therefrom.

A similar top but of larger size is the unripe fruit of the "Kirra-kul"
(EUPOMATIA LAURINA), which resembles an obtuse peg-top, and is spun from
the peg.

The "Kirra-kul" tree provides also the means of obtaining that joy in
loud explosions which is instinctive in the boy, whatsoever his race or
colour. Young, lusty shoots several feet long, and full of sap, are
placed in the fire for a few minutes, and upon being "bashed" on a log
or other hard substance the heated gas contained in the pithy core bursts
out with a pistol-like report.

"As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods--
They kill us for their sport."

The cruelty of the average boy, his insensibility to, or carelessness of,
the pain of others and of inferior creatures is exemplified by the
treatment which the "Pun-nul" (March fly) receives. That an insect
which occasions so much exasperation and pain should receive small mercy
at the hands of a vexed and sportful boy is not extraordinary, and so he
provides himself with entertainment and takes vengeance simultaneously.
The hapless fly is impaled with an inch or two of the flowering spike of
blady grass to which a portion of the white inflorescence adheres, and is
released. Under such handicap flight is slow and eccentric, often,
indeed, concentric, and the boy watches with unfeigned delight while his
ears are soothed by the laboured hum.

"Blue-bottle" and "March" flies provide another sort of cheerful
sport in which no little malice is blended. Some boys make tiny spears
from the midrib of the frond of the creeping palm (CALAMUS OBSTRUENS),
which, balanced on the palm palm of the left hand, are flicked with
deadly effect, continual practice reducing misses to the minimum. Where
the grass-tree grows plentifully the long, slender leaves are snapped off
into about six-inch lengths and are used similarly to the creeping palm
darts and with like accuracy. Hours are spent killing the big, lumbering,
tormenting flies which infest the camp, and towards which no pity is
shown, for do they not bite and bloodsuck night and day?

These incomplete and casual references to a very interesting and
engrossing topic may be concluded by a reference to a particular spear.
Since it consoles and comforts the solitary walks of an aged man, steeped
to the lips in the superstitions of his race, and haply ignorant of, or
indifferent to, the polyglot pastimes of the younger generation soiled
by contact with the whites, the spear, though not a weapon of offence or
of sport, is serious and indeed vital to the peace of mind of its owner.
He is one of the few who were young men when the white folks intruded
upon the race, with their wretched practical ways and insolent disregard
of the powers of the unseen spirits, against whom "Old Billy," as his
ancestors were wont, still acts on the defensive. "Old Billy" never
ventures into the jungle without his spear, though throughout his long
and expectant life he has never had occasion to use it. He fears what he
knows as "Bidgero," a phantom not quite as truculent as the debil-debil,
but evil enough to strike terror into the soul of an unarmed black boy,
old or young.

The spear is slender and jointed, the grip being 4 feet 9 inches and the
shaft 8 feet. Its distinguishing merit consists of an array of barbs (the
serrated spurs of sting-rays) fifteen in number, and ranging in length
from 1 inches to 4 inches. In the first eight inches from the
point are five barbs, the second being double, and the rest are spaced
irregularly in accordance with the respective lengths of the barbs, which
are in line. "Old Billy" does not allow any one to handle the spear and
will not part with it, no matter how sumptuous the price, for would he
not, in default, be at the mercy of any prowling, "Bidgero?"

He describes its use with paucity of speech, effective passes, horrible
grimaces, and smiles of satisfaction and victory, which make mere words
tame. Suppose you ask, "When that fella Bidgero come up, you catch 'em?"
"Old Billy" throws himself into an hostile attitude, in which
alertness, determination, and fearsomeness are vividly displayed. "0-o-m!"
(The thrust of the spear.) "Ha-a-a-ha!" (The spear is given an
excruciating and entangling half-turn.) And "Old Billy" exclaims,
still holding the imaginary "Bidgero" at the spear's length: "That fella
Bidgero can clear out! Finish 'em!" The spear has penetrated the
unlucky and daring phantom, several of the barbs have become entangled in
its vitals, the enemy is at "Old Billy's" mercy, and since "Old
Billy" has no such element in his mental constitution, there would be
one "Bidgero" less in the land if there were any reality in the
business. "Old Billy's" manoeuvres and tactics are so grim, skilful,
and terrible that one may well hope that he may never be mistaken for a
ghost, while within thrusting distance of his twelve foot "Bidgero"
exterminator. Yet the young boys smile, when they do not openly scoff,
because of his faith in the existence of a personal "Bidgero," and in
the efficacy of his bristling spear, which many of them regard as an old
man's toy.




Tom, who holds himself well in reserve, stood once before an armed and
angry white man, defiant, unflinching, bold.

As I have had the privilege of listening in confidence to both sides of
the story, and as the main facts are minutely corroborative, I judge
Tom's recitation of them to be quite reliable.

He was "mate" at the time of a small cutter, the master of which could
teach him very little in practical seamanship. The captain was rather
hasty and excitable. Tom never hurries, fusses, or falters, be the
weather never so boisterous afloat or the domestic tribulations never so
wild ashore. When Nelly, his third wife, tore her hair out by the roots
in double handfuls and danced upon it, Tom calmly observed, "That fella
make fool belonga himself!" But when she rushed at him, clawing
blindly, he promptly and without the least consideration for her sex,
silenced her for the time being with a stone. The sudden peace after
Nelly's squeals and yells of temper was quite a shock; and when she woke
her loving-kindnesses to Tom were quite engaging. Tom will ever be
master in his own humpy.

To tell of that other incident that caused Tom to look wicked and so
bellicose. The captain of the cutter lost half a crown. His excitement
began to simmer at once. A hasty general search was made without result,
every nook and corner of the boat and all the captain's garments and the
belongings of Tom and the other blacks being ransacked. The money
declined to be found, and the captain, like David of old, refused to be
comforted, and further following the fashion of the psalmist, said in
his haste all blacks are thieves. Tom put on the stern, sulky, sullen
aspect that so becomes him, and when he was individually challenged with
the theft, disdainfully told his master, "Me no take your money! You
lost em yourself!"

This calm, plain statement of fact so angered the boss that, calling Tom
a cowardly thief, he yelled, "You take my money! I shoot you!"

It is placing rather a paltry valuation even on the life of a black
fellow to threaten to shoot him for the sake of half a crown; but the
death penalty has been exacted for far less, according to the boastful
statements of self-glorifying white men. The boss was raging. He groped
in the locker for his revolver, while Tom took a side glance at a
tomahawk lying on the thwart.

Presenting the revolver, the boss yelled, "You rogue, Tom! You steal my
money! I shoot you!" Tom changed his sulky demeanour for the pose and
look that a camera has preserved, saying, "My word! you shoot one time,
straight. Subpose you no shoot one time straight, look out."

The shot was never fired.

I asked Tom what he would have done suppose the revolver had been fired
and he not killed.

"My word! Subpose that fella he no kill me one time, I finish him one
time quick alonga tomahawk!"

In the course of the day the half-crown was found under the stern
sheets, where the boss had been sitting.

To coolly face death under such circumstances is surely evidence of rare
mental repose.

Once Tom had a jovial misunderstanding with his half-brother Willie, who
cut a neat wedge out of the rim of Tom's ear with a razor. He had
intended, of course, to gash Tom's throat, but Tom was on the alert. In
revenge and defence Tom merely sat upon Willie, who is a frail, thin
fellow, but the sitting down was literal and so deliberate and
long-continued that Willie was all crumpled up and out of shape for a
week after. Indeed, the "crick" in his back was chronic for a much
longer period. Tom was half ashamed of this encounter, and while
glorying in the scar with which Willie had decorated him, excused his own
conduct in these terms:

"Willie fight alonga razor. He bin make mark alonga my ear. My word! Me
savage then. B'mbi sit down alonga Willie. Willie close up finish. Me bin
forget about that fella altogether. When Willie wake up he walk about all
asame old man l-o-n-g time!"

With whatsoever missile or weapon is at hand Tom is marvellously expert.
As we rested in the dim jungle after a long and much entangled walk, a
shake--a poor, thin thing, about four feet long, wriggled up a bank ten
or twelve yards off, just ahead of a pursuing dog. On the instant Tom
picked up a flake of slate and threw it with such precision and force
that the snake became two--the tail end squirmed back, to be seized and
shaken by the dog, and the other disappeared with gory flourish under a

Most of Tom's feats of marksmanship, though performed with what white men
would despise as arms of precision, end seriously. Yet on one occasion
the result was broadly farcical. He has a son, known to our little world
as Jimmy, who, like his father, is given to occasional sulks, a luxury
that even a black boy may become bloated on. Tom does not tolerate that
frame of mind in others. The attentions of "divinest melancholy" he
likes to monopolise for himself, and when Jimmy becomes pensive without
just cause, Tom's mood swerves to paternal and active indignation--which
is very painful to Jimmy.

Jimmy, in the very rapture of sulkiness, refused to express pleasure or
gratitude upon the presentation of a "hand" of ripe bananas. Tom's
wrath at his son's mute obstinacy reached the explosive climax just as he
had peeled a luscious banana. He sacrificed it, and Jimmy appeared the
next instant with a moustache and dripping beard of squashed fruit as an
adornment to his astonished face. Then he opened his mouth to pour forth
his soul in an agonising bleat. Tom got in a second shot with the banana
skin. With a report like unto that which one makes by bursting an
air-distended paper bag, the missile plastered Jimmy's cavernous mouth,
smothered his squeal, and sat him down so suddenly that Tom thought his
"wind" had stopped for ever. Kneeling beside the boy, he set about
kneading his stomach, while Jimmy gasped and glared, making horrible
grimaces, as he struggled for breath. Nelly, nervous Nelly, concluding
that Tom was determined to thump the life out of Jimmy, assailed him
with her bananas and vocal efforts of exquisite shrillness. Just as
matters were becoming seriously complicated, Jimmy rolled away, scrambled
to his feet, and fled, yelling, to the camp, firm in the belief that his
doting father had made an attempt on his young life.


Poor half-caste Jimmy Yaeki Muggie, a pleasant-voiced lad, who always wore
in his face the slur of conscious shame of birth, died apparently from
heart failure, an after-effect of rheumatic fever. Tom and Nelly mourned
deeply and wrathfully. Smarting under the rod of fate, they sought with
indignant mien counsel upon the cause of death.

Jimmy was a young fellow. Why should a young man, who had been lusty
until a couple of months ago, die? Somebody must have killed him by
covert means. In the first outburst of grief they blamed me. Tom
declared, with passion in his eyes, that I had killed Jimmy by making him
drunk. The charge was not absolutely groundless, for when the
yellow-faced fellow was chilly with a collapse, I had administered
reviving sips of whisky-and-water.

Yes, Tom declared in an angry mood, and with the air of one who washed
his hands of the whole sad business, the doses of whisky had killed
Jimmy. As Tom indulged to the fulness of his heart in the luxury of his
woe, he began to reflect further, and to change his opinion.

He mentioned incidentally that whisky was "good." "Before you gib em that
boy whisky, he close up dead-finish. B'mby he more better."

Then he began vehemently to protest against the malign influence of some
"no good" boy on the mainland, and Nelly, eager to satisfy her own
cravings for some definite cause for the ending of the life of a strong
boy, supported Tom's vague theories quite enthusiastically. To each
distinct natural phenomenon blacks assign a real presence. Even
toothache, to which he is subject, Tom ascribes to a malignant fiend, so
he asks for a pin which, without a wince, he forces into the decaying
bicuspid. His theory is that the little "debil-debil" molesting it will
abandon the tooth to attack furiously the obtrusive pin. The affliction
upon the camp had certainly been wrought by some boy who had been angry
with Jimmy. The how and the why and wherefore of such malignant influence
mattered not.

There was the dead boy rolled in his blanket, with a petrified smile on
his thin lips. Obviously death was due to some illicit control of the
laws of Nature. No one but a black boy could so grossly intercept the
course of ordinary events as to produce death. Such, at least, was
the logic of the camp.

Reflecting still deeper, and always with Nelly's unswerving
corroboration, Tom began to urge that Jimmy had been poisoned.

"Yes," said Nelly, quite cheerfully, "some boy bin poison em. What's the
matter that boy want poison Jimmy? Jimmy good fella!"

"Who poison that boy?" I asked.

"Some fella alonga mainland. .He no good that fella!"

"He bin sick long time. Poison kill em one time quick!"

Tom dissented. "Some boy make em poison slow. I know that kind."

Then he explained. "Some time 'nother fella tchausey belonga Jimmy. He
wan make Jimmy shout. Jimmy no wan shout for that boy. They have little
bit row."

"That boy wouldn't poison Jimmy because he no shout," I reasoned.
Everybody liked Jimmy."

"Yes," said Tom. "Sometime he might have row."

With an air of mystery, Tom continued: "When that boy have row, he get
bone belonga dead man, scrape that bone alonga old bottle. When get
little heap all asame sugar, put into tea. Jimmy drink tea. B'mby get
sick--die long time. Bad poison that."

Nelly's grief, which had been shrilly expressed at intervals, became
subdued as she listened to Tom's theories. To her mind the whole mystery
had been settled. There need be no further anxiety, and only formal
expressions of grief.

During the rest of the evening the wailing was purely official. Tom's wit
had so circumstantially accounted for the event, that it ceased to be

The next day they dug a hole five feet deep in the clean sand at the back
of the humpy, and there Jimmy was laid to rest with the whole of his
personal property, the most substantial of which consisted of an enamel
billy, plate, and mug. The Chinese matting on which he had slept was used
to envelop the body, and the sand was compressed in the grave.

But Tom and his family had gone. He said--and the deep furrows of grief
were in his face: "Carn help it. Must go away one month. I bin think
about that boy too much."


Tom had been so long intimately associated with cynical white people
that several of the more fantastic customs of his race are by him
contemned. Accordingly I was somewhat surprised to discover, after a few
weeks of rainless weather, during which the shady pool at the mouth of
the creek whence the supplies for his camp are drawn had decreased in
depth, that he had been slyly practising the arts of the rain-maker.

As a matter of fact Tom was not in need of water, but, calculating fellow
that he is, he foresaw the probability of having to carry it in buckets
from the creek for the house, and to obviate such drudgery he shrewdly
exercised his wit. A thoughtful, designing person is Tom--ever ready to
accept the inevitable, with unruffled aboriginal calm, and just as
willing--and as competent, too--to assist weary Nature by any of the
little arts which he, by close observation of her moods, has acquired, or
the knowledge which has been handed down from generation to generation. As
it was the season of thunderstorms, he craftily so timed his designs that
their consummation was not in direct opposition to meteorological
conditions, but rather in consistency with them. Captain Cook found the
ENDEAVOUR in a very tight corner on one occasion, out of which he
wriggled, and in recording the circumstance wrote: "We owed our safety to
the interposition of Providence, a good look-out, and the very brisk
manner in which the ship was manned." In a similar spirit Tom's art was
exemplified. He watched the weather, while he coaxed the rain.

Some rain-makers tie a few leaves of the "wee-ree" (CALOPHYLLUM
INOPHYLUM) into a loose bundle, which is gently lowered into the
diminishing pool, in which he then bathes; but all are presupposed to
observe the clouds, so that the chances of the non-professional being
able to blaspheme because of non-success are remote. Tom slightly varied
the customary process, though he accepted no risk of failure. Cutting out
a piece of fresh bark from a "wee-ree"-tree, he shaped it roughly to a
point at each end, and having anchored it by a short length of home-made
string to a root on the bank, allowed it to sink in the water.

A few yards away, towards the centre of the pool, he made a graceful arch
of one of the canes of the jungle (FLAGELLARIA INDICA) by forcing each
end firmly into the mud, and from the middle hung an empty bottle. The
paraphernalia was completed on the Saturday, when the weather was
obviously working up to a climax, but I was not made aware of Tom's
plans, and as one of the tanks was empty, on the following Monday, with
his assistance, I cleaned it out, remarking to him with cheerful irony:

"Now we get plenty rain. Every time we clean out this little fella tank
rain comes. You look out! Cloud come up now! We no want carry water
from creek."

That night a thunderstorm occurred, during which half an inch of rain
fell, to the overflowing of the tank.

In the morning Tom smilingly told of his skill as a rain-maker, while
admitting that the cleaning out of the little tank had also a certain
influence in the right direction. It was, a pleasant, gentle rain, too,
nothing of the violent and hasty character such as Tom had designed, but
again he had a plausible explanation.

"Subpose I bin put that mil-gar in water deep, too much rain altogether.
We no want too much rain now. After Christmas plenty." Tom asserts that
the deeper the pool in which the "mil-gar" is submerged the heavier and
more continuous the downpour; but as heavy rain is not liked, only
vindictive boys who have some spite to work off indulge in such wanton
interference with the ordinary course of the wet season.

The submerged bark which attracts the rain Tom calls "mil-gar," and the
suspended bottle (a saucer-shaped piece of bark is generally used) serves
to catch PAL-BI (hailstones), which, being, uncommon, are considered
weird and are eaten in a dare-devil sort of spirit. In this case PAL-BI
had but the remotest chance of getting into the bottle, and for that
reason (according: to Tom) none tried. "Subpose I bin put bark all asame
plate--look out plenty!"

Many natural phenomena are associated in the folklore of the blacks with
untoward events. The rainbow (AM-AN-EE) is not regarded by them as a
covenant that the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all
flesh, but as an evil omen, a cause of sorrow, for to whomsoever shall
bathe in the sea when the bow is seen in the cloud evil is certain to

Unprotesting Nelly is assured of this by her own sad experience. In tones
of deep conviction, which permit of no manner of doubt, she tells me
that AM-AN-EE caused the death of her infant--"brother belonga Jimmy."
She had bogied at Toorgey-Toorgey, when to her dismay the harbinger of
disaster appeared to spring out from the sea. In a week the child was

Both father and mother have the tenderest thoughts of that breathless
image in bronze. I saw it. Its features were refined, the nose sharp and
symmetrical, and the mouth a perfect Cupid's bow. Its expectant repose
thrilled me, for it was the realisation of that which Dickens said of
little Nell--"a creature waiting for the breath of life."

No marvel they mourned, that Nelly cut her arms with splinters of glass,
that she still regards the lovely rainbow with resentment tempered by

Tom does not respond to cross-examination. He thinks his own thoughts and
says but little. When he is communicative his veracity is the less to be
trusted. Many a time have I sought his opinions on the serious import of
life--to find that he has none. His thoughts are concentrated on things
which affect the immediate moment. Since he is mentally incapable of
denying himself the most trivial recreations upon which his wishes have
dwelt, restraint is succeeded by despairing, uncontrollable moroseness
pathetic in its genuineness. How could such a temperament reflect upon
the future? He is no doctrinaire; he does not credit existence after
death--"When you dead, you finish!"

"But," I suggested, "plenty of your country men think about another place
when you die--finish."

"Yes, some boy he say when you dead you go long another place. L-o-n-g
way. More better place, plenty tucker, no work, sit-down, play about all
day. When you come alonga that place father, mother, brother,
sit-down--no more can die!"

Then I put a customary question: "Yes, what all go alonga that place like
when you die? You father old man when he die. He old man now alonga that
good place? Little Jinny young when she die. That fella young along that
place? That piccaninny belonga Nelly--piccaninny alonga that place?"

"Yes, all asame when you die you along that place."

"Good boy and bad boy-rogue, all go one place?

"Yes. Rogue he got one heaby spear right through. Go in here (indicating
the middle of his chest), come out alonga back. Sore fella. That spear
fight em inside. My word! Carn pull em out. He no die. Too much sore


Since the foregoing was penned Tom has realised the supreme fact of
existence. He is dead, and is buried in dry, hot ground away from the
moist green country which he knew so well, and was wont to love so

Although he was "only a black fellow," yet was he an Australian by the
purest lineage and birth--one whose physique was example of the class that
tropical Queensland is capable of producing, a man of brains, a student
of Nature who had stored his mind with first-hand knowledge unprinted and
now unprintable, a hunter of renown, and in certain respects "a citizen
impossible to replace."

Given protection from the disastrous contact with the raw, unclean edge
of civilisation, he and others, his fellows, might have lived for a score
of years longer, and in the meantime possibly the public conscience of
Australia might have been aroused, and his and their last days made
wholesome, peaceable, and pleasant.

There is something more to be said about Tom in order that the attempt to
show what manner of man he was may be as complete as the inexorable
regulation of death permits.

Strong and substantially built, so framed that he looked taller than the
limit of his inches, broad-chested, big-limbed, coarse-handed, Tom's
figure differed essentially from that of the ordinary type, and as his
figure so his style and mental capacity. Serene in the face of perils of
the sea, with all of which he is familiar, he was afraid of no man in
daylight, though a child might scare him after dark.

Tom was not as other blacks, for he loved sport. It was not all a
question of pot-hunting with him. Apart from the all-compelling force of
hunger, he was influenced by the passion of the chase. Therefore was he
patient, resourceful, determined, shrewd, observant, and alert. His
knowledge of the ways of fish and of the most successful methods of
alluring them to his hook often astonished me. He saw turtle in the sea
when quite beyond visual range of the white man. Many a time and oft has
he hurled his harpoon at what to me was nothingness, and the rush of
the line has indicated that the aim was true. He would say when fifty
yards of line were out the particular part of the body in which the
barbed point was sticking. If it had pierced the shell, then he must play
with the game cautiously until it was exhausted and he could get in
another point in better holding locality. If the point had entered the
shoulder, or below the carapace to the rear, or one of the flippers, he
would haul away, knowing that the barb would hold until cut out. When
restrained from the sea for a few days he became petulant and as sulky as
a spoilt child, for, in common with others of the race, he was morally
incapable of self-denial. Big and strong and manly as he was, he became
as an infant when circumstances compelled him to forego an anticipated
excursion by water, and rather than stay in comfort and safety on dry
land would--if he had so set his mind--venture over six miles of stormy
sea in a flattie little more commodious than a coffin. He was, on such an
occasion, wont to say, "No matter. Subpose boat drowned, I swim along
shore, tie em Nelly along a string," meaning that in case of a capsize
he would swim to dry land, towing his dutiful, trustful spouse.

Although by nature a true lover of the sea, his knowledge of the plant
life of the coast was remarkable. Among his mental accomplishments was a
specific title for each plant and tree. His almanac was floral. By the
flowering of trees and shrubs so he noted the time of the year, and he
knew many stars by name and could tell when such and such a one would be
visible. Yet, though I tried to teach him the alphabet, he never got
beyond "F," which he always pronounced "if." Perhaps his collapse in
literature may have been due to persistent efforts to teach him the
difference between "F" and "if" vocalised. He may have reasoned that
so finicking an accomplishment was not worth acquiring. In his own tongue
he counted thus:--

Yungl One
Bli Two
Yacka Any number in excess of two--a great many.

But in English he did not lose himself until he had passed sixty--at
least, he was wont to boast of being able to comprehend that number.

Tom was a bit of a dandy in his way, fond of loud colours and proud of
his manly figure. When the flour-bag began to sprinkle his moustache he
plucked out one by one the tell-tale hairs until his upper lip became
almost barren, but remorseless Time was never made to pause. Though many
a white hair was extirpated, Tom was as much at fault as most of us who
seek for the secret of perpetual youth, or to evade the buffets of old
Father Time.

Opium and rum lured Tom away during the last four years of his life. He
was sadly degenerated when I saw him for the last time, and several
months after, in a mainland camp, he quarrelled with his half-brother
Willie--the same Willie who many years ago in honourable encounter cut a
liberal nick out of one of Tom's ears with a razor. Willie probed Tom
between the ribs with a spear. While he lay helpless and suffering
representatives of the police force visited the spot and the sick man was
taken by steamer to a hospital, where he passed away--peradventure, in
antagonism to his own personal belief, to that "good place" fancied by
some of his countrymen, where tucker is plentiful and opium and rum
unprocurable. And unless in that "good place" there are fish to be
caught and turtle and dugong, and sting-rays to be harpooned, and other
sport of the salt sea available, and dim jungles through which a man may
wander at will, and all unclad, to chop squirming grubs out of decayed
wood and rob the rubbish mounds of scrub fowls of huge white eggs, and
forest country where he may rifle "bees' nests," Tom will not be quite
happy there. He was ever a free man, given to the habit of roaming. If
there are bounds to that "good place," he will discover them, and will
peer over the barricades longingly and very often.



"As, however, there is no necessity whatever why we should posit the
existence of devils, why, then, should they be posited?"

Some of the blacks of my acquaintance are ardent believers in ghosts and
do posit the existence of personal "debils-debils." Seldom is a good
word to be said of the phantoms, which depend almost entirely for "local
habitation and a name" upon the chronicles of old men steeped to the
lips in the accumulated lore of the camps. Many an old man who talks
shudderingly of the "debil-debil" has lived in daily expectation of
meeting some hostile and vindictive personage endowed with fearsome
malice, and a body which may be killed and destroyed. Therefore, when the
old man ventures into the dim spaces of the jungle he is invariably
specially armed and his perceptive faculties strained to concert pitch,
while the unseen glides always at his elbow providing unutterable
thrills, lacking which life would be far less real and earnest.

Only one record has come to my knowledge of the presence of a benign
"debil-debil." All the other stories have been saturated with
awesomeness and fear. A very intelligent but excessively superstitious
boy now living on the Palm Islands was wont to entertain me with graphic
descriptions of the one species of "debil-debil" which he feared, and
of the most effective plan for its capture. He was under the belief that
a live "debil-debil" would be worth more as a curio than "two fella
white cockatoo." He imagined that if a "young fella debil-debil" could
be caught--caught in the harmless stage of existence--I would give him a
superabundance of tobacco as a reward, and that I would keep it chained
up "all asame dog" and give it nothing but water. I was frequently
warned "Subpose me catch em young fella 'debil-debil' when he come from
mother belonga him, no good you give him much tucker. Gib him plenty
water. He got fire inside. Smoke come out alonga nose." Given the
possibility of its capture, there was no reason why I should not indulge
the frugal joy of having a small and comparatively innocent "debil-debil"
on the chain. Did not the legendary Maori chiefs keep such pets for the
torment of their enemies? Mine would have to console itself with the
astonishment and admiration of friends, for, alas! I have not, to my
knowledge, an enemy worthy the least of the infernal pangs. Moreover, out
of our abundance of rain we could well spare an occasional meat-tinful of
water for the cooling of its internal fires.

Now, the method of capture of a piccaninny "debil-debil" was this:
Certain manifestations, not explainable and not visible to white men,
had revealed to the blacks that a favourite resort of the species was the
sand spit of the Island. Two boys who were wont to discuss their plans,
and even to practise them, decided that they must first observe the
habits of the "debil-debil," and so arrange to catch the young one when
the backs of the parents were turned, for, of course, designs against a
full-grown specimen were not only futile, but attended with infinitely
greater risks of personal injury than George would accept for love or
money. They procured about fifteen yards of cane from one of the creeping
palms, from which they removed all the old leaf sheafs and adventitious
rootlets, making it perfectly smooth. Crouching low, each holding an end
of the cane, which was strained almost to rigidity, the boys, in their
demonstration of the feat, were wont to sweep continuously over a
considerable area with the idea of getting the cane on the nape of the
neck of the assumed "debil-debil," and then to suddenly change places,
so that it became ensnared in a simple loop by which the baneful beast
was to be choked to submission.

Upon my suggestion a thin line used in the harpooning of turtles was
substituted for the cane, with which, however, some most realistic and
serious preliminary work towards perfection in the stratagem of
"debil-debil" capture had been accomplished in valorous daylight. But
though the boys gave many exhibitions of their skill and of the proper
attitude and degree of caution, the correct gestures and facial
expression for so momentous a manoeuvre, they could never be persuaded to
put their skill to the test at the spot where "debils-debils" most do
congregate after dark, the consequences inevitable on failure being too
diabolical to contemplate.

The conditions never seemed to be absolutely favourable for the deed, for
the boys anxiously persuaded me of the craft and alertness of the evil
one. Either the night was too bright or too gloomy, or it was so calm
that the "debil-debil" would be sure to hear their approach, or so
windy that they themselves might possibly be taken unawares. They
insisted that "debils-debils" suffered from certain physical
limitations; they could not cross the sea--hence the variety native to
the Island might be different from the mainland species, and would
therefore demand local study before being approached with hostile
intentions. I was wont to point out that since the sea presented an
impassable barrier, the sand spit, drawn out to a fine point, was just
the spot where a piccaninny might be easily rounded up, if it were
detected in a preoccupied mood. I suggested that I might be at hand to
encounter any untoward results in case of a bungle, but was met with the
positive assertion that no "debil-debil," however young and
unsophisticated, would "come out" if it smelt a white man.

One of the boys went so far as to select the chain with which the captive
was to be secured, and the empty meat-tin whence it was to be schooled to
take the only form of nourishment judicious to offer. That he did most
truly and sincerely believe the existence of "debils-debils" we had
proof every evening, for he would sit at the door of his grass hut,
maintain a big, dancing fire, and sing lustily under the supposition that
a good discordant corroboree was the most effective scare. Though alleged
to be obnoxiously plentiful, the boys could never screw up their courage
to the point of a real attempt to apprehend the dreaded enemy to their
peace of mind.

Two blacks in the employ of a neighbour went to sleep under an
orange-tree early one afternoon, and slumbered industriously while the
others worked. The quiet of the drowsy time was, however, suddenly
shocked by a great outcry, when the two lazy ones raced towards the
workers with every manifestation of fear in their countenances. They
declared that while they had slept a piccaninny "debil-debil" had "sat
down" on the orange-tree which had afforded them shade, and that when
they woke up it was there--"all a same flying fox." All moved cautiously
up, and sure enough, hanging head down, was what my friend took to be a
veritable flying fox; but he was in a hopeless minority. All scornfully
out-voted him, and to this day the blacks assert that "a piccaninny
debil-debil" so closely resembles a flying-fox that none but a black boy
can tell the difference.

Again, a black boy and his gin slept in an outhouse across the
door-space of which they, as usual, made a fire. In the morning', Billy
found himself, not in the corner where he had gone to sleep, but close to
the fire, and moreover his left arm was "sore fella." With a dreadfully
serious face he related his experiences. In the middle of the night a
"debil-debil" had entered the hut and, seizing him by the arm, had
dragged him towards the door, but being unable to cross the fire, had
been compelled to abandon otherwise easy prey. The aching arm proved that
he had been dragged by a superior force, and the absence of tracks was
assurance that none other than a "debil-debil" could have clutched him.
The episode was accepted as one more proof of the horror of
"debils-debils" of fire, and of the necessity of such a precautionary

The scene of the only occasion on which a visitant from the land of
spirits assumed benign shape is not far from this spot. It is historic,
too, from the standpoint of the white man, for it occurred during a
"dispersal" by black troopers under the command of mounted police. An old
black boy tells the story. Before sunrise the whole camp was
panic-struck, for it was surrounded by men with rifles. As the
defenceless men and helpless women and children woke up, dismayed, to
seek safety in flight, they were shot. One man tumbled down here,
another there. The awful noise of the firing, and the bleeding results
thereof, the screams of fear and shrieks of pain, caused paralysing
confusion. When it seemed impossible for any one to escape, a big man
jumped up, and, standing still, called out to the bloodthirsty troopers,
"Kill me fella! Kill me fella!" indicating, with his hand his naked
chest. Such audacity had its effect. All the troopers began firing at
the noble, self-sacrificing hero; but marvellous to say, he did not
tumble down, for though the bullets went through him, no blood gushed
out. While he was the only target, the other blacks, including the
veracious chronicler, ran away, leaving many dead. He afterwards declared
that the "big, good fella boy," who had drawn the fire of the troopers,
and whom the troopers could not kill, was a stranger to the camp. No one
had ever seen him before or since; but that he appeared at a terrible
crisis specially to save the whole camp from butchery was, and is, the
emphatic belief of the survivors. This incident was related, or rather
dramatically acted, in the presence of an aged native of the Malay
Peninsula, whose knowledge of the mysterious was (in his own estimation)
far more exact than that of the unenlightened blacks. With eyes sparkling
and all his senses quivering under the stress of impatience, he listened
to the end, and then burst out, "You fool! That good, big fellow boy, he
no boy. That fellow, white man call em ghost! Plenty in my country!"



"He on honey-dew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise."


A gaunt old man with grizzled head, shrunk shanks, and a crooked arm was
the most timid of the strange mob of blacks who, under the guidance of
some semi-civilised friends, visited the clearing of a settler on one of
the rivers flowing into Rockingham, Bay. Shy and suspicious, his
friends had difficulty in reassuring him of the peace-loving character
of the settler, whose hut stood in the midst of an orange-grove. In a few
days, for no disturbing element existed, the nervousness of the old
man in the presence of his host ceased, and it was then noticed that
those who had accompanied him from the jungle-covered mountains, as well
as the friends he had picked up near the home of the white man, paid him
the rare compliment of deference. Well they might, for he was a man of
importance, though he lacked clothing, and the elements of decency. The
old man's friends--perhaps because of his semi-helplessness, due to the
twisted limb--performed various friendly offices for him, and never
thought of the spice of any dread avowal, for he was far superior to
them all, and righteously was he honoured. The lean Old Man had visited
that "undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns."
There was no doubt of his actual presence in this. There were his young
wife and several companions, male and female, ready to corroborate his
story; and was not his crippled arm painful but unimpeachable testimony
to the reality of his experiences?

In the telling of the history of a too brief sojourn in the paradise of
the blacks the old man took but little part, for his English was NIL.
The members of the party knew it by rote, and some of them could make
themselves understood. Pieced together--for the story came out bit by
bit--it ran thus:

A very long time ago, when the Old Man was young and lusty and the
"King" of the tribe, an evil-minded "boy" made great rains. All the
rivers overflowed their banks, the palm and tea tree swamps became
impassable, the hollows between the hills were filled with water. Week
after week it rained continuously, the floods gradually hemming in the
camp and restricting the wanderings of the men to one long ridge of
forest country. Soon all the food obtainable within such narrow limits
was eaten. Every one became hungry, for the camp was large and its daily
necessities considerable. Patiently they waited for the subsidence of the
waters, but more rain came and the camp grew hungrier than ever. Many sat
in their shelters and drank water copiously, thereby creating a temporary
sensation of satisfaction.

In the midst of the adversity the Old Man remembered having seen a "bees'
nest" up a gigantic tree some distance away. He had not climbed the tree
offhand because the feat seemed to be impossible. What might have been
just possible on a well-filled stomach was worth hazarding now that he
was famishing. So, wading and swimming, he gained the little dry knoll
in the centre of which stood an enormous bean-tree, and there, a long way
up, was the "bees' nest." With a piece of cane from a creeping palm and
a stone tomahawk he slowly ascended the tree, for he was weak and his
nerves unstrung. But he joyed when he reached the "bees' nest," for it
was large and full of honey and brood comb--a feast in prospect for the
whole camp. Then, as he set to work to chop out the comb, he heard, to
his astonishment, voices below, and peering down, saw not only a wife who
had departed to the land of spirits a year or so before, but his own
mother, who had died when he was a youth. Greeting him in glad tones,
they told him to come down, and that they would show him a big camp in
good dry country where there was abundance of food.

Descending the tree with the cane loop, he saw that his previous wife was
well favoured and fat, that his mother, too, was portly, that they had
dilly-bags crammed with tokens of material wealth. They were overjoyed
to see him, but expressed wonder that he was so weak when so much good
food was available. Saying but little, they struck out for the big
camp. The Old Man noticed, as they walked, that a track through the
thickest part of the jungle opened up--a beaten, straight track, which
he, for all his wanderings, had never before seen. The country was dry,
too. Scrub hens and scrub turkeys, cassowaries, wallabies, huge carpet
snakes, pigeons, fruits and nuts, bees' nests, and decayed trees full of
great white grubs were there in plenty.

Silently and swiftly the three passed along the track through a country
which, at every step, became more desirable, and at last emerged on an
immense pocket where there was a concourse of gunyahs from which the
smoke curled up, and in every gunyah was abundance. Some of the young men
were throwing sportful boomerangs and spears; large parties were so
absorbed in the pleasure of corroboreeing that no notice was taken of the
new-comer. The advent of strangers was too common an occurrence to
distract them from unconfined joys. Such a scene, so different from
the forlorn, starving, water-beleaguered camp over which the sullen
despair brooded, mystified and gladdened.

The cup of happiness overflowed when, conducted through merry throngs to
a particular spot, the Old Man was greeted by relations and friends for
whom he had once duly mourned, plastering his face with ceremonious
charcoal and clay, and denying himself needed food. Yet were they not
here, alive, and in the enjoyment of every good thing? It was almost
beyond comprehension. Was he not to credit the evidences of his own
senses? Was not the food they pressed on him most pleasant to the taste?
All the privations due to the flood were talked of familiarly. The scene
of plenty was so close to the famine-stricken camp that the Old Man found
himself wondering why it had not been found before. Now he knew the
spot, and would in due time guide his starving friends hither and make
one great camp, where all would live in undreamt-of ease, unrealisable
superfluity of food.

For three days he dwelt in the good land with content, lionised by his
relatives, taking part in the hunts, the feasts, the corroborees, and
being urged never to return to the camp of floods and hunger. Here was
bliss. Every wish amply gratified, who would willingly depart from so
entrancing a place? And with fervent promises on his lips never to go
away he was conscious of a sharp pain in his wrist and found himself
crumpled up, stiff, sore, hungry, and helpless, at the foot of the big

Reluctantly back in the land of stress and distress, so woefully weak
that he could not stand without swaying, while his right hand dangled
helplessly, confused sounds of Paradise still rang in his ears,
verifying all that had recently befallen.

He gazed around, dismayed to see no trace of his wife or mother; no
clean-cut, straight path leading to the land of pure delight. Far up the
tree hung the cane loop; beside him lay the stone tomahawk. All present
realities were of pain and hunger. Bewildered, slowly and with much
difficulty, he made his way to the flooded camp, noticing as he went that
water-courses he had been compelled to swim were now fordable--proof of
the lapse of time.

Eyes starved to impassiveness stared at the gaunt, crippled creature,
complaining mutely, for no food had been brought. Some muttered that he
had eaten it all during his unaccounted absence.

Silently the old man bound up his wrist excruciatingly tight with strips
of bark, and then in detail told of his glad sojourn in Paradise.

Then the faces of the famishing lit up with joyous expectancy
and--impatient, reckless, heedless of floods, forgetful of weakness born
of hunger--one and all hastened to the scene whence began the straight
path to the enchanting land. But keen as the best trackers might be, not
the least sign in proof of the Old Man's experiences could be found.

The impassive wall of jungle which had opened so agreeably to the Old Man
offered no obstacles to the enthusiastic searchers for Paradise. Far and
wide, among slim palms standing waist deep in sullen brown water; across
flooded creeks and rivers; over hills and mountains; up gloomy gorges
into which none had ever before dared to venture, elated, they hastened
day after day, glorious enterprise investing them with hardihood and
courage. Ardently, hopefully, each vying with the other--for had not the
Old Man proved beyond inglorious doubt the nearness and perfection of
Paradise?--they pushed the quest far and beyond the limits of their own
small province, and in vain, for they were not of the elect, however
loyal and eager.

Years have elapsed, but the Old Man and his friends have not lost faith
in the existence locally of the Happy Land. Had he not been hither, led
by wife and mother, and did he not remain there three days--the only days
of unimpeded joy in his long life? No such rich privilege had ever
befallen any one else; but without questioning or envy all verify his
words and delight to do him honour.




"In accordance with Nature's designs as he was a good artist
he was also good. He possessed nothing but his individuality."


Wylo was an artist, and, like all true artists, an artist by grace of

His family was not in any sense artistic. Of his lineage all had been
forgotten, save a few of the many failings of his grandsire. So none
could tell whence the talent that burst into blossom with him had sprung.
It had not been transmitted. It was spontaneous; it was a gift; and all
such gifts--are they not supernatural?

Gaunt old father and withered old mother would tell that Wylo from
earliest boyhood could always "make em good fella along tree"; and
now that he was a man and there were the emblems of manhood on his broad
chest--deep, cut lines and swelling ridges--and he oft wore his hair long
and fuzzy, his hand was very free.

Every morning he traced upon the convenient sand studies vigorous though
entirely free from the canons of the schools. No authority existed that
could tongue-tie his art. Each steamer, each boat which passed was
sketched off-hand, and by some little trick, due to his inspiration,
character faithful to the original was imparted. Banana-plants in full
fruit and slim palms in cluster were ofttimes his models; but
portraiture was not Wylo's forte. On the bark of trees, on flat rocks as
well as on the shifting sand he expressed himself plentifully and
graphically. He could no more exercise restraint when he found a
convenient surface and a piece of charcoal or a lump of soft red stone
than he could have recited the Book of Job.

His genius was imperative, almost overbearing. He had been commissioned
by an imperious authority to sketch--a fever almost amounting to insanity
fired his soul. His work was everywhere, for he had miles of forest and
jungle country for his studio, and no hampering, sordid cares to
distract him. The light of genius in such an obscure world was
unrecognised. Being beyond comprehension, it existed as the coldest
commonplace. Not one of his fellows was equipped mentally to register
the deviation from the frowsy norm of the camp exemplified in him; and
if the camp never produced another artist the default would occasion
exactly similar unconcern.

Wylo's masterpiece in portraiture--the one revelation of the human form
divine which he permitted himself to accomplish in other than transient
sand, was a fancy picture of one of his many sweethearts--a lady in a
very old hat and nothing more, with a few boomerangs thrown in to fill
otherwise waste space on the inner surface of his shield. Wylo, though
strenuous in his love of art is ever economic of the materials by which
that love finds such apt expression. His scenes are crowded.

As a warrior, and as a strategist, not altogether as an artist--though
sympathy must ever be with him in that o'ermastering talent of his--Wylo
also displayed those gifts which proclaim the gifted, though he was true
to his race in many of its phases of simplicity. His skill, or rather his
supreme striving to appease aesthetic thrills, made Wylo superb in the
fight. He developed a meek, affected voice, somewhat mincing ways, and a
faraway look in his eyes. These distinctive traits, worn with careless
hair, were so original, so intensely entertaining and notoriety-provoking
in a camp which had never possessed the copyright of more than
one shabby corroboree, that Wylo made many conquests. For each conquest
of the heart he had fought, and the more frequent his fights the more
expert and daring he became. Thus did love indirectly raise him
eventually to the dignified position of king.

Never before had any man of the camp so many fights on his hands. The
artistic instinct caused him to fashion weapons true and perfectly
balanced, made his hand the steadier and his aim very sure, while his
intense earnestness in love imparted terrific speed to his blows when he
beat down his rival's shield with his great short-handled wooden sword.
He was enthusiastic as a duellist as he was absorbed in art. It came to
pass that when Wylo was not tracing his favourite seascape he was either
flirting or engaged in the squally pastime of fighting an aggrieved
husband or scandalised lover.

Wylo had so many of the fair sex to do his bidding, that he was relieved
of the necessity of troubling himself about food. Frequently, as all
manly men do (civilised as well as savage), he longed for the passion of
the chase; and then he fished or harpooned turtle or hunted wallabies
with spear and nulla-nulla, or cut "bees' nests" from hollow trees,
when his face would become distorted by stings and his "bingey"
distended with choice honey, and he would without patronage bestow upon
gratified female friends, old or brood comb.

Wylo was a man and a king among his fellows, tall, white-toothed,
generally decorated with a section of slender yellow reed through the
septum of his broad-base nose, and with a broad necklace of yellow grass
beads round his neck. He wore clothes sometimes, as a concession to the
indecent perceptions of the whites (whom for the most part he despised);
though he preferred to be otherwise, for he was a fine figure--not a
plaster saint by any means, but a hero in his way and well set up, and an
artist by Divine Right.

Handsome, then, of build and limb, if not of feature, the ideal of every
female of the camp, a successful warrior, a true sportsman, was it any
marvel that Wylo suffered gladly that pardonable transgression of
genius--vanity? He oft wore nothing but a couple of white cockatoo
feathers stuck in his hair. Thus arrayed he was audaciously irresistible,
and provoked the enmity of the crowd. As an artist Wylo was an all-round
favourite; but as a dandy all but the women--and he was disdainful of the
goodwill of the men--despised while they panted with envy and made
grossly impolite references to him.

Now, the sarcastic jibes of a black fellow are not translatable, or
rather not to be printed beyond the margin of strictly scientific works.
Courageously free and personal, they would be beyond comprehension in
these chaste pages. Why, therefore, attempt to repeat them? A genius has
been described as a deviation from the average of humanity. This
definition exactly suited Wylo, for it was discovered when jibes were
flashing about that he was positively inspired. They were as sharp as his
spears, as stunning as his sword'.

Yan-coo, the wit of the tribe, a stubby, grim old man, who spent most of
his time making dilly-bags and modelling grotesque debils-debils in a
pliant blending of bees' wax and loam, to the horror of every
piccaninny, soon found that Wylo could talk back with such withering
effect, such shatteringly gross personalities that he, who with the
spiteful ironies of his venomous tongue had kept the camp in awe, was
dazed to gloomy silence by Wylo's vivid flashes of wit. His weird models
showed a mind corroding with vicious intent. He dared not open his lips
while Wylo was about. The quaking piccaninnies cringed with fear as they
watched him working up his malignant feelings into the most awful
imps--imps which threatened violence to their souls.

Wylo was supreme. He gloried in his dandyism and in his skill as a
fighter. His genius basked in the sunshine as he made high reliefs in the
sand or charcoaled pictures on the cool, grey rocks hidden in the
sound-sopping jungle. The one weak spot in his character was his faith in
a sort of wizardry. Contemptuous alike of the open violence or stratagems
of his fellows, he had the utmost horror of an implement which Yan-coo,
who was medicine-man as well as chartered wit, reserved for use against
mortal enemies.

This terrible tool he had never seen. Very few had, or even wanted to,
for its effects were as incomprehensible as they were tragic. Never
employed in the exercise of private or individual malice, the death
bone was an unfathomable and awful mystery. So dire was its influence
that if a woman touched it or even looked at it she sickened.

What was this instrument of death?

A human bone scraped and rubbed to a gradually tapering point, to the
thick, knobby end of which a string of human hair, plaited, was
cemented, the other end of a length of several yards being similarly
cemented to the interior of a hollow bone, also human. When the
stiletto-shaped bone is directed towards an individual who has incurred
the enmity of the medicine-man, his best heart's blood is attracted.
Drawn from the throbbing organ, it travels along the string and into the
hollow receptacle. The pointer is then sheathed and sealed with gum
blended with human blood, the string being wound about it. Simultaneously
with the extraction of the victim's most precious blood by this subtle
and secret process, a pebble or chip of shell is lodged in his body with
the result of ensuing agony.

Unaware of these very dreadful happenings, the individual so operated
upon may not suffer immediately any ill effect. The wizard watches, and
if no untoward symptoms are exhibited he takes into his confidence a
friend, and this candid friend tells the inflicted one that he must be
ill and dying, for the death-bone has been pointed at him and has done
its worst. Fear begets immediate sickness, and if the blood of the
patient be not restored and the foreign substance extracted from his
spasmodic side with elaborate ritual, death is inevitable.

Ridicule is but a slight shaft to employ against any one who may
retaliate with so potent a weapon as the death-bone. In the fulness of
his vanity and wit, Wylo began to make gratuitous fun of Yan-coo, who
fretted and fumed and terrified the piccaninnies with still more hideous
debils-debils. I saw one of them. It resembled a span-long plesiosaurus,
afflicted with elephantiasis, and a forked, lolling, tongue extruded
from a head that swayed ominously right and left. A tipsy, disorderly,
vindictive debil-debil it was, that made the boldest piccaninny shriek
with dismay. Wylo with a tiny spear of grass knocked the head of the
atrocious debil-debil off, and the piccaninnies changed shrieks for

That charitable feat sealed his fate. It was the beginning of a duel
between wizardry and art.

At night Yan-coo, mute with vengeance, left the camp for the secret
hollow, in a mass of granite which held the implements and elements of
his craft. While Wylo slumbered and slept the malicious sorcerer directed
with every atom of fervour he possessed the grisly death-bone towards him
from the distance of half a mile. The influence of the death-bone is so
completely under the control of the operator that it usually goes
straight to the person against whom he in the dead waste of the night
breathes his moody and angry soul away. Should the medicine-man, however,
be conscious that the potency is inclined to swerve, if he but put his
hand to the right or left it must fly in accordance with his will.

Perfectly unconscious of the dastard trick played upon him, Wylo
continued for several days to flirt and fight. He had a glorious time,
and so, too, had the piccaninnies, for Yan-coo, for reputation's sake,
dared not model debils-debils merely to have their horrible heads knocked
off with irreverent grass darts. Rather have no debil-debil than one
subject to Wylo's profane but splendid marksmanship. So the naked black
kiddies danced about Wylo, while Yan-coo fortified himself with the grim
knowledge that he had Wylo's heart's blood securely sealed up, and that
Wylo had a pebble in his body which would make him squirm sooner or

But, strange though it was, nothing happened to the arrogant Wylo. His
physical condition was perfect, his spirits boisterous. The skill of the
medicine-man, the whole dread influence of the death-bone were at issue,
and to give effect to both Yan-coo whispered that he had employed the
death bone against Wylo, because Wylo had become too "flash."

The recital of the deed struck horror and dismay into Yan-coo's
confidant. He was shocked at the sacrilege, astounded that Wylo had not
yet "tumbled down." It was his duty to tell poor Wylo of his awful fate.

Individuals of other nationalities in all ages have been proof, as Wylo
was, against unimagined evils.

"There may be in the cup
A spider steep'd, and one may drink, depart,
And yet partake no venom; for his knowledge
Is not infected; but if one present
The abhor'd ingredient, make known
How he hath drunk, he cracks his gorge, his sides
With violent hefts."

"His knowledge infected," Wylo collapsed forthwith in a spasm of fright.
All the prognostics of the medicine-man were verified. Wylo's hair became
lank, his eyes dull, his teeth yellow, his face pinched, his limbs weak.
He spat frequently and groaned. He pined daily, for he slept little and
his appetite was gone. Knowing that the fatal death-bone had been pointed
at him, what was the use of attempting to resist inevitable fate? Rather
would he resistlessly meet it. How was it possible to live without his
precious blood, now sealed up in the death-bone? And he had a horrible
pain in his side where the stone was--just as Yan-coo had said.

All the camp knew what had happened. Yancoo's reputation had been grimly
asserted. Every one now dreaded him anew. Again he was king. Though it
was contrary to all precedent to point the death-bone at a member of the
tribe, yet had Yan-coo made a law unto himself and his own justification,
and the proudest testimonial to his skill was Wylo's deplorable

Wylo became thinner and weaker every day, for Yan-coo, seething, with
malignity, stood aloof, declining to interfere. To him Wylo's gibes had
been more cruel than the grave, for they had had the grace of
originality, and once and for ever he purposed to shake his authority and
dreaded power over the heads of the affrighted camp.

The death-bone was slowly but implacably doing its office.

Among Wylo's many sweethearts was one who, in early youth, had been
kidnapped from a distant camp. She it was who took the news of Wylo's
direful sickness there, and implored the aid of a rival medicine-man.
Glad of the chance of exhibiting his knowledge and skill in a case which
was notorious and to outsiders absolutely hopeless, he followed the

After making no doubt whatever that Wylo's blood had been abstracted,
that an angry stone was lodged in his side, and that death was imminent
unless prompt measures were taken, the strange medicine-man chanted long
and weirdly. He squeezed and Pommelled Wylo, and made tragic passes with
his hands over his body and limbs. Then suddenly he applied his lips to
Wylo's sore side, and, after loudly sucking, exhibited between them an
angular piece of quartz which he triumphantly declared he had drawn from
his patient's body. Everybody, including Wylo, believed him.

Wylo brightened up at once. The two medical men, whose interests were
common--for the profession is very close and regardful of its rights and
privileges--consulted, communicating by signs and gibberish not
understanded of the people. Accompanied by a few of the elders of the
camp, they went to Yan-coo's surgery, took out the death-bone, and with
much ceremony unsealed it.

Blood stained the interior! All could see that it was Wylo's blood. It
could be none other, for none but Wylo had been deprived of any.
Ostentatiously the medicine-men washed the death-bone clean, restored it
to its unholy nook, and returned solemnly to the camp.

After deliberate and impressive silence it was announced by moody Yan-coo
that Wylo's heart's blood had been restored, whereupon that hero rose to
his feet sound and well though lean.

No word of anger or complaint passed Wylo's lips the while he regained
normal strength and gaiety. With frank ardour he resumed his sketchings
and flirting with old-time success. He actually modelled the grossest of
debils-debils for the piccaninnies and impaled all the vital parts with
grass darts, while the piccaninnies broke into open jeers at Yan-coo, for
the spell of the debil-debil had been destroyed.

Such outrages upon the craft of the sorcerer could not be tolerated. But
Wylo watched Yan-coo, and one night as he strolled out of the camp Wylo
followed with that light-footed caution and alertness significant of his
artistic perceptions. Wylo carried a great black-palm spear fitted into
a wommera with milk-white ovals of shell at the grip.

Yan-coo went straight to his surgery. Once more he prepared the
death-bone. Every detail of the unholy rite was performed with
determination, for he had abandoned all remorse.

As he pointed the death-bone towards the camp where, as he supposed, Wylo
rested, that hero cast his spear. He was strong. He had the sure eye of
the artist, the vigorous hate of a black.

When they found Yan-coo next morning he was still kneeling on one knee,
for the polished spear had impaled him, and, sticking six inches into the
ground before him, kept him from falling. With his chin on his left
shoulder and his right hand still retaining the string of the death-bone,
he had died as unconscious of the hand of the artist as the artist had
been primarily of his wizardry.

White folks heard of the, "murder." Wylo was apprehended and put on
trial. The solemn and upright judge could not learn the true facts of
the case, since the witnesses were incapable of intelligently stating
them. Wylo, who had promptly confessed to the crime in the terms, "Me
bin kill 'em that fella one time--finish," but who was denied the right
of explaining that Yan-coo had been prosecuting designs against his life
quite as effectual as a spear, and that Yan-coo had been "justifiably
killed," was sent to gaol for several years.

Constraint was dreadful to him, and the sorest trial which he endured was
the suppression of artistic longings; but he made pictures, he tells me,
everywhere--"alonga wind, alonga cloud altogether, alonga water, alonga
dirt, alonga stone." They were mostly imaginative, but to his mind, in
fine frenzy rolling, they were soothing and real. He made pictures out
of airy nothing, and gloated over them with his mind's eye. No power
other than that which had bestowed the breath of life could subdue the
beneficient mania that exalted his soul.

Wylo, is at the camp, sketching, flirting, and modelling fearsome
debils-debils for a new generation of hilarious piccaninnies.


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