One of the most interesting of their laws is that of
marriage, which is founded on the fact that they are divided into certain great families, all the members of which bear the family name as a second one in addition to their own. According to Sir George Grey the principal families are the following:--Ballaroke, Idondarup, Ngatak, Nagarnook, Nogonyuk, Mongalung, and Narrangur.
Then in different districts the members of these families give a local name to the one to which they belong, which is understood in that district to indicate some particular branch of the principal family.
The common local names are:--Didaroke, Gwerinjoke, Maleoke, Waddaroke, Djekoke, Kotejumino, Namyungo, and Rgungaree.
Strangely enough these family names are common all over the continent. They are perpetuated and spread throughout the country by two remarkable laws.
1st.--That children of either sex always take their mother's family name.
2nd.--That a man may not marry a woman of his own family name.
These singular laws exist among North American Indians, and a well-known writer reminds me that a similar law of consanguinity was probably inferred in Abraham's reply to Abimelech (Genesis, chapter xx, verse 12), "And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife."
Each Australian native family has its Kobang, or crest. Some animal or vegetable is taken as the sign,
and in recognition of this the owner of the Kobang will never kill the animal to which it refers, should he find it asleep while his family vegetable can only be gathered under certain condition, and at special seasons of the year.
Again the North American Indians have a similar custom of taking animals, at all events, for their coats of arms. Thus the Iroquois have the turtle, and the Hurons the bear. Among civilized people in Europe, this custom, as we know, only exists among the upper classes. It is strange, indeed, to reflect that while the despised blackboy proudly owns and knows all about the cognizance of his ancestors, in shape perchance of Squirrel, Bandicoot, Iguana, or Kangaroo, the white settler's knowledge of heraldry is probably limited to a hazy idea that the lion, and the unicorn, are somehow connected with Her Majesty, the Queen.
Another very curious law is that which obliges families connected by blood, upon the female side, to unite for the common purpose of defence and avenging crimes. The family name, as I have said, is that of the mother; and as the father may probably have several wives, all of different families, so his children are liable to be divided against each other by deadly feuds. This law would itself prove a hindrance to any people emerging from a savage state. Thus it will be seen that the ties of blood-relationship are as nothing, compared with the bond of family; and one of the effects of a father bearing a different name from his children, is that a district of country seldom remains; for two generations successively
in the same family. It is not easy to successfully pursue an enquiry into matters of this kind, because another aboriginal law forbids them ever to mention the name of a deceased person, male or female.