Death from natural causes is scarcely recognized by the savages of Western Australia. Murderers, by violent means, and sorcerers, by causing diseases, are held to alone prevent the poor people from living for ever. Someone is therefore always to blame; and this belief naturally keeps the survivors pretty busy in seeking out
these same sorcerers and murderers, in order to avenge the deaths of their friends. Another principle is that if the guilty persons are not found, all his relatives are held to be implicated, so that satisfaction is generally obtained from someone!
If there be any hesitation, on the part of some abnormally tender-hearted relative, to undertake this holiest office of revenge, the ladies loudly remind him of this duty. He is, so to say, boycotted by his womankind. His wives will have nothing to say to him, the old women scold him, and as for the single girls they will not even glance at him. The funeral therefore is scarcely over before the average savage seizes his spears, collects his friends, and starts upon the warpath. The party sometimes find the culprit, and despatch him there and then; but if they fail, their anger becomes so inflamed that they slay any unfortunate native who falls into their bloodthirsty hands.
Among the West Kimberly natives a curious method is in vogue for discovering the whereabouts of a murderer. The corpse is fixed in the fork of a tree, and in the ground underneath a number of small sticks are stuck pointing north, south, east and west. After the lapse of a few days the friends carefully examine these, and from the droppings of putrid matter which adheres to them, determine in which direction the guilty man is living. I am not aware that this practice is adopted in other parts.
Wife stealing is punished with the death of the seducer, or one of his relatives. Minor punishments
consist of spear-thrusts through certain portions of the body, such as thigh, calf, arm etc., a different part being assigned for all ordinary crimes.
Duels are common between individuals who have private quarrels to settle; a certain number of spears being thrown until honour is satisfied. They pay little, attention to these wounds, but they soon heal owing to their naturally abstemious habits, Sir George Grey mentions an amusing and striking instance of their apathy, in connection with a fight, in what was then the village of Perth. He says:--"A native received a wound in that portion of his frame which is only presented to the, enemy when in the act of flight; and the spear, which was barbed, remained sticking in the wound. A gentleman who was watching the fray regarded the man with looks of great commiseration, which the native perceiving came up to him, holding the spear (still in the wound) in one hand, turned round so as to expose the injury he had received, said, in the most moving voice
'Poor fellow! Sixpence! Give it um!'"