The sympathies of travellers have been much wasted upon Aborigines, on the score of a supposed scarcity of food. As a rule they have an abundance, although they may run a little short in the height of the rainy season, or when they are overcome with laziness in very hot weather. The following list of articles, forming the food of the West Australian, is from the Journal of the last-named explorer:--"Six sorts of kangaroo, twenty-nine sorts of fish, one kind of whale, two species of seal, wild dogs, three kinds of turtle, emus, wild turkeys, two species of opossum, eleven kinds of frogs, four kinds of fresh water shell fish, every sort of sea shell fish, except oysters, four kinds of edible grubs, eggs of birds awl lizards, five animals of the rabbit class, eight sorts of snakes, seven sorts of iguanas, nine species of mice and rats, twenty-nine sorts of roots, seven kinds of fungis, four sorts of gum, two sorts of manna, two species of by-yu, or the nut of the zamia palm, two species of mesembry and themum, two kinds of small nuts, four sorts of wild fruit, besides the seeds of several plants. The above can hardly be called a starvation bill of fare, although, of course, it does not look very appetizing to the European.
The equipment of the Blackboy consists of his kiley (boomerang), hatchet, and dow-uk (a short heavy stick), which are stuck in his belt of opossum fur; also his different spears for war and chase--which, with his throwing stick, he carries in his hand. In the colder
parts of the continent he sometimes wears a warm kangaroo skin cloak. He also occasionally carries a wooden shield, curving inward at the ends.
The wife, who always follows her lord at a respectful distance, is usually in heavy marching order. A long stick is carried in her hand, and a bag on her shoulders, in the top of which is placed any child who cannot walk. The other contents of this useful receptacle are numerous and heterogeneous, comprising the stock-in-trade of the family.
There will be a flat stone to pound roots with, pieces of quartz for making spears and knives with, and larger stones for hatchets. Prepared cakes of gum for making and mending weapons. Kangaroo sinews for manufacture of spears, and to sew with. The shell of a mussel to cut hair with, different small stone-knives, pipe clay, red and yellow ochre. These are a few of her belongings; and she likewise carries spare skins for cloaks, &c., between the bag and her sorely tried back. The natives are very skilful hunters, and it is an interesting and beautiful spectacle to watch one of these swarthy savages on the trail, with bright eye, and swift noiseless footsteps. Sometimes they join in company for the chase, which if kangaroo are hunted is "Yowart-a-Kaipoon." These public battues are governed by certain rules. The invitation issues from the native owner of the soil, and the first spear which strikes determines whose property the game is to be, no matter how slight the wound. The animals are surrounded, and each man has his position assigned; then the circle gradually closes in oil the terrified creatures, but few of which escape.
The native hunting cries are wild and strange, always commencing with a hard consonant, such as "Kau," or "Koo-ee." They are thus audible much further than our "Hullo" or "Ho," beginning as the latter do with a soft aspirate. Kangaroos are also caught in nets, and pitfalls, and the hunter will sometimes follow up their tracks until they are so weary as to be approachable. This latter mode requires the very highest class of skill and the greatest endurance; for which reason only a few of the most renowned sportsmen can perform the feat.
So far as their cooking is concerned they cannot exactly be considered epicures. Sometimes they roast the kangaroo whole in a pit which they dig for the purpose; and occasionally cut it up and broil the portion piecemeal. The blood, entrails, and marrow are considered delicacies, and as such are reserved for the head men of the tribe.
Of their fishing, our native friends are justly somewhat proud. The captures are effected in three different ways; spearing, entrapping in a weir, and netting. In the first method they show marvellous skill, whether in rivers or the sea. They scarcely ever miss their aim. Regarding the weirs they shew considerable sagacity in hitting upon the exact place; of course constructing them at low water.
Probably the greatest joy which a coast Native knows is the discovery of a stranded whale upon his property. As a rule he is very greedy over his food, not being greatly given to sharing it with others. Such unusual abundance, however, changes his whole nature.
He lights fires, and invites his friends from near and far.
Then, I am sorry to say, a most disgusting orgie sets in. The host and guests continue feasting for weeks, knowing no regular meal times but literally continually cutting, and for ever coming to the attack again. The revellers have been known to stay by the mammoth's carcase long after it has become quite putrid, and even it is etiquette to present each guest at parting with an evil-smelling chunk, to convey to absent friends, whose urgent private affairs have kept them away from the delicious banquet.
Adult wild dog is occasionally eaten for a change, but puppies are an ever--welcome treat. As the dog is, however, with the blacks, as among the whites, frequently trained up to be the slave of man, the pups are often spared; and revolting as it appears to our notions,--wet nursed by the women of the family. Australia being the land of contraries, black swans and so forth, we need not be perhaps, too much surprised at this approach to a reversal of the history of Romulus and Remus.
Like the leading citizens in a well known city, the West Australian native is a great admirer of the luscious turtle, and are not surpassed by the New Yorkers in their appreciation of terrapin. The latter they cook whole, shell and all, in the ashes; then removing the bottom shell, the upper one serves as a dish. Most delicious of all, however, is accounted the emu, and hence it follows that heavy penalties are pronounced, by the law-makers of the nation, against any one eating this
bird but themselves. I think I remember having heard that any sturgeon, caught in the Thames, belongs to the Lord Mayor of London, which would be a parallel case.
Cockatoos are considered another great delicacy, are often killed with the boomerang. To see this strange weapon swooping, wildly among a flock of these birds,--spinning and whirling and slaying,--is one of the oddest sights imaginable.
One of the dexterous feats which Sir George Grey recounts is the killing of a bird as it flies from the nest. Two men are in it, one of whom, placing himself under the nest, transfixes the latter with a spear. As a rule the creature is only frightened or very slightly wounded, and is slain by the unerring dow-uk of the other hunter as it quits the tree.
In opossum hunting the savage climbs the tree, which he notches into footholds as he proceeds; then either smokes or prods the animal out of his hole, when he seizes it by the tail and dashes it to the ground--always careful, however, to avoid being bitten.
Frog catching, when the swamps are partly dried up, is usually the duty or pastime of the women. It is no easy task, however, for while poking about with their long sticks in the mud, they are almost devoured with flies and mosquitos. This is pretty rough on these poor, wild, dusky damsels of the Desert.
Grubs, which are extremely palatable, are procured from the grass tree; and likewise in an excrescence of the wattle tree. They are eaten either raw or roasted but
seem to be greatly improved by cooking. I am told they have a nut-like flavour, but I never had the courage to sample them.
In addition to their culinary duties the women have to dig for the various roots they dress for their husbands, and they become very expert in this occupation. When found the roots are sometimes pounded and mixed with a kind of earth, and sometimes roasted plain.
The Bu-yu nut is also collected and eaten with relish, which proves the great difference which exists between the Australian and European stomach, for so violent a cathartic is this nut, that some of Captain Cook's crew who ate it dearly paid for their experience with their lives. There is, however, a pulp which encases the inner kernel, which, after certain preparation. can be used as an agreeable and nutritious article of food. Besides those I have glanced at there are innumerable other native dishes, products of the earth and of the chase, with which I will not trouble my courteous reader.