The power that the aborigines possessed of bringing about their own deaths by an effort of will is generally looked upon by white people as one peculiar to what are mostly termed "Native Races." Just what is meant by "native races" is hard to define. But it seems to embrace those peoples of colour whose social status is looked upon as being less or on a lower plane than that of ours, and not on the level of brown people. Certain it is that our autocthonous predecessors in occupany of Australia had it and exercised it. No one of them had to jump over a Gap or sever a windpipe. Nor yet take a dose of poison. All he had to do was "go bush," hidden from all, and bring his spirit from his body by compelling it to come. The operation was accompanied by great sullenness and determined, self-engendered, depression.
In the same category, it is considered, is "Boning." Provided a person knew what marks to make in clay on the face, and what incantations to indulge in, he could kill by pointing a bone. Circumstances and surroundings had to be propitious. It had to be done in secret. When the envious mother decided to rid herself of the beautiful Krubi, as told in the story, "How the Waratah got its Honey," she prepared a bone and awaited the chance, as you have read. Had there been no interference and the plan had not miscarried in any particular, Krubi would have died.
There is the tale of the very tall man who was feared by his tribe simply because of his unusual height. If my conjecture be right, based as it is upon the description brought down by a third generation and the last a white, then this man of unheard-of growth must have been fully eight feet high. His father, said to have been thirteen stone weight, reached but to his waist. He wielded more power than the chief, and quite as much as the medicine man.
He was a "boner." There had been several mysterious deaths, and a polished bone was one of the secret possessions of the tall man. Several men had seen it. He took a violent dislike to the chief because he had been instructed to prepare himself for participation in a corroboree, and he did not like the part he was to play. He, because of his height, was considered to be the best to show the young men how to climb a tree. He had to stride just as if he were climbing a winding stair, He had to portray just how to hold the trunk, just how to place the big toe in the bark, or just how to cut the notch in the side if the bark were not thick nor rough enough.
He failed to appear. Drums made by digging small round holes and stretching skins across them and pegging them down were fashioned and beaten. This always signified that someone was neglecting a duty.
The tall blackfellow took no notice. He remained just out of sight, and the corroboree had to proceed without him.
This could not happen many times. All the tribe talked of it. The chief knew that either he or the challenger had to go, and he decided that he would meet the defiance with cunning.
He ordered a war. Some time before river blacks had sent an insult in the shape of the chief totem mark of this tribe wrapped in feathers and tied to a spear, and this was thrown to an old woman. There was no disgrace in ignoring it, and that was done. But now he wanted an excuse to kill the boner and he made up his mind to fight the river blacks and if the boner was not killed at it be would be on the way back. The boner knew all that was passing in the chief's mind, and he laid plans too. He put a beautiful polish on his bone and determined that if he once saw the chief alone he would finish him with it, even if he were a chief.
To try his power with the bone he called his wife to him, and leading her out of sight of the rest he pointed the bone in her face. The unfortunate woman was seized with an ague and she did as all others did under like circumstances. She walked away through the ferns, through the scrub of myrtle and vines that made dense the bank of the creek, and then, crawling under there where it was hollowed and hidden by a mass of old dark roots and a fallen log, she lay down and died. Her tracks were followed by her sister, and her bones must be lying there still, for no one who died of boning was ever buried. They were left just where and as they lay.
So the bone was good.
A corroboree was held, and at it the young men who were not yet taught the arts of war were shown all about it. At that time the tall man was a teacher and he went to it as such because he thought he might get a chance to carry out what was in his mind.
The day of war dawned. Shields had been fashioned, spear-heads were tested, and nullahs were swung to try their weight. A move was made up over the hill and into the mosses of the gully at the head of a creek that fell away to a flat and then rushed over boulders and amongst stones to where it joined a river. It was night before the river blacks were sighted. They were not unprepared. They had plenty of weapons and their women had for some days been hiding away on the timbered slope of another hill.
With fierce yells the bush blacks came on. They formed a few lines, and when the most advanced one was held up they got into open order and the second one came through. It was quite an organised affray, but the bush blacks were beaten. The river men had prepared too well. Many of the others were taken prisoner and the boner was amongst them.
The chief escaped. He had lost most of his ablest men and he was very downhearted. He knew nothing of magic nor the craft of the spirit. He had never drawn the mystic lines of clay about his body, and his chief sorcerer, in the person of the boner, was in the camp of the enemy and probably, he thought, killed. For it was not the custom of the blacks to take prisoners.
The chief decided to redeem the boner if possible, and if he were really still alive. If he rescued him he would not be under his displeasure, surely, and the feud would be abandoned. So he caused several maidens to be taken over to the river, but this was not enough. The men who took them there returned with the message that more than half their land was to be given up, and the boner was to stay. All the rest were to go back, but the tall man could not. This was not, of course, what the chief desired, but he had no choice. He sent a present of about twenty wallabies, and he took the cloaks of about twenty women and sent them all over. He also sent a message saying that he wished to speak to the tall sorcerer alone for a few minutes, and after that the river people could have the coveted territory, and he and his tribe would trouble them no more.
All this was conveyed by means of a messenger and a message stick, and the river chief went in person to give the answer, though he pretended that he had not read the message. This deceit made the bush chief very angry, and the reception he accorded the other was far from friendly. He insisted that he must have the tall man returned to him, but it was firmly refused.
When the river chief returned he visited the boner in the gunyah that had been made for him, and asked why his chief was so anxious to have him back.
The boner produced the bone. The very sight of it struck terror into the heart of the river chief. He snatched it, and running down to the river he flung it in. Immediately a thin streak of coloured water was seen flowing from where the bone fell.
It was of a pinkish tinge, and it soon stretched on down the stream and the end of it was out of sight.
This river did not reach the sea. It was either lost in the flat country far on or it flowed into a lake.
Years afterwards two blacks from away there came up the river. Their people had lived for thousands of years around and about this lake. Nearly all their food they got from it, they said. But now it was changed. It had gone a strange pink colour, and the water was unfit to drink.
All wild fowl left it. The weeds with succulent roots died. Other growths took their place, but they were not fit to eat. Even the fish and the yabbies died, and so these young men determined to follow the river up to find the cause. They were provided with the proper message stick and they had the signs to any tribes whose territory they might pass through that they were on a very friendly mission.
They heard the story of the bone and they found that the river at the point where it had been thrown in was salt.
Ever since the lakes have been salty, and all salt lakes are fed from a river into which some sorcerer has thrown the bone with which he achieved the deaths of all he wished to secretly destroy, if he were a boner.
NOTE.--Some people who have been on most intimate terms with the blacks aver that "boning" is more than simply pointing. They say that the expression "to point" is the only one the natives had when they wished to convey something like "to shoot." They did not mean that the bone was only "pointed." They actually pierced. And first they charred the end of a green bone. This is said to produce prussic acid, and that, when inserted into a human being causes active and rapid blood poisoning.
Of this the writer heard nothing from, the blacks themselves, but as some of his information is from white men, perhaps he should take this as truth.