STORIES FROM EARLY PIONEERS

JAMES AINSWORTH FROM THE 1840s

Casino and Kyogle Courier and North Coast Advertiser (NSW : 1904 - 1932), Saturday 7 October 1922, page 3

 

In 1847 there were between 400 and 500 native blacks in the tribes belonging to East and West Ballina. At that time they had not yet become contaminated by the white approach. They lived in rigid accordance with their own primitive customs and were strangers alike to grog and to many of the other vices and diseases of the white civilisation. The men were destitute of clothing and the women wore loin cloths, mostly made from the wool of the opossum. Their principal food was fish and oysters and the varied products of the chase. They were a simple, good-hearted and friendly people who would generously give away any-thing they possessed to the "white feller." It is regrettable to have to record that in return they were often very badly treated by the settlers.

 

They were exceedingly expert hunters and fishermen, and in these pursuits brought to their aid many ingenious weapons and contrivances. In catching fish they used what they called a "tow-row" — that is, a finely meshed net attached to a stick of bamboo bent in the shape of a bow about eight feet across between the two ends. This gave a bag effect to the net, and with a tow-row in each hand the blacks would surround the fish schools in narrow and shallow waters and catch them by hundreds. The cordage of these nets, which were very strong and beautifully woven, was made from the inside fibre of the stinging tree and from the bark of the currajong. They used a similar net in hunting. This was made of the same fibre in long sections four feet in width. These sections when joined together for the purposes of the chase would extend some-times to a half-mile in length. Where game was plentiful in the forest or scrub the blacks would run the net after the manner of a fence in the shape of a semi-circle. Then the whole tribe with the dogs would beat up the neighborhood for a mile or two and drive all game - everything - towards the open end of the enveloping net. Here the scared paddy-melons, wallabies, bandicoots, iguanas, etc., would be suddenly arrested and, becoming hopelessly entangled, fall speedy victims to dogs and men. It was surprising the immense quantity of food they sometimes secured by these means.

 

Flying foxes were a prolific source of food supply, and as these huge bats clustered together in their camps in thousands they were easily brought down with the boomerang and paddy-melon stick. Yams were also a favourite delicacy, and some that were obtainable in the scrubs grew to two feet in length by an inch or two in diameter. A very appetising bread was made from a nut flour. These nuts grew on the coastal headlands, and in season, when ripe were ground up between heavy stones. The pulp was then placed in the running water for six weeks or so and the resultant paste when cooked made a really splendid bread. It resembled arrowroot in smell, and was eagerly sought after by the whites when rations ran short.

 

In that early period, too, the blacks in the month of September each year, flocked to the beaches for salmon fishing. This was a very fine eating fish, resembling a small "jewy" in shape, and while the brief season of a month lasted Binghi's larder was full to over-flowing. They came in huge shoals inside the surf, where the blacks could spear them in any number; then they would disappear from the coast as suddenly as they came. A singular circumstance in connection with these migratory salmon was that in the '57 season countless hundreds of them were washed ashore dead, so that the beaches north of the Richmond were literally strewn with their decomposing bodies. They were apparently ravaged by some disease. Certain it is - and this is the peculiar feature - they have never, to my knowledge, been seen on this coast since.

 

Tribal warfare was not infrequent. The Brunswick blacks, hostile to those of Ballina, would meet on the Seven Mile Beach as a battleground and there they would savagely fight out their differences. Generally the trouble had its origin among the women folk. A young buck from a neighbouring tribe would carry off a young lubra, or the latter would elect to steal away to another camp, and this was sufficient for a declaration of war. The original white settlers witnessed many of these tribal collisions. A battle would some-times last for two days, and would take place generally on the open beaches. The weapons were mostly spears, boomerangs and nullahs, and each warrior carried a shield, or bukkha, to protect the body from the flying missiles. The balance spear was a favourite weapon, and these the expert fighting men could hurl up to a couple of hundred yards with deadly precision. The tribes subscribed to the primitive principles of right and wrong, and believed in the existence of an evil spirit. As a consequence, they were possessed of many disconcerting fears. Without any apparent recognition of a good spirit they stood in mortal terror of an evil one, but generally they were fair in their dealings with one another in obedience to the rigid tribal codes.

 

They had many gruesome customs. On the death of a member of the tribe the women relatives would with sharp tomahawks while standing up hack their scalps clean of hair, after which they would collapse in heaps, presenting a sickening sight. The hairless, blood-smeared heads would then be treated with poultices of congevoi and in a few weeks the bruised and bare scalps would again be wonderfully healed. Another cruel custom was the initiation of a young buck to manhood. This, among other weird rites, involved the laceration and burning of the flesh on chest and shoulders, and the application of clay to heal the wounds. Huge weals remained, and these were the warrior's pride and the sign of his tried manhood.

 

The hunting ground of the Ballina tribes extended north to Broken Head and back from the beaches to the Big Scrub. The seasons were known to them by foliage and flowers, and the great book of nature undoubtedly revealed to them many of its secrets. They could tell by natural signs of flowers and fruits when the salmon and the mullet were due on the beaches and in the rivers, and also when certain game was bound to be in evidence in particular localities. The tribe usually camped in divisions at different places excepting during oyster season, when they assembled unitedly at Chickiaba, on North Creek, where the large oyster banks on the foreshores to this day mark the old feeding grounds. Naturally conversant with the ways of the bush and the scrubs, they were of incalculable assistance to the cedar getters. They also became fine axemen and expert at squaring the logs, rafting and bullock driving. It was never known that the whites had ever suffered injury at their hands, but on the contrary their help was in constant requisition in many ways.

RE PEARSON HUDSON SIMPSON FROM HIS CHILDHOOD AT URALBA IN THE 1850s

Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 - 1954), Thursday 29 August 1929, page 8

At this time the blacks were very troublesome, and Pearson Hudson Simpson had many narrow escapes of being killed by them. He has seen Duck Creek red with blood (where the bridge now stands) when various savage tribes used to meet and fight. It was, a great meeting place of theirs ; it was near where the bridge now stands that they used to hold their corroborees. These were very interesting to watch, but one had to keep concealed. The natives would smear their bodies with different coloured pipe, clay which they got from the banks of the various creeks, and their heads would be decorated with brightly coloured feathers, red seeds from the reeds, and shells. Their tabby tabbies were made out of kurrajong bark, reeds and palm leaves. Some of the men had. spears, nulla nullas and other weapons; others had drums made from the skins of wild animals, while others beat time with their boomerangs, and they would all dance round and sing.

 

Even in their wild state, the natives were a very neat race of people. It was wonderful to see how well they could make their dilly bags and fishing nets. For the latter they would strip' the bark off the kurrajong trees, then chew and beat it into fine shreds, arid rub it between the palms of their hands. After this process they would let it soak in the creek for a couple of weeks, then chew and roll it again. It was now ready to be made into nets. These nets were weighted with shells.

 

Once when Pearson Hudson Simpson was a little boy he was chased right into the house and under the bed by one of the savages, who was carrying a stone tomahawk. His parents were away that day, but his brother Sydney happened to be near and. he called out "Come quick, father." The native, on hearing this, rushed out of the house and away into the scrub; thus Sydney saved his brother's life. On another occasion when Pearson Hudson Simpson's parents went down to their little hut at Pimlico for the day, a savage black from the Tweed chased him and his mate, Christy Marriot (with a stone tomahawk), right to their hut. The two boys rushed inside and bolted the door, but did not have time to close the shutter. The black tried to enter the hut through the. shutter, but the boys pelted him for some time with potatoes and kept him out. Luckily for them, a friend arrived at that moment and the black disappeared.

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During the early days (at what is now known as Dungarubba) five families had camped close together for company. The men used to go away cedar cutting during the week, and would return each weekend to see their wives and families; also to get a fresh supply of provisions, which consisted mainly of corn meat and damper. This meat used to be sent out from England in casks. One weekend as the men returned to their camps they discovered that the blacks had been there and murdered their wives and families. One poor man, on approaching his camp, noticed his big Newfoundland dog coming from out of the bush, and returning to the same place a few minutes later. When he found that his family were dead, he decided to go over and see where the dog was. To his surprise he discovered it lying in a heap of stinging nettles with the little baby huddled between his legs. The baby had been there all night, and no doubt would have perished only for the warmth of the dog. It was afterwards learnt from the friendly blacks that the savages had their stone tomahawk up, just going to kill the baby, when it looked at them and smiled; so instead of killing it they took it out of its cradle and threw it into the heap of nettles. This little child was brought to Duck Creek, where it was cared for by some of the white women. The poor husbands then mustered together and asked the captain from one of the schooners to bring them all the arms and ammunition he could procure. On obtaining these they attacked the camp of the savages and killed everyone they came across.

Soon the natives of Uralba became very friendly with the Simpson family, for Mr. Pearson Simpson [Jnr] used to give them food, tobacco, clothes and. anything else he had to spare. They also began to learn the English language. This was done by pointing to certain things and repeating the names after the whites said them.

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