In 1869 a debate was held, chaired by the Mayor, Mr Marks, at the Courthouse by the Kiama School of Arts on the topic
“Has the British Government done justice to the Aboriginals of New South Wales?”
A complete text of this was published in the Kiama Independent of the day and is truly a remarkable document for its day. It specifically refers to the issue of land rights and Aboriginal land use, and mainly comprises a long essay written by John Taylor, farmer of Jamberoo, which took an hour and a half for him to read. This is truly a remarkable document and details many aspects of local Aboriginal culture and land use, and also instances of injustices and even massarces in the colony. He holds the remarkable position that the Europeans could have negotiated with the Aboriginals, like they were forced to do with the Maoris in New Zealand. and goes onto make many other remarkable statements, which echoe the sentiments of Sorry Day these days.
King Mickey with his plate. Was this justice?
Here is a comprehensive history of King Mickey
To the credit of the Kiama residents of the day, the motion that justice had not be done was carried, with one dissenter.
It would be a perfect re-enactment for Sorry Day 2007, on May 20 as part of Reconciliation Week.
Update 1st May 2009
The full text is available at the Pilot’s Cottage museum, for some reason it won’t post here. I have posted a part of it on the top this page, but here is some of the text form the Kiama Pilot’s Cottage museum.
On April 29th, 1869 a debate was held in the Kiama Court House during a meeting of the Kiama School of Arts.
The Chairman for the night was J Mark, Esq., the Vice-president of the institution
Have the British Government done justice to the aboriginals of New South Wales?
The debate was opened in the negative because the first speaker was absent.
First Speaker : John Taylor spoke for an hour and a half.
Click here to see transcript of part of his speech.
Next Speaker: Dr Taylor continued. Here are some comments
The government in a certain sense had treated the blacks kindly, but that what had been done to them was very paltry. On looking over the Blue Book he had noticed that the sum of £400 had been expended in blankets etc for the blacks. Yet he also noticed that the Government was able to make a provision of £200 for the Queen’s Plate, a prize for horse riding at the late Homebush meeting.
“The people of the earlier times in the colony were allowed to take unlawful means against the natives for destroying them and banishing them from their territories. They were regarded as infectious – injurious to the squatters, as the cattle strange to say would not graze where they could smell the scent of the aboriginal which is a remarkable instinct of animals.”
Therefore the squatters regarded them as noxious, and it was to their interest to have the nuisance removed. The government had allowed the squatters to get rid of them as they might, and they were shot down as though they were not human beings.
The doctor gave credit to Mr Plunkett as the first to put an end to this state of things, by bringing punishment upon a number of whites who had been murdering the aboriginals at a wholesale rate. He quoted a case that had just resulted in the execution of the murderers and he deserved the applause of all humanity.
Before this he believed that no justice had been done to the aboriginals.
Next Speaker: Mr Crawford ( public school teacher of Petterborough, Shellharbour asked permission to speak even though he was not a member.
He said he had considerable experience with the blacks and thought he was pretty well acquainted with their character.
He thought they were a very low and dishonest race of people and the government was too too liberal with them
What right had they to the soil of the country any more than the British subjects. They were indolent – they live on the land itself and did not produce anything by labour. Why should they be allowed to hold valuable land if they were too lazy to produce anything on it.
He disagreed strongly with Dr Plunkett’s actions.
As to Christianity: … they will never become Christians; they can never be made give way from their own religious ideas.
He didn’t think the squatters over interferred with their fishing and hunting grounds as was stated in Mr Taylor’s essay. Although shooting is a severe punishment still they had no alternative. It was no doubt wrong but if they did not do this they were in danger of being slaughtered themselves. No injustice had been done to the aboriginals.
Next Speaker: Mr D.L. Dymock
Approved of the essay and believed he aboriginals to be an honest and humane race.
He thought the previous remarks were uttered without thought.
Next Speaker: Mr Burgess-Born
Found aboriginals to be honest and had it not been for alcohol they might have always continued to be so. The government had made laws to prohibit publicans from selling them spirituous liquors, but this law had not been strictly enforced. He remembered visiting a college containing a number of aboriginals, which supplied many matriculators. He knew of many who could take their place at university and they were far from a ferocious race. He said that Bishop Selwyn of Lichfield, did all he could to put the British Government against the blacks.
Next Speaker: John Taylor replied
Spoke in high term of the honesty of the aboriginals, saying that if anyone wanted to leave their homes for any time, an aboriginal was usually left in charge.
The question was put by the chairman , when there appeared to be only one person in favour of the affirmative side of the question.
These are some of the first speaker’s notes.
Aboriginals of the Colony
Extracts from Essay read by Mr John Taylor
Seeing the interest that archeologists, antiquaries, and geologists take in the stone implements found in the alluvium of rivers in Europe, we would naturally think that a race of men, using those implements and knowing no others would be the objects of intense interest and study. Yet we have been in contact with the aborigines for nearly ninety and know less about them than any other race.
J Taylor then quoted from writings of Gideon Lang and Sir George Gray’s journals which were very sympathetic to the aboriginal cause.
Throughout the essay he used wider examples from elsewhere across Australia but they are not included here.
But the following extracts appear to be observations of aboriginal life around the Kiama district..
In 1843, at Jamberoo, a young blackman informed me that he had been sentenced to have 50 spears thrown at him by the Shoalhaven tribe; that the tribes would meet on the long beach for that purpose during the fishing season in the Crooked River, when there would be plenty of food for them; and that he was to work on for the blacksmith at Terry’s station for covering his shield with a plate of iron. He did so. Several of the district went and witnessed the ordeal. The delinquent stood up to his knee in the water upon one foot and the other thrown out behind him. He turned every spear either over his head or to the right or left, but always presented an oblique surface of the shield so the spears glided past; time was marked while the spears were thrown.
I came to Jamberoo in February of 1842; and in May following the blacks held a corroboree in what was then known as Wood’s Forest, prior to engaging the Shoalhaven tribe in battle on the very long beach. The moon was near the full and the ground was evidently skillfully selected to give the greatest effect of light and shade. A clear portion was allotted to the performers…… About fifty women were seated under the trees fronting the ground and Captain Brooke, their poet stood behind them and chanted the words of the corroboree, while the women sang as he repeated the words; and Mangy the chief led in the different scenes. The old men and women and also the young women with children in their arms, and the children sat behind the orchestra; while the young girls just merging into womanhood glided like spirits of the forest in the shade. It was no dance but a skillfully got up presentation, consisting of four different scenes; between each scene the actors retired to the light of the fire at a considerable distance and repainted themselves. Of course I understood as much as I would of a drama announced in a foreign language. The blacks were then perfectly harmless. The dense brushes, the proximity to Sydney and the small areas occupied for agricultural purposes, had effected the blacks less than those of the squatting districts, although the whites were much more numerous.
The first whites were cedar cutters and at first were protected by the military, from Sydney; and the black that committed any outrage were secured, tried and punished, some of them were hanged at Berrima. They have as much fear, I might say reverence as any Englishman and when convinced that they will be overcome by the enemy they endeavour to avoid every cause of offence, and live at peace with him; therefore, although the boldest spirits were shot or hanged, the tribe was comparatively unbroken. There were about two hundred warriors, many of them near or quite six foot high, and about twelve stone weight. There were many white men present, some of whom after the corroboree was over commenced to make bargains with their fathers and protectors of a criminal nature in reference to the young women. With pain I then foresaw what would be the end of the race.
In Europe the children of degraded mothers form the city arabs and criminal classes; and here the future mothers of the whole race were doomed to degradation.
At that period every settler had two or more convicts as assigned servants. There was a stockade of convicts forming in Wollongong harbour and a company of soldiers guarding them and several gangs of convicts on the road. There were seven assigned servants at Woodstock, and fourteen emigrants, thirteen of them young, unmarried men and too many of these were licentious in the extreme, the natural consequence being the degradation of the natives and loathsome disease.
The black fought this battle next day. They met in single line at about sixty yards distance, and exchanged spears for some hours, every spear being turned by the shields, until Neddy, a Jamberoo black was speared in the thigh. Then one of the Shoalhaven blacks was speared through the shoulder, when they considered justice satisfied, and separated and formed camps to attend the wounded men.
In 1843 I was returning from Wollongong and reaching Terry’s River about sundown a whole tribe of blacks were camped on the banks, they had been engaged in mullet fishing and the banks were covered with fish. They had eaten their supper and were distributed in groups around a gunyah, in which sat a story teller.— the younger men and boys sitting close to him, the girls and young mothers outside them, but all the picture of perfect enjoyment; while the young women glided through the forest with a lightness and elasticity of motion as if gravity had no influence over them.
One girl, tall and light glided from amongst the trees towards me, singing like a syren of the river. Her dress was of an opossum cloak, the flesh side out, of one uniform light grey colour; the skins were squared, beautifully sewn together, and ornamented with delicate red lines and dots arranged in geometrical regularity. That cloak must have cost her more labour than does the most superb dress of the European lady; her hair was divided in front and hung in regular and glossy ringlets on her back and shoulders; the cloak hung gracefully on her person over the left shoulder and under the right arm, which was exposed with her right shoulder. comparing her with her civilised sisters, she had not their intellectual expression, and was void of the expression of care regarding infringement on the rules of etiquette. But her ebony countenance bespoke the full enjoyment of pleasure, and her eyes sparkled from under her long eye lashes were full of benevolence.
She stood where the old krodgi was seated holding forth with Dr Ellis, then a boy, sitting at the feet evidently drinking in his discourse. At this time the tempers began to arrive amongst them was a neighbour of mine from Jamberoo, a man with the education and the address of a gentleman.
He made an illicit bargain with the father of the girl; but she being betrothed to a young blackfellow was faithful and disappeared.
I asked Mangle what was her name; he said “whitefellow call her Maggy.” I asked what the blacks called her; He said “Morgana”. I asked what Buta was in English; he told me it was the name of the clan of her tribe, and that they called the men Kumbo; and that Morgana meant a spring of water with the sun shining on it, or a clear sparkling spring.
Who I ask is the most barbarous, the uncivilised black or the white who would pollute the clear sparkling spring?
Some months later I was thrown from my horse on the Five Islands run; my tipsy companion galloped from me; I was greatly shook in the head and back, and my left wrist was dislocated – I felt in a dream like stupor, but I saw two old grey haired black women digging amongst the bushes near me. They immediately came to my assistance – one naked but the other slightly dressed; they talked in Kamilaroi, but there was no mistaking their sympathetic actions.
One of them went away but returned soon with a bangelo leaf full of water, with which she bathed my brow with a hand as light and soft as my mother’s whilst the other washed my hands; and when they saw my dislocated wrist they both cried.
The water revived me and a profuse perspiration broke out which the dressed one wiped off my face with a corner of her dress. When I spoke she told me in broken English that I belonged to Woodstock and I was at the Corroboree; I asked her to direct me to Wollongong, which she attempted but not understanding she offered to conduct me ; when near Wollongong I gave her a shilling and told her to go back; but I asked her where Dr O’Brien resided and she would not leave me until we reached the doctor’s, who hunted her off with his dogs.
In 1844 I began to split a piece of freestone of about 40 tons weight; it was grooved all over and a number of worn out stone tomahawks was lying around. As we were driving the wedges the chief (Mangy) and three other blackfellows came to grind their tomahawks; he told me that it was their grindstone; that their fathers had used it time immemorial, and that other tribes had the right to use it. He asked me how I would like them to steal my grindstone;
and told me that we were robbers and intruders, also the name of the tribe and the name of the rightful proprietor of the ground, trees etc. and cursed the whole white race and the stupidity of his fathers for allowing us to set foot on their soil.
In 1845 when returning from Shoalhaven I was overtaken by a fearful thunderstorm and deluge of rain at the Little Meadow on the south boundary of the municipality; the tribe was camped there in a circular hut built with sheets of bark. They offered me shelter and I accepted; they took the saddle off my horse and hobbled him with stirrup leather. The women first covered their own persons, and then the men and all behaved with a propriety that the most fastidious could not find fault with, and with hospitality that astonished me. They were very much alarmed and said that Baiama was speaking.
He then went on to mention an incident at the first agricultural show in 1846. Briefly a knife had been lent to an aboriginal by Mr Newnham, he put it on his gunyah and it was stolen.
The aboriginal saw the knife and told the whitefellow that it had been belonged to Mr Newnham.
A number of settlers sitting on a log opposite the inn ….. would have assulted the black if I had not interferred….
Later Mr Newnham appeared and the black walked towards him. The settler called the black and gave him his knife.
The aboriginal said ” that is not right either. When you thought it was a blackfellow’s knife you would steal it and punch me for saying it was mine, but when you find that it belongs to a gentleman and see him coming you give it up.”
About this time a blackfellow named George took a clearing lease at Crawley’s Forest.He repeatedly brought me wheat of his own growing to grind and while waiting would talk with great intelligence. He told me that for six years he had been on whaling voyages, and he had saved some money and the ship was at New Zealand when Captain Hobson arrived as Governor — that he was ashore with the captaina and mate at the Meeting of Waitanga.. that he had heard the moori speeches and the captain got them in English for him – that the Maoris were not such fools as the Murris, that they made the government pay for the land and reserved enough for themselves, while the Murris (his fathers) had allowed us to take their land without a single reserve – that plenty of blackfellows would now cultivate and grow wheat on their own land if they had any, but it was a stale game to clear land that justly belonged to them for whiteman.
That Mr Hindmarsh’s farm at Gerringong was his native inheritance and that Sandwa Swamp and Weree Creek belonged to the whole tribe.
I tried to translate their poetry, but I misunderstood the genius of their language. It appeared to me to consist almost wholly as nouns. I now understand that the nouns by a slight change become most flexible verbs, and that the language is capable of expressing the nicest shades of thought. They were at loss to find an English verb to express the correct sentiment; and I concluded that that they were altogether deficient in them. The sentiments related to mainly war and love, but they seemed to possess a strong sense of the ridiculous and much wit different from the soft flowing humorous wit of the Irishman, and more resembling the ironic biting wit of the Scotchman. But every piece they concluded with a wail for the whites taking their country from them.
I distinctly understood them to say that Baiama created all things; that the thunder was him speaking but he was never seen, that the woods and waters were full of wundas or spirits; that the greatest spirit of the wood was Yako, and the waters Bunyip; and at their sacred circles (one of them I saw near Good Dog), where they made the boys into men and the men into councillors, that the cobon wunda or arch fiend, who inspires the krodgis, appears to the krodgis in the form of a snake that he sometimes attacks and spears the moon which becomes covered with blood and dark, that they then cry to Baiama who dresses the wound and the moon shines again.
The only time I observed anything like prayer was when riding along the Minnamurra River. I saw old Nangle standing over the river on a nearly horizontal fishing; he suddenly screamed and called on Baiama. When I got to him there was a large and beautiful seal at the root of a tree and between him and the bank. The seal left at my approach. Nangle said that the seal was a wunda. I asked him Baiama would help him and he said that Baiama helped the blacks before the whites came.
I have repeatedly seen them mourning their dead on Pheasant and Bombo Points. Their distress is extreme. At the day break the whole tribe sing for a considerable time. I was anxious to see the burials and joined the tribe on Bombo Point. They treated me with courtesy but before they lifted the corps a blackman came from Kiama in seeming great agitation and told the tribe that a man had been drowned from a boat in the harbour and they were grapling to recover the body. The black regretted that they could not leave the funeral to assist. I went to Kiama and found nothing the matter. I returned immediately but the funeral was over, and the women in an agony of distress.
For their burial grounds they select the most picturesque and beautiful spots. Porter’s Garden was a spot of surpassing beauty until made a desolation of its beautiful vegetation.
I have said that Mangy was the last of his tribe. Within seven years of the corroboree every physically fine man was dead. The reason was the utter breaking up of their tribal organisation and substituting no other. The men were employed by the settlers, and accustomed to clothing and shelter; while the old people were allowed to wander and pick up whatever existence they could in the bush, the young women being prey to every licentious European. The working men were too often too often paid with rum. No family intercourse being provide for them, family longings would come upon them after two or three month’s work, they would then go to camp and strip themselves to show they were as good blackfellows as ever. The result would be a cold , often severe inflammation of the lungs, but always some pulmonary disease.
They would be carefully attended to in the camp by the women and would die: that together with rum and disease – that return for their country that we gave them – soon finishes the race.
Every squatter brings up blackboys, and finds them invaluable as horsebreakers and stockmen and generally healthy until they reach manhood; when they visit the camp and return the victims of pulmonary disease.
We charge them with treachery and cowardice, while we glory in our own natural history, because our forefathers from being able to form more powerful combinations were able to drive the invaders from their soil; but we can use their courage and bloodthirstyness for the destruction of their own race.”
King Mickey of Kiama with King Billy of the Shoalhaven.
The modern experience is much more positive.
Photo from Kiama independent article
Here is a great article on Kiama Aboriginal history at the Kiama Library
and includes the meanings of local place names
Local Aboriginal place name meanings
Attunga – high place
Bombo – from Thumbon (renowned head man) (this is disputed in other sources, may be the sound of the sea)
Bong Bong – big swamp (also well known tribal/family group up on the Southern Highlands, who fought the ‘Battle of Fairy Meadow’)
Coolangatta – splendid lookout or view
Gerringong – fearful noises on beach
Elanora – Home by the sea
Illawarra – from the aboriginal words Elourera or Allowrie, meaning high place near the sea
Jamberoo – track or meeting place
Kembla – from Djembla (wallaby)
name of the father spirit of Eastern NSW (Kiahma or Baiame) Biame is very well known in many stories, which could mean it was a very special place.
fish caught from rocks
where the seas roar
Minnamurra – sheltered camping ground , lots of fish
Moruya – home of the black swan
Nowra – Black cockatoo
Terrara – scrubby place
Tongarra – Place of cabbage trees
Toolijooa – place of emus
Warrigal – wild dog
Wollongong- from Wollonyuh or Wollonga, meaning sound of the sea or hard ground near water