ABORIGINAL EMPLOYMENT- SEEKING HANDS FOR THE LAND
Reference 22 (By Duncan McFarlane.)
While in my early teens I accompanied pater to a camp of the Swan Creek tribe in a clump of brush at the rear of the farms in the direction of Ulmarra, with the object of engaging hands to assist in clearing the land.
Our entry was heralded by a discordant yelping of canines which sallied out from some 20 camps to announce our approach. The pack was composed of nondescript cross-breeds, being the pronounced type that would defy the most expert farmer to discriminate the pedigrees of the obviously not overfull mongrels that fulfilled watch duty. However, they, obeyed the restraining order of their owners, enabling us to concentrate attention on a camp on the outer margins· of the habitation.
A brazen crescent strung on the forked support of a bark covering denoted that it was the regal residence, though not with any palatial pretensions to distinguish it from the abode of the king's subjects. The only emblem of distinction was that there were two queens sharing the protection of the humble tenement, for his royal highness enjoyed the privilege of having a couple of wives as members of the household. The trio appeared to live on amenable terms as they squatted together surrounded with camp paraphernalia on the ground floor of the domicile.
There were not princes or princesses visible. They may have been amusing themselves with the family picanninies of the clan, although these did not extensively increase the population of the tribe. Aboriginal families seldom exceed two or three and birth control was not a perplexing problem with the black race. Possibly there were no juveniles to partake of the royal board and lodging conveniences, and if kingly rights were hereditary, it became a question as to who would become entitled to don the metallic emblem of brass presented by our Australian Government to an uncrowned king; nevertheless bearing an inscription indicating that he was monarch of a very circumscribed territory. His power was also limited, certainly not nearly approaching the ambitions of would-be dictators of later date.
We did not request the chief to undertake employment on the land we purchased from his restricted realm, but informed him of our mission. His response was to solicit a plug of tobacco, a usual tribute ....
The weekly remuneration was payable by promise at the weekend and it was very nominal amount in cash, supplemented, however, by daily perks of tobacco and rations.
Hours were not statutory and the laborers arrived from camp with the sum several hours over the horizon and they suspended operations when if was considerably above the western tree tops. They did no belong to the sundowner class, but after procuring their flour tea, sugar and bacon allowance made a beeline across the intervening fields to start he camp fires burning.
If there was diversion in the shape of a fight or festivity during mid-week, employment was set aside, but the employer could rest assured that the employee would turn up on Saturday, the stated pay day, to claim his wage. It was his opinion, despite the absence from service, that the laborer was worthy of his hire.
When piecework was arranged rationing was on the daily or weekly principle, payment in full on completion. A married couple took the contract and did not hurry with the job, drawing provisions during its currency. When the contract approached the stage that a dozen or 15 could finish it in a day a contingent assembled and worked like Trojans in order to have an orgy on the proceeds. This meant that a spree was the outcome, for the law of prohibition in connection with the natives was observed more in its infringement than in its keeping. There was no difficulty for the blacks to convert their hard earned cash into intoxicants by intermediary or otherwise. A carousel in the bush where the camp was situated followed the conclusion of the contract on Farmer Capricornicus' clearing.
The aboriginal was not overscrupulous in adhering to his engagement, and he did not consider violating it with much concern. He had a liking for formulating conditions of employment favoring commencing operations at a future time. Tomorrow was often stipulated, or the indefinite by and bye gave him a better excuse for evasion. The bargain was frequently sealed with a plug of tobacco, an old shirt, a short ration, but this often covered full deposit and balance of the contract. By and bye indicated a future that suited the black professedly labor seeking and prove a fruitful term of evasion.
Their idea of chronology was most vague. The year was crudely calculated by the lunar months as in the case of illiterate nationalities. How many moons indicated by the hand digits disclosed past or future events as the mental capability to describe them could be brought into requisition. The change in seasons came round without the aid of a prescribed calendar, the atmospheric influence on the thinly clad dark skin denoted the advent of winter and the exit of the much appreciated summer sun, for the native enjoyed a three-figure thermometer reading much more than a low temperture...