Leave Us the Hills
Reference 9 Chapter 11
Back on the Clarence these two young men must often have longed for the companionable warmth of Merton. For people of their own kind, and the company of women. It was a lonely and totally masculine scene.
The silence along that smooth-flowing river was profound. Only the soporific sound of those rapids downstream, the sad calling of crows; the leisurely movement of herons and cranes fishing; the bleating of sheep, which were still being closely watched near the reach. At nightfall Edward and Fred returned to the two cramped huts they had built side by side. Their walls were of pise, and roofs thatched with dried grass. They stood on high land near the rapids, where currents swirled fiercely through divided channels, surest measure of high rivers or low. Of the native inhabitants there was never a sign. They seemed to have abandoned the region.
The same mood was apparent right down the river. An uneasy, brooding tension overhung the country; even the Settlement itself. In mid 1842 two surveyors, reprimanded for having spent six useless months in town, revealed the widespread fear of roaming the bush. It was still unsafe for any but the most wary travellers. Now and again fresh reports came in of raids, thieving and reprisals. Frontier life had resolved itself into a contest of muskets versus spears. It was not enough to dismiss these unrepentant tribes as deadly savages. They had no conception of the whitefellow's attitudes to property, especially when these disputed their right to ownership. Besides they had 'tasted the flesh of the monkey', as the newcomers referred to their vulnerable sheep; they had learnt that the sugar and flour they pilfered were edible loot.
Edward was determined to end this impasse. The brothers must have discussed it often over their monotonous suppers of mutton and damper, or when riding tensely around their flocks. Unless some kind of dialogue could soon be opened, it was clear they had little hope of developing their lands. The problem was how to m"ake contact. The chance came at the end of May.
It was a dramatic confrontation. Edward himself wrote a moving account of it. He wrote it in the form of a long letter to The Sydney Morning Herald, which considered it important enough to publish in full, Dated 4 June, the letter described a meeting some days earlier with a party of Aborigines somewhere in the back country. Edward sent it, he wrote, 'in the hope that it may tend to remove the belief that these people are an utterly irreclaimable and ferocious set of people.' They were, he insisted, 'of very unrevengeful spirit', not at all the 'wild beasts those who knew nothing of them had come to believe'.
He went on:
Since the hostile encounters about a year ago. they have rarely shown themselves, but have kept among the mountains, always making off as fast as possible if accidentally seen. Though they have occasionally crept unobserved upon the huts, and carried off the shepherds' blankets and axes. I had several times tried to bring them to a parIey, to establish a better understanding, but always without success. Until having seen a smoke rising amongst the hills, some miles distant, my brother and myself mounted our horses, and set out to make another attempt. After clambering about the hills some time, we entered a narrow valley. We suddenly came in sight of a camp situated upon a small flat, surrounded on three sides by a creek, and backed by a mountain. Setting spurs to our horses, we galloped across the creek into the camp. We found it untenanted, however, except for a woman with an infant at the breast, and a child apparently about four or five years old. On our approach they fled up the mountain, the woman carrying her child astride her neck.
As we neared them they cried out in great fear. The woman took the infant from her shoulders, and clasping it to her bosom, threw herself upon her knees and bowed her face to the ground, thus concealing and protecting her little one with her body. The other child crouched at her side, and hid its face in the grass. I dismounted, and taking the child by the shoulders, raised her face from the ground, but she set up such a terrible squalling, that I let go again, when she dropped quite stiff and stark into her former position, and was again silent. I sat down near them, and having some knowledge of their language, which I had gained from a young boy Pundoon who was taken in one of the forementioned encounters, and who has since remained with me, I addressed the woman, telling her not to fear, as we had no hostile intentions, and would not harm her. After a time she raised her head and looked steadfastly at me. She seemed to have been reassured, for she began to speak.
She first said that she was afraid of the horses, and asked if they would not bite her. We told her that they are harmless and lived upon grass j upon which she seemed to lose all fear, answering all our questions, and saying a great deal more that we could not understand. We learned from her that the men were hunting upon the surrounding mountains. After a great deal of shouting and calling in which the lady joinedthough not until she had made me repeat several times that I was not an enemy-we heard an answering shout from a hill top. All was then silent again for some time. As we felt assured that the blacks were reconnoitering, we concealed our only gun in the grass, and assuming as unwarlike appearance as possible, sat down beside our horses. We had not long remained thus when we were roused by a sudden shout upon the mountainside, and as we got upon our feet, two men, armed, but perfectly naked, 'came in view over the shoulder of the hill, about one hundred and fifty yards above us. One of them, a large finely proportioned man, immediately stood forward, and waving one arm in the direction of the river, in a most undaunted and uncompromising manner,. told us to begone. I called out to him that our intentions were friendly, that we were unarmed, and that I wanted to speak with him, but he talked so loudly himself, that he could not hear me. He also spoke so rapidly that I could but partially understand what he said, which was, however, something to this effect:
"Begone, begone, and take away your horses-why do you come hither among the mountains to disturb us? Return to your houses in the valley, you have the river and the open cO'untry, and you ought to be content, and leave the mountains to the black people. Go backkeep the plains, and leave us the hills. Go, go, begone."
Having at length induced him to attend, I advanced some distance towards him. After again assuring him that my intentions were not hostile, calling upon him to observe that I was not armed, I said "Lay down your weapons and approach me."
He regarded me for a moment, and then, with great deliberation, threw from him his spears and his boomerang, and came forward a few paces, retaining his parrial (or wallaby stick) in his hand. I told him to put that down also, and he did so with some reluctance, but would not consent to come any lower down the hill. I therefore slowly ascended towards him, keeping a steady watch upon his movements.
As I approached, he seemed uneasy, and went behind a tree but, as if ashamed of this, he soon stood out again. By this time, feeling satisfied from his bold and open expression that he might be trusted, I walked straight up to him and took him by the hand.
He asked "Are we friends?" I again assured him that we had none but friendly intentions towards him.
He appeared to be much delighted at finding me speaking his own language, and soon became quite at his ease. His companion, who had till this time remained some distance in the rear, now threw down his weapons, and joined us. They, however, still showed great fear of the horses, and would, on no account, consent to their being brought near. My brother, therefore, fastened them to a tree, and came up the hill, carrying in his hand a tomahawk that we had brought with us, and which we presented to our tall friend, whose name we found to be Toolbillibam. He was overjoyed at the gift, and leaped and shouted with delight. We were now upon the best terms possible.
Toolbillibam began to shout loudly for the rest of his tribe on the surrounding mountains to come in and see us. I then asked him if he knew anything of Pundoon; at hearing the name, his countenance brightened. With great earnestness of manner, he told me he was the boy's second father, or uncle, and that the father was among his companions. To bring him to me he now redoubled hls shouting. In a short time five of them made their appearance, running along the mountainside towards us.
Toolbillibam called out to them, telling them how matters stood, and they instantly threw their weapons out of their hands. He. pointed out one of them as Pundoon's father, calling him by his name of Pundoonbam. Upon Toolbillibam calling out to him that he had news of his son, the old fellow came running down, with outstretched arms. Coming first to my brother, he gave him the full benefit of a most literally sweet embrace, as the old gentleman had evidently dined on honey. For want of a spoon, he had used his fingers, besides having smeared his face and beard a good deal more than was pleasant. He asked me many questions about his son, much more quickly than they could be answered. Upon learning that he lived in a house and ate bread, and wore clothes like ourselves, and that we would soon bring him back to the river, and that he should see him, the old fellow's joy was unbounded. Having, by this time, eight or nine of the blacks about us, we told them to sit down in a row, and made them a regular harangue.
We said that we had made war upon them because they had killed white people, but that now our anger was gone, and we wished to live at peace with them; that we wanted nothing in their country but the grass, and would leave them their kangaroos, their opossums, and their fish. Toolbillibam here interposed to know if we would not