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4-059 (Original)

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addressee author,male,Curr, Edward Micklethwaite,63
Narrative Discourse
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Ward, 1969
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It was also one of the functions of the Commissioner to adjust the frequent differences which occurred between the original lords of the soil and the Anglo-Saxon parvenus. Now, though the reader may fancy that this was easily done, it was not, in fact, without difficulties. Disturbances were constantly occurring. Generally the first intimation the Commissioner got of a case was a letter from a stock-owner complaining that after having treated the Blacks with uniform kindness and consideration for a length of time, they had suddenly killed one of his shepherds under circumstances of peculiar atrocity, and roasted and eaten two hundred of his flock. On the receipt of reports of this sort the Commissioner proceeded as soon as he was able, to the scene of the outrage, where he heard the complaint repeated viva voce. Strange to say, the Blacks habitually neglected to give their version of the tale, though we know that they had constantly very serious charges to advance against shepherds, in connection with their conduct towards the females of the tribe.
As the Blacks, therefore, neglected to appear before the Commissioner in what might be termed his judicial capacity, nothing was left for him as guardian of the public peace but to appear before them, which he did at a gallop, sabre in hand, surrounded by his troopers industriously loading and discharging their carbines. Now, it may seem strange to the reader that there were a few well-intentioned visionaries, at the time, who made the Government policy, as carried out by the Commissioner, a subject for unfavourable comment. Some asserted that there was no statute which authorized proceedings of the sort; that the Blacks were unable to represent wrongs, which everyone knew they suffered, from want of knowledge of our language; that fire and sword were carried into their camps, and death indiscriminately dealt out amongst them, without any proper examination of the complainant having been made or a single deposition taken. [47] In fact, that less evidence was required to condemn a tribe to destruction than to consign an habitual drunkard for four-and-twenty hours to the lock-up. Other persons indulged in poetic flights, in the very worst taste, in connection with the subject, and describe John Bull as landing on foreign shores, the Bible in his pocket, a blunderbuss in one hand and a rum-bottle in the other, leaving the savage no alternative but to give up his land and die by one instrument or the other, drunk or sober.
All this being as tedious to answer as it is trifling in itself, we will pass to another complaint, which was, that the Commissioner and his troopers occasionally administered justice with sword and carbine to the wrong tribe in mistake.
In connection with this, veracity compels me to admit that the Aborigines, being a very homogeneous race, much alike in colour and features, with but little variety of costume - there being also but little evidence, and that purely circumstantial, as to which of them had committed any particular outrage - eases of mistaken identity would, and did, occasionally occur.
After the return of my brother and myself from the Moira, we set to work to make preparations for occupying a block of country in that locality. Whilst so engaged, however, the solitude of Tongala was broken in upon by the arrival of several troopers, headed by the officer in charge of the native mounted police. The detachment, rather a larger one than usual, consisted, besides the officer, of four blacks and four white troopers. Such a visitation from the outer world, as a matter of course, somewhat fluttered us Volscians in Corioli. The station hands all turned out to gaze on the strange men and horses, as if such a sight had never met their eyes before, and bestowed on the removal of cloaks, unslinging of carbines, watering of chargers, &c., their undivided attention; whilst the uniformity practised in such matters by the troopers, and their systematic clock-work-like mode of managing matters which civilians are apt to look on as trifles, did not fail to elicit, sotto voce, uncomplimentary remarks from some of my men, to whom such methodical ways brought back unpleasant reminiscences of prison days. The officer, who accompanied me to my hut after he had seen his men disposed of, carelessly unbuckled his sabre and pitched it and his foraging cap on to the sofa, and taking a chair, amused me a good deal as he rattled out, in the most degage manner, that he had received instructions 'to put himself at the head of his present force, apprehend all troublesome Blacks, and restore quiet to the disaffected district; that a reinforcement in the person of Corporal Rolfe, a non-commissioned officer in whom he placed the greatest confidence, was momentarily expected; that his fellows were all of the right sort, specially trained indeed by himself; and that the service was thoroughly to his liking, however he might otherwise regret his temporary absence from Melbourne and the ladies.' [48]
The effect of this unexpected gush was not a little heightened by the jaunty ways of my guest, who, having got rid of his buckskin gloves, and propitiated his moustache with some little caresses, sauntered up and down the room in all the fascinations of a preternaturally erect carriage, shell-jacket, fixed spurs, and red stripes down the side scams of his breeches. In fact the tout ensemble of the thing tickled my fancy so much, occurring in the midst of monotonous days, that I have not yet forgotten it.
Another of the little peculiarities of my guest (a pleasant and genial person), and one which I found exceedingly comical, was his habitual use of military phraseology; so that the shepherds' huts and places of the sort figured as positions in his conversation, men riding abreast were said to be in line; a camp in the bush took rank as a bivouac, and so on. In addition, it was charming also to notice on short acquaintance, not only that the estimate in which this warrior (long since, poor fellow, a pilgrim to the happy hunting grounds) held civilians was, in the main, a low one; but that, unknown to himself probably, he looked on them ass very unimportant portion of the community, whose raison d'étre might have been the erection of towns in which the military in times of peace might enjoy the usual agréments of society, of which the daughters of civilians to flirt with formed a prominent feature; whilst, of course, in times of war, such places would be put to their proper purposes, and be defended, battered, and sacked in the orthodox way - as we always read in history. 
As the Blacks, who were now to be taught manners, would probably be found at the Moira, on the bank of the Murray, across which they would certainly swim on the first appearance of the police, it was agreed that the sheep and dray which was despatching to the Moira should be sent on ahead and halted at some distance from the river, the tribe being decoyed to the encampment, so that the white troopers might be enabled to close with them away from the water. As regards the black portion of the 'force' it was decided by the officer, for various urgent reasons, that it should be left at Tongala. This reduction of his forces, I noticed, seemed to prey a good deal on the military mind of the leader (a man of well-known pluck, however), and produced an uneasiness which even the timely arrival of Corporal Rolfe did trot entirely remove. Why it should have been so I never could exactly understand. Danger (except to the enemy) there could be little or none, the result being substantially the same, in respect to firearms, whether they be opposed to spears or pop-guns.
Measures having been thus concerted, a flock of sheep in charge of several men, and accompanied by a dray and bullocks, was despatched to the Moira with the requisites for forming an out-station the time of its arrival being so arranged as to be shortly antecedent to that of the police. This combined movement, as the officer pointed out to me afterwards with some satisfaction, was managed more successfully than sometimes happens in war on a larger scale; for shortly before the police 'debouched' from the timber which skirted the proposed scene of action, the other party had arrived in the proper quarter, and, as could be seen, had gathered round them the Blacks, whom it was so desirable to entice from the vicinity of the river and the reed-beds. [49] The result of this was an immediate charge on the part of the troopers; a movement executed, as it seemed to my inexperienced eye, with more élan than regularity. Being myself with the party, and armed with sword and pistols, I received a friendly hint from the officer, before charging, to abstain from the use of weapons unless called on by him to act; an injunction which, being of a peaceful tendency, was quite in accordance with my feelings.
And here I regret, for the reader's sake, that I am unable to describe the evolutions which ensued, for though I have a perfect recollection of what occurred, I am destitute of the knowledge necessary to enable me to set down the circumstances in the proper relations of cause and effect, as the officer did in a report (bulletin?) on the subject, which he read to me prior to forwarding it to the authorities. That there were, however, some points concerning the matter in which we did not completely agree, truth requires me to confess, as he omitted some incidents which I thought should have been mentioned. On my hinting something to that effect, however, he laughed good-humouredly, saying that 'persons unconnected with the public service know nothing of reports; indeed civilians from first to last are ill fitted to describe collisions of the sort, being apt to blurt out statements more properly held in reserve', which it has since occurred to me might probably be the case.
However, lo cierto e, that one of the police horses bolted at the outset and carried his rider almost out of sight, whilst another trooper, lodged by his charger in the fork of a tree, very providentially escaped getting his neck broken, the chargers generally being, as the officer said in his report, 'somewhat unsteady'. The Blacks in the meantime passed through or round our 'line' and fled to the river, followed by the remaining horsemen, no shots having been fired so far, or spears thrown; when, as the last Aborigine was in the very act of leaping from the bank into his native stream, someone at hand, not connected with the 'force', on being called upon by the officer, discharged two barrels, putting one ball through the fugitive's arm, and the other through an old cap which he had on. This proceeding, however, appears to have been irregular in some way, as it found no place in the bulletin. At this juncture, I recollect, the officer, who was leisurely scanning the opposite bank of the river, across which he had driven the enemy in such masterly style, received a slight wound in his sword arm from a spear hurled by a blackfellow from the opposite side. Hit at last! his laughing exclamation as he handed me a white handkerchief the corner of which I had noticed peeping from the pocket of his shell-jacket, to bind up what he termed the 'scratch'.
The Blacks having retreated across the Murray, and the troopers being assembled again around their leader, that indefatigable officer, after a few moments spent in reviewing the battlefield, turned his attention towards my sheep camp in quest of stragglers. [50] Fortunately one blackfellow still remained there, who, having been promised the head of a sheep, which was being butchered for supper, waited quietly for the expected prize, in spite of the firing and galloping which had been going on. This unfortunate was accordingly seized by our party and at once placed in handcuffs, which, being found too large for his hands, were transferred, at the suggestion of Corporal Rolfe, to his ankles.