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4-177 (Raw)

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author,male,Russell, H.S.,69 addressee
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Ward, 1969
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On either side of our camping place was thick scrub: a little way back a high sandy bank. When the boat had been thoroughly washed out, and got afloat again, Bracefell and his Brown's Cape friend went away to look for traces of the blacks. He returned once without success, and with his companion set out a second time, but soon came back in haste in a stale of no little excitement and alarm. [...]
When within a few hundred yards of the camp, astonished to find that the people in it were wholly unconscious of the arrival of a party of whites so near at hand, Bracefell told the two men - who were armed - to stop. He crossed a creek in front, between themselves and the assemblage, with Wallupy; strode into the midst of them before they had become aware of his presence, and hailed them with a loud shout of his own name, 'Wandi!' The whole mob rushed, as if stricken, to their spears, which were stuck into the ground, and piled much in the soldierly fashion on a rest during march. So absolutely surprised that the betrayal of the fact became evident under the suddenness and simultaneousness of the commotion. Hundreds rushed out of the scrub, yelling like fiends. We could hear the yells, and were made anxious for the safety of our avant-couriers. At the further end of the camp were two men skinning a kangaroo, just killed. One of them, as soon as Wandi's voice had reached his ears, rose - looked at him in a frantic manner, and at once catching sight of the white men in the rear, rushed past and at full speed towards them. For a while - a few minutes - he could utter no sound, but by gesticulation and sign, inquired from the poor fellows, who were terribly alarmed, how they had come there, by land or by water? They pointed to the river. Wandi, notwithstanding what had been imparted to him by the Cape Brown friend - which, he admitted, he had not believed - became as astonished and excited as any one of the yelling mountebanks, for in this man he recognised one whom he had once known, and had thought dead for many a year past. They then confronted each other; Wandi in his rapid utterances made known to him that their white brothers were close by. [240] [...]
Seeing that we should interfere with their arrangements, Derhamboi turned, lowered his weapon, came to the edge of the bank and took a scowling long look at us one by one. He almost seemed to have it in mind to dispute our advance.
Petrie, in a tone fitted to the occasion, told him to come down: one searching stare at the speaker, one moment's hesitation, and down he rushed with an impetuosity which marked all his proceedings, 'my name Jem. Davis, of Glasgow', were the only words he could utter intelligible to us: went off at score in a rapid 'black' speech, from which, by means of Wandi, we could only make out that he had run away from the settlement, because the men on his chain were cutting each others' throats, or knocking a mate's head in with the pick used on the roads, so that they might be tent to Sydney to be 'what they called hung'. Fearing for his own life at the hands of his comrades, he had managed to escape and take his chance of mercy among the blacks. Derhamboi was wearing the necklaces and armlets usual among the natives, and as he frantically went on in the scream of his excitement, seeing that we were unable to understand a word he said, and could express himself in no other language: too impatient to submit to the dilatory relief of interpretation: flew off again into a satanic passion, wrenched off his bijouterie and set to tearing and clawing up the ground with his fingers, sinking his voice from the shrillest howl to a very Bedlamite whisper, accompanied by a wicked leer well suited to the change. A long time afterwards he told me that he had never been able to recollect what had passed! I think he was mad.
Bracefell, who was standing by, said something which at once produced silence and a quieter condition for a few minutes. He told us that Davis - I shall so call him now - had wished to make us know that we should be in great danger if we attempted (for Bracefell had told him our intention) to go up the mountain before us, Boppol, from which I have said we were only three miles, and thus separate from the rest of our party.
Strange, I thought, that we should be first apprised of the white men's death by a white man from the midst of their murderers! Davis then acted over the whole scene: the 'shaky' creeping through the grass; the cat-like watching; the drawing nearer and nearer to the unconscious wretch; the spring; the rush; the fierce blow; the death, and the triumph. Then, he told us, that as we had seen him do, in like manner would these with whom he dwelt do unto us, if we did not keep our eyes 'in fear of their coming' all the night long. He said, too, that his 'father' Pamby-Pamby had a white man's watch wrapped in grass, part of the spolia opima after the murder mentioned: it had been passed on from tribe to tribe that 'their hearts might make a wonder at it'; and had come back to his father, who was the rightful owner. His respected father could make nothing of it: 'he took it for a stone'; at first he thought it was alive, but it had died very soon (inclining his head sideways upon the palm of his hand). [241] Davis himself knew it could be opened, but had forgotten how to do it. We promised to give his father a tomahawk if he would bring it to us: Davis promised he should. Then asked to be allowed to return to the blacks' camp for the night: explained - by a figure of speech which will not excuse repetition - that he was afraid for our safety; that he would keep them in fear of our strength and our arms; and watch in our behalf against any attempt to attack. He went back. We were guilty, I thought, of a very foolish thing that night.
The stream here was not forty yards wide, overhung by steep, scrubby banks, from which a thousand blacks could have speared us without our ever being able to fire a shot from a boat. Yet into the wretched boat - rather, I thought, to allay our crew's fears than any other prudential reason - it was thought advisable that we should sleep in mid-channel, and there we lay drowsily smoking, barely whispering, nodding, and watching in a fashion, till gladdened by the peep o' day.
I have said that Davis appeared to be about thirty years of age. This was substantially correct; but how could it be shown? If he had been out, as he proved to be, with this tribe sixteen years, he could have been but in his fourteenth year when he was on the chain from which he had escaped! True enough, for it turned out that he was then thirteen years of age! Well: Moreton Bay was a penal settlement to which secondary - i.e., colonial sentences - only had delivered felons already transported for crimes. True again! James Davis, of Glasgow, had been handed over by a sentence passed upon him in Surrey, England, to the reforming refuge of a convict ship, in the sweet and edifying company of some hundreds of malefactors of all shades, in the midst of whom, I hope, he was the youngest, having reached the precocious manhood of eleven years from his birth! Thus he had appeared in Sydney.
At sunrise two musket shots - a signal already explained to Davis - were fired. The poisoning of the blacks, the avowed enmity and the natural wish for revenge on whites whoever they were, the probable evasion of our crew in their alarm, the large concourse of savages, had in the meantime made us change our minds about our purpose. We dared not separate our party in any case; we could not leave the boat unprotected: ergo, we must give up for time present any further exploring. The only alternative left was to go back again. Poor Jolliffe! hitherto so sanguine of success in finding a run for John Eales' sheep, looked disconcerted. I was so.
In a short while Derhamboi made his appearance. We could feel that a large mob of his people were following him, and too near us. We could see but one - a scowling, square-set ruffian, whose very stare and lowering eyebrows told the tale of what he would be and what he would do if he had the chance. And this filthy brute was Derhamboi's revered parent, Pamby-Pamby! He lifted no hand in token of peace and good fellowship - not he! His deep-set restless eyes watched every motion, took in every object before him in the boat. He seemed for a moment to hesitate, upon which his affectionate son made a loud, angry remark not respectful, certainly - which had the effect of bringing him further forward. [242] We held up a tomahawk, the sight of which settled the question. He at once followed Davis into the water, drew out of the grass-woven bag over his left shoulder something carefully packed, handed it in silence to Davis, while Davis received the tomahawk and gave is to Pamby-Pamby, who, without a word, backed away to the bank, retreated in the same fashion up it - - too suspicious to turn - and then suddenly disappeared. With eager hands the parcel was torn open, and there, sure enough, was an old-fashioned silver 'turnip'. On a paper fitted inside to the back was the name of the murdered owner - Murray - Thomas Murray, I think. I am not sure as to the Christian name. On our return it became the key to the wretched affair.
Davis must have adorned himself afresh after leaving us last night. He had on bracelets and armlets as before, but as soon as Pamby-Pamby had retired, and he was admitted into our midst, he tore them all off again and threw them into the water. I caught and kept them as curiosities. He appeared to be still in a state of doubt and perplexity, but the step he had taken - from whatever real cause after his abuse of Bracefell - could not now be retraced. The truth was, I think, from what passed in the course of our return, that notwithstanding real regret at leaving his wild life, notwithstanding his dread of what might await him at the settlement, he had been so cowed by authority that even after his long spell of freedom and unrestraint, the habit of obedience to authority's tone and the fear of our arms had overcome every other consideration. His subsequent admission that he had taken us all for constables, was the key, I suspect, to his surrender. And yet, if he spoke the truth at all, such an explanation did not quite tally with what he soon conveyed to us. He declared that he had been all the previous night engaged in speechifying: seeing that they were bent on mischief, he had described our numbers, strength and firearms in a manner so exaggerated as to cool the ardour of the 'fighting men': but went on to assure us that had we stayed another day, it would not have been possible for him to dissuade them from attacking us. All this may have been got up in order to curry favour with his new messmates, and I still believe that fear alone brought him in.
The last farewell - the last parting with his friends of the tribe of 'Ginginbarah' had been an exhibition of untutored translation of wild emotions - sentiment, affection (call it by what name you may) to gesture, gesticulation, intonation, cadences in the lingering cries that he should come to them again, too sudden and expressive to need assurance that there was nothing assumed or spurious in the overwhelming burst of regret at losing Derhamboi. No sooner had our oars dropped into the water on Pamby-Pamby's withdrawal, than every tree by the water's side, in the bush beyond, below, this side and that side: every hiding place unnoticed but for what it now revealed, became alive with natives; some peering round the stout trunks, afraid to expose their bodies to a possible 'tolloolpil' (shot): others springing unexpectedly into view from some protecting limb aloft, while the dark scrub that out hundreds of heads, young and old, piccaninnies and gins, whose habitual caution and jealousy of being seen by strange people had been put aside on an occasion of such grief and wonder - thrust before our astonished eyes an extemporised tableau vivant, of which white man, methought, shall never see the like of again. [243] The swarming bees on such a business so startled myself - new chum as I was - that the impulse of my hands was towards my rifle, the next to taking notice of the position. The god of day, still in his birth, which had warmed long years gone by, these wood-bound children of the sun into welcome rather than war-whoop when the wretched waif, the white wanderer wailing through the wilderness and woe-wom, wending his reckless way towards some chance refuge from his doom, delivered himself to their mercies, now so lit up their bodies 'cooché greased' and lithe, so glanced aslant upon their glistening limbs, never resting, ever flitting, that I doubted as to any certain service, had I been called upon to canvas my eyesight for proof of the precision of my weapon. Up rose a plaintive cry which repeating itself again and again, fainted off into the distance in which the more fearful were abiding. Then up rose upon the bank to the right the burly brutish Pamby-Pamby; up rose, too, from among us his adopted son and heir, with lineaments hard-set, purposely unobservant, but listening. The deep voice of the savage howled out his lament, in tones which spoke, to me, more than words; in the spreading embrace of his arms, which added more significance to its yearnings and its claspings, than ever the like emblem of recalling love between parent and progeny on the stage of our civilised world had ever, in my eyes, done before: the shrill reproach so fitted to the fable of enforced flight: off again in other modulations to their hunts, their haunts, the memory too, of many a brave fight in company together: the wide range of Ginginbarah on the fish grounds of their 'Monoboola' - (Mary River) - and then last, but not least, the love for his son once removed from Beegie's [the sun's] bosom, now to be double dead to him among the 'makromme' (dead men). Ouah! Ouah! Derhamboi. Come back!
Ere this appeal came to an end, the scattered choir took up the refrain, and then, shaking in every limb, Davis began with a low slow whine. What he said, I know not: what he conveyed, all could read. 'I came to you when young and driven like a dog from the doors of the "makromme": I told you of all my misery and my torture: I said, "do to me as you think best, I am yours", and I dropped as one dead again, for I was hungry, thirsty, weak and worn with looking behind for the hated ones pursuing: you came together, but all was to me as a fog: your voices were crying kill! kill! but there was little life to stamp out: you, Pamby, Pamby, knew me again: could I tell who I had been? You knew me, father: you took me, you fed me, you gave me tabil (water) to drink, you gave me flesh to eat. Was I not your son? Beegie had washed me back to you, and I was glad. But the great Commandant (pointing to the south) has sent for me, I must go: I will come back; when the moon has come back to you three times I shall be here'.
Of this character was Davis' apologetic hymn. Of course, we looked on in silence, and new interest in so singularly acted out a play of life in the bush wilds, of which the plot had been written, and the parts borne by the dramatis personae themselves. [244] The performance died away, bit by bit - through exhaustion, in part, I thought - but as we paddled down stream a large concourse at first for some miles, but tailing off by dozens, followed and wailed us on towards the water on our way home.