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4-301 (Original)

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author,male,Demarr, James,78 addressee
Narrative Discourse
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Public Written
Ward, 1969
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Continuing our journey on the borders of these flats four or five miles, we came in sight of the river, now a fine broad and rapid stream, with a gravelly bottom, when we encamped for the night, close to what was the township of Gundagai. On the banks of the river, on the roadside, was a public-house, such an one as is usually seen in the interior, built of split timber, and roofed with bark. And this was the only house to be seen in Gundagai. It was one amongst the very few stationed on the line of route to Port Phillip, and no situation could be better for the sale of 'drink', as parties were often detained here with stock, on account of a sudden rise in the river, so the men had little else to do but spend their time and money in 'drink'.
All was life and bustle on the river banks, there being four more parties with stock besides ourselves, and all bound for Port Phillip. The days, when practicable, would be spent in swimming the stock over, and the nights, with most of them, carousing at the public-house. Of course, there was no bridge, nor boat of any kind. The following day we tried to force the sheep to swim over, but found that to be impossible, so we moved about two miles down the river, to where it spreads out into a broad gravelly bed, with two or three small islands on which grew the graceful swamp oak. One of these islands was a larger one and nothing but a bed of gravel and boulder stones. To this island we decided to make a bridge; cross the sheep over to it, then break down the bridge and force them to cross the stream between it and the opposite bank.
The river in its windings had approached close to a point of the range of hills which border it. At the foot of this range we encamped until we had completed our task, and a very picturesque place it was. We soon had a number of the natives (blacks) join us, and we persuaded them to help us to cut logs and strip bark for the making of our bridge. I had hitherto seen but few of the blacks until I saw these, which were of a far superior class to those I had previously seen. They were strong, active, and well-made, and degeneration from contact with the white man was scarcely perceptible; but I have no doubt that, long, long ago, their degeneration is as complete as it is in other parts of the colony, if they are not, as a race, totally extinct. [65] What we call civilization has been no boon to the black natives of Australia, and to their mind must be associated with gunpowder, poison, hunger, disease, and extermination.
Numerous fires were to be seen scattered over the rich flats of the river, the watch fires of the men encamped with stock, or the fires of the many natives making this their temporary abode. Sometimes some of our men would take a stroll to these different parties to hear what news they had to tell, etc. But my chief pleasure consisted in visiting the native encampments. I had seen so little of them previously to this, that everything respecting them amused and interested me.
One night in particular, I had the opportunity of seeing that which I much wished to see - a grand corroboree, or native dance. This word corroboree is pronounced like the English word 'corroborate'. It took place at night about two miles from our camp; all the white fellows in the neighbourhood were there to witness it, and a very novel and extraordinary sight it was. Taking place, as these corroborees always do, in the night-time, when all nature it still, for even if the days have been stormy, the nights are almost always calm, makes the performances more interesting.
The moon shone brightly, and numerous fires (small in size), formed a line in front of the performers, across which line the white spectators never intruded. The singing of the women (who are out of sight), formed the orchestra of this primitive theatre; who also beat time with sticks on out-stretched skins. All this, combined with the wonderful precision and regularity of movement in the various figures of the dance, seldom fails to interest all lookers-on.
I had seen one corroboree before, and have seen several since, but none ever pleased me so much as this one, owing chiefly to the great number of those taking part in it, for I should estimate there would be near three hundred of them. 
After some delay, and the loss of a few sheep, carried away by the stream and drowned, which was a great boon to the black fellows, for they made use of them for food, we crossed the river and encamped on the opposite side. We were not sorry to get that troublesome business over. Next day we moved on in the usual quiet way, for the space of two days, near the bank of the river, the road then diverged to the left, bringing us into an extent of flat country, which preserves that character nearly all the way to the Murray river, a distance said to be 140 miles from the Murrumbidgee.