Chapter Twenty-Seven


THROUGH HIS GIFTS OF IRON hatchets to a number of selected Aboriginals, including Bennelong, Phillip might have unwittingly created a new elite—the Mogogal, the hatchet men. But even ownership of a hatchet did not give Bennelong psychological dominance over his wife, Barangaroo Daringah, something of a woman warrior. She carried two scars from spear wounds received in the give-and-take of inter-clan relations. The spear that caused one of them had passed right through her thigh. She was forceful and good-looking. “She is very straight and exceedingly well-made,” wrote Phillip. “Her features are good, and she goes entirely naked, yet there is such an air of innocence about her that clothing scarcely appears necessary.” The septum of her nose had also been pierced—an uncommon feature with Port Jackson women.

Tench had described Yuringa, Colby's wife, as “meek and feminine,” but Barangaroo by contrast as “fierce and unsubmissive.” She seemed slightly older than Bennelong and had two children of a former husband, both of whom were dead, possibly from the smallpox. Now she was about to give birth again and Phillip noticed that she, like other Aboriginal mothers, planned to wrap up her new baby in the soft bark of the tea-tree.

Before the birth, Barangaroo had visions of being delivered of her baby in Phillip's house, and had already asked him about it. Phillip thought it a mere touching request. But it would give her child a claim on Government House as his place of birth, and seemed to carry with it, apart from genuine affection and reverence, a new strategy—if the ghosts could not be made to disappear, the Eora should try to outclaim and out-title them. Barangaroo thus avoided the hospital, where Phillip wanted to send her, for the obvious reason that it was full of mawm, the bad spirits of the dead. In the event, the birth occurred suddenly and did not, in fact, take place at Government House. The child was a girl named Dilboong.

Soon after, at the end of 1791, Barangaroo died. The cause of death was unknown, but might have been post-childbirth complications or perhaps marital contest, the latter seeming for once the least likely of factors. Bennelong and Barangaroo were always fighting, but Tench said, like a good Georgian man, that “she was a scold, and a vixen, and nobody pitied her … the women often artfully studied to irritate and inflame the passions of the men, although sensible that the consequence will alight on themselves.” As Barangaroo lay dying, the desperate Bennelong summoned the great carradhyWillemering, the wounder of Phillip. When he did not arrive in time to save her, Bennelong would seek him out and spear him in the thigh. Indeed, in Barangaroo's honour, or more accurately to adjust the world to her death, many spears were thrown by Bennelong and her Cameraigal relatives, for death was always the result of some sorcery. The idea that punishment for death was owed to some malign influence, and that spirits needed to be avenged before they could go to the sky, lay solemnly upon a passionate husband like Bennelong.

In intense grieving, he asked Phillip, Surgeon White, and Lieutenant David Collins to witness his wife's cremation. He cleared the ground where the funeral pyre was to be built by digging out the earth to about five inches below the surface. Then a mound of sticks, bushes, and branches was made about three feet high. Barangaroo's body, wrapped in an old English blanket, was laid on top of this with her head facing north. Bennelong stacked logs on the body and the fire was lit. The English spectators left before the body was totally consumed.

After the ceremony, Bennelong seemed cheerful and talked about finding a nurse amongst the white women for his daughter, who still needed breast-feeding. Dilboong, the child, was suckled by a convict woman, Midshipman Southwell noting that some of the Eora women “gladly forego the dear pleasure of nurturing their own brats, and leave them in perfect security to the care of several of the convict women, who are suitably rewarded by the governor.”

With Watkin Tench gone, David Collins and Lieutenant Dawes and Phillip himself remained as the chief observers of the natives. Collins retained an exhaustive interest in native society and recorded what he saw in detail and without any deliberate cultural malice. He was also perceptive when it came to shifts in the relationship between the Europeans and the Aboriginals. Since the period of peace-making in late 1791, when stolen goods were returned to the natives, there had been no “interruption by acts of hostility,” he wrote. “Several of their young people continue to reside among us, and the different houses in the town were frequently visited by their relations.”

But Collins was aware that aside from British-Eora conflict, the old ritual battles of the Eora continued. There had been a confrontation between the Sydney and Botany Bay natives in April 1791 over the uttering of the name of a dead man. The natives knew that the uttered name could summon havoc from the spiritual realm onto the physical earth, and mourners often warned officers not to use the names of the dead. After a death, the deceased became “a nameless one,” said Collins.

A corroboree dancerite was held at night that summer at “the head of the stream” on a rise to the south-east of Government House. During it a Gweagal man from southern Botany Bay, who had earlier been involved in beating a Cadigal, was suddenly attacked. Colby thrust his spear at the man and another native struck two heavy blows to his back with his club. Wounded and bleeding, the unarmed man rose to his feet and let himself be upbraided by Colby and his ally. Bennelong came up and wiped the blood from his wounds with grass. That evening David Collins saw the Gweagal man with a ligature fastened tightly round his head, for it “certainly required something to alleviate the pain he must have endured.” According to the practice of the country, said Collins, the victim did not wash the blood off.

An incident occurred in May 1792 which gave the whites a further bewildered insight into the rigidity of native law. A woman named Noorooing came into town to tell the whites of the ritual killing of a south Botany Bay native, Yellaway, who had abducted her. She was clearly not an unwilling abductee, since she threw ashes on herself in sadness and refused all food, and other Aboriginals explained that she was go-lahng, in a state of ritual mourning and fasting. Soon after, Noorooing, travelling in the bush near Sydney Cove, met and attacked a little girl related to the murderer of Yellaway. She beat the little girl so cruelly that the child was brought into town almost dead, with six or seven deep gashes in her throat and one ear cut to the bone. She died a few days later.

The English were not sympathetic to Noorooing, but other Aboriginals explained to them “that she had done no more than what custom obliged her to…. The little victim of her revenge was, from her quiet, tractable manners, much beloved in the town; and what is a singular trait of the inhumanity of this proceeding, she had every day since Yellaway's death requested that Noorooing should be fed at the officer's hut, where she herself resided.” The native who had committed the murder for which his little kinswoman suffered escaped apparently unpunished. In some way that the Europeans could not understand, the blood debt had been fully settled by the girl's death.

Colby's wife, Yuringa, like Barangaroo, would die soon after child-birth. In recent times, Yuringa had visited Mrs. Macarthur in the Macarthur hut made from cabbage tree posts framed with wattle and daub, and Mrs. Macarthur had observed the mantle made of soft bark in which the child was wrapped. At Yuringa's burial, the British onlookers were horrified to see Colby place the baby with its dead mother in a shallow grave. Colby looked down on his wife and his child and threw a large, murderous stone on the corpse and the living infant, and the grave was instantly filled in. “The whole business was so momentary, that our people had not time or presence of mind sufficient to prevent it; and on speaking about it to Colby, he, so far from thinking it inhuman, justified the extraordinary act by assuring us that as no woman could be found to nurse the child it would die a much worse death than that to which he had put it.”

Because of settlement at Parramatta, and the area known as Toongabbie to the north-west of Parramatta, many of the clans of the Burramattagal were pushed west. Here the warrior Pemulwuy of the Bediagal from the north shore of Botany Bay began to cooperate with the Bidjigal. If Bennelong had come to some accommodation with the accumulating waves of Europeans or ghosts, Pemulwuy had not. Near Prospect Hill west of Parramatta in May, seven native men and two women stole clothing and corn, and a convict worker on the farm fired at a man preparing to throw his spear. The party fled, abandoning nets containing corn, blankets, and spears. The natives took a fast revenge. A convict employed on well-digging on a farm near Prospect Hill walked to Parramatta to collect his clothing ration. On the way back he was attacked, his head was cut in several places, and his teeth were smashed out. His dead body gaped with wounds from spears.

Here was the contrast. Bennelong was victualled from the store—he took the rations as recompense for damage done his people. Pemulwuy, who was involved in the murder of the convict, would not deign to receive that sort of requital. He would not take Phillip's appeasing flour, or any other gift. Gift-giving was continuous amongst natives, and the basis of prestige and human cohesion amongst groups and relatives. Those who did not participate were named damunalung, a word which was translated into English by Lieutenant Dawes as “churl.” But Pemulwuy would not enter into gift-swapping with the newcomers.

It would have confirmed his worst suspicions had he known Arthur Phillip still had an ambition to send an Aboriginal skull to the great Sir Joseph Banks. The whites had raked through burial mounds to find remaining bones which might be of scientific interest, and at one, Captain John Hunter discovered a jawbone. But Phillip managed to acquire a skull at last—we do not know whose it was—and sent it to Banks, who in turn sent it on to Professor Johann Friedrich Blumenbach of the University of Göttingen. The male skull had its front tooth missing, as Banks had warned Blumenbach would be the case, “according to the custom of these savages.” Blumenbach was a pioneer in the branch of science known as physical anthropology. Caucasians, according to Blumenbach, who coined that term from an Aryan skull he had retrieved from the Caucasus Mountains, were the founding form of the human group, while other races had degenerated from this primary type because of climatic variations. The skull he received from Banks would go to support his theory, though Blumenbach himself, who would live until 1840, was repelled by the political use to which his dissertations were put. The perversion of his ideas would reach its apogee in Nazi ideology, when Blumenbach's collection at Göttingen “became a core of racist, pan-Germanic theory, which was officially sanctioned by the National Socialist Party when it came into power.”

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!