An ancient inscrutable people who inhabited our continent when the Greeks began building western civilization.?
An ancient inscrutable people who inhabited our continent when the Greeks began building western civilization. Their way of life remains as primitive as neolithic man and the impact of the white races has had some strange effects. It has super-imposed on the nomadic habits of a hunting people, some of the outward forms of an advanced civilization. But in the Northern Territory -- and particularly in the Arnhem Land Reserve, the aborigines spend much of their time in the ways of their forefathers.
The aborigines provide a wealth of material for anthropologists from all parts of the world. This year, among the many expeditions to visit the Territory was one led by two Sydney doctors. Travelling nearly five-thousand miles, the expedition was to study several aspects of aboriginal life. Doctor Scougall and Doctor Walman were the leaders, and their plans were to head first for the Arnhem Land border.
The Valley of the South Alligator River is on the edge of the Arnhem Land Reserve. Its rugged beauty has been formed by the impact of tropical floods on soft sandstone thrust against volcanic rocks. This combination also produces uranium --- and the South Alligator field yields and richest ore in Australia. The El Sharana mine was used as a temporary base for the expedition, and the modern huts provided good living conditions. The Acting Mine Manager -- Mr. ROGERSON -- told the expedition field leader -- Mr. SPILLSBURY of a nearby aborigine burial ground. But first they saw the uranium miners at work of the PALETTE find -- a patch of uranium so rich that it was found without a geiger counter. The yellow and green splashes of the torbenite and autunite ore made the rock look like an artist's palette.
Mr. Spillsbury traced the pathway of the dead as the native-made track to the burial ground was called. The stones which bordered the pathway had been carried up from a creek-bed. It led to a series of caves in which the bones were found. Most are animal, but the human skull is believed to be more than one-hundred years old. The cave paintings were described by an artist with the expedition -- Miss Marie Gardiner -- as "stark, simple and direct -- unlike anything I've seen before."
This centre of aborigine art is a living gallery. Since the caves were last visited, a fresh picture had been added, and the line drawings are continually overlaid with fresh ochre by the native artists. Most of the drawings hold a mystic symbolism in the native mythology. The next stage of the expedition's journey was to take them several hundred miles westward.
Between the giant castle-homes of the white ants, Charles Spillsbury found some examples of the native habit the expedition had travelled north to study. Why do some aborigines prefer to rest standing on one leg instead of lying down? There are nine variations of this pose, and the expedition used a plumb line to determine how finely the balance was held. Doctor Scougall says a high degree of muscle co-ordination is involved. Muscle co-ordination of another kind enabled this Liverpool River tribesman to penetrate two inches into a board at forty paces.
The expedition lived largely off the land as wild buffalo abound in the coastal area. Using a three-of-three rifle, the hunting is swift and deadly. One of the leaders -- Dr. Walman -- was among the hunters -- although only the beasts needed for meat were killed. The party was completely self-contained but operated from set bases. Their next journey was northwards towards the coast. The base was to be about thirty miles south-west of OENPELLI Mission at a bush timber camp.
On the banks of a red lily lagoon more aborigines were found with the same resting habits. It's spread over the whole of Arnhem Land as far south as Maranboy, on the coastal Islands, and in parts of the Kimberleys. Resting like this is described by Doctor Scougall as probably more relaxing than standing at ease. One theory for its use is that it might be a position of restful observation, giving hunters an unrestricted field of vision. Miss Gardiner recorded details of the stance, which is also used by some New Guinea tribes, and by the NILOTES who live in the Upper Nile Valley. Doctor Scougall believes the natives may use a locking mechanism in their feet, as well as the normal bone locks in knee and hip.
The cattle mobs encountered on the last stage of the expedition's journey were overlanding from the big stations in the Kimberleys to the Queensland Channel country. Moving the big mob over the thousand-mile trek calls for men who know the country intimately. Here the aboriginal stockman has proved himself. He's taking the first steps from the Stone Age along the road to a more civilized life.