Australian Legendary Tales: Folklore of the Noongahburrahs as Told to the Piccaninnies - Katie Langloh Parker

Australian Legendary Tales: Folklore of the Noongahburrahs as Told to the Piccaninnies

By Katie Langloh Parker

  • Release Date: 2022-04-10
  • Genre: Fairy Tales, Myths & Fables

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Australia makes an appeal to the fancy which is all its own. When Cortes entered Mexico, in the most romantic moment of history, it was as if men had found their way to a new planet, so strange, so long hidden from Europe was all that they beheld. Still they found kings, nobles, peasants, palaces, temples, a great organised society, fauna and flora not so very different from what they had left behind in Spain. In Australia all was novel, and, while seeming fresh, was inestimably old. The vegetation differs from ours; the monotonous grey gum-trees did not resemble our varied forests, but were antique, melancholy, featureless, like their own continent of rare hills, infrequent streams and interminable deserts, concealing nothing within their wastes, yet promising a secret. The birds and beasts—kangaroo, platypus, emu—are ancient types, rough grotesques of Nature, sketching as a child draws. The natives were a race without a history, far more antique than Egypt, nearer the beginnings than any other people. Their weapons are the most primitive: those of the extinct Tasmanians were actually palaeolithic. The soil holds no pottery, the cave walls no pictures drawn by men more advanced; the sea hides no ruined palaces; no cities are buried in the plains; there is not a trace of inscriptions or of agriculture. The burying places contain relics of men perhaps even lower than the existing tribes; nothing attests the presence in any age of men more cultivated. Perhaps myriads of years have gone by since the Delta, or the lands beside Euphrates and Tigris were as blank of human modification as was the whole Australian continent.
The manners and rites of the natives were far the most archaic of all with which we are acquainted. Temples they had none: no images of gods, no altars of sacrifice; scarce any memorials of the dead. Their worship at best was offered in hymns to some vague, half-forgotten deity or First Maker of things, a god decrepit from age or all but careless of his children. Spirits were known and feared, but scarcely defined or described. Sympathetic magic, and perhaps a little hypnotism, were all their science. Kings and nations they knew not; they were wanderers, houseless and homeless. Custom was king; yet custom was tenacious, irresistible, and as complex in minute details as the etiquette of Spanish kings, or the ritual of the Flamens of Rome. The archaic intricacies and taboos of the customs and regulations of marriage might puzzle a mathematician, and may, when unravelled, explain the less complicated prohibitions of a totemism less antique. The people themselves in their struggle for existence had developed great ingenuities. They had the boomerang and the weet-weet, but not the bow; the throwing stick, but not, of course, the sword; the message stick, but no hieroglyphs; and their art was almost purely decorative, in geometrical patterns, not representative. They deemed themselves akin to all nature, and called cousins with rain and smoke, with clouds and sky, as well as with beasts and trees. They were adroit hunters, skilled trackers, born sportsmen; they now ride well, and, for savages, play cricket fairly. But, being invaded by the practical emigrant or the careless convict, the natives were not studied when in their prime, and science began to examine them almost too late. We have the works of Sir George Grey, the too brief pamphlet of Mr. Gideon Lang, the more learned labours of Messrs. Fison and Howitt, and the collections of Mr. Brough Smyth. The mysteries (Bora) of the natives, the initiatory rites, a little of the magic, a great deal of the social customs are known to us, and we have fragments of the myths. But, till Mrs. Langloh Parker wrote this book, we had but few of the stories which Australian natives tell by the camp-fire or in the gum-tree shade.