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2-204 (Text)

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addressee,male author,female,Thomas, Mary,52
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Plaint Text :
Private Written
Private Correspondence
Hale, 1950
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2-204-plain.txt — 4 KB

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February 17. I believe I did not tell you that we had been at Glenelg about a month before we saw any of them. Then a man and a boy were discovered by a person of the name of Williams, a fellow-passenger with us, while out shooting about five miles distant. They did not observe him. He therefore reloaded his gun and then called to them, at the same time advancing. They immediately started up (as they were in the act of making a fire) and seized their spears. Mr. Williams held out his hand with a biscuit, whereupon they cautiously came forward to meet him, and signs of a-mutual friendship having been exchanged he induced them to accompany him to the tents at Glenelg. He went round the village, as we may call it, with them. It did not appear that they had ever seen white people before, judging by the astonishment they expressed at all they beheld.  They peeped into the tents and examined everything that came in their way with perfect good humour, and highly delighted. They shook hands with everyone, male and female, without being at all abashed. They were both stark naked, but we thought it most prudent not to appear shy, especially in the first interview. They were afterwards taken to the Commissioner's stores and clothed with a pair of trousers, a flannel shirt, and a woollen cap each, as a great many of such articles were sent out expressly for the natives. No monarch in his robes could be prouder than they were of their dress. This man and boy remained with Mr. Williams three days, sleeping at night by his fire on the bare ground, and before he left he again brought the boy to our tent. I endeavoured to excite his wonder by showing him such things as I thought he had not seen. He was greatly astonished at the opening and shutting of an umbrella, the effect of a lucifer box, and seeing the water run out of a filtering machine. But what most of all surprised him was a large telescope drawn out to its full length, which he at first took to be a gun. He said "Boof!" meaning that it would make a noise. But I shook my head and said "No boof!" Then with some difficulty I persuaded him to look through it, when he expressed his astonishment by lifting up his hands and exclaiming "Mawny! Mawny!" which is their word for anything wonderful.
Those who have learned a little English generally make use of that phrase "very good" to whatever is said to them, and consequently one of them, who, it was supposed, had killed a white man, on being told that he would be hanged for it, replied as usual, "Very good."
They have committed some depredations, such as spearing a few sheep and such-like. Otherwise their conduct has hitherto been peaceful and orderly, and they very logically exculpate their own misdemeanours by saying, "White man come kill black man kangaroo. Black man kill white man sheep. Very good."
But the greatest mischief they have as yet done the settlers is not from any design on their part to injure us, but from a custom they have of burning the grass during the hot weather in order to drive the kangaroos where they may be caught and to force the snakes, which are part of their subsistence, out of their holes.  Frequently they set large trees on fire in order to catch the opossums, in the hollows of which these animals generally live. Many trees are found still standing, with cavities burnt out in this way large enough to contain eight or ten persons. Their fires on the hills are quite awful. We have frequently seen fires this summer which have reached for twenty or thirty miles in circumference, for they light them at distances so that they shall enclose a large space, sod the grass being so exceedingly dry, it may be truly said to burn like wildfire. We have seen three or four such fires as these on the hills, which are about five miles sway, at the same time, so that Adelaide has been nearly ambushed with flames. Some of these fires have done much damage to the stock stations by destroying the grass on which the bullocks and sheep were pastured, sod which, as we bad a very dry summer and nearly five months of hot weather, is rather scarce. Consequently the stock-keepers have been put to great inconvenience.
I have now given you a long account of the native inhabitants, whose appearance, though disgusting in the extreme to an