William Thomas was one of the Guardians of the Aborigines in the early years of settlement in Melbourne. In this article he relates the beliefs of the tribes people with whom he lived.
In the July 1998 edition of the R-LC’ News, an article entitled “Brief Account of the Aborigines of Australia Felix” appeared. The article was a reprint of part of a report by William Thomas, one of the government-appointed Guardians of Aborigines, whose special concern was the welfare of the members of the Yarra and Western Port tribes. Thomas lived with the tribes (who often passed through the Rowville area) and from his daily observations and questioning gained a considerable knowledge of their culture and beliefs.
The following is an account of the Australian deities and the stories of the creation of Man and Woman as told to Thomas. It was published by the Public Library of Victoria in 1898 in “Letters from Victorian Pioneers” (pages 86-87).
The Australian aborigines believe in two principal Deities, viz:- Punjil, the maker of the earth, trees, animals, and man. Punjil, they say, had a wife named Boi Boi, but he never saw her face. She, however, bore him two children, one a son named Binbeal, and the other a daughter named Karakarook. (Binbeal is a god that has a face that encompasses the earth, and has a lubra that always accompanies him. Binbeal is the rainbow, and his lubra is the reflection which may be seen occasionally.) To Binbeal is committed the sovereignty of the heavens, and to Karakarook the incidental occurrences on earth; while great Punjil stalks like a “big one gentleman” in the clouds, on the earth, etc., always carrying a “big one sword”.
The Australian’s next Deity is Pallian, brother of Punjil. Pallian made all seas, rivers, creeks and waters; also all the fish in the ocean, seas, rivers, etc. He governs the waters; was always in the waters, walking, bathing, and going over the seas.
Creation of Man
Punjil one day cut, with his large knife, two pieces of bark, mixed up a lot of clay, and made two black men, one very black and the other not quite black – more like a dirty red brick. He was from morning till night making them; it was not bright day then, but the sun was like blood all day. He began to make man at the feet, then made legs, and so on to the head. He then made the other in like manner, and, smoothing them both over with his hand from the feet to the head, he put on one’s head curly hair and named him Kookinberrock; on the other straight hair and named him Berrookboorn. After finishing the two men, Punjil looked on them, was pleased, and danced around them. He then lay on each of them, blowing into their nostrils, mouth, and navel, and the two men began to move. He bade them get up, which they did (young men, not like pickaninnies); he told them their names; he showed his brother Pallian the two men he had made.
Creation of Woman
The next day Pallian was in a creek paddling and beating in the water, in which he used to indulge. After some time the water got thick like mud, so that he could scarcely move; he plucked off a small bough from a tree that hung over the creek, and looked through the bough at the water, and said, “name you”. He beat harder and harder, and saw near him come up four hands, then two heads, and so on, till breasts, and two human figures complete appeared. Pallian exclaimed, “like my brother Punjil, me make two Bagrooks”. He beat again the waters, and the two lubras came above the water and fell on the land, but they could not move; he carried one and then the other to his brother Punjil, who breathed into their nostrils, mouth, and navel, and Punjil gave them names – to one Kunewarra, to the other Kuurook. They gave each koolin a lubra. Punjil put a spear in each koolin’s hand, and Karakarook, daughter to Punjil, put in each lubra’s hand a kannan (woman’s stick). Punjil, Pallian and Karakarrok go out with them some days, showing them how to get their food. The two men were taught to spear kangaroos, emus, etc., and the two lubras to get gum, roots, bandicoots, grubs, etc. One morning when they awoke, they “no see Punjil, Pallian and Karakarook”; “they had gone up above.” The blacks say that all this took place “very far, far away” to the north-west, not where “now blackfellows all about here sit down,” alluding to their belief that man and woman were created in other countries. All agree (I mean different tribes) in stating that country was “far, far away”, beyond what they know to the north-west, overseas. If the point they direct to be correct, it tallies with our position of the western part of Asia.
How Man First Came in Possession of Fire
They say that “long time after Punjil made man and woman, blacks had no fire, were very cold, and eat all flesh raw”; that some lubras went out to get food. They were with their kannan digging up murrar (piss-ants’ eggs), when several snakes of all kinds came up out of the earth where they were digging; that they were terribly frightened; kept beating the snakes but could not kill them. To their relief came down Karakarook with a large kannan, and two young men named Tourt and Tarrer; that Karakarook and the lubras fought the snakes for a long time, when the end of Karakarook’s stick broke off; from the piece broken off arose smoke. A bird – (by their account of the same kind as a crow, only of a large size – as large as an eagle) – flew down and ran off with the fire. Tourt and Tarrer immediately flew up in pursuit of the crow, while Karakarook remained with the lubras. The crow flew to a mountain named Nun-nur-woon, where it was overtaken by the two flying young men. Tarrer returned with the fire safe, having pulled off bark from one tree and another to keep it from being exhausted. “Tourt no more come back”; he was burnt to death on a mountain named Munnio, where he had kindled a small fire lest what small quantity he had should be lost, and Punjil, for Tourt’s good deed, turned him into a large star that always looks like fire. Karakarook showed the lubras her stick, and, having examined the qualities of it, bade them never to be without fire. Tarrer afterwards directed them to where the stick might be found, and showed them how to make fire; disappeared, and was no more seen.
First published by the Public Library of Victoria in 1898.
Republished in the September 1999 edition of the Rowville-Lysterfield Community News.