In the September 1999 and April 2001 editions of the R-LC News, the local history articles reproduced William Thomas’s account of the beliefs of the Aboriginal people who frequented the Rowville-Lysterfield area. William Thomas was an Assistant Protector of the Aborigines whose special duty was to care for the interests of the Woiworong (Yarra tribe) and Bunerong (Westernport tribe). Thomas’s accounts of the Aborigines were first published in Bride, Thomas (Ed). Letters from Victorian Pioneers, Public Library of Victoria, 1898.
Of all the beings most dreaded by the blacks, the principal is the Mindye. It appears to have no independent power, but by the command of Punjil(1) is sent to destroy or afflict any people for bad deeds, that is to say, when they have done very bad things, or not killed enough wild blackfellows for their dead. Its form is that of a snake, but of great size, though is can contract itself into a small compass – extend or contract as we would a telescope. The blacks give awful accounts of this being; it can make itself extend miles in length. They say that there are little Mindye; that Mindye inhabits a country named Lillgoner to the north west in this district, and resides on a mountain named Bu-ker Bun-nel, and drinks at a creek named Neel Kunun; that the ground for a distance round is so hard that no rain can penetrate it (Kulkubeek); that no wood but mullin grows near it; and that the land is covered with hard small substances like hail. A family named Munnie Brumbrum, the blacks say, have been the only blacks that have ventured to put foot on this awful country where Mindye resides, and they are the only blacks that can stay the ravages of the Mindye, or send it forth. It differs from a snake, by having a large head and two ears; it has three fangs coming from its tongue, and when it hisses out its fury the earth around is covered with white particles like snow, from which the blacks say the disease is inhaled. It often ascends the highest tree in a forest, and, like a ring tailed opossum, secures its hold, and stretches itself over a vast extent of twenty and thirty miles.
When Mindye is in a district the blacks run for their lives, setting the bush on fire as they proceed, and not stopping to bury their dead or attend to any seized. Many drop down dead on the road. When seized, pains seize them in the back, with violent retching. When they try to get up they fall down; those not seized are quite well. The celebrated Munnie Brumbrum, the blacks say, can arrest and stay the Mindye by a secret move with his hand or finger. Such is the nature of the attack of the Mindye. Any plague is supposed to be brought on by the Mindye or some of its little ones. I have no doubt that, in generations gone by, there has been an awful plague of cholera or black fever, and that the wind at the time, or some other appearance from the north-west has given rise to this strange being.
Charmers or Enchanters
There are characters among the blacks who are supposed to possess powers according to their various qualifications. When a continuance of rain is desired, the charmer is applied to, who sings,
“Won-ner-rer Nger-wein Barm-we-are Won-ner-rer
Tin-der-buk Koo-de-are Nger-wein Koo-de-are Tin-der-buk
During the time that this is sung the charmer sits in his mia-mia, and with a piece of thin bark, about a foot or eighteen inches long, continues throwing hot dust from the fire into the air, alternately mumbling and singing the above song; in fact, all the charmings are in mumbling language, not known to the rest of the blacks.
We have in the Western Port tribe a celebrated charmer-away of rain, old Bobbinary. I have known this man to be kept singing for hours. The blacks say, when Bobbinary was a child that it had been raining for some days, and “blackfellows all sad their bellies tied up to keep out hunger; that the child Bobbinary began to sing, and that sun immediately came out, and no more rain. That ever since then he has been able to send rain away.”
The blacks have various kinds of doctors – for eyes, bowels, head, etc., and, like white physicians, are noted in proportion to the remarkable cures said to have been wrought. But the highest pitch of the profession is flying. Among the tribes who have visited the settlement there has been but one, that has come to my knowledge, possessed of this power, whose name is Malcolm, of the Mount Macedon tribe. I have known this man to be sent for 100 miles. The blacks say that he has power to soar above the clouds, and to fly like an eagle; he also can, in some cases, recover the marmbula (kidney fat) when it has been stolen. I have a most singular account of one of his aerial journeys, together with the solemnity of the encampment during his two hours’ flight, but cannot trace it now. This Malcolm (aboriginal name Myngderrar) is said to have inherited this power from his father, who was famous before him.
Murrina Kooding or Strength Lost
In the encampment south of the Yarra, on the evening of ……………(2) were Goulburn, Mount Macedon, Barrabool, Yarra, and Western Port blacks. The Goulburn lubras, quite naked, stole upon seven young men. No sooner had the women their hands on the heads of the young men than the latter appeared helpless; they cut from each young man a lock of his hair. As soon as the hair was cut the young men fainted; the women took the ornaments from the men’s heads and decamped. The young men’s friends came about them to comfort them, but life apparently could scarcely be kept in them. Their friends sat with them the whole of the night.
On the following morning, the doctors assembled; a fire was made about a quarter or half a mile from the encampment, and the seven young men were brought, each borne by two friends bearing pieces of lighted bark in their hands, to the spot; the young men were placed round the large fire at some distance, and before each was the bark brought by the friends. The doctors, mumbling and humming, with a piece of glass bottle commenced scraping off all the hair from the crown of the head to the feet, and then rubbed them from head to feet with werup (red ochre). The young men lay speechless during the whole of the time the ceremony was being performed, and every muscle of their faces seemed to be keenly noticed by the doctors. This ceremony lasted from sunrise to three hours afterwards. I understand that these young men would have died had not this ceremony been performed. Strength left them as the lock fell from their heads. (Is not this some semblance to Samson’s case?)
(1) Punjil was the creator of the earth, trees, animals and man,
(2) The date was not recorded in the manuscript.