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robinson : rafts and canoes, tasmania, 1834 

Robinson : Rafts and Canoes, Tasmania, 1834.

 Robinson, George Augustus:
  Tasmanian Journals (?)
?, ?, 1834.

This page incomplete and needs revision.

Also note:

1831 G. A. Robinson:
The Aboriginal Rafts, Northern Tasmania.
Printed in The Hobart Town Courier, 22 January 1931, page 4.

G. A. Robinson at Bega & Twofold Bay, August - September 1844, in:
Michael Organ (ed.): Canoes of SE Australia.

Extracts from A Documentary History of the South Coast Aborigines, 1770 - 1850, Wollongong University, 1990, page 279.

Page 63

9 June
Sailed the Opossum.
Men putting up a hut for my store.
Went out with the natives in the whaleboat to catch fish.
The women dive for the mutton fish, an essential part of the native diet.
They have a basket made of rushes which they sling over their shoulders, and a small stick sharpened at one end and hardened in the fire, which they hold in their hand.
Thus equipped they dive and force the fish from off the rocks by means of the stick.
They are excellent divers, keeping under water for a considerable time; they ascend to the surface for a second or so and then dive and continue down until they have filled their baskets.

Page 66

11 July
1 pm: at the request of the aborigines went on a fishing excursion accompanied by two of the females.
The females have the duty assigned to them of diving for mutton fish.
On our return they collected together a marine plant termed POORNER, resembling a young shallot, of which they appeared to be very fond.
It is placed on hot coals (their only mode of cooking) and thus eaten.
It has a very insipid taste but is juicy and nutritious.
Thus is a knowledge gained of their mode of subsistence, which is only acquirable by making them your companions in their travels.
Their resources are indeed prolific when hunger craves and there is a variety of unknown herbs or roots or plants to which they fly when hunger com-

Page 67

pels or when animal food is scarce.
They hold our luxuries in the utmost antipathy and contempt and the only sort of food which, exclusive of their own, they seem to relish, consists of tea and sugar, potatoes and biscuit.

Page 79

28 September 1829
The females are in general very adept swimmers and are enabled to procure a surprising quantity of shellfish upon the single immersion in the water.
The most remarkable shellfish is called Haliotis or ear-shell (mutton-fish), which forms a very substantial food for the natives, and though of a strong rancid taste is relished by many Europeans.
They are found adhering to rocks considerably below the surface of the water and are procured by diving.
This task devolves upon the women who plunge into the deep with a basket of their own manufacture (made of plaited grass with surprising neatness and ingenuity), which they invariably fill ere they rise again.
This basket is slung over the left shoulder so as to hang by the side under the left arm; a chisel stick is held in the right hand or between the teeth.
The women are trained from children to swim and dive, so that when grown up the water becomes their own element.

Page 119

13 February 1829
Proceeded on towards the entrance of the first river at Port Davey on the eastern side.(20)
This river, the natives acquainted me, I had to cross.
How to accomplish this was the question, as it was then blowing hard from the northwest and a heavy sea was rolling into the river.
The natives informed me that I must cross in a catamaran.
Ordered the men belonging to the escort party to make one, but they said they knew nothing about it.
Requested the natives to make one and sent the men in quest of food, some to shoot swans and others to try for badger.
Busy in gathering PUR.RAR berries.
They have a pleasant flavour and I ate hearty of the same.
Pm, the men returned without any game.
Strong wind with heavy rains during this day.

14 February 1829 [Sunday]
Sojourned here.
Strong wind from the north-west.
Rained during the night and throughout this day.

15 February 1829
Strong wind from the north-west.
Natives finished the catamaran.
Four of the men carried it on their shoulders, the distance of a mile.
There it was launched and I proceeded across in it, but it was badly constructed and only sufficient for one person.
It being ebb tide the rest of the people forded the river higher up, but as the tide was flowing fast I was obliged to send the catamaran and a female aborigine for one of the people as it was out of his depth.
These catamarans are ingeniously constructed of the bark of the tea-tree shrub and when properly made are perfectly safe and are able to brave a rough sea.
They cannot sink from the buoyancy of the material and the way in which they are constructed prevents them from upsetting.
The catamaran is made of short pieces of bark, some not above a foot in length, which when collected in a mass are tied together with long grass, called LEM.MEN.NE.
The southern natives call the tea-tree NING.HER.
Stringy bark is what is used by the Brune natives. (21)

[Footnotes, page 226]
Hannants Inlet. 
21.    In his notes Robinson gives further information about the catamarans made by the natives.
There could be three or five bundles of material in the canoe-raft, three when stringy bark (Eucalyptus obliqua, E. regnans) was used and five when rushes were used.

Page 135

24 March 1829
 Fresh water is very abundant along this coast.
Crawfish, the large whelk (LAY), mutton-fish &c are plentiful.
The Port Davey natives seeing my natives thrust a mutton-fish into the fire to roast, was exceedingly angry with them and desired them to take it out again as it would make the rain come.
The women are great adepts in swimming.
It surprised me to see them plunge into the heavy breakers among the rocks to dive for crawfish and mutton-fish.
I observed that in general before they plunge into the water, that they stand on the rocks in rather an obscene position and chant a song and then plunge into the water.
Page 136

Note: Passed a small island yesterday which the natives called MAG.GER.WARE.-RE.RONE,(50) and saw a large catamaran about ten feet long by which they cross over to it.
They seldom attempt to do so in a rough sea but generally wait for a calm.

[Footnote, page 228]
50. Green Island

Page 137

25 March 1829
After a short conference with the men we enquired for the rest of the tribe.
Said they was concealed in the bush.
My natives went and found them.
One old man with his two wives and two daughters had swum across the river—which they call GO.NO.VAR (56)—and was awaiting the result of our approach to the rest of the tribe.
This man, it appeared, was the head of the tribe.
After some consultation it was proposed to go down to the river and bring them over.
Two females belonging to my natives swam across and, a small catamaran having been procured, they were brought over with the exception of one of the old man's wives, but not without a great deal of hallooing and swimming back and forward.

(Polygamy is not frequent amongst this people: this is the only instance in this tribe and I knew but one other in the Brune.)

Page 138

26 March 1829
At 11 am prepared to cross the river.
Pleasant weather, WOORRADY said all he could to prevent me: that I should be drowned and so on.
He had gained Tom over to himself by telling him the natives were savage people and would by and spear us, and Tom, who is mortally timorous, listened to it and also said what he could to keep me back.
Saw plainly it was a scheme to keep me back and I therefore resolved to delay no longer but went and got in the catamaran.
It being small I put my legs over it and four of the young female aborigines laying hold at each corner with one hand with the other swum across towing the catamaran, and I was soon landed on the opposite side.
They were exceedingly careful with me: if a surge came on one side they would bear to the other side to keep it steady.
Two of these females, TRUGERNANNA and DRAY, were my people and two were Port Davey natives, TIME.ME.DENE.NE and WY.YER.RER.
After I had crossed, the luggage, knapsacks &c were brought over, and then the child-

Page 139

presently seized hold of the knapsacks and towed them ashore, so that nothing was lost.
It was a pleasing sight to see the men swim over, holding up their kangaroo mantles with the one hand whilst they swum across with the other, each striving to gain the shore first, UMARRAH was still on the opposite shore waiting to be conveyed over.
This man was exceedingly afraid of water and it was some time ere he could be prevailed upon to venture himself upon the catamaran.
At length he was brought over and we proceeded on our route, travelling on a fine sandy beach about two miles in length.
These villages are always near to fresh water and close to some fishing rocks, and at them are in general to be found the native fig.
We made a fire and the women went to the rocks afishing.
The men returned having caught a kangaroo.
Saw the natives eat toadstools.
Tonight the whole tribe sung their usual song and appeared in good spirits.
My natives took their turn and sung likewise.
The most friendly intercourse seemed to be established.

27 March
Went to the rocks where the women was getting fish.
Saw them eating kelp; they gave me some to eat.
The Port Davey natives eat kelp, and the same I found was the case with the Brune natives.

Page 155

Apri 1830

... I came upon a native path, which led me to their village.
It was in a secluded place and there were three large well built huts.
Followed a path which brought me to the coast.
Here I witnessed a sight truly painful to my feelings.
At the approach of my natives the TOO.GEE had fled, except the head of the family, a tall well made man about forty years of age, who at the solicitations of WOORRADY had ventured to stop.
His daughter, (75) a fine young woman about eighteen years of age, had plunged into the sea in order to escape from her pursuers and was struggling hard to reach a small rock over which the sea was breaking with dreadful fury.
Poor creature, I feared she would be lost.
She would at intervals turn her head to see if her pursuers had gone, more frightful to her than the dreadful breakers by which she was surrounded and against which she was struggling.
The father stood upon a hill watching his daughter, the mother and son had concealed themselves in the forest.
O God, what has filled these poor unoffending people with such dire apprehensions!
Can I imagine for a moment that the white man, my fellow man, has murdered their countrymen, their kindred and their friends, has violated their daughters, and has forcibly taken away their children under pretext of taking care of them?
Yes, it is only too true.
Regardless of all laws, human or divine, they have imbued their hands in the blood of these poor unoffending people.

Fearing the girl would be lost, I desired the two women that accompanied the expedition to swim to the rock against which she was clinging, and being excellent swimmers it was not long ere they reached her.
One of them spoke to her in her own language and when the affrighted creature asked where she was to TAG.GER.RER, they told her to go to Mr Robinson; but saying 'no, no', she immediately plunged again into the sea.
The two women followed, one on each side of her, and brought her to the shore.
She climbed a small rock about three yards from where I was standing.
Her father, who was upon a small hill standing in the midst of some thick bushes, called to her to go away.
The poor creature put on a forced smile, looked sometimes at me, and then would turn her head and look at the water.
Perceiving she was overcome with fear I went away, desiring the people to follow me, when she immediately run into the bush and concealed herself.
Her father, pleased with this act of generosity, immediately approached me and we shook hands.
I put some beads round his neck and hung some buttons to them, and gave him a blanket.
He came and sat down by the fire, UMARRAH came with a kangaroo and the other people brought another.

[Footnote, page 229]
75. The name of this young woman was (1) LAR.PEN.NE.NID.IC; (2) LUM.MER.GE (LAM.ME.-NEEK).
Her father was LEE.LING.ER (see III, 6, June-July 1833, various entries, and Appendix 6, Note [g]).

Facing page 163, Plate 3B.

Page 182

24 June 1830
Strong wind with pleasant weather.
Examined into the conduct of Lynch, as the coxswain acknowledged to his having ordered the men to go to Cape Grim, had lost one oar, had broke a gun &c.
Dismissed him from being coxswain and gave McKay charge of the boat.
Took McKay and went through the forest to view the rocks where the natives had been massacred.(114)
The road lay through some excellent marsh ground and an open forest of large gum trees where there was excellent feed and the sheep was grazing.
Crossed over some high grassy hills and after travelling for about five miles came to a point of rock opposite the

Page 183

My informant pointed out the spot, which was a point of land which runs into the sea opposite these two islands—on the one side was a perpendicular cliff of not less than two hundred feet in altitude and the base washed with the sea; the other side was a rapid declivity.
About two hundred yards from this cliff a steep path led down to the rocks at its base.
At the bottom of the path was a beautiful spring of water, at which the natives used to quench their thirst and procure their water when they were wont to go to the LAY.HOO.NER islands to get mutton birds.(115)
Two hundred yards further along the rocks was a large cave which had often served as a shelter for the natives during a storm. On the occassion of the massacre a tribe of natives, consisting principally of women and children, had come to the islands. Providence had favoured them with fine weather, for it is only in fine weather that they can get to the islands, as a heavy sea rolls in between them.
They swim across, leaving their children at the rocks in the care of the elderly people.
They had prepared their supply of birds, had tied them with grass, had towed them on shore, and the whole tribe was seated round their fires partaking of their hard-earned fare, when down rushed the band of fierce barbarians thirsting for the blood of these unprotected and unoffending people.
They fled, leaving their provision.
Some rushed into the sea, others scrambled round the cliff and what remained the monsters put to death.
Those poor creatures who had sought shelter in the cleft of the rock they forced to the brink of an awful precipice, massacred them all and threw their bodies down the precipice, many of them perhaps but slightly wounded.
Whilst I stood gazing on this bloody cliff, me-thought I heard the shrieks of the mothers, the cries of the children and the agony of the husband who saw his wife, his children torn forever from his fond embrace.
I was shewed a point of rock where an old man who was endeavouring to conceal himself, was shot through the head by one of the murderers—who mentioned these circumstances as deeds of heroism.
I went to the foot of the cliff where the bodies had been thrown down and saw several human bones, some of which I brought with me, and a piece of the bloody cliff.
As the tide was flowing I hastened from this Golgotha.
Returned past Mount Victory.
Passed a number of huts in these walks.

Trefoil Island—The natives used to swim to this island.
Here is a mutton bird rookery.
Trefoil Island for its size is the most fertile in the straits.
There is not a reptile upon it or animal of any kind.
The bluff on the west side is at least one hundred and fifty feet high.

Bird Island—Is situated on the west side of the West Hunter and is the largest mutton bird rookery.
The sealers occasionally stay here.

[Footnotes, page 233]
114. See Note 103 above.

103.    'Mount Victory' is a hill near the coast at the Doughboys (see journal, 21 and 24 Jun. and 4 and 10 Aug. 1830; also V.D.L. Co map).
Trouble between the Company and the natives at Cape Grim flared up in December 1827 when over a hundred sheep were killed. In reprisal, four of the Company's servants later murdered a number of natives.
Those involved in the massacre were Charles Chamberlain, John Weaver, William Gunshannon and Richard Nicholson.
Robinson refers to these proceedings in his journal on several occasions. ...

115. Here follows—'Found at the side of this cliff' and a drawing of a circle with dots round it.
Evidently this was a carving on the rock near the spring, resembling those still to be seen near Mount Cameron.

Page 248

14  October 1830
Pleasant weather.
At 6 am Stansfield went back in quest of Bob.
It being high water proceeded to head the river and travelled for three miles up the south side through a swampy land and tea-tree forest.
Came to a branch of the river (12) which appeared to run a contrary course from that I wanted to travel, and

Page 249

requested the natives to make a NING.HER (catamaran), there being plenty of bark.
Joe missing.
Sent Tom in quest of him and he was found going a contrary way from us and would doubtless have been lost.
(He is a stout man and I can only attribute it to idleness.)

The catamaran was not long in constructing and we all passed over with our luggage safe.
Destroyed the NING.HER.
Crossed over a plain or marsh, which extended for several miles and runs parallel with the coast, to a belt of sandhills with honeysuckle trees which adjoins the coast.
Saw the footmarks of the natives in the sandhills; they appeared to be travelling south.
Descended to the sandy beach and travelled along it to the first or west point of Waterhouse Point,(13) and bivouacked for the night.

Page 300

25 December 1830
Meteorology: The aborigines have considerable knowledge of the signs of the weather and had attained to such celebrity that my people, i.e. white men, would consult them on this subject, and always appeared satisfied at what the natives told them.
If the clouds or scud fly swiftly along it is a sign, they say, there will be no rain; if a circle is round the moon it's a sure sign of bad weather, plenty of wind; if light clouds appear it is a sign of fine weather.
Indeed they have numerous signs by which they judge and I have seldom found them to err.
Thus they are enabled to know when to build their huts, to go to the coast for fish, travel &c.
They also judge by the stars and have names by which they distinguish them.

Page 366

25 June 1831
Heavy rain during the night and during the whole of this day.
Wind north and west.
The aborigine Robert shot a musk drake, WOORRADY manufactured several rush catamarans.
In constructing those aquatic machines from this material a difference is observed from that constructed of the bark of the tea tree and stringy bark; the former have five layers whilst the latter have only three.(187)
The rush is quite dry and is the same which they eat.
Those catamarans are very ingenious contrivances.
Busy writing.
In conversation with the natives respecting the stars.
These people, like the ancients, have described constellations in the heavens as resembling men and women, men fighting, animals, and limbs of men; together with names for the stars.(188)
The aborigines pointed them out.

Page 367

Page 377

13 July 1831
Having arrived at a small stream of water, halted for the night immured in lofty fern trees, gum, stringy bark, &c.
The Brune natives informed me that when the natives are ill they drink salt water, which makes them sick and get well.
The Brune natives also bathe for disease.
They say that DROMEADEENE made the natives; also that the sun comes from England;(203) and that the seal comes from England, and that the NEEDWONNE natives made large catamarans and went to England, that PARLEVAR sleep plenty night at sea, lost plenty of days, that there was big wind and big sea, that they see plenty of seal.

Page 378

15 July 1831
Tonight WOORRADY entertained us with a relation of the exploits of his nation and neighbouring nations or allies.
Said that the NEEDWONNE natives—as also the

Page  379

Brune, PANGHEININGH and TIMEQUONE—went off in catamarans to the De Witt Island and to the different rocks, and speared seal and brought them to the mainland.
Also went to the Eddystone (212) and speared seal: this rock is miles distant and is a dangerous enterprise.
Many hundred natives have been lost on those occasions.
Those nations to the southward of the island was a maritime people.
Their catamarans was large, the size of a whaleboat, carrying seven or eight people, their dogs and spears.
The men sit in front and the women behind.
Said that the BRAYHELUKEQUONNE natives spear plenty of his and neighbouring tribes, that they stop behind trees and when they see a native by himself they go and spear him.
When the natives relate those exploits they do it by singing it, accompanying the same with different gestures corresponding with the circumstances of the story—the manner of fighting, the blows given, where inflicted and how, whether by spear, waddy or stones, or wrestling, or cutting with sharp stones, pointing to the parts of the wounded, WOORRADY is very animated in his relation of the circumstances of his nation, and having a good voice it is peculiarly interesting to attend to him.
Related a story where the PYDAREME at Eaglehawk Neck fought the Brune with stones, i.e. PAGGERLER LOINNE PAR.NYRAE —threw large stones.
Said that a big man of this nation stole a female child from his nation.
Says that the PY.DAIR.RE.ME men dive for fish like the women.
Whilst WOORRADY related his story of the Creation, Tom said he would not believe it, he only believed the white people's story, TRUGERNANNA was angry with him and said: 'Where did you come from? White woman?' 

Page 381

18 July 1831
Pleasant weather throughout the fore part of this day.
Proceeded on my route.
Saw traces of the natives.
At about 1 pm reached Forester River.
The natives employed in constructing a catamaran of the bark of the tea-tree, sufficiently large to carry four persons.
Whilst this machine was constructing (and which was built chiefly by WOORRADY), some of the people went to hunt for kangaroo.

After crossing the people and baggage, TRUGERNANNA navigating the vehicle, we waited some time for the aborigine Richard, who had been sent in quest of Stansfield.
Pm, finding Richard the aborigine not returned, I sent two men in quest of him.
Returned unable to find him.
Ordered the destruction of the catamaran.
Heavy rain with thunder and lightning during the night.

Page 388

25 July 1831
Rain during the night.
Am, hazy weather with rain, WOORRADY having informed me that he had the previous evening discovered some tracks which he judged to be those of natives, I sent him and the other natives and Stansfield to endeavour to find them.
In the meantime I was employed in writing my journal.

The natives returned unable to discover anything of the track of the aborigines.
Packed up and proceeded on to the river; and it being high tide traced the river

Page 389

up about a mile and a half from the sea.
Directed WOORRADY to construct a catamaran of the bark of the tea-tree; all hands were put in requisition to get materials for the machine and in a short time it being constructed, we embarked and went across, PAGERLY, one of the black women who had been away hunting opossum, returned—I omitted to mention that the only supplies I got at Forester River was rotten potatoes, which we nor the natives could eat and which I believe were sent on purpose, and some coarse damaged flour full of nauseous substance; indeed, it would be impossible for me to continue with this state of things long, as my constitution would soon be destroyed.
The whole of the party having been safely conveyed over the river together with the luggage, I gave directions for the machine to be destroyed, a practice which I have invariably observed on all occasions, since none of the natives on this side of the island know how to construct a catamaran.
 It is policy not to allow them the opportunity of learning, and moreover it ought not be generally known, as it would have a tendency to facilitate the escape of absentee convicts.




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Geoff Cater (2013) : George Augustus Robinson : Swimming, Rafts and Canoes, Tasmania, 1834.