The Old Blacks' Camp consisted of seven weatherboard huts, built in a row. They were constructed after the style of the so-called "shelter sheds" which are still the feature of school playgrounds around Australia. They were bleak places, each with a single "room," a single door, three steps, one window. In these huts the surviving members of the Kumbaingiri tribe lived, and died.
The only one I remember is the one they called Kumbaingiri Billy. More commonly he was known as Come-and-get-it Billy. I do not know his real name, or even his age.
My father liked Kumbaingiri Billy. He always brought him bacon. I think they were friends, proper friends. They drank tea together. My father never made jokes about him. Once he said: "Kumbaingiri Billy has more brains in his nose than the whole shire council wrapped into one."
When I was ten, Kumbaingiri Billy told the story of "How Jesus come to Bellingen long time-ago." Afterwards I made a patronizing joke about it and my father hit me around the legs with the electric flex from the kettle. I didn't make jokes about it again, although I listened to the story a number of times.
Kumbaingiri Billy must have first heard it when he was very young, and now I think about it it seems probable that its source is not amongst the Kumbaingiri but the Narcoo blacks whom Mr Jeffris conscripted at Kempsey to guide the party on the last leg of its journey. But perhaps it is not one story anyway. The assertion that "our people had not seen white people before" suggests a date earlier than 1865 and a more complex parentage than I am able to trace.
The white men came out of the clouds of Mount Darling. Our people had not seen white men before. We thought they were spirits. They came through the tea-trees, dragging their boxes and shouting. The buds set up a chatter. What a noise they all made. Like twenty goannas had come at once to raid their nests. Anyway, it was not nesting time.
We thought they were dead men. They climbed hills and chopped down trees. They did not cut down the trees for sugar bag. There was no sugar bag in the trees they chopped. They left the trees Iying on the ground. They cut these trees so they could make a map. They were surveying with chains and theodolites, but we did not understand what they were doing. We saw the dead trees. Soon other white men came and ring-barked the trees. At that time we made a song:
Where are the bees which grew on these plains?
The spirits have removed them.
They are angry with us.
They leave us without firewood when they are angry.
They'll never grow again.
We pine for the top of our woods,
but the dark spirit won't send them back.
The spirit is angry with us.
The white men spoke to two men of the Narcoo tribe. They were young men. They gave the white men a big kangaroo, and some coberra. The white men would not eat the coberra. They told the Narcoo men to show them the way to the Kumbaingiri, although the Narcoo men had never seen anyone from that tribe. They were neighbours, but they did not visit. The Narcoo men said: "You wait here." They went back to the tribes and the elders had a big talk and then they told the young men: "You keep them buggers going quick and smart." So that is what the young men did. They showed them the way, although it was not easy. They had seven wagons. Sometimes the boss would say: "We going to camp here." And then he would gallop off and chop down trees and make more maps. Then he would come back and say: "Right you are, we go now." It was in these camps the young fellows learned about Jesus. This was the first time they ever heard of such a thing. They were told the story of Jesus nailed to the cross. They were told by the Reverend Mr Hopkins. Whenever they crossed a river this fellow had to lie on his back first. Then he would put a tin funnel in his mouth and then they would fill him up with grog. He must have been drunk, but the young men were never offered the bottle so they did not find out what it was he drank. The Reverend Mr Hopkins told the Narcoo men the story of St Barnabas eaten by a lion. He told them the story of St Catherine killed with a wheel. He told them the story of St Sebastian killed with spears.
Naturally the Narcoo men misunderstood many things, but many things they understood very well. One thing they did not understand was the boxes on the wagons: they got the idea these boxes were related to the stories. They thought they were sacred. They thought they were the white man's dreaming. Coming down Mount Leadenhall it was so steep they were lowering wagons on pulleys and ropes. It was a great bloody mess with ropes tied to trees and bullocks pulling up so the wagons would get lowered down. There was an accident. One of the boxes fell.
Straight away the white fellows opened up this box. Naturally the Narcoo men were keen to see what was inside. You know what they saw? It was glass. Up until that time they had not seen glass. There was glass windows down in Kempsey and Port Macquarie, but these fellows had not been to those places. They saw the glass was sharp. This was the first thing they noticed-that it cuts. Cuts trees. Cuts the skin of the tribes. When the white men wanted to cross Mount Dawson, the Narcoo men did not wish them to. Mount Dawson was sacred. The young men were forbidden to go there. It was against their law. Then the leader of the white men shot one of the Narcoo men with his pistol. The other Narcoo man was named Odalberee. This Odalberee took them up Mount Dawson, and down towards the Bellinger Valley. He made a song.
We never saw it before.
Now it is here amongst us.
It is sacred to the strangers.
Glass cuts. Glass cuts kangaroo.
Glass cuts bandicoot.
Glass cuts the trees and grasses.
Hurry on, strangers.
Hurry on to the Kumbaingiri.
Leave us, good spirits, go, go.
Odalberee led them down towards the coast at Uranga. He thought he should take them towards the sea so they could go away. But on the last night, when they were almost there, the Kumbaingiri knew there were strangers in their country. The Kumbaingiri came with torches at night. They walked through the bush to talk to the strangers. But the strangers got frightened. Odalberee got frightened too. The Kumbaingiri men did not understand him. Then there was a lot of shooting. The Reverend Mr Hopkins made a big fuss. He shouted. He ran about. The leader of the white men said: "Tie that fellow up" [394-397].
Last modified 1 March 2004