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John Gilbert diary entry

26 February 1845 - 27 February 1845

Page 36. Volume 2

[in left margin]

737

understand each other, from their violent gestures I was almost inclined to think they seemed angry with us for intruding upon their grounds, and to our attempts in asking them if there was plenty of water in the river higher up it. it would be difficult to say whether their reply was in the affirmative or negative. they had no spears, but each had an armfull [sic] of Waddies α Boomerangs, there were but a few women with them and I did not observe any children many of them were painted all over in the most grotesque manner, and their hair dressed up as I have often seen them do previous to a corrobary [sic] and fight. later in the afternoon however they seemed to gain more confidence in us, and all of us at different times approached them, and exchanged various little things with them, such as Buttons, needles, pieces of Tin348, for which they gave us in return, necklaces, Boomerangs, Waddies α c. a number of their women α young men kept in the back ground, but no children were seen at all, they were generally speaking very fine men349, and Brown when standing among them looked quite a diminative [sic] fellow, although he is certainly a fair average size of the Australian Native, Brown as well as Ourselves could not understand a word they uttered. they kept on Cooing [sic] to us till dark and still seemed anxious for us to go to them but finding we were not inclined they gradually drew off up the river, and we heard them calling to each other long after dark, altogether we may consider that the Natives of the Isaacs were friendly to us. in parting with us, they uttered a sort of cry of sorrow, but in what manner to apply it of course we are only left to guess.

[in left margin]

Thurs 27

We were again foiled in our attempts to make an early start, in consequence of the Cattle having strayed back, an unusual circumstance with them of late, and while waiting for Brown to bring them in, the whole of the Natives we saw yesterday, passed on the opposite side along the scrub hunting Wallaby's, just as they were opposite us Roper fired off his Gun, at the report of which they immediately ran off into the Scrub, and soon after four of them came across the river to meet us, whether they thought we were angry with them, or that they knew the sound of a Gun is difficult to say, but after going through their usual gestures, with=out our being enabled to understand them, they made us understand perfectly that they were very hungry by pinching in their bellies, and pointing to their mouths, and then to the scrub, it was not difficult to make out they were anxious to procure Wallabies350. they then left us quietly and we saw no more of them, soon after the Dr α Charlie

Note 348

Murphy recorded in his diary (Sprod 2006: 41) that he had “got the top of an old tin cap box about the size of a crown and wrote on it with my knife “Port Essington expedition February 26th 1845”, made a small hole and put a piece of tape on it and when I went back to them a very good tempered fellow came to me and admired it very much”, so Murphy had taken it off his neck and given it to the Aborigine, in return for a very handsome waddie. He had given another Aborigine the cap box. Where are these items now?

Note 349

Murphy recorded one individual as being “upwards of 6 feet high”. This Aborigine had accepted a gift of needle and thread from Gilbert and given him a very long necklace of seeds in return. Two of the Aborigines introduced themselves as “Warrundi” and “Murrunda”. Murphy also wrote that Calvert, Roper and Phillips had given the Aborigines a “Victoria Medal”, a purse and a tin powder canister (Sprod 2006: 41-42). The “Victoria medal” must have been one of the commemorative coins issued after Victoria had become Queen; according to Leichhardt (1847: 166) it was one of those minted to celebrate her coronation in 1838, and was donated by Phillips.

Note 350

Gilbert more usually spelt this “Wallaby’s”.