A5410(x) – “Bulga – 1820-1921 The Eather Manuscript. (Description of last combined Bora Ceremony on family property in 1852)
Within the Percy Haslam Archives held at the University of Newcastle’s Cultural Collections is located A5410(x) Xerox copy of The History of Bulga near Singleton N.S.W. from 1820 to 1921 by A.N. Eather.
According to the folder’s caption, in Percy Haslam’s hand is written:
“Bulga – 1820-1921 The Eather Manuscript. (Description of last combined Bora Ceremony on family property in 1852)x”
The description states that the last combined Bora ceremony was held on the family property in 1852, but according to Ian Eather, nephew and adopted son of the manuscript’s author, Alexander Nicholas Eather, the Bora site was not located on the Meerea property but at another location nearby. Meerea was a land grant to Thomas Eather in 1826.
I interviewed Mr Ian Eather back on the 1 May 2008, after his son, Garth contacted us about the manuscript, offering some corrections to its description and contents.
The late Ian Eather from a screenhot in the interview conducted on the 1st May 2008
We were very excited to learn that his father not only knew the author, but had grown up on the Bulga property. So we hastily arranged a time for him to bring in his father in for a chat about growing up with A.N. Eather at Bulga.
Ian Eather’s father was Reginald Victor Eather, the eldest of 10 children. Ian’s uncle, A.N. (Alexander Nicholas) Eather was the fourth child of 10. Ian was born on his family’s property [Henriendi] a corruption of the Aboriginal word [‘Enginendi’], in north western NSW, near Bogabri on the 24th May 1921. After the death of his mother when he was just three years old, he went to live with his uncle, A.N. Eather, and his wife, who didn’t have any children, and was raised at Meerea, Bulga.
In Ian’s words, A.N Eather was a self taught academic, polymath and, an extraordinary man who associated with other academics such as Percy Haslam. He also had a collection of Aboriginal artefacts, and knowledge of their uses. These artefacts are now with the Singleton Historical Society.
At night A. N. Eather would read to him, Shakespeare and poetry, ‘he loved poetry’ often reciting it from memory. He was very interested in religion, studying ‘every known religion’. He had contacts with the then Director of the Australian Museum in Sydney, Charles Anderson (Director 1921-1940).
With regards to the Bora Ground, A.N. Eather had assisted an expedition from the Australian Museum organised by Charles Anderson and possibly W.W. Thorpe. The party stayed on the property and operated from there, and were taken to the Bora ground by his uncle where they took photographs of the marked circle of trees. Ian believes the photographs and reports should still be with the Australian Musuem.
Ian Eather passed away on the 1st November 2012. We greatly appreciate his help, and that of his son, Garth, in assisting with background information and knowledge on the Eather family, the Aboriginal people and customs of the district, and the nature of the Bulga manuscript’s author.
Click below to view the full PDF scan of A5410(x) Bulga Manuscript.
The History of Bulga near Singleton N.S. Wales from 1820 to 1921 by A.N. Eather (15.4MB PDF)
Scanned from A5410(x) Xerox copy of The History of Bulga near Singleton N.S.W. from 1820 to 1921 by A.N. Eather. Folder title: “Bulga – 1820-1921 The Eather Manuscript. (Description of last combined Bora Ceremony on family property in 1852)x”. Cultural Collections, Auchmuty Library, University of Newcastle (Australia).
Click here for Percy Haslam’s Typescript Transcription of The History of Bulga near Singleton N.S.W. from 1820 to 1921 by A.N. Eather held at A6724. (7.4MB PDF)
A section of the Eather manuscript was also used in the Cenetenary celebrations booklet for Bulga Public School published as:
Bulga Public School Centenary Celebrations, Saturday, 19th October, 1968. (1.7MB PDf)
The History of Bulga near Singleton N.S.W. from 1820 to 1921 by A.N. Eather
Transcribed from A5410(x) Xerox copy of The History of Bulga near Singleton N.S.W. from 1820 to 1921 by A.N. Eather
by Gionni Di Gravio, with corrections by Ian Eather and Garth Eather.
The Eather Manuscript entitled “The History of Bulga bear Singleton N S Wales from 1820 to 1921 by A.N. Eather” records the last great gathering of the tribes in 1852 including a description of the Bora.
Bulga is an ancient aboriginal name signifying mountain or mountainous, given to it long ago, long before the white man wandered over the range. It was thus the peaceful prosperous little village lying under the shelter of the Bulga mountains derived its name. Its original discovery dates with the discovery of Patrick’s Plains in March 1819, Bulga being the first place reached by Howe, Singleton, Thorley and others in leaving the ranges. The explorers descended from a spur in Welsh’s Inlet in the Milbrodale Estate, near the property owned by Mr L. Dodds.
After its original discovery its first pioneers, of whom there is authentic record were Mr and Mrs Thomas Eather Snr and Mr William McAlpin Snr, Mr McAlpin being then a boy of 16. The journey was made from Richmond, through Colo, Putty and Howes Valley, being undertaken on foot, a bullock being used in lieu of a pack horse. In the same year 1826 Mr Eather returned with his wife and eldest child – the late Mr Thomas Eather, who was a babe in arms. For a number of years the original settler (Mr Thomas Eather Snr) resided at Bulga having acquired a grant of land from the Crown.
Mr McAlpin also returned in the year 1842 with his wife and eldest child – Mr William McAlpin – to take up his residence at Bulga where he remained until his death in 1902.
Settlement quickly followed as the route taken by the pioneers was used as the main thoroughfare for travelling stock from the Northern districts of N. S. Wales to Sydney. The first settlement was in the fertile land adjoining the Cockfighter Creek. The principal landholders were now Mr Hill who founded the Milbrodale Estate, Mr Williams, Mr Parnell, Mr Eaton, Mr McAlpin, Mr Joseph Onus and his two sons, William and Joseph.
The description given of Bulga by the early settlers is of open well-grassed forest lands to the feet of the mountains. The timber was mostly large with almost an entire absence of scrub and undergrowth. This was accounted for by the bush fires which regularly swept the country side during the dry seasons.
The Cockfighter Creek presented a very different appearance to the early settlers to its present state, being then deep and narrow with alternate stretches of deep water and sand. At that time as at present the banks of the creek were fringed with big shady oak trees. This creek was the main water supply of the residents.
In its vicinity wandering tribes of blacks (aboriginals) were to be seen in the sites of their old camps. The stone implements of this strange race are found today; the mute evidence of a bygone age when the savage roamed at will, hunted and fought, and lived his life untrammelled by white man. The impress of the savage is still to be seen in the names of certain geographical landmarks thus “Meerea” is the original aboriginal name of one of the Bulga mountains. “Doolirwing” is the name of a big water-hole near the present residence of Messrs Alexander Brothers in the Mount Leonard Estate. “By-yong” is the name of a lagoon in the vicinity of “Doolirwing”, also in the Mount Leonard Estate, where the savages hunted wild fowl, and known today as “The Horse Shoe”. “Girale” is the name of a gully flowing into the Cockfighter near the residence of Mr Samuel Partridge.
From an ethnological stand point Bulga is an intensely interesting locality, in many beautifully made stone implements are found today, throwing considerable light in the life of the early savage.
Here also is to be seen the remains of an ancient “Bora” ground with its sacred circle still defined by small mounds of earth, and a ring of carved trees, still bearing the curious emblematical devices which marked this strange and mystical ceremony of initiation to tribal rights. This “Bora” ceremony was held in the year 1852. The reliable authority of residents of the locality it was attended by between 500 and 600 blacks from the various tribes as far away as Mudgee and Goulburn. It is also interesting to note that during the months this Bora was being held no record is in existence that can be traced, of a single crime or outrage being perpetrated on any of the white settlers, through they must have been completely at their mercy had the blacks turned hostile. The white settlers were rigidly excluded from the Bora, nor would a single aboriginal divulge what transpired. In later years however considerable scientific light has been thrown on the matter, and it is thought to have been the last muster of the various tribes who attended this particular ceremony before the advance of the white man. It is strange also how strong was the power of this Bora in the aboriginals, all feuds being laid aside in the time being. It is definitely known that some time before in a tribal fight two blacks were killed near the present residence of Mr W. Woods.
The early life of the settlement of white people at Bulga was indeed strenuous, all the courage, enterprise and resourcefulness of a strong dominant character were necessary to make life a success, so far removed from the centres of civilisation. Some idea of the hardships experienced can be gathered from the fact that all the necessaries of life required from the outside world had at that time to be conveyed a distance of about 100 miles. The greater part of this distance was over rough broken mountain ranges, the only means of transport being a pack horse or bullock, with only a track to mark the way. In later years however supplies were obtained from the settlement in the lower Hunter. Then the real progress of Bulga commenced.
The stock brought to Bulga did remarkably well, and were driven back to Richmond and Windsor as occasion demanded. Intercourse was thus kept up and new settlers arrived and acquired land. Maize and wheat were grown for food. These were ground in small mills and in stones by two settlers themselves. Meat was fairly plentiful, except in times of drought. Pigs were also raised for pork and bacon. Considerable trouble was experienced in raising them, however, the country swarming with dingoes from which they had to be carefully guarded.
The most terrible drought in the history of Bulga was experienced between the years 1848 and 1851. On authentic authority the whole of the Cockfighter Creek at Bulga and even long stretches of the Hunter River were dry. Wells were sunk in the bed of the Cockfighter to water stock; in places the water being ten feet beneath the surface. Round these wells at night wild famished cattle roared for water. The settlers for the most part obtained their diminishing water from the hole previously mentioned as “Doolirwing”. This is a spring which has never been known to fail. People came to this water from near Wambo miles away on the one side and Parsons Creek distant miles in the other. Those who were fortunate enough to have working bullocks alive drew their water casks in slides; those less fortunate rolled them to their houses.
Most of the stock were removed to “Darkey” in the Howes Valley district and turned loose where rough feed was procurable. A considerable number however died. What cattle could be found of the survivors were mustered and brought back to Bulga when the drought broke in 1851. Bushes and kangaroo grass cut on the mountain shelves were used to keep alive the stock retained by the settlers. Sheaves of this kangaroo grass were also sold at Singleton for fodder for strong stock. During 1851 very little rain fell, the whole country side being little more than a desolate waste. The wheat crops so urgently needed for human food in fortunate cases grew about a foot high. This was carefully gathered, threshed with a flail, ground for flour, mixed with what little maize meal was procurable and baked for bread.
The education of the children was a problem which earnestly engaged the attention of the settlers. With their usual enterprise, and resourcefulness however this was overcome to allow the children a limited education. The services of Mr John Wagstaff, an old English gentleman employed as tutor in the family of Mr John Eaton were engaged. His schoolroom was a hut standing in the bank of the lagoon previously mentioned as “By-yong” and now known as “The Horse Shoe”. Besides the members of the Eaton’s family some of the neighbours children were also taught. This was about the year 1850. As the children of the settlement increased, the school was removed a few years later to an old building situated where some acacia trees are still growing on the eastern bank of the Cockfighter, just below where the Bulga bridge now stands. This was the first village school at Bulga. A movement was set [in foot] amongst the progressive members of the community to erect a church and school soon. The acre of land was donated by Mr John Eaton for church and school land and a cemetery. Previous to this the dead were buried where fancy dictated, a number near “The Horse Shoe”. Mr William McAlpin Snr – known in his honoured old age as the grandfather of Bulga – and an old man in his employ named Woodbury cut and split the timber for the building which was of slab walls and shingle roof. The timber was drawn to the ground by Mr William Clark Snr. The erection of the building was paid for by public subscription, all other labour in construction with it being voluntary. It was erected near the site of St Marks Church of England, Bulga, about the year 1856 and served the combined purpose of church and school. In the year 1879 the present public school was erected and St Marks Church in 1887. The old building was then demolished. School was held by Mr Wagstaff in the old building for a number of years. On his death he was succeeded by Mr Alaton who was in turn followed by Miss Clark – The first teacher under the Public Service Act. In rotation followed Miss Maxwell, Mr Fawcett, Mr Mitchell, Mr Deane, Mr Moore, Mr Reader, Mr Watts, Mr Campbell, Mr Barrett and Mr Graham.
The Patrick Plains Shire was established in 1904 Bulga being included in “C” Riding. Humble and brave as was the beginning of Bulga is a, settlement, advancing slowly and painfully through privation and hardship to a prosperous progressive village, enjoying the blessings of civilisation. It seems hard to realise that such complete changes could be wrought on the face of the land in the space of a century. Proud is indeed the record of the pioneers who dared all and suffered patiently to form the new settlement so far removed there from their old homes. Proud is indeed Bulga of the Memorial Gates of its Recreation Ground paid for by public subscription and erected voluntarily by Mr George Partridge – a resident of the district in 1920 – as a monument to the memory of so many of its brave men who fought and died in the Great War. For the most part they were the descendants of its settlers, men who made good, who were not one whit inferior in courage, enterprise, resourcefulness and nobility of character to the brave undaunted men who turned their backs on their old homes to wrestle with the wilderness.
In Australia, boys and girls reach maturity at a somewhat earlier age than in the colder latitudes of Europe and America. But to a black lad maturity is a period of much anticipation; for then he lays aside his state of pupillage as his mothers boy, and enters the tribe, but only through certain ceremonies of initiation which “make a man” of him, and thereby give him the qualification and the right to act as a member of the tribe. These ceremonies are, in this part of Australia called the Bora; and, as that name has been used in English books ever since the earliest settlements in this land, it has established a prescriptive right to recognition, and is understood everywhere. It seems, therefore unnecessary to use any other name for it, merely nothing that in various places it has various other names. But, with some minor differences in the mode of administration, the Bora exists everywhere throughout Australia; it can therefore be concluded that it belongs to the whole race, and is an essential attribute of its existence.
When a boy approaches the age of puberty, a feeling of restless anticipation spreads in his mind, for he knows that his opening manhood has brought him to the threshold of ceremonies of mysterious import, through which he has to be formally received into the tribe, and thereby to acquire the dignity of a man. The rites of initiation are important, numerous, and prolonged; and, as his admission does not concern himself in his family merely but the whole tribe, these observances call together large assemblages, and are the occasion of general rejoicing.
This assembly – the most solemn and unique in the tribal life – is called the Bora. The whole proceedings are essentially the same everywhere in their general features and teachings, but the details vary among the different tribes. Therefore instead of a separate narrative for each tribe it will be endeavoured to present a full view of the Bora, taking the tribal mode as the basis of the description, but introducing from the other tribes such features as appear to be needed to complete the significance of the ceremonies.
The chiefs of a tribule know that some boys are of an age to be initiated; they accordingly summon to them the public messenger or herald, and bid him inform the other sections of the tribe that a Bora will be held at a certain time and place, the time being near the full moon, and the place being usually a well known Bora ground. They also send him away to invite the neighbouring tribes to attend. This initiation is readily accepted; for, although the tribes may be ay variance with each other, universal brotherhood prevails among the blacks at such a time as that. The day appointed for the gathering is, perhaps, a month or two distant, and the intervening time is filled with busy preparations by the leading men of the novices’ tribule. They select a suitable piece of ground, near water if possible, and level for convenience in sitting and lying on. Two circular enclosures are then formed and cleared of all timber, even of every blade of grass – a larger and a smaller, with a straight track connecting them. The smaller a sacred circle is about a quarter of a mile up the ridge, and well out of sight of the other, and in those that have since been examined, the path a track between the two circles is due east and west, or nearly so. The trees that grow around the smaller circle they carve, perhaps up to twenty feet from the ground with curious emblematic devices and figures. The circuit of each ring is defined by a slight mound of earth laid around, and, in the centre of the larger one, they fix a short pole with a bunch of emu features on the top of it. When these arrangements are completed the ceremonies should begin, but there is often considerable delay. The cause of such delay will appear from the words of a friend of mine: -
We had some young blacks in my house, fifty years ago, and the older blacks would come to us, and ask us to allow these lads off for a time to be made “boombat”. Sometimes the boys would be away for the best part of a year. Sometimes the old men would bring back the boys in short time, saying that things were not ready for the Bora, that the other blacks were slow in coming up, and so forth, and that the ceremonies could not go on then; but usually all the men, the lads, and the “jins” went off together to the appointed place of meeting. At night time wherever they camped, several of the men would go off in different directions and make frightsome noises all around, scaring the “jins” almost out of their wits, and awing the boys. Thus matters would go on until they reached the big camp of assembly.
A large concourse is there. The men stand with their bodies painted in stripes of colour, chiefly red and white. The women, who are permitted to be present at the opening ceremony only, are lying prone on the ground all around the larger ring, and are covered all over with rags and cloaks.
The boy, painted red all over – I say boy, but several boys may be initiated at once – the boy is brought forward, and made to lie down in the middle of the ring, and covered with an opossum rug. Such of the old men as have been appointed masters of the ceremonies now begin to throw him in a state of fear and awe by sounding an instrument called “tirrikoty” similar to what an English boy calls a “bull-roarer”. In Central Africa, a whistle is used similarly as a sacred instrument, and something similar seems also to have been used in the mysteries of ancient Greece. In Australia the men use “tirrikoty” in all occasions when they wish to frighten the women and the boys, who cower with fear whenever they hear it. “On one occasion” said a friend to me, “a number of blacks were working in a cornfield, near the Barrington [River], a little boy began to sound his toy “bullroarer”. The blacks all took to their heels. A few, however rushed up to him, and said “Bail (no) you do that; that’s one of our Gods”. It is not lawful for any one to handle it except those who have been initiated in the Bora. It is made of a piece of thin wood, or bark of a tree. It is nine to twelve inches long, and it is sometimes shaped and marked so as to make it look like a fish. The roaring sound is supposed to be the voice of a dreaded evil spirit, who prowls about the camp of the blacks at night and carries off and devours those he can seize. When the performers think that the “boombat” (so they called the novice) has been sufficiently impressed “tirrikoty” ceases to speak. They then raise the boy from the ground and set him in the middle of the ring in such a manner that his face is turned towards the cleared track which leads to the circle of imagery. The an old man comes forward, breathes chalk, for the kangaroo stuff like glass, and so on. Meanwhile the boy has been sitting in the smaller circle with downcast eyes. He is told to rise, and is led in succession to each of the carved trees around it, and is told to look up for a moment at the carvings in them, and, while he does so, the old men raise a shout. When he has come to know all the carvings sufficiently, the men give him a new name, which must not be revealed to the uninitiated, and they hand him a little bag containing one or more stones of crystal quartz. This bag he will always carry about his person and the stones must not be shown to the uninitiated on pain of death. This concludes the first part of the performance.
A fire is kept constantly in the centre of this upper ring. The boy is made to lay within the ring prone on the ground for strongly in his face, and makes him cast his eyes upon the ground; for in this humble attitude he must continue for some days.
Two other old men next take the boy by the arms and lead him along the track, and set him in the middle of the other inclosure. As soon as this is done the women rise from their prostrate position and begin to dance and sing. The Murringgari tribe, on our south-east coast, place along this track or path some figures, moulded in earth, of various animals (totems), and one of the Dharamulan, a spirit God whom they reverence. Before each of these figures the devotees have a dance; and a karaji, medicine man or doctor, brings up, through his mouth, apparently from his stomach, the “Joca” or magic of the totem before which they then stand. For the porcupine, he shows stuff like weeks, it may be getting only a very little food and water now and then. When he wishes to go outside, the old men carry him over to the raised border of the ring. One black boy told me that, when he was initiated, he joined the assembled crowd in the month of August, and did not get away till about Xmas. When the men in charge of the sacred circle at last bade him rise from his recumbent position, he said he was so weak that he staggered and fell. He says he was kept two or three weeks among the women at the lower circle, because the other young men from the tribe were not ready, and had not come up; that the women there lie flat, covered up with opossum cloaks, sheets of bark, and the like, and dare not look up; that the “boombat” is among them, painted all over with ruddle; that a black man keeps running around the circle sounding “tirrikoty”; that the “boombat” is then taken from the women into the centre of the circle and kept there a short time – perhaps a greater of an hour – and is there led away to the upper circle, where the old men are. All this while the “boombat” keeps his eyes cast upon the ground, and must not look up. On approaching the sacred circle, he was told now to look up at each of the marked trees, and then look down again. My informant said:-
“When I was put within the ring I was made to lie down, covered over and kept lying there on the ground for three months; several times I tried to peep out, but nearly lost my life for it, for they threatened to kill me with spears; other boys were not kept so long as three months; the old men regulate the time according to the strength of the boy.”
All this is additional evidence corroborating the information I got from other quarters; for a considerable portion of what I now tell about the Bora is new, and comes from my own investigations.
The “boombat” is next conveyed to a large camp, at a distance of several miles, no women being near, and food is given to him, which he eats, still with his eyes cast down, here they keep him for eight or ten days, and teach him their tribal law by showing him their dances and their songs; these he learns, especially one song, of which I can tell nothing further than that it is important for the boy to know it. These songs, they say, were given to them by “Bayimai”, the great creator. At night, during this period, the “boombat” is set alone in secluded and darksome places, and all around him the men make hideous noises, at which he must not betray the least sign of fear. At some part of the ceremony a sacred wand is shown to him. Of this Ridley says:-
“This old man, Billy, told me, as a favour, what other blacks had withheld as a mystery too sacred to be disclosed to a white man, that “Dhurumbulum”, a stick or wand, is exhibited at the Bora, and that the sight of it inspires the initiated with manhood. This sacred wand was the gift of “Baiamai”. The ground on which the Bora is celebrated is Baiamai’s ground. Billy believes the Bora will be kept up always all over the country; such was the command of Baiamai.
Another conspicuous part of the inner Bora customs is the knocking out of one or more of the upper front teeth of the “boombat”. This is effected by a smart blow on a wooden punch applied to the teeth. But the older and more correct way seems to have been for one of the old men to apply his lower teeth to the upper front teeth of the young man; if that failed, the mallet and punch were used.”
On one occasion says my friend,
“a black boy in our service came back to us from the Bora; I observed that his tooth was not out, and I asked him why? “Oh”, said he “Old Boney no good; he tried three times and nearly broke his own teeth; and so he gave it up.”
As to the tooth itself, one account says that it is given to the lad’s mother, and she afterwards burns it; another says that it is conveyed from one sub-tribe to another until it has made the circuit of the whole tribe; on its return, it is given to the owner or kept by the head man. This tooth-breaking, however, is not practiced by some of the larger tribes; but, instead of it, there is circumcision or the cutting of the hair.
All these formalities being now completed, the “boombats” probation is at an end. They now proceed, all of them together, to some large waterhole, and, jumping in, men and boys, they wash off the colouring matter from their bodies, amid much glee and noise and merriment, and when they have come out of the water they paint themselves white.
Meanwhile, the women who have been called to resume their attendance, have kindled a large fire not far off, and are lying around it, with their faces on the ground and their bodies covered as at first; the two old men who were the original initiators bring the boy at a run towards the fire, followed by all the others, with voices indeed silent, but making a noise by beating their “boomerangs” together; the men join hands and form a ring round the fire, and one old man runs round the inside of the ring beating a shield. A woman, usually the boy’s own mother, then steps within the ring, and, catching him under the arms, lifts him from the ground once, sets him down, and then retires; every man present, the boy included, now jumps upon the decaying embers until the fire is extinguished.
In corroboration of all this, I give the following statement made to me by a friend who, from his boyhood was familiar with the Kurringgai tribe and its habits:-
“After the ceremonies at the upper circle are completed the men remove to a flat piece of ground along way off. Here a fire has been kindled at a distance of perhaps 100 yards, from a deep watercourse, in which a considerable number of blacks can hide. The “boombat”, that is, the newly initiated lad, is carried to this spot blindfolded, and he is persuaded that he gets there by flying through the air; “ but said one to me, “I looked out from under my bandage and saw I was not flying.”
The fire in the flat is a large one; it has been kindled early in the morning and the “jins” seat themselves on an elevated slope near by as spectators of what is to follow. A [favoured] few of their white friends, may also sit among them. After a while, a party of men, painted white, red and yellow, emerge from their concealment in the ravine, and run into view from one quarter, and advance towards the fire; all the while each man beats together two weapons in rhythm, two “boomerangs” or a spear and a bumerang; or a spear and a club, and so on. They come in a single file to the sound of this music, and when near the fire, they move in an in till they form a complete circle around it; they then face inwards, making a loud crashing noise simultaneously – and disperse. Upon this, another band, from another quarter, similarly come in and do likewise. When all the bands have thus encompassed the fire in succession, the “jins” arise, descend from the heights, and lay themselves prone in a circle round the fire, and are carefully covered up with cloaks, blankets and the like; they dare not look up, for several blacks with spears in their hands are running round outside the circle of prostrate women, ready to kill them if they dare to look. A white woman, who, on one occasion, had come with her black servant to see the sights was compelled to go and lie down also. When the women are all properly placed, a band of blacks, perhaps a hundred in number, with the “boombats” among them, suddenly come out of the ravine. The “boombats” have had their hair cut short, and can be thus recognised. All the men in this band have weapons in their two hands, and strike them together as before, but their weapons, their bodies, and their hair are all painted white. They too approach the fire shouting, “boom”, “boom”, “boom”, and moving their bodies to and fro, as in a “karabari” dance. When they have formed themselves into a compete circle, they join hands, and move around the fire two or three times. The women are still lying on the ground between the circle and the fire. They now rise up at command, and with head bent, they pass outwards under the outstretched arms. Then the men in white – “white as cockatoos” – take hold of the “boombats”, rush in, all leap upon the fire, which, by this time, has died down considerably, raising a column of smoke and dust, until the fire is wholly stamped out. The men in white now take the “boombats” back to the ravine, and leave them there in charge of two or three relatives. The men in white return to their post, and the previous performers, with the party – coloured bodies, rush in upon the white men, a general conflict ensues – apparently a real fight, for “boomerangs” and other weapons are thrown about – but this does not last long.
After all this is over, the two men – the father and the [male] perhaps – to whom the “boombats” were committed take them away into the thick forest, and keep them there for many weeks, training them, and testing their fitness for tribal occupations. When the young man is at last allowed to join his kindred, he is address as “Boombat”, and does not get his tribal name till some time after.
Thus ends the ceremonies of the Bora. The youth becomes a man; for his initiation and his instruction are over. But, although these formalities observed in admitting a youth into the tribe, yet, in the Bora, as in freemasonry, the novice does not become a full member all at once, but must pass through several grades, and these are obtained by attending a certain number of Boras.
Now when I cast my eye over the Bora and its regulated forms, I feel myself constrained to ask, “What does all this mean?” For one cannot believe that the Bora, with all its solemnities – for the rites were sacred, and the initiated were bound not to divulge what they had seen and done – is a meaningless, self developed thing.
I prefer to see it a symbolism covering ancestral beliefs, a symbolism intelligible enough to the white race at first, but now little understood and yet superstitiously observed by their Australian descendants.
Gionni Di Gravio
30th January 2015