17 March

Journal, March 17

I put the party in movement towards Buree and rode across the country on
our right with Piper. We found the earth parched and bare but, as we
bounded over hill and dale a fine cool breeze whispered through the open
forest, and felt most refreshing after the hot winds of Sydney. Dr.
Johnson’s Obidah was not more free from care on the morning of his
journey than I was on this, the first morning of mine. It was also St.
Patrick’s day, and in riding through the bush I had leisure to recall
past scenes and times connected with the anniversary. I remembered that
exactly on that morning, twenty-four years before, I marched down the
glacis of Elvas to the tune of St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning as the
sun rose over the beleaguered towers of Badajoz. Now, without any of the
pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war, I was proceeding on a
service not very likely to be peaceful, for the natives here assured me
that the Myalls were coming up murry coola, i.e. very angry, to meet us.

At Buree I rejoined my friend Rankin who had accompanied me from Bathurst
to the camp, and Captain Raine who occupied this place with his cattle. A
hundred sheep and five fat oxen were to be furnished by this gentlemen to
complete my commissariat supplies.


In the evening the blacks, having assembled in some numbers, entertained

us with a corrobory, their universal and highly original dance. (See

Plate.) Like all the rest of the habits and customs of this singular race

of wild men, the corrobory is peculiar and, from its uniformity on every

shore, a very striking feature in their character. The dance always takes

place at night, by the light of blazing boughs, and to time beaten on

stretched skins, accompanied by a song.* The dancers paint themselves

white, and in such remarkably varied ways that no two individuals are at

all alike. Darkness seems essential to the effect of the whole; and the

painted figures coming forward in mystic order from the obscurity of the

background, while the singers and beaters of time are invisible, have a

highly theatrical effect. Each dance seems most tastefully progressive;

the movement being at first slow, and introduced by two persons

displaying graceful motions both of arms and legs, others one by one join

in, each imperceptibly warming into the truly savage attitude of the

corrobory jump; the legs then stride to the utmost, the head is turned

over one shoulder, the eyes glare and are fixed with savage energy all in

one direction, the arms also are raised and inclined towards the head,

the hands usually grasping waddies, boomerangs, or other warlike weapons.

The jump now keeps time with each beat, the dancers at every movement

taking six inches to one side, all being in a connected line, led by the

first. The line however is sometimes doubled or tripled according to

space and numbers; and this gives great effect, for when the front line

jumps to the LEFT, the second jumps to the RIGHT, the third to the LEFT

again, and so on; until the action acquires due intensity, when all

simultaneously and suddenly stop. The excitement which this dance

produces in the savage is very remarkable. However listless the

individual may be, laying perhaps, as usual, half asleep; set him to this

dance, and he is fired with sudden energy, and every nerve is strung to

such a degree that he is no longer to be recognised as the same person

until he ceases to dance, and comes to you again. There can be little

doubt that the corrobory is the medium through which the delights of

poetry are enjoyed, in a limited degree, even by these primitive savages

of New Holland.

(*Footnote. To this end they stretch a skin very tight over the knees,

and thus may be said to use the tympanum in its rudest form, this being

the only instance of a musical instrument that I have seen among them.

Burder says: “By the timbrels which Miriam and the other women played

upon when dancing, we are to understand the tympanum of the ancient

Greeks and Romans, which instrument still bears in the East the name that

it is in Hebrew, namely, doff or diff, whence is derived the Spanish

adufe, the name of the Biscayan tabor. Niebuhr describes this instrument

in his Travels Part 1 page 181. It is a broad hoop, with a skin stretched

over it; on the edge there are generally thin round plates of metal,

which also make some noise when this instrument is held up in one hand

and struck with the fingers of the other hand. Probably no musical

instrument is so common in Turkey as this; for when the women dance in

the harem the time is always beat on this instrument. We find the same

instrument on all the monuments in the hands of the Bacchante. It is also

common among the negroes of the Gold Coast and Slave Coast.” Oriental

Customs Volume 1.)