In his book, ‘Recollections of Squatting in Victoria’ which was written in 1883, Edward Curr says he knew each member of the Bangerang tribe. These are the people now known as the Yorta Yorta. This being the case he would certainly have met Nan Kitty, the mother of William Cooper. She would have been in her mid-to-late teens by the time he came along in 1841.
This however may have only been the Wongatpan and Towroonban tribes which he saw as the central tribes of the Bangerang collective of Tribes, or Nation, for want of a better word, where his Squatter Run was situated but also took in part of Wollithiga country on the southern side of the Murray River.
Curr lived there for around ten years, (from 1842 to 1851,) He lived with the people and had them working with him during that time. He went out on hunting expeditions with them and learnt a lot of their rituals and laws. It’s amazing to think he was allowed an insight to the Aboriginal tribes and how they lived in the area.
The Englishman experienced a couple of big corroborees, one of which was a marriage ceremony. A neighboring tribe, the Ngurai Illium or Ngooraillum, as Curr referred to them, were coming up to receive their promised wives and in return the Bangerang were giving their promised wives to them. They were having an exchange, I suppose, to keep the old marriage lines going.
He documented the way it was done at the time. He witnessed the whole ceremony and the big dance or corroboree that was held that night. He makes a point of saying it was a new dance, that was made up for this particular ceremony and if it was to be a successful dance and ceremony, that dance would then be taken on by the neighboring tribe who’d seen it and it would carry it on.
Curr writes in his Recollections of Squatting of his first contact with the Aboriginal people when he moved up to Tongala. He documented that three men approached the opposite side of the river to where he was and would set up his station. He was cutting fences and boards for the houses and things like that.
Three Aboriginal men came to the opposite side of the river and stopped to observe him and his workers.
One of his station hands had had some dealings with Aboriginals and knew enough broken English to converse and said to them, “What do you want?” and the reply was “We just want to come and have a look at you fullas.”
So, the station hand went back to Curr and said, “They just want to come and have a look at us. Is that alright?” Curr agreed.
Within half an hour they’d cut a bark canoe, came across the river, walked straight up to the fire, warmed themselves at the fire. Curr then motioned for them to sit down and have a talk with him. He called over his cook and told the cook to prepare a meal for his visitors, and said it should be double the portion that he would normally cook for him and his workers.
He was quite taken by how quick they could make a canoe and get across the river and seen the benefits of that.
Curr immediately thought, ‘with a craft like that, I could get my sheep across the river,’ so asked the Aboriginal Men if they could make him such a craft.
They immediately got up and cut a canoe, about 20 foot long that could hold so many sheep with their legs tied. They then helped Curr and the men get the sheep across the river so they could graze on the other side. The men also hung around to help in the building of yards and station housing.
So, straight away there was a mutual friendship and repoire that happened between Curr and the Aboriginal people of the area.
Make no mistake; Curr unashamedly says in his book that his main objective was to secure land for grazing. As much as he worked with the people, he was still there to secure grazing land for his sheep. The grazing would, of course, lead to devastating impact on the land and the traditional owners. But, in these early years, there is no known violence. Only a striving to be understood, it seems, from both sides.
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