The Aboriginal Mother [song by Eliza Hamilton Dunlop, 15 October 1841]

[Editor: A song published in The Sydney Herald, 15 October 1841. This song was based upon a poem by Eliza Hamilton Dunlop, set to music by Isaac Nathan. There are some significant differences between the song and the original poem.]

The Aboriginal Mother.

“Only one female and her child got away from us.”
Evidence before the Supreme Court.

On, hush thee, hush, my baby, I may not tend thee yet,
Our forest land is distant far, and midnight-star is set,
Now hush thee, or the pale-faced men will hear thy piercing wail,
And what would then thy mother’s tears or feeble strength avail.

Ah, could thy little bosom that mother’s anguish feel,
Or couldst thou know thy father lies struck down by English steel,
Thy tender form would wither, like the kniven on the sand,
And the spirit of my perish’d tribe would vanish from our land.

For thy young life, my precious, I fly the fields of blood,
Else I had, for my chieftain’s sake, defied them where they stood;
But basely bound, my woman arm, no weapon might it wield,
I could but cling round him I loved, to make my heart his shield.

I saw my first-born treasure lie headless at my feet,
The gooroo on his mother’s breast with his life’s stream is wet;
And thou, I snatch’d thee from their sword, it harmless pass’d by thee,
But clave the binding cords, and gave the coward boon — to flee.

To flee, my babe! but whither, without our friend, our guide?
The blood that was our strength is shed — he is not by my side.
Thy sire! oh! never never can Toonboohra hear our cry,
My bold, my stately mountain bird! I thought not he could die.

Now, who will teach thee, dearest, to poise the shield and spear,
To wield the koopin, or to throw the boomerang void of fear,
To breast the river in its might, the mountain tracks to tread?
The echoes of my homeless heart reply, “the dead! the dead!”

For ever must their murmurs, like the ocean torrent, flow, —
The parted voice comes never back to cheer our lonely woe;
E’en in the region of our tribe, beside our summer streams,
’Tis as a hollow symphony from the shadow-land of dreams.

Nay, hush thee, dear; for weary and faint I bear thee on
His name is on thy gentle lips; my child, my child, he’s gone!
Gone o’er the golden fields that lie beyond the rolling cloud,
To bring thy people’s murder-cry before the Christian’s God.

Yes, o’er the stars that guide us, he leads my slaughter’d boy,
To show their God how treacherously these stranger men destroy;
To tell of hands — the cruel hands — that piled the fatal pyre,
To show our blood on Myab’s ridge, our bones on the stockman’s fire.

The above lines are from the pen of Mrs. Dunlop of the Wollombi, who sent them to Mr. Nathan; they have been set to music by that gentlemen, and will be sung at his approaching concert by Miss Nathan with full orchestral accompaniment. The words are pathetic, and display much poetic feeling, but they ascribe to the aboriginal woman words that might have been used by a North American Indian, but which our very slight acquaintance with the natives of this colony would enable any one to say never issued from the mouth of the woman who escaped from the New England massacre for which, we may remark, seven men were executed in Sydney. The lines will no doubt be copied in England where they are almost sure to be popular.

The Sydney Herald (Sydney, NSW), 15 October 1841, p. 2

Editor’s notes:
The song has various minor differences, compared to the poem version, especially in the last part of the final stanza.

clave = past tense of “cleave” (to split, part, or divide, such as by a cutting blow by an axe or sword)

e’en = a contracted form of “even”

kniven = (Danish, Norwegian, Swedish) knife

koopin = (also spelt as “koo-pin”) a wooden instrument “used for warding-off spears, and also to hinder the flight of an opponent” [see: R. H. Mathews, Notes on the Aborigines of New South Wales, Sydney: Government of New South Wales, 1907, pages 20-21]

o’er = over (pronounced the same as “oar”, “or”, and “ore”)

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