Decay of the Aboriginal Race [poem, 19 December 1890]

Decay of the Aboriginal Race.

Prize Poem by Miss Robertson, Yarrawonga.

I wandered through a forest’s depths where giant gum trees thickly stood,
Until, beneath a tow’ring king, I paused in contemplative mood ;
For lo ! the fibrous bark was gone clean from one side the mighty base,
And deftly cut — the curving shape of trim canoe the eye could trace ;
And as the wind crept gently through the sighing branches overhead,
Methought that from the giant’s heart a voice came whisp’ring, and it said :—

“Seest thou upon my base this scar?
Oh ! deem it not a blemish there
For as a soldier, fresh from war,
I count it honor such to bear.
Long years have passed since that strange time
When dusky tribes oft wandered here —
Tall, straight-limbed youths, and men in prime
Of health and vigor. Year by year
They came and went, and came again,
As free as birds; the hand of care
Was all unknown, and want and pain
Seemed as agreed the race to spare.
Oft have I watched, when nights were chill,
The fire blaze high, and in its glow
The dancers stand, all mute and still,
Until the sudden signal low.
Then all would change: the dusky throng
In common impulse bent and swayed,
While slowly swelled the chanting song,
As swarthy limbs its spell obeyed.
And faster still the measure grew,
Fresh voices taking up the strain
And fleeter still the swift feet flew,
Now here, now there, now here again ;
And all the time the firelight blaze
Threw shadows quaint about the scene,
While overhead the smoky haze
Just veiled the stars and hung between
But time would fail were I to tell
Of all the scenes the seasons showed —
When summer moonbeams softly fell,
And winter fires no longer glowed ;
Or in the gentle days of spring,
How on the river margin there
The women came to fish and sing.
The men went out to hint and snare.
But lo ! a change, a shadow fell
Athwart the land, and peace had flown;
It needed not for words to tell —
The people’s very look had shown.
There came a day when all dispersed,
Save for a band, led by the king ;
They stood beneath these boughs, and cursed
The cause of all their suffering.
One of the band stepped forth and told
How farther south the tribes had fled,
And how the white man gained his hold,
And northwards yet his pow’r would spread.
’Twas then the king carved out his boat,
And launched with others on the stream ;
I watched them down the current float,
Illumined by the sunset gleam.
Another change! On yonder plain
The white man settled, and there sprang
To life a town ; the strife for gain
Began, and labor’s clamor rang.
I thought the blacks had fled the scene,
And meant no more to seek the place.
Years passed. The very spots grew green
Where fires were kindled by their race.
But I was wrong. I saw again
The same old tribe, the self-same king ;
But vice was following in their train,
And all the ills that vice can bring.
They camped upon the same old spot,
Their erstwhile youths now growing gray,
Their sons — upon the race a blot —
To drink and idleness a prey.
Their numbers thinned, their courage fled,
They cringed about in idle bands ;
They even stooped to beg their bread,
And take it from the white man’s hands ;
For few would work, and what they earned
They spent in drink, which drove them mad —
In short, the wretched tribe had learned
All they could learn of what is bad —
And this from those who should have taught
The noble worth of work and peace ;
But who have rather simply sought,
At other’s loss, their gains’ increase.
And would you see the end of all ?
Go, walk the outskirts of yon town ;
Know to the full the wretches’ fall —
See to what depths main can sink down !
Go, see the wretched camping ground,
The shivering frames crouched round the fire,
Dark vice on every visage found —
Go, loathe ! where one could once admire.
And this the remnant of that tribe
Who long ago roamed glad and free !
Go ! tell the tale to some brave scribe,
And bid him write it faithfully.
That men of honest heart may try
To raise their fellows, for although
Their nature cannot raise so high,
It need not sink so deeply low.”

Then silence fell. The gnarled old tree was motionless, the very leaves
Were still, and only far away I heard the wind, like one who grieves,
Low moaning ’mid the sombre pines. Between their tops I saw the gleam
Of fair Diana, and I knew that I had slept. But still my dream
Was all too true, and though kind hearts do what they can for Austral’s race,
’Tis seldom that the darkened mind the gospel’s message can embrace —
A feeble groping after light by feeble souls in sickly frame
And thinning numbers, till at length “Our Blacks” are nothing but a name.

The Euroa Advertiser (Euroa, Vic.) Friday 19 December 1890, page 3

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