January 1, 1906
Birds form an important article of food in all parts of Australia, the most important being the emu, turkey, duck, pigeon, and various kinds of cockatoo.
The Natives of Australia
Birds form an important article of food in all parts of Australia, the most important being the emu, turkey, duck, pigeon, and various kinds of cockatoo. Some of the methods of capturing these and other birds are sublimely simple ; in New South Wales, Angas tells us, a native would stretch himself on a rock in the sun, a piece of fish in his hand ; this would attract the attention of a bird of prey, which the black would promptly seize by the leg as soon as it tried to carry off the fish. In the same way water-fowl were taken by swimming out under water and pulling them beneath the surface, or, with a little more circumstance, by noosing them with a slender rod, the head of the fowler being covered with weeds as he swam out to his prey, which he dragged beneath the water; as soon as he had the bird in his hand he broke its neck, thrust it into his girdle, and was ready for another victim. Shags and cormorants more often rest on stakes than on the surface of the water ; accordingly, on the Lower Murray, stakes were set up for them ; the native swam out with his noose and snared them as before. During dark nights they drove shags from their resting-places, catching them as they tried to settle, and receiving in the process severe bites from the terrified birds. Almost equally simple was the method of taking black swans in West Australia. At the moulting season young men lay in ambush on the banks till the birds had got too far away from deep water to be able to swim off; then they ran round them and cut off their retreat. The West Australians would also kill a bird as it flew from its nest ; one man creeping up threw his spear so as to wound it slightly as it sat, and the other brought it down with his missile club as it flew off. Boldest of all, perhaps, is the method of taking turkey bustards in Queensland ; the fowler hangs a moth or a grasshopper, sometimes even a small bird, to the end of a rod, on which is also a noose. With a bush in front of him he creeps up to his prey, which is fascinated by the movements of the animal on the rod ; as soon as the black is near enough he slips the noose over its head and secures it. In the Boulia district pelicans are taken from ambushes ; the fowler throws shells some distance into the water, attracting the bird, which thinks the splashes are made by fish rising ; then the black pats the water with his fingers, to mimic the splashing of fish on the surface, the pelican swims round and presently falls a victim to the boomerang, or is captured by hand. The Torres Straits pigeon is taken by simply throwing any ordinary stick into the flock, as it passes down to the foreshore at no great distance from the ground ; or it may be knocked down in a more elaborate way. The flocks take the same path every night, and a high bushy tree is selected which lies in their path ; the black holds in his hands a thin switch, some fifteen feet long, which is tied to his wrist to prevent it from being accidentally dropped ; he himself is lashed to the tree to prevent accidents ; and when the pigeons come past he sweeps at them, generally bagging a fair number. On Hinchinbrook Island, the roosting-trees were known to the natives. They prepared fires beneath in the daytime ; when the pigeons had retired to rest, the fires were lighted and down came the birds. On the Tully the black observes on what trees the cockatoos roost. Then he makes fast to a suitable branch a long lawyer cane, which reaches to the ground ; at night he mounts this, holding on by his first and second toes when he moves his hands; slung round his neck he carries a long thin stick ; and with this he knocks the birds down as soon as he is within reach of them. Small cockatoos and other birds are also captured with bird-lime, which is spread not only on the branches on which they roost, but also on the young blossoms. The swamp pheasant is taken on its nest by means of a net ; in Gippsland they are taken on the nest by hand. The boomerang is a very effective weapon in a large flock of birds. Grey describes how they are knocked down with the kyli at night ; wounded birds are used as decoys ; for these birds seem to be much attached to each other. One is fastened to a tree, and its cries bring some of its companions to its aid. In Victoria and South Australia wickerwork erec- tions were made for the birds to settle on ; near them the black lay in ambush, his noose ready, and attracted his prey by imitating their calls. Emus are powerful birds, weighing perhaps 130 lbs,, and they are not so easily captured. Strong nets, sometimes fifty yards in length, are often employed to take them. The hunter notes the track by which the bird visits a water-hole, and sets up his net some thirty or forty yards behind it, the operation taking no more than five minutes ; when it returns, its flight is prevented by stationing men at possible avenues of escape, the hunters rush out and the bird is entangled in the net or knocked over with boomerangs or nulla- nullas. Sometimes an alley was built, broad at the entrance and narrowing continually, till it ended in a net ; near the opening, midway between the ends, the hunter concealed himself and imitated the call of the bird ; this he does by means of a hollow log, some two or three feet long, from which the inside core has been burnt. Holding this close to the ground over a small excavation, he makes a sort of drumming sound ; the emu struts past the men in ambush, and is easily driven into the net. Emu pits are dug, either singly or in combination ; near the feeding-grounds sometimes they are combined with a fence, opposite the openings of which they are placed, with a large central pit, in which are ambushed three or four blacks to call the birds. The emu is hunted with dogs or surrounded by the whole of a black camp ; it may also be speared by stalking it. The hunter rubs himself with earth to get rid of any smell from the body ; then with bushes in front of him and a collar-like head-dress in some parts, he makes for the bird. Young cassowaries are often run down. Ducks are often taken by stretching a long net across a river or lagoon ; the ends are fixed in the trees or on posts ; and one or more men go up-stream at a distance from the river, and then drive the birds down. At a suitable distance from the net they are frightened and caused to rise ; then a native whistles like the duck-hawk, and a piece of bark is thrown into the air to imitate the flight of the hawk ; at this the flock dips and many are caught in the net. For this mode of cap- ture four men are required. Ducks are also stalked and speared, or snared by fixed nooses set in the swamps, according to a statement of Morrell's, which, however, he leaves us to infer the kind of bird caught in this way. Flock pigeons are taken by a method unlike any described. Their habits are noted, and a small arti- ficial water-hole made in the neighbourhood of their usual drinking-place ; near this the fowler conceals himself, with a net ten or twelve feet in length laid flat on the ground close to the water ; the lower edge is fixed to the ground by means of twigs, and along the whole length of the upper edge runs a thin curved stick, the end of which the black holds in his hand ; the pigeons sit on the water like ducks ; and as soon as a favourable opportunity presents itself, the fowler, with one movement of the arm, turns the net over and bags the unsuspecting birds. For scrub turkeys a series of lawyer cane hoops are set up with connecting strips ; this is baited in the morning with nuts, fruit, etc., and about sundown he takes up his position in his ambush some twelve feet away right in front of the opening ; as soon as the turkey walks in, the black rushes out and secures it. In West Australia birds were generally cooked by plucking them and throwing them on the fire ; but when they wished to dress a bird nicely they drew it and cooked the entrails separately, parts of them being considered great delicacies. A triangle was then formed round the bird by three red-hot pieces of stick against which ashes were placed ; hot coals were stuffed inside it, and it was served full of gravy on a dish of bark. In Victoria a sort of oven was made of heated stones on which wet grass was strewn ; the birds were placed on the grass and covered with it ; more hot stones were piled on and the whole covered with earth. In this way they were half stewed. An ingenious method of cook- ing large birds was to cover them with a coating of mud and put them on the fire; the mud-pie was covered with ashes and a big fire kept up till the dish was ready ; then the mud crust was taken off, the feathers coming with it, and a juicy feast was before the hungry black. The Austrah'an is by no means uncivilised ; he appreciates high game as much as any gourmet amongst us, but he enjoys it in a somewhat different way. The Cooper's Creek aborigines collect in a bladder the fat of an exceedingly high, not to say putrid pelican, and bake it in the ashes ; then each black has a suck at the bag, the contents of which are distinctly stronger than train-oil, and what runs out of the mouth is rubbed on the face ; thus nothing is wasted.