Sunday, April 30, 2017

Things moved slower back before digital

From Great Australian Stories by Graham Seal. Page 104.

Seal's account is built around a newspaper article from July 5, 1834 in the Perth Gazette. Perth, as a settlement was then only five years old, a lonely outpost on the far western rim of one of Britains remotest colonies.

Starting with the Gazette's account:
The following we believe to be the substance of the information conveyed to the Government: about a week or ten days since, Tonguin and Weenat came to Parker's and gave him and his sons to understand, that they (Tonguin and Weenat) had recently learned from some of the northern tribes, (who appear to be indiscriminately referred to un the name of ayo men, or Weelmen) that a ship was wrecked ('boat broke') on the coast to the northward, about 30 (native) days walk from the Swan — that there was white money plenty lying on the beach for several yards, as thick as seed vessels under a red gum tree. On some article of brass being shewn, they said that was not like the colour of the money; but on a dollar being shewn, they recognized it immediately as the kind of money they meant: but laid the dollar on the ground and drawing a somewhat larger circle round it with the finger, said 'the money was like that'. They represented that the wreck had been seen six moons ago, and that all the white men were dead: none, as it is supposed, having been then seen by their informants, the Weelmen. They added that, at low water, the natives could reach the wreck, which had blankets (sails) flying about it: from which it is presumed that the supposed vessel may not have entirely lost her masts on first striking, and they stuck up three sticks in a manner which led Parker's sons to understand that the wreck they were attempting to describe had three masts, but Parker himself did not infer the same meaning.

A day or two after Tonguin's visit, Moiley Dibbin called at Parker's with further information on the same subject, but derived from the same distant source; namely, the Weelmen. Moiley had been informed by some of the latter that there were several white men, represented to be of very large stature, ladies and 'plenty piccaninnie' — that they were living in houses made of canvas and wood (pointing out these materials, among several shewn to him) that there are five such houses, two large and three small — that they are not on a river but on the open sea (`Gabby England come') — that the sea coast, at the site of the wreck, takes a bend easterly into an apparent bay (as described by Moiley on the ground) — that the spot where the white money is strewed on the beach is some (indefinite) distance from the spot where the houses are and more within the bay — that the gabby (surf) breaks with very great noise where the money is, and as it runs back, the Weelmen run forward and pick it up — that the white men gave the Weelmen some gentlemen's (white) biscuit, and the latter gave in return spears, shields, &c. — that they, Moiley, Tonguin, and Weenat, had never seen the wreck or the white men, and were afraid to go through the territories of the Weelmen, who are cannibals: but that they intend to go as far as the Waylo country, and then coo-ee to the Weelmen, who will come to meet them and give them some of the white money — and that the white men then could walk to the houses at the wreck in ten days — but though the word walk be used, there can be little doubt that Moiley alludes to a 'walk—on horseback'.
The prospect of rescuing white people from the aftermath of shipwreck and perhaps the depredations of the 'natives', together with the lure of money, electrified the small settlement. A few months before, some other Aborigines from the north had brought a few British coins into Perth, claiming that they had received them from the fearsome 'Wayl men'. This only increased people's eagerness to find out more, and plans were made for a boat to sail north in search of the wreck.

At this point, a local Aboriginal leader named Weeip enters the story. He had recently been outlawed for his resistance to colonial rule, and his son had been taken as, in effect, a hostage by the administra-tion of Governor James Stirling. Hoping to win his son back, Weeip volunteered to travel north to see what he could discover. He returned in early August, claiming he had been told by the northern people that there were definitely no survivors of the mysterious wreck, but that there was plenty of 'white money'. The settlers were sceptical, but the Governor released Weeip's son all the same in return for Weeip's promise of good behaviour. The Monkey returned in October, having found nothing but some worm-eaten teak and fir wreckage on reefs off Dirk Hartog Island.

Meanwhile, however, other odd stories had begun to circulate. In July, soon after the Perth Gazette' s first story on the 'wreck', some Aborigines reported that they had contact with a party of whites living about eighty kilometres inland from the Perth colony. As there was no known settlement at that distance from the colony, this was astounding news. Who these people might have been, if they ever existed, is a mystery. Although highly unlikely, it is conceivable that a group had landed unnoticed and trekked inland to settle in the wilds.

It was eventually determined that the shipwreck stories were old. They had been passed down from one generation to the next for perhaps a century or more. Stories passed on in this way tend to compress time spans. In this case, the 'broke boat' and the 'white money' did have a basis in fact, but that did not become clear until 1927, when the wreck of the Dutch East Indiaman Zuytdorp was first located. She had foundered in 1712 and perhaps thirty survivors had mysteriously disappeared into the continent's vast emptiness. The only evidence of their coming was the wreckage of their craft and a sandy bottom covered in silver coins - a scene that bore out the Aboriginal story of 1834.
A ship wrecks in 1712, news of the wreck is first conveyed to Europeans by Aborigines in 1834, and the event is not actually confirmed until 1927. Things moved slower back before digital.

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