Chapter 1. Cultural Mutation
Sheila Carter sat on a ridge overlooking their extensive farmland. It all looked familiar but there was something about it that just didn’t seem to satisfy her soul. Sheila was a mixed-race aboriginal. Well that was how she thought of herself. Her soft creamy brown skin and jet-black hair shone in the sunlight to remind her of the part of her that belonged to a proud ancient race. She loved her father, she hated her father in a complicated mix of emotions.
Neville Carter was the son of a settler who’d been granted rights to the land to clear and farm in pioneer days. Carter had been a free settler who’d scraped up enough to get a cheap deck passage to this new land where rumour had it people made their fortunes and returned to England considerably elevated in status because of their wealth, but never accepted on the level of British aristocracy. The privileged by birth found them useful to try and exploit their wealth when they ran out of money through their impossible to maintain lifestyle. So, they were grudgingly inducted into their clubs where they attempted to exploit them. It was only when Australians began buying into their previously untouchable assets the underground war began to target them. Jealousy is a curse when privileged bankrupt meets neo-wealth.
What Neville’s young father eventually learned was the land was mostly bountiful, but sometimes cruel in extracting labour, then through fire, drought and floods destroying what had been built up by blood, sweat and tears. The real heroes were pioneer women who braved these experiences working beside their husbands and birthing the next generation under appalling conditions. Most new settlers eked out a living and stayed on to bequeath their improvements to children, many died or abandoned their lands to seek work in the emerging new towns and cities of this ancient land Terra Australis.
The aboriginal tribes saw things differently. Each tribe had clearly demarked boundaries. No, there were no fences or property ownership pegs driven into the ground it was just common knowledge that passing memorized rocks trees or streams took one into another tribal territory. Back in dream time some of those tribes had descended from common ancestors, but some were from other ancestral family streams scattered around this island continent. Related or not, there could be occasional disagreements that bought tribes into conflict and some died. By and large the boundaries were respected.
So, it was that when settlers came with so called legal titles granted by the colonialists and began to fence properties those tribes rallied against their common invading enemy. No foreigner with their ghost skin should be permitted to fence off their territories. Spears were pitted against guns, and the guns won!
But there were among the ghost skins some who understood these ancient people had rights to the land that check mated their legal documents. They shared the land’s resources and protected this ancient people from their fellow countrymen. Over time in these limited situations trust and respect grew. The aboriginal people came to realize their fate was in the hands of the ghost skins. Some trekked to territories far away from emerging settlements choosing conflict with their own to annihilation by the ghost skins. Some camped in some of their familiar places among more friendly ghost skins. Limited hunting grounds being restricted to friendly settler farms and diseases of the ghost skins began to decimate their populations along with the cruel hunting down by settlers whose farm animals were sampled by the tribes as native wildlife was forced out of settled areas.
Old Joseph Carter, Neville’s father was one of the more human settlers. He learned the local aboriginal dialect, respected their tribal leaders and worked with them as he developed property given him by ghost skin rulers. It was understood his protected native tribe could appropriate livestock on special occasions and old Joseph joined in their celebrations being formally inducted into their tribe. Any tribal on the run was welcomed onto his property, it was one of those rare points of conflict with the local tribe who had a problem accepting members of tribes which were traditional enemies. These grudges were ancient. One or two fleeing from the ghost skins were murdered by the local tribe for that reason. Old Joseph remonstrated with the elders who politely pointed to the murders sanctioned against tribes by his own tribe the ghost skins. Old Joseph kept his peace after that and left it to the elders to decide these things. After a while some of the ghost skins who’d been prevented by old Joseph from retrieving those being hunted and having shotgun pellets in their backsides when they were not fast enough off his property began to turn townspeople against him. So old Joe avoided the town and went native becoming largely self-sufficient with ample water and a bountiful land.
Neville grew up in that environment. His education was in bush survival, his teachers the elders of the tribe. His mother, a Cockney transplant from London was one of the last women to arrive on a convict ship and gratefully accepted being assigned to old Joe as a convict wife. She taught Neville English, but it was more a second language to him as he grew up. It was used in the home, but in his larger social interactions he spoke tribal as fluently as the locals. Night times were spent down by the river with his father and the tribes people. The tribe helped maintain livestock and sometimes helped with crops. The tribal people expected no wages, that was a foreign concept to them. They viewed the property as theirs and Old Joe and his family as guests and protectors. It was a society of mutual benefit in a threatening new world.
As Neville grew to manhood the elders noticed his attraction to one of the tribal girls and discussed this among themselves. Where would this lead? What would be the reaction of old Joe their protector should he find out? They decided to remove the girl to some of their relatives who’d fled west as settlements grew. Occasionally one of their relatives would melt through the extending reach of the ghost skins to suddenly appear in camp giving news of the split tribe and urging their local relatives to trek west with them. It was dangerous to migrate as a tribe, but he could spirit them through in smaller groups over time if they agreed.
But with the close connection between elders and old Joe it was inevitable the plan would come to his attention. Old Joe shrugged it off. He was not in favour of the tribe moving west, they were the only family he had now, and he needed them more for their moral support than their labour. Old Joe talked with Neville, it was unlikely the ghost skins in town would give one of their girls to his son now, did he want to have a tribal wife? Neville was just eighteen and the girl fourteen. It seemed a natural thing for Neville. Old Joe sent one of his prime beef cattle to the elders with the proposal and the marriage ceremony was arranged. Neville’s mother was horrified, she was thinking of the trauma her grandchildren would have to go through making their way in a white society. But above those protests the marriage went ahead.
To be continued.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2018 All rights reserved”
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