July 27, 2007

10 January 1807 by Elizabeth Macarthur

Ben-ni-long's brother

When we first arrived here, seventeen years ago this year, Mr. Collins who was then the Judge-Advocate (and went on to govern Van Diemen's Land), introduced John and I to several of the native people, including of course Ben-ni-long. He also introduced his own namesake - Collins - and suggested to John that he too might like to "adopt" one native, as he had done. Well, John chose instead to maintain friendships with many of the local people. When we built our house, we used shells from the substantial mounds that line Duck Creek to make the lime for mortar: these mounds surely are evidence enough that the natives have lived here since time out of mind. Every year around this time many natives from around the Cumberland Plains congregate along the river side, where there are many ducks and bats and the thin tough roots called "darug" that they love to eat so much. Almost invariably we discover their presence when the first naked natives arrive at the fence, calling out for bread, and John has ordered 20 dozen loaves to be delivered here every second day for the next fortnight. Generally, if the women call out I'll greet them and pass over supplies, but not usually when the men call, but today was different. Of all the natives, one man in particular has been our friend, introduced originally as Ben-ni-long's "brother", although we now understand that to be a rather nominal relationship, and in fact he is the son of Maugoran, a man who lived just to the west of the Government Farm at Rose Hill. Ben-ni-long and he now share a campsite - the word in their language is "ngura", meaning "where I live" - situated on the northern bank of the harbour, opposite Arrowanlly. John understands that the "wan" in the place name Arrowanlly - the name refers to the sand flats down from Duck River - is also the distinguishing name for the people who live there, as Ben-ni-long describes himself as "wan-gal", meaning man of Wan, I think. Today, Bidgee-bidgee called out "Misses Elisabet" from the fence, and I took him bread. As I tell my English correspondents, although without clothes, they are not precisely naked, as they stand and sit in attitudes that disguise their lack of clothes. And wearing clothes, as Ben-ni-long and Bidgee-bidgee will do when passing through the Town, can somehow seem less natural. Bidgee-bidgee said to me that Ben-ni-long will be along soon; the phrase he uses is "by and by", and in exchange for my gift of bread, he gave a short club to me, saying "good for yurong", meaning it could be thrown at the ducks along the creek, to provide food. If the children can find no use for it, I'll package it and send it Home, where such items are esteemed as curiosities.

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