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When we celebrate Captain Cook’s voyage, let’s mark the epic journey of a Wati Wati man also



File 20190320 93048 u83ct.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Nicholas Chevalier, Mallee scrub, Murray River, NSW, watercolour, 1871.
National Library of Australia

Stephen Morey, La Trobe University

By now, most of us would know that 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s voyage along the East Coast of Australia. The federal government has allocated $48.7 million to commemorate the occasion, with a replica of Cook’s HMB Endeavour to circumnavigate the country.

But at the time of the voyage, Indigenous Australians often travelled great distances too, with most of those journeys being unrecorded. One that was, however, was the journey of Weitchymumble, a man of the Wati Wati (Wadi Wadi) from the Murray River around Swan Hill who travelled by foot across the dry regions of northwest Victoria around 200 kilometres to Lake Hindmarsh and back. He endured extreme heat, food shortages and exhaustion during this trek.

Back in 1877, Peter Beveridge, a squatter on the Murray River, published an article detailing Weitchymumble’s journey in the Ballarat Star. It had been told to him by Turrangin, a senior elder of the Wati Wati, who was Weitchymumble’s great-grandson.

We don’t know exactly when this happened, but Turrangin did tell us a little about the timing (Beveridge included words in the Wati Wati language in brackets):

When my cokernew (grandfather) was but a very small boy, long before the turrawil ngurtangies (white devils) came with their numberless stock to overrun the country, and drive away the teeming game, from whence the Woortongies (aborigines) drew their food supply […] his father, then quite a young man, was deputed by the tribe to accompany the Ngalloo Watow to the far Wimmera on tribal business.

The Ngalloo Watow was described by Beveridge as a “postman”, who carried news and conducted barters, able to travel “with impunity”.

At the time of the journey Turrangin’s grandfather was perhaps aged 10. Since Turrangin was a senior elder when he told the story to Beveridge in the 1850s, he might have been born around 1810. His grandfather might then have been a boy around 1770, the same time as Cook’s journey.

A journey through a land of plenty

Weitchymumble’s name means “welcome swallow”. The late Luise Hercus, a linguist who recorded many Indigenous languages, heard this word 50 years ago spoken by Mrs Jackson Stuart, one of the last to speak the Werkaya (Wimmera) language as a mother tongue. Hercus spelled it “wity-wity-mambel”.




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How Captain Cook became a contested national symbol


We don’t know what the business of Weitchymumble’s trip with the Ngalloo Watow was, but it started in the spring, “the season of peetchen-peetchen (flowers), when the whole country was glowing with bloom”. They reached Lake Hindmarsh after “a long weary tramp of many days”.

After a bath and meal of wallup (sleeping lizard), they were spotted by scouts of the Wimmera tribe, who:

fraternised after the fashion of the Aborigines prior to the advent of European customs; […] they walked up to the fire, squatted down by its side without saying one word, until the time (which was considerable) had expired which Australian savage etiquette demands on these occasions. After that, however, they talked fast enough […]

Returning from Lake Hindmarsh in heat described as having “the fervency of a wean chirrick (a reed bed on fire)”, soon they had run short of water and food when they came upon the nest of a lowan, or Mallee Fowl. Lowan is one of the few words from an Indigenous Victorian language borrowed into English.

In the Lowan’s nest, they found “politulu murnangin mirk” (eggs to the number of the fingers on both hands). The Ngalloo Watow made fire “by rubbing a narrow lath-like piece of saltbush across a sun crack in a pine log” then set the eggs on the sand until they simmered, stirring them with a thin twig, through an opening at the top end. When cooked there was a rich yellow paste of yolk and white mixed, the taste was “talko” (good).

Ebenezer Edward Gostelow, The Mallee fowl (or lowan), watercolour, 1939.
National Library of Australia

But, within a few days, they were again short of food when they saw a sleeping “little old man” threatened by a mindi (large snake). Weitchymumble immediately dashed, grabbed the snake, rescued the old man from it, cut off the snake’s head and then collapsed from exhaustion.

Seeing Weitchymumble lying, the old man exclaimed “”Niniwoor wortongie birra. Yetty tumla coorrongendoo. Ka ki nginma. Boorm.” (Ah, the young man is dead. I shall cry very much. Come here you. Quickly.) These words are the longest single piece of continuous written text in this language.

Weitchymumble was carried into a large conical stone, where the old man gave him a special drink and he revived. The old man turned out to be the Ngowdenout, the “spirit of the Mallee”. As Beveridge wrote: “He is both good and bad by turns […] all-seeing, all-powerful, and unvulnerable to everything earthly.”

Because Weitchymumble had acted to save the old man, the Ngowdenout was good to both the travellers, providing them with food and then when they were sleeping, disappearing. When they woke, the stone was nowhere to be seen but a clear path for them to return home had been marked out.




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Beveridge concludes the story by noting that “the story of the Ngowdenout and his coorongandoo muckie loondhal (big stone house) is as fresh in the memory of the Watty Watty tribe as it was the day after Weitchymumble and his companion had related it”.

While the Ngowdenout is perhaps a mythical entity, at the core of this story is a real journey. It tells of a land of plenty, of Indigenous tribes meeting and interacting in their own customs’ manners, and of ways of life, like the method of cooking eggs. Such journeys would have happened regularly, but this is the only one from Victoria recorded in such detail.

Along with the Cook voyage, then, in 2020 let’s honour Weitchymumble’s journey and the people of the inland.The Conversation

Stephen Morey, Senior Lecturer, Department of Languages and Linguistics, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Today in History: 29 April 1770


Australia: New South Wales – Captain Cook Discovers Botany Bay

On this day in 1770, Captain James Cook and the HMS Endeavour arrived at Botany Bay (named Stingray Bay at first, because of the large number of stingrays spotted), which Cook later named Botany Bay because of the abundance of plants found and collected there by Sir Joseph Banks and Dr. Daniel Solander, botanists on the voyage.

For more visit:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botany_Bay


Today in History: 10 April 1912


The Titanic Sets Off On its Maiden Voyage

On this day in 1912, the Titanic leaves port in Southampton, England on her doomed voyage across the North Atlantic.

For more, visit:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Titanic


Today in History: 18 January 1778


Captain James Cook: First European to Discover the Hawaiian Islands

Captain James CookOn his third voyage of discovery, Captain James Cook commanding the HMS Resolution (accompanied by the HMS Discovery), became the first European to discover the Hawaiian Islands (which he called the ‘Sandwich Islands’). This occurred on the 18th January 1778.

On the very same day, the First Fleet arrived at Botany Bay (Australia) – an area of ‘New Holland‘ discovered by James Cook during his first voyage of discovery.


Today in History: 17 January 1773


Captain James Cook: First European Below the Antarctic Circle

Captain James CookOn his second voyage of discovery, Captain James Cook (with his crew) became the first European to cross below the Antarctic Circle. Cook was in command of the HMS Resolution, which was accompanied by the HMS Adventure at the time of the crossing.

During this second voyage, Cook never reached the Antarctic mainland. The purpose of this voyage was to find the supposed great southern land mass known as the Terra Australis. He had already discovered what was to become known as Australia during his first voyage, but a greater land mass was thought to lie further to the south.


Today in History – 28 April 1789


William Bligh: Mutiny on the Bounty

William Bligh was born on the 9th September 1754 to Francis and Jane Bligh in St Tudy, Cornwall. He was signed up for a career in the Royal Navy when aged 7 in 1761.

In 1776, Bligh was with Captain James Cook as Sailing Master on the Resolution for Cook’s third and final voyage during which Cook was killed. Following this Bligh served on various ships and saw military action at a number of locations including Gibraltar in 1782.

In 1787 Bligh was made commander of the Bounty. On this day in 1789, the mutiny on the Bounty took place. The mutiny was led by Fletcher Christian, Master’s Mate. Bligh and a large number of the crew were provided with a ship’s launch and a small amount of provisions and Bligh made for Timor (from near Tonga). The journey was completed in 47 days and covered a remarkable distance of 6 700km.

It is thought that the mutiny took place in order to escape from the hardline discipline of Bligh and to escape to the island pleasures of Tahiti. Evidence would suggest that Bligh was far more easy going than other captains, though the future ‘mutiny’ in Sydney (see below) would suggest otherwise. Bligh was treated well in the court-martial and was acquitted.

From the Bounty, Bligh served in various roles, including Governor of New South Wales from the 13th August 1806 to the 26th January 1808. His post ended with the Rum Rebellion, which essentially was an on land mutiny by the New South Wales Corps under Major George Johnston. He succeeded Philip Gidley King and was replaced by Lachlan Macquarie.

Bligh’s rise through the ranks of the Royal Navy continued until he was appointed Vice Admiral of the Blue in 1814, though he never again received an active command. He died on the 7th December 1817.

As an interesting side point, the current premier of Queensland (Anna Bligh) is a descendant of William Bligh.

 


Today in History – 20 April 1770


Captain James Cook: Off the East Coast of New Holland

Captain James Cook had already made a name for himself in Canada with the Royal Navy during the Seven Years’ War prior to his first voyage of discovery. In 1766, the Royal Society hired Captain Cook to travel to the Pacific Ocean in order to observe and record the passing of Venus across the sun in Tahiti. It was on his return journey to England, having completed his primary mission and having mapped New Zealand by circumnavigation, that he and his crew decided to return via the east coast of New Holland.

The Endeavour reached the south-east coast of Australia on the 19th April 1770. On the 20th April Cook was off the east coast of what is now known as New South Wales. By doing so, he became the first European to discover and observe the east coast of New Holland (Australia). On the 23rd April 1770 he made his first observations of Australian Aborigines. On the 29th April Captain Cook made his famous landing at Botany Bay, which he named after the unique plant specimens found there by botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander.

 


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