The Native Tribes of Central Australia1

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THE sincere efforts of some of the Australian governments to protect the native tribes have met with oeminently satisfactory ethnographical results. It is only a few months ago that a highly meritorious work on the Queensland natives by Walter E. Roth was published by the Queensland Government, and we have now before us a very thorough work dealing with the native tribes oof Central Australia—the joint production of a professor of biology and a protector of aborigines. These gentlemen have spent many years in the study of their black friends, and have become initiated into those mysteries into which Grey, Gason, Fison and Howitt were the first to make headway. The book thus contains a considerable amount of information quite new to us, as well as other matter largely confirmatory of the investigations of their predecessors, rendered all the more valuable by the conscientious pains that have been taken to thoroughly investigate everything in connection with native customs with which they have had to deal. In referring to the common statement that the Australian native is incapable of gratitude, the authors explain the position taken up by the aboriginal as regards this virtue, and point out that, although he is exceedingly liberal himself, he does not think it necessary to express his gratitude when he receives a gift from one of his own tribe, and that we should, in order to understand the sentiments of the native, put ourselves into his mental attitude, and then the question is capable of being more or less explained or understood. It is no doubt by their adoption of this attitude that they have been peculiarly successful in their studies. With the advent of the white man the secret ceremonies fall into disuse, for the young men get attracted away to the stations, and naturally feel less disposed to obey their elders; and these, in turn, consider the growing youth unworthy of initiation; hence the ceremonies get neglected and die out. It is of consequence therefore that every scrap of information regarding them be properly recorded, and in doing this Messrs. Spencer and Gillen have collected a mass of detail which, while it may at first sight appear somewhat superfluous, will be invaluable for future reference as further investigations are carried on.

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ROTH, H. The Native Tribes of Central Australia1. Nature 59, 511–512 (1899) doi:10.1038/059511a0

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