The Worimi were a tribe of Australian aboriginals living around Port Stephens, New South Wales, Australia, before european settlement.

Below are some observations and opinions that have appeared in print from people who had contact with them prior to 1900.


At the time of white settlement there were about 400 Aborigines living around the estuary of Port Stephens. The tribe had only 50 members in 1873. By 1900 there were very few tribal Aborigines left. White observers at that time left some descriptions of a lifestyle now mostly gone.

One observer wrote that the Port Stephens Aborigines were more prone to laughter than tears. They seemed always to regard life as a huge joke to be enjoyed to the utmost.

The local environment was favourable for hunter-gatherer living. Their non-destructive lifestyle was in such sympathy with the environment that it had already lasted tens of thousands of years and would have continued long into the future if the white invasion had not taken place.

Their knowledge of the plants and animals about them has not been surpassed. Canoes were made from the bark of the Stringybark tree (Punnah) E. obliqua or She Oak. The ends were plugged with clay and when in use a fire always burned on a bed of clay at the back. Paddles made of seasoned hardwood were shaped like a large spoon and these paddles were used in a kneeling position from the middle of the 4.5m canoe. Fishing lines were made from the inner bark of young Kurrajong trees or Sally Wattle twisted, and rendered watertight by soaking in the sap of the Bloodwood tree. Women of the tribe had the first joint of their little finger removed to be dropped in the fishing grounds so that fish would be attracted to that hand. It was forbidden to fish if you had just eaten fruit.

Fishing spears were made from the flowering stem of the Gymea Lily or the Grass Tree and tipped with 4 prongs of ironbark, the lot was held together with yellow gum (grass tree).

Port Stephens Aborigines were fatalistic. They feared attacks by the Myall River natives. All feared the demons of the night especially Cooen - a terrible invisible being. Fame Cove was taboo after dark.

Boomerangs were made from wild Myrtle. The young flowering spikes of the Gymea Lily were roasted in the fire after a long soaking in water. The wild Cape Gooseberries that grew on Cabbage Tree Island were highly sought after. Fern root and daisy yam were eaten when fish were scarce.

There are numerous Aboriginal relic sites in the area, the most obvious being the "Canoe Trees" at Little Beach. The exact location of the various sites is restricted information. In an area stretching from Wallis Lake to Newcastle there are 37 recorded Ceremonial sites (stone arrangements, bora grounds, carved trees and burial sites), 115 recorded campsites (mia mia, scarred tree, open campsite, shelter with deposit, well, fish trap, abraded grooves and quarries) and 97 middens. Four middens and a burial site are located at the base of Yacaaba Head. Middens are located at Fingal Spit, Anna Bay, Schnapper Point, Boat Harbour, Skate Bay and Fishermans Bay. There is a burial site at Skate Bay and grinding grooves at Morna Point.

As sand moves and clearing continues new sites are discovered and old ones covered up.

Descendants of Port Stephens Aborigines still live in the area. The race has not gone nor is their culture dead.


Robert Dawson (Late chief agent of the Australian Agricultural Company) The Present State of Australia

A reproduction of the copy in the British Library

Alburgh: Archival Facsimiles Limited, 1987.

First published London 1830.

 

Page 16

[The old man] scraped the point of his spear, which was at least about eight feet long, with a broken shell, and put it in the fire to harden. Having done this, he drew the spear over the blaze of the fire repeatedly, and then place it between his teeth, in which position he applied both his hands to straighten it, examining it afterwards with one eye closed, as a carpenter would do his planed work. The dexterous and workmanlike manner in which he performed his task, interested me exceedingly; while the savage appearance and attitude of his body, as he sat on the ground before a blazing fire in the forest, with a black youth seated on either side of him, watching attentively his proceedings, formed as fine a picture of savage life as can be conceived.

 

Page 19

a native can go up the smooth branchless stems of the tallest trees, to any height, by cutting notches in the surface large enough only place the great toe in, upon which he supports himself, while he strips the bark quite round the tree, in lengths from three to six feet. These form temporary sides and coverings for huts of the best description.

 

Page 59

they are exceedingly fond of biscuit, bread, or flour, which the knead and bake in the ashes ...but the article of food which appears most delicious to them, is the boiled meal of Indian corn; and next to it the corn roasted in the ashes, like chestnuts: of sugar too they are inordinately fond, as well as of everything sweet. One of their greatest treats is to get an Indian bag that has had sugar in it: this they cut into pieces and boil in water. They drink this liquor till they sometimes become intoxicated, and till they are fairly blown out, like an ox in clover, and can take no more.

 

Page 64

I have never heard but of one punishment, which is, I believe, inflicted for all offences. It consists in the culprit standing, for a certain time, to defend himself against the spears which any of the assembled multitude think proper to hurl at him. He has a small shield and the offender protect himself so dexterously by it, as seldom receive any injury, although instances have occurred of persons being killed.

 

Page 67

The women make string out of bark with astonishing facility, and as good as you can get in England, by twisting and rolling it in a curious manner with the palm of the hand on the thigh. With this they make nets ... These nets are slung by a string round their forehead, and hang down their backs, and are used like a work-bag or reticule. They contain all the articles they carry about with them, such as fishing hooks made from oyster or pearl shells. Broken shells, or pieces of glass, when they can get them, to scrape the spears to a thin and sharp point, with prepared bark for string, gum for gluing different parts of their war and fishing spears, and sometime oysters and fish when they move from the shore to the interior.

 

Page 115

His native costume consisted of a belt of opossum fur, spun or twisted like coarse yarn, into skeins to the length of five or six yards, which was bound round his loins; his waddy .. stuck in one side of his belt, and his tomahawk in the other. His long hair was turned up and bound about the head with opossum yam, having a tuft of grass in the centre sufficiently long to be seen above the hair, so as to present a short distance the appearance of a plume ...In the hair, a little above the ear, was placed a small sharp pointed bone, from the leg of a kangaroo: this was used a comb, or rather to unravel the hair with, when upon particular occasions it was turned down like d common mop.

 

Page 319

... they are all, both men and women, marked in various parts by raised scars: the process commences by making deep incisions on the chest, back, shoulders, or loins, (never the face) with sharp edges of shell, according to the taste of the operators. The wounds are afterwards kept in a state of irritation for a long period, and when the proud flesh, or fungus, is raised sufficiently above the surrounding surface, the wounds are allowed to heal, leaving raised lines of various lengths and forms.

The men have another extraordinary custom, which is that of boring the cartilage of the nose adjoining the upper lip ... The suffering which they undergo during the process of boring, (which is done by a pointed bone,) and the means which are afterwards used to deep open the orifice, are quite extraordinary. The ceremony of boring seldom takes place till they are at the age of puberty, and then they go away to some remote place, accompanied by several of their male friends, with the person who performs the operation, who is looked up to as a kind of doctor upon other occasions. As soon as the cartilage is perforated, a small bundle of the clear round stems of withered grass is introduced into the orifice, which is extended every day by thrusting fresh stems into the centre of the bundle until is is increased to the required size ... the sufferings must be intense for several weeks. During the time it lasts, the swelling and the grass prevent the air from passing through the nostrils, and oblige them therefore to keep their mouths constantly open; the effect of it also is, to lower or flatten a little the extremity of the nose, as well as to distend the nostrils permanently, so that their whole appearance for some weeks after the operation, is both distressing and disgusting.


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