Benjamin Barber, reply to Aborigines Circular

The Sydney Herald

30 October 1841

Hume River. 16th July, 1841.

1. Yes.                                                               

2. Various numbers, as they occasionally visit the station; one boy, about fourteen years, has been in my service for two years attending cattle, and in very few instances has lost any; he has also been on the road with the team, and was very useful in tracking bullocks when they were lost, or driving cattle or sheep up or down the country; others have also been engaged and performed this duty faithfully; and some have been entrusted with flocks of sheep, but their stay never exceeded a few weeks; in one instance, I had a black for three months to attend a flock of sheep, and he did it as well as a white man.

3. We pay them with articles of food and clothing, which seem to satisfy them best, as they do not know the value of money; if they stay for a month or two, they are satisfied with these articles, and a blanket when they leave, which must be promised beforehand as a reward for their good conduct, and on no account withheld from them.

4. In some things they are truly useful, for instance in cutting bark, and assisting in washing and shearing sheep; to attach them to a place would be impossible, although they frequent those stations most where they are best fed; if they could be induced to leave their tribes and to indent themselves to kind and humane masters in distant parts of the Colony, they would make faithful servants; the only way this could be effected, would be to persuade them to volunteer their services, and to obtain permission from the other blacks, otherwise it would cause discontent, and perhaps bloodshed; they are best adapted for shepherds and stockmen, as they are averse to hard labour.

5. The only means that I can suggest, would be for the settlers to feed them well; also to endeavour to reconcile those white people who are averse to them, as the nearer they are allied to the whites, the nearer they approach to civilization; also to distribute them to the settlers so that each may have his home; and the settlers not to encourage each others blacks if they leave the stations; they may be induced to stay at a station, simply by giving them a brass plate, and they ever afterwards designate the giver as their master.

6. I have had one black in my service for three months, attending a flock of sheep; during that time his services were equally valuable as those of an European; at sheep-washing, I consider two blacks equal to one white man in minding sheep for which they are best adapted, and if they could be induced to do so their services would be equally valuable as those of Europeans; by promising them a blanket or a brass plate, and by treating them kindly, they become attached to their masters, and while they will stay they can always be made useful in some way.

7. They are not disposed to continue at any kind of labour for more than a few hours in a day; to induce them to stay at one kind of labour, would be impossible; there are three distinct tribes in this neighbourhood, the Hume or Uradgerry, the Weiro or Ovens, and the Unangan, or Lower Hume, consisting of about 200 in each tribe; the Hume blacks are the most civilized, and approach the huts without fear; we are in the centre of these tribes, and they extend over a country of about 1,000 square miles.

To conclude, it is much to be wished that a person were appointed who would endeavour to organise a system in each district, to protect the blacks from oppression; a person in the character of a Missionary, or Catechist, would be the most desirable, as he could instruct the whites, and endeavour to cultivate their morals, as well as those of their sable brethren, as it is certain there is a deficiency in morals among the whites as well as the blacks; under such circumstances we might hope to see the blacks make themselves useful, but at present they have an example of nothing but vice before them from our own countrymen, who are in a sad state of moral discipline, religion appearing to be entirely forgotten among them; and I fear little can be done for the blacks until the whites themselves become better men.