Excerpts from Anthropophagitism in the Antipodes: Cannibalism in Australia, James Cooke, published by the author, 1997.


A description of the people roaming the headwaters of the Mitchell River country is given by Goldfields Commissioner, H.M. Mowbray, about 1880:

The peculiarity of this tribe – for most tribes have some peculiarity – is the extent to which they carry cannibalism... roasting and eating their own children. Prior to the coming of the whites, children were killed for the most trivial offences, such as for accidentally breaking a weapon as they trotted about camp.

Goldfields Commissioner H.M. Mowbray in R. Tudd, P.S. Pike, The Veins of Carbine Hill, Mareeba Qld, 1978.

Christie Palmerston’s Diary


These natives eat their dead if they are fat, excepting relatives, which are left to the members of other families to appropriate. After the flesh has been carefully stripped, the gins roll the bones tightly up in pieces of bark and carry them about for months, sometimes indeed, for years.


After traversing it for one mile we came into a large niggers’ camp, the blacks clearing out and leaving everything; baskets all loaded with red berries, also a great quantity of their rough meal. The boys continued on the main track, and I stopped to gratify my curiosity. There being a fleshy smell arising from an oven, I opened the latter, and there saw a female child, half roasted. The skull had been stove in, the whole of the inside cleaned out, and refilled with red-hot stones. The hideous habit of murdering and eating the little girls is carried on far more in these jungles than in any other part of the colonies, which accounts for the female children being so scarce. One of the Mourilyan aborigines informed me that they catch the unsuspecting child by the legs, and dash its head against a tree; also, that picaninny makes quite a delicious meat – he had assisted in eating many.

* * * * *

... to witness the ‘Coway’ ceremony over ‘Nooychoo’s’ dead body. The word ‘Coway’ is the native name for ‘mummy.’ There are several hundreds of aborigines called together for the special purpose of mummifying the corpse. These blacks were loitering about the body in crowds. On being notified of my approach, they formed themselves into two long lines, as a sort of body-guard for me to pass between to the dead body, which was fixed on a stage about two feet high, with a back to it. The deceased was placed in a sitting posture, in the usual native style known as ‘tajloj’ fashion. A slow fire was alight on the ground immediately under the stage; the arms were bent and upraised, with the hands open, as if in exclamation; the head rested, with a cadaverous lean, on its left shoulder; the mouth was open and showed a swollen tongue; the head was freed from the white hair by which I had known it; the features were bloated beyond recognition; the arms and legs were much withered, and the trunk was unnaturally bulky, being between a semi-cooked and putrid-blown state. ‘Wallajar,’ mentioned elsewhere, an elder brother of the deceased, stood close to the latter’s left side, and seemed to be the only sorrowful being in the crowd. On the same stage, on the other side of the dead body, sat a well-cured mummy of a still older brother, named ‘Monumbaloo,’ seeming singularly large, even in its anciently shrivelled state. I would have liked to have taken it for the Brisbane Museum, but was afraid to ask the blacks for it, though not from any personal fear of them. If the above scene was disgusting, there is immeasurably worse to follow – a scene that fired my soul with indignation and revolt, almost putting me to the point of rifling as many as I could of the foul brutes, but discretion regarding future personal considerations held me curbed, thus it was that I allowed them, unrebuked, to wallow in their dead’s filth. My boy ‘Poinkee’ told me that, if I had seen sufficient, I had better go, for never before had white-man witnessed the offensive operations they were in a hurry to perform. However, I asked to be allowed the ‘privilege.’ They demurred, and much talk ensued, ending with a promise from me to give a pocket-handkerchief to each, on my returning from Geraldton. That proved rather an expensive promise. I believe there were a dozen of the dead man’s sons present – all young men. One of them named ‘Ninkah’, was the principal actor in what I saw. He took the dead body of his father astride his shoulders, carrying it uprightly, so that its exuding matter trickled down his naked back. In that fashion he carried it between the files of niggers, all the while murmuring something. Then, with the help of others, he laid the body on its right side amid some green fronds spread for the purpose. ‘Ninkah’ then borrowed my pocket knife, and commenced nicking the body just below the ribs, on the left loin, moaning at the end of each nick, while the crowd corroboreed, stamping their feet and clapping their hands. With the piercing of the trunk the corroboree ended; ant as many as could well lay over the body, and wedge their faces over the incision, did so, to catch the obnoxious gases that issued therefrom. When these had escaped, the incision was made large enough to admit ‘Ninkah’s’ hands. From that time, the knife was not used, the son slowly tore out his father’s intestines, stripped them of any grease which he distributed to other relatives to grease their heads and bodies. Indeed, many of them could not wait to be presented with grease, but rushed up and plunged their hands into the dead body, raking out whatever they could get to smear themselves with. Pulling out the entrails seemed to be tough work, for they were a considerable time about it, several times squeezing their heads into the body, as if to sever something with their teeth. At last the whole of the offal came out. One powerfully built fellow, with the whole of his head’s crown bald, though the remainder was plentifully dark haired, that hung down about his shoulders in long matted twigs, that might be mistaken for ringlets in the distance, carried the offal away in his arms – hugging the filthy burden as if it was as precious as a new-born babe. He disappeared in the jungle, with several others following him; after a considerable time, he appeared from quite a different direction, with it still in his arms, and laid it down near his fire, covering it with some green bushes. The heart, liver and lungs were torn out, a small piece at a time handed about and prepared for a cannibalistic meal straight away. The body was again lifted upon the stage, and laid on its side over the fire. A blanket was thrown over it, and it was left to be cooked to the proper stage of mummy preservation. But, before this was done, the gins took their turn at wallowing in the internals of the corpse, in like manner to the men. One aged gin lay full length along it, and many times kissed the crawling maggoty face. The grave old ‘Wallajar’ took no hand in the ceremony, but stood and sat some fifteen yards off by me, with one arm round me. Large tears trickled down his wrinkled cheeks the whole time. A shirt being the only garment on me, I took it off and gave it to him; and distributed a box of matches amongst the rest. I left the camp amid a babble of aboriginal gaiety and stinking embraces. The sickening smell hovered about me for days; even the little food I ate, and the very pannikins from which I drank, seemed to be polluted with it.


Like all scrub blacks, they don’t get much meat food, and their cannibalistic propensities would appear to have become developed in answer to Nature’s call for a meat diet. In habits and social customs, they are very disgusting. Gins are very scarce in proportion to the males, and it is a common thing for a buck nigger some twenty or twenty-one years of age to be betrothed to a female picaninny just born.

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All these blacks are cannibals of a particularly bad type. They kill and eat their women and children, and occasionally they kill and eat their men. It is possible the custom arises out of an irrestrainable craving for flesh food, in a violent reaction against prolonged vegetarianism, and all Australian tribes have from time to time been addicted to the same practice. On many occasions I have seen conclusive proofs of cannibal feasts. They are in no way ashamed of the habit, and will sometimes chat about it in quite a jocular manner, and tell you what a great delicacy is a roast foot or a grilled hand. No women or boys are allowed to witness or join in the feast. When a gin is to be killed she is taken away to some secluded spot, one man seizes and crosses her hands in front, and another hits her on the back of the head with a nulla or a wooden sword. Then she is disembowelled, and cut up and roasted. Infidelity in a gin is punished by death. If a native falls from a tree or is seriously injured, he is generally killed and eaten. Their code of morality is stringent, but their social habits are indescribable, and their mode of living simply unimaginable. Plenty to eat is the one sole study of their existence. It forms the subject of their dreams by night and stimulates all their faculties during the day.

* * * * *

Several diggers have been killed by the Russell blacks, who have also murdered three or four settlers on the Russell and Mulgrave. The blacks doubtless had their own grievances, and attempted to redress them according to their own theory of the wild justice of revenge. The whites killed were in all cases men ignorant of the nature of the savage, and blindly and foolishly credulous in their unreasoning faith in the wild children of the jungle. They became familiar with the blacks, trusted them implicitly, gave them the tempting opportunity to kill, and the savage simply obeyed his natural impulse, and allowed the demon of destructiveness to control him under the suddenly favourable conditions.

It is the same old old story of death being the penalty too often paid by those who trust their lives to the delusion that the human savage differs essentially and radically in his nature from that of any other wild animal.

* * * END OF DIARY * * *

Meston Report of the Government Scientific Expedition to Bellenden-Ker Range, Brisbane, Government Printer, 1889.

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