John Lang’s Friend Bungaree, King of the Blacks
JOHN LANG, the early Australian novelist, wrote a story about his boy hood friendship with the Sydney aboriginal Bungaree. Lang was brought up in Sydney in the 1820s and later wrote about some of his experiences in the early days of the colony. In an article published in 1859 he recorded some of his activities with the aboriginal, who originally was befriended by Governor Macquarie who provided the military jacket and tricorn hat worn proudly by Bungaree.
There is a famous portrait of Bungaree painted by the early colonial artist Augustus Earle. John Lang gave a description of this ‘uniform’ as depicted in the painting. Lang provided some important as well as interesting details about Bungaree’s activities and his own friendship with him.
I sometimes as a boy accepted the invitations of King Bungaree to go out with him in his boat to “kedge fiss”. His was a very old boat, a ‘loan’ from Governor Macquarie, who cultivated Bungaree’s acquaintance, if not Bungaree himself; and upon all these occasions the Queens used to pull the rickety craft, while the king, sat in the stern-sheets and steered. The Queens, by turns, not only pulled the oars (only two) of the boat, but, when the anchor—a large piece of stone tied to an old rope—was let go they baited the hooks threw over the lines, and caught the bream and yellowtails, with which the harbour abounded in those days. Bungaree, meanwhile, sat still and smoked his pipe, and occasionally gave an approving nod or a kind word to the wife who hooked the fish the fastest. When out in his boat during Sir Richard Bourke’s administration— King Bungaree bore a stronger resemblance to Charles the Second than to any other monarch of whom I have read in history. He was cheerful, merry, facetious, gallant (except as to pulling and fishing) and amorous, without anything like coarseness in his outbreaks of affection.
Lang goes on to give us Bungaree’s description of the arrival of the First Fleet. This episode seems to have been overlooked by historians, perhaps because Lang was writing a story which has not been reprinted until now. Here is an account by someone who was there in 1788. Bungaree told Lang he was on Sydney Harbour when the First Fleet sailed into Port Jackson.
Bungaree, able as he was, to remember the first big ships that entered Sydney Harbour when the penal settlement was founded, the sensations of the tribe to which he, then a boy, belonged when they beheld them; and the terror which prevailed when the savage for the first time, saw the faces and the clothed form of the white man. ‘King Bungaree’ said that when the tribe first beheld the big ships, some thought they were sea monsters, others that they were gigantic birds, and the sails were their wings; while many declared they were a mixture of giant fish and gigantic bird, and that the boats that were towed astern were their young ones.
Lang goes on to describe some of the activities of the Aboriginals, their food and customs and the battles with each other, some between the tribes from the southern shore with the tribe on the north shore. He said they swam across the harbour.
This article by Lang has not been republished since its first appearance in 1859 in London. It has now been republished in a new collection of stories called Further Tales from Botany Bay.
This is part of the John Lang Project, a plan to republish all of John Lang’s works at the rate of two a year by 2016, the year of the bicentenary of Lang’s birth at Parramatta.
Further Tales from Botany Bay contains thirteen stories written by John Lang that were not published in his famous original book Botany Bay or True Tales of Early Australia.