WAGGONERS FORDING A STREAM. [picture], F A Sleap. Wood engraving published in The Illustrated Australian news. Melbourne : David Syme and Co. January 24, 1883.Contributors
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Some accounts of assistance offered across rivers emphasise the water skills possessed by Aboriginal people in contrast to the hapless European newcomer.
They also can be intriguingly personal, showing unexpected interactions between the colonisers and the Aboriginal people they had usurped from their lands.
In 1867 a Mr McLachlan, who couldn’t swim, lost control of his horse when crossing the flooded McAllister River in Gippsland, ending up stranded on one bank with his horse on the other. A local Aboriginal man, ‘Billy’, finding the riderless horse, went in search of the rider and found McLachlan puzzling how to get across.
‘Billy, after signifying his pleasure at meeting McLachlan alive, speedily solved the difficulty by making a canoe from the bark of an adjacent tree, wherewith to cross the river. Before getting on board, McLachlan considered it his duty to inform his black friend he could not swim. ”Then you take off ‘em boots,’ says Billy; ‘if ‘em go down, you then swim like ‘em duck.” ’
A little time later, when the hastily made canoe started to split, Billy advised McLachlan that if the boat breaks apart he would try to save him, but that McLachlan should not catch him too hard around the head or neck. Fortunately, and by ‘skilful management’ on Billy’s part, they made it to the other side.
The Argus, Thursday 17 October 1867, p.7.