Volume 38 1929 > Volume 38, No. 150 > Evidence of Polynesian culture in Australia and Norfolk Island, by W. W. Thorpe, p 123-126
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- 123
EVIDENCE OF POLYNESIAN CULTURE IN AUSTRALIA AND NORFOLK ISLAND.

IT is generally accepted that Polynesian culture has influenced by contact the art and handiwork of both Melanesia and Papua. 1

Hitherto, so far as the present writer knows, evidence of Polynesian visits to the mainland of Australia has not been recorded.

During the last Christmas vacation, with two other members of the recently-formed Anthropological Society of New South Wales, the writer visited Dark Point, about seven miles north of Port Stephens on the coast of New South Wales (see sketch map). While searching for aboriginal flakework an adze-blade of undoubted Polynesian origin was discovered (Fig. 2).

Dark Point is a rocky promontory jutting out into the Pacific, with Broughton Island lying immediately to the seaward. Owing to its low and narrow connection with the mainland, this headland in very rough weather would be surrounded by water. Sand-dunes extend for miles to the north and south, and immediately to landward of the narrow sandy isthmus is an extensive aboriginal workshop and feeding ground. From a white man's point of view a more inhospitable region it would be hard to find. The sand-dunes extend for half a mile to the westward, terminating on the edge of a densely-wooded area which continues on to the Myall River. It was probably the fish and molluscan foods which formerly attracted the natives to Dark Point, and incidentally induced them to carry - 124 thither their flaking-material. The adze-blade was found amongst the usual accumulations at such sites. It was on the surface, somewhat bleached and considerably sand-worn. The blade is imperfect, but enough remains to indicate the length of bevel, and other characters which make it distinctly Polynesian.

The question arises—how did it get to Dark Point? The remoteness of the area, at present untenanted, precludes at once any likelihood of it having been left behind by a European. Its present weathered and patinated condition shows that it has lain there perhaps for centuries. It is conjectured that a voyaging canoe became weather-bound, the occupants landing at Dark Point while sheltering to the leeward of Broughton Island. A hope is expressed that a further search may be made at a later date. 2

Data—Basalt; length 82mm., breadth 40mm., thickness 17mm.; Australian Museum Number, E. 32, 114; micro-section, A.M. 1, 619.

An adze-blade of similar size was recently found at Norfolk Island (Fig. 1). It was discovered lying on the sand-dunes at Emily Bay on the south shore of the island. It was noticed by Mr. McPhail, a local resident, and brought to Sydney by Mr. Harold R. Rabone.

Norfolk Island would seem to be a more promising spot for Polynesian relics than the shores of New South Wales. We have it on record that objects of Polynesian handiwork were noticed on Norfolk in the earliest days of British settlement. Towards the middle of February, 1788, the “Supply” sailed from Port Jackson to Norfolk Island “having on board Lieutenant King [formerly] of the Sirius, named by Captain Phillip, superintendant (sic) and commandant of the settlement to be formed there. Lieutenant King took with him one surgeon, one petty officer, two private soldiers, two persons who pretended to some knowledge of flax-dressing, and nine male and six female convicts, mostly volunteers.” 3 The first traces of native - 125 occupation were noticed in May, 1788. “A large cluster of Plantain trees” was discovered in Arthurs Vale. 4

Further on the same writer notes the presence of a turtle “recently wounded between the shoulders with a kind of peg; which circumstance, together with some pieces of canoe, a wooden image resembling a man, and a fresh cocoa-nut, found in Ball's Bay [S.E. corner], induced me to suppose that there is a considerable island undiscovered not far from the eastward of Norfolk Island.” 5

A further extract from Lieut. Governor King's narrative reads as follows:—“I went in a boat on the 5th [January, 1789] and examined the north and west side of the island, which I found everywhere surrounded by perpendicular cliffs. I landed on the beach in Anson's Bay, [N.W. corner] where I found the remains of a canoe, which had been washed there by the tide; a very good cocoa-nut was also found.” 6

Perhaps the most concise testimony regarding the presence of natives at Norfolk Island is that set down by Collins:—7 “October, 1791—The Salamander had (sic) returned from Norfolk Island, [to Port Jackson] where every person and article she had on board were safely landed. By letters received thence, we learned that it was supposed there had formerly been inhabitants upon the island, several stone hatchets, or rather stones in the shape of chissels (sic) having been found in turning up some ground in the interior parts of the island. Lieutenant-Governor King had formerly entertained the same supposition from discovering the banana tree growing in regular rows.” Another reference to the banana trees is as follows:— 8 “The banana trees found growing on the island - 126 will, I have no doubt, thrive very well, when those which have been planted out from the old trees come to perfection; indeed, some of them have already yielded good fruit.”

Notwithstanding the foregoing incontestable evidence of pre-European visits to Norfolk Island, it would be unscientific to ignore the fact that two Maori youths. “Hoodoo” and “Too-gee” were captured at North Cape about May 1793, and transported to the island to teach the European women “to work the flax.” These Maoris were repatriated during November of the same year. 9

It is quite within the bounds of reason that the Emily Bay adze may have been taken there by one of these people.

Data—Basalt; length 95mm., breadth 42mm., thickness 16mm.; Australian Museum Number, E. 32, 086; micro-section, A.M. 1, 620. In each case the photos are about 1/20 smaller than the originals.

Microscopical sections were cut by the Museum lapidary from the adzes under description and a similar implement from the Great Barrier Island. I append the report of the Petrologist, Mr. T. Hodge Smith:—“The three adze heads from Norfolk Island (E. 32, 086), Great Barrier Island (E. 2, 384), and Dark Point, New South Wales (E. 32, 114), are all composed of fine-grained basalts. There are differences, as for instance the New Zealand and New South Wales stones both contain olivine as phenocrysts, but this mineral is absent in the Norfolk Island specimen. However, a microscopical examination does not give sufficient data to even indicate whether the specimens were produced from the same rock mass or otherwise, as similar basalts are very widely distributed in the Pacific regions. On the other hand, the evidence shows very definitely that it is not impossible for the three specimens to have been taken from the same rock mass.” I am indebted to Mr. Harold R. Rabone of Sydney, both for the opportunity of describing the Norfolk Island adze, and for material help regarding references in the early records of New South Wales.

1   Graebner, (F.)—Kulturkreise und Kulturschichten in Ozeanien, Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 37, 1905, heft 1, pp. 28-53; and Skinner, (H. D.)—The Origin and Relationships of Maori Material Culture and Decorative Arts, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 33, No. 4, December, 1924, pp. 229-242, 25 plates.
2   It may be noted here that a further search was made on 22nd March, 1929, but notwithstanding very diligent search, no further Polynesian handiwork was found.
3   Collins, (Lieut.-Col.)—An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Second Edition, London, 1804, p. 15.
4   Hunter (John)—“The Historical Journal of the Transactions of Port Jackson and Norfolk Island, including the Journals of Governor Phillip and King and of Lieut. Ball, ” p. 317. (Mitchell Library, Sydney, Q. 991. N.)
5   loc. cit. p. 331.
6   loc. cit. p. 345.
7   Collins, (David)—An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, London, 1798, pp. 183-184. In the second edition of the same work, (see footnote 2 on p. 3 of M.S.), abridged by Maria Collins, and published in 1804, the account is rendered somewhat differently, but not to materially affect the sense thereof (see p. 149).
8   Cf. Lieut. King's Journal in John Hunter's “Historical Journal of the Transactions, etc., ” ut supra, p. 396.
9   See Collins, 1804, ut supra pp. 341-350.