"Lasseter was speechlessly angry. That natives should have dared bone a white man!"

Lasseter's Last Ride. 223.

Pointing the Bone or Boning is an Aboriginal vengeance or punishment ritual of considerable significance and it's worth remembering that no Aboriginal would put pen to paper or talk deep lore on this practice. Much that is commonly known suffers from mistranslation and reinterpretation and being misunderstood is passed off as sorcery or black magic. Ion Idriess was a keen student of the arcane and several chapters in Lasseter's Last Ride have a mystical or metaphysical theme, the penultimate chapter in the first three editions of the book is titled 'The Death Bone' where he describes the ritual and effects or symptoms of being boned. The victim was Lasseter.

Many examples exist of the 'bone' or kuru and its attachments, unfortunately they are a common item of international trade and bring thousands of dollars at auctions, So it's not surprising to find Idriess writes a fairly accurate description of a generic death bone. A long pointed stiletto like bone with strands of human hair attached by spinifex resin, the other end of the strand fixed inside a cylinder, both the, "needle (bone) and cylinder had been carved from the shin-bone of a man", the carved long bones of animals are more commonly used or a stick may be suitable, any article that can be pointed in the direction of the cursed. However, to be effective the device must first be 'sung' to imbue it with evil power. A dark and sometimes dangerous procedure.

The act of boning someone is always done in secret, attended by a small number of suitably initiated men, who act as witnesses and support the 'sorcerer' in a low chanted ceremony where the bone is pointed in the direction of the victim and through, "diabolical agency", draws a little blood or life essence through the air to the bone, along the hair and into the cylinder. Captured there to be cursed with disease or accident. In some cases pointing the bone is the final act in a tribal sentence, and if the sentence is execution then the tribes sanctioned assassins, the Kurdaitcha, do their duty, taking years if necessary to track down the accused. Two preconditions must be met before boning can take effect, the victim must know they have been boned, gossip, rumour or just a whisper can start the sometimes fatal process of autosuggestion, and they must be born into the culture and believe absolutely the lore and consequences of being boned. Of course Lasseter didn't meet the critical second condition, yet Idriess subtly suggests in the final chapter of Lasseter's Last Ride that Lasseter's sudden deterioration occurred shortly after being boned.

Idriess believed in many aspects of the metaphysical, dabbled in sťances and ectoplasm and had clearly well informed himself on the dark art of pointing the death bone. There are elements of truth in the final chapter, Lasseter's End, and what happened to Lasseter in the following days, after being 'boned' is a reasonable description of the demise of many who has been cursed by the bone and believe in the inevitable result. As soon as Lasseter became aware that the bone had been pointed at him he was abandoned by the tribe, although by this time he was already weakened through dysentery and sandy blight and had become a burden. After the psychological blow of awareness, "Lasseter was as weak as a kitten. With a furious anger at his own thoughts he hobbled from the camp". And it is through such thoughts that the will is sapped. Isolated from his support group, left to fend in a hostile land, diseased and bearing an insidious thought dulling the will to live, Lasseter was doomed, as is the case with most of those so cursed. Idriess deftly shades the truth of the matter, post hoc, Lasseter was dying before the bone was pointed at him. And it's more than likely that no such thing happened.

Making and using the bone is said to be dangerous knowledge and unless the incantations and movements are precise according to ritual the curse can rebound with devastating results. The curse can be lifted or nullified by one at least equally well versed in the lore. Which brings to mind Idriess's marvellous resurrection of Old Warts, in the first three editions of Lasseter's Last Ride Idriess writes, "Old 'Warts' is dead. A camel party brings word that he was 'boned' after Lasseter's death". From the fourth edition onwards the sentence is omitted and Old Warts is alive and well  and his photograph appears opposite page 146.


© R.Ross. 1999-2006

Idriess, Ion L. Chap, XXVII 220-223. Third Edition.