222. RABBI SCIENTIST the.
|"He discovered that they used nineteen ancient Jewish words in their ordinary everyday language".|
Fred Blakeley, Dream Millions. 116,117.
I never expected to learn the name of the Rabbi scientist who made this remarkable discovery, if indeed he existed. Blakeley's ramblings can lead down endless convoluted paths and it's sometimes best not to go there. Yet there was such a man and he travelled much of Lasseter Country less than a year prior to Blakeley's arrival in Central Australia. He was the brilliant anthropologist and psychoanalyst, Dr. Geza Roheim. Blakeley's musings on the religion and origins of the Sandhill people have uncovered a pioneering anthropologist and another flaw in Blakeley's timing and context.
Fred Blakeley's narrative of the first C.A.G.E. Expedition, 'Dream Millions', should be read for pleasure and occasional insights regarding the Lasseter saga, and not for it's learned comment on Aboriginals or contextual and chronological niceties. But it was the 1st of September 1930 at Illbilla, with the Expedition enduring another forced wait, when Blakeley found time to consider the fate of the Sandhill men who had arrived the previous day. Fortunately Paul Johns and Rolfe Entata arrived later the same day and with Entata interpreting, Blakeley learned much about the marriage customs and religion of the Sandhill people. Blakeley also asked Entata, "if he had ever heard of a Jewish rabbi out here and he said he had heard of him, as a boy, but never knew what he was doing here". Blakeley's question to Entata is retrospective, posed seven years after meeting the sandhill men at Illbilla, but it serves the purpose of advocating the creation of large and inviolate Aboriginal Reserves to protect the natives from, "that wandering outcast, the Combo, the sexual maniac who is responsible for seventy-five per cent of half-castes". Dr. Roheim would have made something of that.
In all fairness to Blakeley he had genuine, albeit muddled and unsophisticated sympathy for the Aboriginals and now that the Sandhill men had been 'discovered', he was deeply concerned about their future. Considering the economic times, the lure of gold and the completion of the railway line, he saw the probability that the riff-raff of Australia would descend on the innocents of the Centre. In 1932 Blakeley had a lengthy letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald, "and in it I advocated making all the sandhills country a native reserve". Apparently 'Mr. Bridges', possibly Les Bridge, who substantially financed the second C.A.G.E. Expedition, brought the work of the Jewish rabbi to Blakeley's attention, "I think he described him as a Rabbi scientist who spent two years somewhere on the fringe of the sand belt studying these people. He discovered that they used nineteen ancient Jewish words in their ordinary everyday language". A hint to the not uncommon belief, then and now, that the Australian Aboriginal is one of the lost tribes of Israel. Blakeley thought the Commonwealth Government should locate the scientist and acquire his report as an important, "first step to understanding and finding out who these sandhill men are", and suggested that Mr. Bridges could help the Government find, "this very precious document".
The identity of the Rabbi scientist was no mystery to the Government, Dr. Roheim had corresponded regarding rail concessions to Alice Springs for the 1929 expedition and later, permission to export Aboriginal artefacts, preceded by permits to enter Aboriginal reserves, passports and reputation, his itinerary was arranged by Herbert Basedow. As for the valuable report that Blakeley assumed the Doctor had produced on his Central Australian studies, its content, when produced after the second World War, would have flabbergasted him. Geza Roheims special field in anthropology was the application of Freudian psychoanalytical techniques and principles to understanding the myths, folklore and religions of primitive cultures. He was considered the expert in this esoteric yet fruitful area of research, just the man to answer Blakeley's ponderings on the significance of the Sandhill gods.
A scenario with Fred Blakeley and Geza Roheim about the camp fire at Illbilla would be enlightening, perhaps amusing. Blakeley would have found himself in the presence of an awesome intellect, but Roheims warm and friendly personality would probably stay Blakeley's accusation of him being a 'yabber man'. And Fred may have found himself the subject of study, Roheim would have observed a typical backwoodsman, ignorant of the wider world and determined to stay that way and generally educated by other bushmen. A transmitter and corruptor of myths and folktales across both cultures, and it was as a master folklorist that Roheim first made his name. It was men the like of Blakeley and Idriess that created folklore and corrupted mythology and they were an important link in Roheims search for the roots of Aboriginal mythology. He frequently found the myths had taken on elements of folktales common in the European world. As many anthropologists have observed, the pristine mythology or religion of a native race starts degrading the instant the explorer or missionary arrives on the scene. Idriess would be pleased that he created such an enduring and entertaining folktale in Lasseter's Last Ride, but it was Lasseter and the Aboriginals who created the myth of the gold reef. Lasseter by claiming its discovery and the Aboriginals by claiming ancient knowledge of its location on sacred ground. An interesting case of folklore preceding myth. And about planting myths, Roheim, less than subtly, as was his way, accused Spencer and Gillen of fostering some aspects of Arrente mythology and he was ruthless with his questions. Many an aged keeper of tribal lore was exposed with the simple rejoinder, "but that's not what you told me yesterday".
There's a thought about Roheims presence in Central Australia in 1929, he was anxious to make near as possible first contact with primitive peoples before the 20th Century and the Western World corrupted their myths and overwhelmed their culture. The completion of the railway line to Alice Springs in August 1929 and a generous grant from Marie Bonaparte made it possible for him to study the Western Desert people. The Pintubi of the Ehrenberg Ranges and the Pitjantjatjara of the Petermanns are prominently marked on his 1929 map of the expedition. Apparently Roheim concluded he was too late, Aboriginal mythology had already been tainted with European translation and reinterpretation and Christianity, and the custodians of ancient lore had long gone. He may have found very few Aboriginals to study in their natural surrounds, most having drifted to Hermannsburg or the adjacent cattle stations, driven there by several years of drought. When Dr. Roheim and his wife returned to Hermannsburg from their western desert expedition in September 1929 they reported wretched living conditions in the bush, and advised several aboriginals to go to the Mission. As a result over 40 Aboriginals arrived at the Hermannsburg.
Bearing in mind that Blakeley wrote the manuscript for Dream Millions some seven years after events in Central Australia and without the aid of log books, it's not surprising to find the occasional slip 'twixt context and timing. Blakeley could not have asked Rolfe Entata about the Jewish scientist, although Rolfe may have known of Roheim, in fact could have been a guide on his 1929 expedition. Blakeley was not aware of the Rabbi scientist until 1932, as a result of his letter to the Sydney Morning Herald and contact from Mr. Bridges. Blakeley has written this piece in 1937 as if he were at Illbilla 1930, but with honorable intent of course, the passage serves to introduce his concern for the Aboriginals.
As for the nineteen ancient Jewish words, that Blakeley and Bridges allege Dr. Roheim discovered in an Aboriginal language, well maybe he did, and no doubt Freddy Blakeley could find many more in his own language if he knew what homographs and homophones were.
© R.Ross. 1999-2006
Dream Millions. 116-117. Henson, Barbara, A Straight-out Man. 47.
National Archives Australia. SERIES, A458. CONTROL SYMBOL,
B206/1 ATTACHMENT 13.BARCODE,
86400. SERIES, A1928. CONTROL SYMBOL, 1010/8. BARCODE,145949.