The “Pale People”
Perhaps other types of early humans also walked Australian soil long before the Kooris – or even the earlier Kow Swamp and Lake Mungo people.
It is possible. A few decades ago we had only a fraction of our current knowledge of Australia’s prehistory.
There is no reason to believe that exciting finds will not continue to be made. Ironically, evidence from the Kooris themselves suggest that a spectacular discovery may soon change our whole understanding of early Australia in the most radical way.
Koori legends refer to various types of previous inhabitants. These include the creators of the “Mimi” or “Dynamic” or “Bradshaw” style of rock art, which Kooris have always said was done by another people altogether (or, sometimes, by spirits).
The legends also refer to a light-skinned early race. For instance, in one collection of orally-transmitted legends, 13 there is a story concerning the killing of a huge cannibal.
The narrator says, “If he had stayed alive he would have gone on killing people – us dark people and those pale people, he would have killed us all”.
“Those pale people” are not Macassans (i.e. Indonesians, who are known to have fished off northern Australia in pre-European times), because in Story 194 from the same source the Macassans are openly called just that.
Nor are “those pale people” ghosts: the local word for ghosts is Mogwai. So, who were “those pale people”?
In traditional times, it used to be the custom in most of northern Australia that “a new born child is rubbed with ashes to ensure that it will become dark in colouring like its parents” 14.
Why? True albinism is unknown among Kooris. 15 This strange custom could suggest fear of the evidence of some light-skinned (pre-1788) ancestry.
Such an interpretation is bolstered by other suggestions of a possible light-skinned presence in pre-Koori Australia.
There are physical anomalies in modern Kooris that are difficult to dismiss as mere local adaptations.
One is the occasional occurrence of blond hair. Blondness is usually taken to be an adaptation to the climatic conditions of northern Europe, not to those of the Australian desert.
Another anomaly is that, again like northern Europeans, Koori hair is oval in cross-section.
This could confer no conceivable survival advantage to Kooris in Australia, suggesting that it may reflect some cross-breeding in the past.
As with Northern Europeans, Koori skulls are usually dolichocephalic. Their amount of body hair is well within the European range. So is their average height (165-170 cm).
The fact that true “throw-backs” don’t occur in modern European-Koori crosses suggests that we are closer genetically than, say, negroes and whites in the U.S.
Boyd in 1950 used this fact to assert the genetic closeness of Kooris to Europeans: he said Kooris were “basically white” 14.
In 1949 J.B. Birdsell proposed a “tri-bybrid” theory of Koori origins. He suggested that three groups had contributed to the modern (mixed) Koori race: Archaic whites (allied to the Ainu of Japan), Negritos (similar to relic populations in the Andaman Islands), and “Carpentarians” (similar to relic population in southern India). 16 The “archaic whites” are the interesting part of this suggested mixture.
The Ainu of northern Japan, although now much mixed with the modern Japanese, are said to be among the last survivors of a once-large population of “archaic whites” in Asia.
Eminent ethnologists like Carleton Coon and John Baker had absolutely no hesitation in placing the ancestors of the Ainu in this branch of humanity.
Sonia Cole 17 said of the Ainu: “They are clearly a branch of the archaic white stock, which was once widespread in Asia and also probably in Europe.
Recent Mongoloid admixture is often seen, however, often the Ainu show a striking resemblance to Russian peasants, and it seems quite probable that the ancestral White stock once extended right across Asia into Russia.”
Modern genetic studies don’t rule out the idea of archaic whites having once been in Australia, or of some of their genes having trickled down to modern Kooris.
In Aboriginal Affinities looked at in world context (N.W.G. Macintosh & S.L. Larnach), W.W. Howells reports on a modem study that measures the morphological proximity of Kooris to various other racial groups.
Closest to the Kooris were the aboriginal Tasmanians. Next in closeness were the Tolai of New Britain (Birdsell’s “Negritos”).
Then came, (of all people!), medieval Norwegians. The fourth closest group in terms of morphological similarity to modern Kooris was the Ainu.
One apparent problem with Birdsell’s theory has to be addressed. No contemporary ethnologist says that Kooris show any evidence of early genetic influence from Asiatics.
So how could archaic whites have got through to Australia without bringing in at least a few stray Asian genes? After all, human nature being what it is, when two races come into proximity genes are usually exchanged.
The answer seems to be that at that time there were no Asians in the path of an archaic white migration to Australia from northern Asia.
In 1988 Dr. Jo Kamminga & Professor Richard Wright of Sydney University did a computer analysis of the “Old Man” skull from Peking, about 9,000 to 11,000 years old, and found that it was not Asiatic 18.
It fitted somewhere between modern Caucasoids, Kooris, and Ainu. Therefore, wherever the modern Chinese originally came from, they are presumably immigrants to the region, some time in the last ten thousand years or so.
The “Old Man” of Peking represents the original population of the region.
The archaic white people that the Chinese displaced in Asia were pushed to the fringes. Those holed up in Japan were gradually forced further north, giving way before superior numbers and, quite likely, in the face of newly introduced diseases.
Some of those in north-eastern Asia had probably already crossed into the Americas. 19
Others may have ventured to, or at a later date been pushed toward, south-east Asia, and may well have reached Australia. At this stage, we can only await further archaeological evidence.
It is essential that fresh discoveries from before the Koori period in Australia should he preserved for scientific testing, and not wantonly destroyed – as were the pre-Koori remains from Kow Swamp, and as is currently proposed for the remains of 108 individuals from the Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area of NSW.
1. See for example Sunday Herald Sun, Melbourne, May 15, 1994.
2. N.G. Butlin, The Palaeoeconomic history of Aboriginal migration, in Australian Economic History Review, XXIX, No. 2., September 1989.
3. Geoff Maslen, Detectives of time re-write our history, The Age, Melbourne, 14 January 1989.
4. David Leser, Was Adam an Aussie? The Weekend Australian, May 3-4, 1986.
5. Leigh Dayton, Forest fires signal early arrival of first Australians, New Scientist, 9 May, 1992.
6. Julian Cribb, Burning evidence adds 100,000 years to history, The Australian, 15May, 1992.
7. Josephine Flood, Archaeology of the Dreamtime, Collins, 1983.
8. Graeme O’Neill, Java Man descendant may have been first to Australia, The Age, Melbourne, 14 May 1990.
9. Julian Cribb, Return of remains may bury our past, The Weekend Australian, July 28-9, 1990.
10. L.R. Hiatt, Letter to the Editor, The Australian, 2 August, 1990.
11. Julian Cribb, Scientists decode prehistoric life, The Weekend Australian, June 15-16, 1991.
12. see Heritage News, Volume 14 Number 4, June 1992.
13. The Speaking Land, Myth and Story in Aboriginal Australia, R. & C. Berndt, Penguin 1989, Story B9.
14. The World of the First Australians, R. C. Berndt, Ure Smith, Sydney.
15. John Baker, Race, Carnbridge University Press, 1976.
16. His thesis can be found in ‘The recalibration of a paradigm for the first peopling of greater Australia’, Sunda and Sahul, Ed J. Allen, 1977. The fullest account of his data appears in Microevolutionary patterns in Aboriginal Australia. A gradient analysis of clines, Oxford University Press, 1993.
17. Sonia Cole, Races of Man, British Museum, 1983.
18. see: ‘Alien missing link in Chinese puzzle’, The Australian, 25/3/99, and ‘China skull study puts theory on Aborigines in doubt’, The Age, Melbourne, 23/12/88.
19. Nigel Davies, Voyages to the New World, Morrow, NY, 1979.