Tony’s Notes From The Bony Novels (Part 3)

Posted on Thu 11/18/2010 by


How Bony’s Name Came About

As you read this, be aware that by its very nature, it sounds barbaric. Even though Upfield barely mentions it in passing in a few of his novels, he makes it seem less innocuous than it really is. When actually mentioning it, Upfield does not detail the background behind it, but it only serves to highlight (again) just how much research he must have done into Aboriginal Culture in his vast travels, because this is tied inexorably to Aboriginal Culture, and needs some very careful explanation. I have mentioned previously that I am only a novice when it comes to trying to explain Aboriginal Culture, but so many things in these Upfield novels led me to actually try and find out more about this culture, which, on the surface, seems so mysterious, and almost fictional by nature. What I did find in that research however, was that quite a lot of what seems barbaric is in fact quite a lot of common sense. Even though some of things, especially this thing, seem so barbarous on the surface, once you do try and find out some of the facts, it falls into place.

In isolation, and remember, this is something from almost a Century ago now, something of this nature only enhanced the attitude of the time that the aborigines were a barbaric group of nomadic savages, when in actual fact, the direct opposite is mostly the case. They were in fact quite civilised, peace loving, and a highly moral people.

Some of the attitudes (from that time) towards the aborigine have persisted over the years, and every time something of this nature is mentioned, those prejudices can be levelled at whoever it is writing about it.

Where possible I have tried to explain what is behind what Upfield has mentioned, mainly to show that over the years, he has been harshly treated for the way he has written about the aborigines, the perception being that what would a white man know of aboriginal culture.

Why would an author select such a distinctly famous name, in this case, Napoleon Bonaparte, as the name of his main character, when so much could be made from that?

The name of the character himself looks like it might have been a deliberate choice by Upfield. He explains quite effectively how Bony was given his name, after being found as a newborn baby in his dead mothers arms under a tree. The mother was an aborigine and the father was a white man, the pair not marrying, as a white man marrying an aboriginal woman was virtually taboo, even in those days, as in earlier times, it was totally taboo. Found alive, he was taken into a Catholic Mission by the nuns. Still nameless, he was found one day in the Mission library, where he was tearing out pages of a book and stuffing them into his mouth. That book was one book in the huge series about the Great French Emperor, written by John Abbott, and showing a wry sense of humour, this nun gave the baby the name Napoleon Bonaparte, an indelible reminder of how it was that his name came about.

That is the generalisation of how Upfield mentioned it whenever Bony was asked to explain how he came by his name.

However, even though the first part is only touched on, it requires explanation.

In those days of early settlement in Australia right up to almost the early 1900’s, groups of aborigines were found as the white man moved further into the Australian bush. As they did this, they settled on land that was going to be where they set up their home, mainly for the purposes of farming, and grazing, mainly sheep in those days. More often than not, this land that they set up on was already part of areas occupied by the aborigines. These aborigines had no legal recourse to claim these now settled farms as their own land, and in fact had no recourse whatsoever. The white people just came and took the land as their own, and the perception was that the aborigines had no rights over the land, and in fact had no rights of any sort at all. In fact, the thought that they might actually have some claim to the land never would never have even entered the minds of the white people settling there.

When the aborigines did turn up, as you would expect if someone moved onto your land, they were viewed as savages who needed to be changed, ‘somehow’, and assimilated into the ways of those white people. To this end, the males were co opted into free labour on those farms. The woman, mainly younger girls were co opted into household labour, as cooks, maids etc.

As was sometimes the case, unscrupulous young men took advantage of the young black women used as house labour. There was never any thought of marriage, as that was a white social taboo that no one dared even mention. So, any pregnancies were blamed solely on the aboriginal woman, and she was then just left to her own devices.

So, then let’s look at the way the aborigines themselves perceived this.

As that small, or medium or large group of aborigines lived within the area that they moved around in, they had their own social structure within what we would have termed as a tribe. They moved from place to place within their own large area that they occupied. They knew where the good water was. They set up camp in an area, stayed for a while, and then moved on. The young men of the tribe were hunter gatherers and provided for the rest of the tribe. The older men of the tribe stayed in camp mainly, unable to keep up with younger men as hunting for food was the province of the young men, and was in fact quite a physical thing. Those older men acted as mentors for the boys in the tribe, training them in everything, so that when the time came, they could seamlessly move into the group of men who were the main hunter gatherers.

The women of the tribe looked after everything inside the camp setup. As a group, they all banded together to look after all the children, do all the cooking, camp maintenance etc.

So, boy babies were raised to be hunter gatherers. Girl babies were raised to, er, produce more hunter gatherers for the tribe, as food was the main thing they had to do to actually survive and flourish as a tribe. To that end, young girls were promised to those men who were the strongest and most able, the thinking being that in that manner, then more strong men could be raised to continue the group of men who had the duty of hunting for food. It sounds barbaric even mentioning it like this, but in fact, is pretty much common sense. Once promised as a young girl to a man of the tribe, she was then groomed only to be for that male. Once she reached child bearing age, she then moved in with that man she was promised to. Part of that time when this happened, chevrons were carved into her skin, usually between her breasts, and a tooth was knocked out, signifying that she was ‘married’, the word we would use for it.

Now, as barbarous as this sounds, it was critical for that tribe to have a constantly renewed source of young men to keep a group of strong hunter gatherers on hand at all times into the future, and of young girls to produce more young men.

Enter the white man. He then took those young girls into his homesteads as free household labour, effectively removing that woman from the tribe. Already promised to a man of the tribe, that then removed her as a source of providing more young men to that tribe, which when viewed with the hindsight of toady, probably hastened the decline of the way these tribes went about their ways in the vast areas of Australia.

If, through no fault of her own, that young woman did become pregnant, then the white people, probably outraged at this, had no further need of a now pregnant young girl, and they would throw her out of the house, thinking she would have nowhere to go but back to that tribe.

They would not accept her back, not out of sympathy, but that the perception was that she was now the province of the people who had taken her. The man she had been promised to would not have her back, as he most probably now had another girl promised to him, or already had another woman with him. In fact, accepting her back was against tribal law full stop. It would have been the same had the young girl moved to another tribe, and in fact, the white people were viewed by the aborigines as another tribe, so the woman, through no fault of her own had gone against tribal law, and the punishment for that was ostracism from the tribe, and in fact, in the most cases, death. Hence she was killed by the tribe and just dumped with no honours of respect from that tribe.

This is what happened here in the case of Upfield’s character Bony. His mother was aboriginal, taken from her tribe and pushed into household labour, becoming pregnant to an itinerant white farm labourer, who moved on. She was thrown out of the white household, and put to death by the tribe for going against tribal law. Once the baby was seen to be not of full blood aborigine, then it was obvious what had happened in this case. She was put to death, but not the baby, as the thinking was that with a dead mother, then the baby would not survive any way.

As it turned out, the dead mother was found quite soon after, and the baby was taken in by the nuns at the Mission.

Hence, this is how Bony came by his name.

All this sounds barbaric, and it seems obvious now why Upfield did not mention this full explanation in any of his novels, as doing that when the books were written would not have gone down very well with readers.

It was alluded to only in a couple of the Bony novels, but there is no specific reference that this is what actually did happen to Bony, the baby.

Upfield explains how Bony was schooled at the mission, and showing a distinct acumen for schooling he then went on to University, gaining a degree, Upfield using a Master of Arts (MA), and, following on from that, Bony then entered the Police Service.

Another clever choice of names is that of Bony’s long suffering wife. Her name is Marie, and again this seems to be a deliberate choice by Upfield, again using French history, only this time the name of Marie Antoinette. He named his eldest son Charles, the second son, Bob, and the third son Ed, affectionately referred to as ‘little Ed’.

The whole story surrounding his character’s name is one that is interesting in its entirety, even though only mentioned in the short version of some of the Upfield novels.