In the present chapter the relevant evidence relating to the procreative beliefs of the tribes of Central Australia is presented and discussed in some detail.
In this place it is desirable to point out that before the publication of Spencer and Gillen's account of the Arunta theory of conception in 1899, in spite of an earlier considerable literature of a rather desultory kind on the natives of Australia, with the exception of such general assumptions as were made by Hartland, there had previously existed no suspicion of the facts as they were made known to the world by these investigators. The scientific literature dealing with the Australian Aborigines was almost entirely confined to short accounts, published in various periodicals, of certain aspects of the social organization of the tribes reported upon. The interesting and in many ways invaluable compilations of contemporary knowledge relating to the Australian Aborigines, such as the works edited by R. Brough Smyth,l G. Taplin,2 J. D. Woods,3 and E. M. Curr,4 assembled mainly by means of the questionnaire method from missionaries, police troopers, and similar sources, represented almost the sole attempts to record in some sort of systematic way something of the manners and customs, the folklore and linguistics, of the Aboriginal tribes. But in almost all instances, such was the delicacy of the feelings of the correspondents or the editors that rarely were they able to permit themselves to make more than the briefest reference to those customs and beliefs which it was their habit to dismiss with some such decorous epithet as 'disgusting' or 'bestial'. Characteristic in this respect is the great work of an investigator who belonged to this period, namely, A. W. Howitt, in whose numerous writings on the native tribes of South-East Australia, and in his monograph by that title,5 which was not published until 1904 and represented the fruits of forty years of labour among these tribes, there is not to be found a single reference to the sexual life of the natives, and but two or three of the most cursory references to the native procreative beliefs.