Mary Durack The Courteous Savage —
Yagan of Swan River illustrated by Elizabeth Durack (Thomas Nelson Ltd., Melbourne, 1964.)
The fly-leaf of the first edition
summarises the story: “Yagan, an Australian aboriginal tribesman whose people
dwelt about the Swan River in southwestern Australia … was known as ‘the black
Robin Hood’, and as ‘this strange, vindictive, but always courteous savage’*,
he inspired both fear and respect among the white people.
"His story is that of many a tribal
leader whose homeland was invaded by new settlers … although always ready with
a kindly gesture towards his new white friends, Yagan was the first to fight
for the rights of his people when he saw these threatened by the newcomers. And
he was first to carry out the harsh but age-old tribal law that demanded a life
for a life. Conflict was inevitable.”
Since 1964, when this book appeared, research and knowledge
about the Bibbulmun warrior Yagan (c1795–1833) and the early Swan River Colony has greatly expanded. The
Courteous Savage remains, nevertheless, an engaging, objective and in all
essentials more reliable record of the times than much that is written today on the subject.
The illustrations, with subtlety
and empathy, complement the text.
* quoted in The Perth Gazette and
Western Australian Journal, July 1833.
A 1976 edition, with its title changed to Yagan of the Bibbulmun, was illustrated by Revel Cooper.