Eyre had a rare opportunity to enter the psyche of an Aborigine when he and Wylie battled together towards Albany. Eyre noted carefully the relationship between Wylie’s mood and food, giving examples of a replete and happy Wylie contrasting with a hungry and rebellious young man.
Towards evening Wylie returned gloomy and sulky, and without having fired a shot; neither had he brought the horses up with him to water as I had requested him to do, and now it was too late to go for them, and they would have to be without water for the night. I was vexed at this and gave him a good scolding for his negligence, after which I endeavoured to ascertain what had so thoroughly put him out of humour, for ordinarily he was one of the best tempered natives I had met with. A single sentence revealed the whole – “The —- dogs had eaten the skin.”
This observation came from the very bottom of his soul, and at once gave me an idea of the magnitude of the disappointment he had sustained.
The fact was, upon leaving the camp in the morning he had taken a firestick in his hand and gone straight back to where we skinned the kangaroo on the 21st, with the intention of singeing off the hair and eating the skin, which had been left hanging over a bush. Upon his arrival he found it gone: the wild dogs had been beforehand and deprived him of the meal he expected; hence his gloomy, discontented look upon his return.
As yet I had not told him that I had been fishing; but upon showing him what I had brought home, and giving him the two largest for supper, his brow again cleared, and he voluntarily offered to go out again to try to get a kangaroo tomorrow.
Eyre slowly came to realise that Wylie’s preoccupation with food could threaten their co-dependent relationship and his own survival.
During the day Wylie had caught two opossums. As these were entirely the fruit of his own labour and skill, I did not interfere in their disposal. I was curious, moreover, to see how far I could rely upon his kindness and generosity, should circumstances ever compel me to depend upon him for a share of what he might procure.
At night, therefore, I sat philosophically watching him whilst he proceeded to get supper ready, as yet ignorant whether I was to partake of it or not.
After selecting the larger of the two animals, he prepared and cooked it, and then put away the other where he intended to sleep.
I now saw that he had not the remotest intention of giving any to me, and asked him what he intended to do with the other one.
He replied that he should be hungry in the morning and meant to keep it until then.
Upon hearing this I told him that his arrangements were very good, and that for the future I would follow the same system also; and that each should depend upon his own exertions in procuring food; hinting to him that as he was so much more skilful than I was, and as we had so very little flour left, I should be obliged to reserve this entirely for myself, but that I hoped he would have no difficulty in procuring as much food as he required. I was then about to open the flour-bag and take a little out for my supper when he became alarmed at the idea of getting no more, and stopped me, offering the other opossum and volunteering to cook it properly for me.
Trifling as this little occurrence was, it read me a lesson of caution, and taught me what value was to be placed upon the assistance or kindness of my companion should circumstances ever place me in a situation to be dependent upon him.
I felt a little hurt, too, at experiencing so little consideration from one whom I had treated with the greatest kindness, and who had been clothed and fed upon my bounty for the last fifteen months.
Eyre knew that sharing one’s food was regarded as a sign of friendship amongst Aborigines. Did Wylie not yet regard him as a true friend despite all that they had been through?
Furthermore, to what extent would Wylie help him should he become injured? Life-threatening accidents were an ever-present possibility. For example, on one occasion a horse kicked Eyre and fell on him, bruising him badly. He mused, “Had any of my limbs been broken, I should have been in a dreadful position and in all probability must have perished.”