Xanthorrhoea spines are a familiar sight in Australia and still occasionally get called “black boys”.
Now before you jump all over me, and say that’s racist and other nasty things, let me explain how that name came about.
Because it’s actually quite complimentary!
When I was much younger, my Dad’s Mum, Nana (Ivy) Nancarrow, told me the original reason is to acknowledge the habit of the aboriginals themselves.
They have the habit of standing motionless on one leg for hours, and that is why the grass tree, or Balga, (now formally called “Xanthorrhoea”) has the name “black boy”.
Why did the aboriginals do that?
Because when they stood like that, in the bush, they were very difficult to detect. It was a perfect hunting strategy in the South West, where grass trees were prolific, for spearing kangaroos.
So, you see, it wasn’t the other way around! What a surprise!! Personally, I think it was probably easier to spell!
Of course, that hunting strategy wasn’t restricted only to the South West of Western Australia. The single leg stance of Australia’s indigenous people is legendary and many original illustrations show that.
The Xanthorrea is a beautiful plant, very slow growing, and is found all over Australia. Click the link and learn more about them, from Bush Heritage.
My Nana may not have been correct, I must admit.
There are different theories on why Australia’s indigenous people stand on one leg, and indeed why people around the world in some local cultures take a similar stance. The Maasai in Africa are famous for it, as are the sheep herders of the Sudan.
One theory is that depending on which leg is bent, you can disclose your marital status or otherwise, and thus make it easy for the observer to decide if the walk is worth the effort.