We want neither the classic nor the romantic savage here. We have far too many of the murderous wretches about us already.
The whole gang of black animals are not worth the money the colonists will have to pay for printing the silly court documents on which we have already wasted too much time.
The Sydney Morning Herald (1838) following the Myall Creek massacre
I look on the blacks as a set of monkeys and the sooner they are exterminated from the face of the earth, the better.
I knew the men were guilty of murder but I would never see a white man hanged for killing a black.
One of the Jurors after acquitting the 11 accused white stockmen for the Myall Creek massacre – quoted in NSW Parliamentary Hansard 8 June, 2000
My mother would sit and cry and tell me this: They buried our babies in the ground with only their heads above the ground. All in a row they were… Then they had tests to see who could kick the babies’ heads off the furthest.
Jan Roberts (1981) Massacres to Mining: The Colonisation of Aboriginal Australia
Most of the history of Aboriginal resistance has been written out of the Australian legend. For reconciliation to occur there needs to be an honest acknowledgement of our history. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people naturally have a different perspective on Australia’s history to that of many immigrant Australians. What Europeans call “settlement” Aboriginal people call “invasion”. A proper acknowledgement of history is basic to understanding the present circumstances and claims of indigenous Australians. Guilt is not a useful tool for reconciliation; a comprehensive understanding of our shared history is.
From the beginning, Australia was treated as a colony of settlement, not of conquest. Aboriginal land was taken under the legal fiction of terra nullius—that the land belonged to no-one. There were no official negotiations or treaties. Looking at the Aboriginal perspective on Australia’s colonisation is essential to the production of a balanced picture, one that acknowledges not only the achievements of the settlers but also the terrible consequences of those achievements for Aboriginal Australians. And it helps us to understand how Aboriginal people came to be treated as a different and inferior people.
Relatively few non-indigenous Australians have much to do with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people in their day-to-day lives. A lack of first-hand information provides fertile ground for simplistic or false perceptions. The Myall Creek massacre was the first time that white people had actually been brought to account for their actions.
On 10 June 1838, 12 armed stockmen rode onto Henry Dangar’s Myall Creek Station, where friendly Aboriginal people were camped. They rounded up and roped together like animals 28 Aboriginal elderly men, women and children, who were then dragged by the 12 stockmen into the bush and butchered—every last one. Their bodies were then burnt.
The stockmen planned their murderous attack well. They waited until the younger Aboriginal men of the camp were away working with the station manager, leaving their elderly and women and children unprotected. When the station manager and young Aboriginal men returned the station manager immediately reported the massacre to the authorities. Henry Dangar’s honourable action of reporting a crime against an Aboriginal community was uncommon during these times as Aboriginal people were considered animals and pests. The leader of the murderers escaped but the other 11 stockmen were brought to trial in Sydney. They were acquitted on a technicality.
Four of the accused were freed. The other seven were retried on a different charge, found guilty and hanged. This was the first time white men were punished and brought to justice for killing Aboriginal people. The hanging of the Myall Creek murderers caused great outrage in Sydney. But there were many colonists who were outraged at the massacres of Aboriginal.
Transcript of original report of Myall Creek massacre held by the NSW State Records Office:
Peels River July 9th 1838
I beg to acquaint you that about
a month since I had occasion to leave Mr Dangars
Station on the Big River for a few days On my
return I saw near the Hut the remains of about
thirty Blacks principally women and children
I recognised them as part of a Tribe that had
been at the Station for some time and who
had since they first came conducted themselves
in a quiet and proper manner, on making
enquiry I was informed that a party of White
men had come to the Station who after securing
them had taken them a short distance from my
Hut and destroyed nearly the whole of them
I should have given information
earlier but circumstances having prevented
My sooner coming down the country
Your obt Servant
ED Day Esq
The Second Trial
Charles Kilmaister, Edwards Foley, James Oates, John Johnstone, William Hawkins, John Russell and James Parry were put on trial following their acquittal for the murder of Daddy. The remaining four escaped re-trial.
The plans for retrying the remaining four Myall Creek defendants came to nothing. The Sydney Herald, 7 December 1838, reported that:
John Blake, James Lamb, George Palliser, and Charles Toulouse having been placed at the bar, the Attorney General moved that their trials be postponed until next session. The affidavit of Mr. William Hobbs stated that a black boy, named Davy, told him that he stood behind a tree and saw the prisoners and others murder the blacks – that Davy is nineteen years of age, can speak English, and, in the opinion of Mr. Hobbs, might be sufficiently instructed so as to become a competent witness. The affidavit of the Crown Solicitor stated that it appeared by the depositions that Davy was a necessary and material witness for the prosecution. The learned Attorney-General alluded to several cases in which this course had been pursued. Postponement of trial ordered.
See also Australian, 6 December 1838; Sydney Gazette, 6 December 1838. The Sydney Gazette noted that Davey would be instructed in the nature of an oath in the meantime.
The seven Myall Creek defendants, who were retried, were all found guilty of murder. After being found guilty, His Honor Judge Burton delivered the following sentence:
Having ordered silence to be observed proceeded to pronounce sentence: — Prisoners at the bar, you have been found guilty of the crime of murder by a jury of your countrymen. A point was reserved for consideration in your favor; by abandoning that point your counsel have confirmed the impressions which already existed in the minds of the Court. You have all been sent to this colony for some crime committed at home; you have all lost your liberty for some cause or other, though some of you have since regained that liberty by service; you are well acquainted with the law which says, that whoever is guilty of murder shall suffer death. This law is no conventional law, no common rule of life formed for human purposes; it is founded on the law of God, which was laid down of old – “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” – No human legislature could dare to depart from a law originating in the Deity, which has existed in its full force since the days of Adam. The atrocious circumstances attending the crime of which you have been found guilty, must have convinced you long ere this of the result which must soon follow the conviction. This is not a case of that description which has so indelibly stained the annals of this colony; there was here no drunken brawl, when the blood of the murderer and the exciting poison mingled together on the ground. There was here no provocation; no cause for anger. Men, women, children, even babes hanging at their mothers’ breasts, not less than 30 altogether of these unfortunate defenceless blacks, who were quietly reposing by their evening fire, believing themselves safe in the friendship of one of you, were suddenly surrounded by a party of horsemen, and when shewing their full reliance on the former professions of that man they rushing to his hut for protection, in blind hope for safety into the net which had been prepared for them. In the midst of their cries and groans, and sighs and tears, they are bound by a cord and led to slaughter. These remarks are not made to add to the pain which you must now experience, they are made for the benefit of standers by. I sincerely hope that the grace of God may reach and penetrate the hardened hearts that could surround a funeral pile lighted by themselves, and gloat on the tortures and sufferings of so many of their fellow beings. Great pains had been taken by you, or by some one deeply interested in the concealment of your crimes, to remove every vestage [sic] which might tend to clear up the mystery of their fate. But Heaven was cognizant of the crime, and sent its attesting witnesses. The day before the murder was committed a shower of rain falls, and the ground so softened received the tracks made by you on your road to the scene of slaughter. The birds of prey darkened the clouds over the spot, and who would not be attracted by such a sight; a man would seek whether it were an ox or an ass that thus enticed the ravenous hordes. From Dr. Newton’s to Mr. Dangar’s, and from Mr. Dangar’s to the fatal spot were found your guilty tracks, thus affording the strongest corroboration to the evidence against you. This crime, again, has not been committed without the greatest consideration and premeditation; all the plans were carefully laid; days before you were seen, some 8 or 9 of you, at some distance from Mr. Dangar’s preparing yourslves [sic] for the guilty consummation of your purpose. On the Saturday you went to Dr. Newton’s; what was your errand? seeking out the unfortunate blacks; and on the Sabbath, that day which should be hallowed by all, you perform this incomparable act of cruelty as if to make the deed doubly atrocious. You know the English laws, and there must have been some moving cause, some hidden hope that your crime would be concealed by parties interested that urged you on. You have flattered yourselves vainly; and I hope that if there be any parties who were interested in its concealment, they will be discovered, for the law holds the life of the black as dear as that of the white. In doing my duty as a judge, I have my feelings as a man, and I do, in sincerely commisserating [sic] your unfortunate state, hope that no other motive than that set forth in the information has induced you to the crime. I do trust that it was the “being seduced by the devil, and not having the fear of God before your eyes” alone that urged you on, and that you have not been induced by the persuasions of others; for, if it be so, it will be brought to light, and they will receive their meed of punishment. At the distance you were placed, 15 miles from any police station, any interference or protection by law was rendered unavailable to you, and perhaps it was a great misfortune for you to be so placed. Whatever private feelings may exist, I must not allow them to interfere with the stern duty imposed upon me by law – and that is to award the sentence due to your crime, which is – that each and every of you be taken from this place to whence you came, and from there to a place of public execution to be hanged by the neck until you are dead, and may God have mercy on your souls.(My emphasis)
Sydney Gazette, 6 December 1838
Sue Blacklock, whose great-grandfather John Munro was a boy when he escaped the massacre in 1838 spoke of the massacre to the ABC’s Caroline Jones on Australian Story 26 July 2001:
As a mother, I just imagine them just sort of trying to grab their babies, hang onto their babies, trying to shelter their other children from the slaughter. It must have been a terrible feeling to stand there and see your child being killed in front of you. The agony, the pain and…Oh, it’d be just terrible, I know.
There was two brothers that were saved from the massacre. One of those little boys was my great-great-great-grandfather. My dad always told me about that. It was passed down from his great-grandparents right down to him, and he wanted to hand it down to his family. But I remember Dad when he’d speak about it. His voice cracked just like the memory just sort of hurt. I hear him now telling his grandchildren all about what happened out there, and how it was burnt…and were killed and then burned. We just kept it all hush-hush. We didn’t want to talk about it because of how dreadful it was. And, um, I remember when we used to drive past that place. It…just had a feeling about it that I can’t explain.
Myall Creek an unlikely symbol of reconciliation
In October, 1998, a conference on reconciliation convened by the Uniting Church was held at Myall Creek on the invitation of Sue Blacklock. A number of concerned local people joined the conference. By the end of the meeting, the group decided to erect a permanent memorial. The Myall Creek Memorial committee was formed.
February 20th, 1999 the grounds for erecting the memorial were established:
If we and our descendants are to live in peace in Australia then we have to tell and acknowledge that truth of our history. It is not that all of our history is bad, but the bad must be acknowledged along with the good, if we are to have any integrity. There is a code of silence surrounding the massacres.
We want Australia to be an inclusive society, where Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal are honoured and respect each other. This cannot happen until the history includes the stories of how Aboriginal people as well as non-Aboriginal people experienced the history.
We owe it to those who died defending their country and families, or died as innocent victims of vengeance, to create a memorial which reminds us of their part in our common history.
It is important to acknowledge the people who acted for justice in the story: Mr Hobbs, the manager of Myall Creek Station; Edward Denny Day, the officer who investigated the crime and others. The fact is that for the first time, the perpetrators of such crime in this country were brought to justice.
We are not pointing the finger at the people of Myall Creek or Bingara. The massacres went on all over the country.
March 10th, 1999 the descendants of those massacred at Myall Creek were unanimous in their support for a project involving both Indigenous and non-indigenous people.
The Myall Creek massacre memorial was officially opened on 10 June, 2000. In the words of Paulette Smith speaking on behalf of the Myall Creek Memorial Committee at the opening of the Myall Creek Memorial:
We started out as a group of strangers from all around this area, all united in a common ideal of truth, justice and reconciliation. As the meetings progressed, we became closer. I can remember the days when we all sat around the large table at lunchtime and shared our food amongst us…
It was a memorable day when Des Blake, a descendant of one of the perpetrators arrived at our meeting. We had not expected to hear from any of these descendants, but months later, another descendant Beulah Adams came to a meeting. When she and Sue Blacklock hugged, we all felt we had really taken a step into the future.
Very soon we will all take a journey together. We will walk up the hill and along the serpentine path together, and as we walk down towards the rock, we will read about the massacre that happened here 162 years ago today. And as you walk, I ask only this of you. Think about those who died, speak to them, say a prayer for them, remember them. And as you return back along the path, take a stranger by the arm and walk back in peace, knowing that today you have taken a very big step towards justice, truth and reconciliation.