Myall Creek Massacre
Mr MARKHAM (Wollongong—Parliamentary Secretary) [10.06 a.m.]: I move:
That this House:
(1) recognise the significance of Myall Creek as an example of the treatment of Aboriginal people and of justice being done;
(2) recognise the importance of sharing the whole truth of Australian history; and
(3) commend the Myall Creek Memorial Committee, and all the Aboriginal and other Australians who have worked together in a spirit of reconciliation to acknowledge the shared truth of our history.
This Saturday on 10 June at Myall Creek near Bingara in north-west New South Wales a ceremony will be held to dedicate a memorial to the 1838 Myall Creek massacre. That event needs to be remembered as an appalling example of the treatment of Aboriginal people on colonial frontiers. Myall Creek can also be celebrated as an early example of Australian justice and of reconciliation in action. After all, there can be no reconciliation without justice. This is the story of Myall Creek. 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. The jury was out for 20 minutes and the not guilty verdict was greeted by cheering. One of the jurors was later quoted in the Australian as saying:
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.
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 people. However, their voices were few among many. The Myall Creek massacre became headline news and caused a scandal that split colonial society. The Sydney Morning Herald spoke for the majority:
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.
Most of the frontier massacres were not known about or talked about. Much of the history has been hidden and untold. The Myall Creek massacre was an unprovoked and premeditated act. Sadly, it was one of the many such massacres that occurred all along the settlement frontier during the nineteenth century. The truth is that gangs of stockmen regularly went on Aboriginal hunts. These are commonly remembered in white tradition as "a big bush whack", or simply "a drive". Nigel Parbury's book Survival records another massacre which occurred in 1865. A gang of stockmen, acting on advice and example by Major Nunn, also went on a drive which lasted several months. It culminated in the massacre of more than 200 Aboriginal people at Slaughterhouse Creek at the end of May. We certainly did not learn about massacres, rape and torture in Australian history classes. Nor did we learn about Aboriginal resistance. We learnt the whitewashed history of Australia. Historian Jan Roberts recorded many Aboriginal oral histories and included them in her 1981 book Massacres to Mining: The Colonisation of Aboriginal Australia. These are the words of an Aboriginal survivor—part of our untold history:
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.
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.
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.
Aboriginal studies should be a compulsory part of every child's education. Some excellent programs are up and running in New South Wales which are working to improve our children's education on Australian Aboriginal history. There is a pre-service teacher training project in universities called Teaching the Teachers. It is a model mandatory Aboriginal Studies subject with three excellent modules on teaching Aboriginal history. There is also a new project called Achieving Reconciliation in New South Wales Schools. The project aims to involve young people in reconciliation within their communities, but it also has a strong focus on teaching young people about Aboriginal people, culture and history. This excellent initiative has recently been completed by the Macquarie University and is funded by the Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs.
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. Myall Creek is a very important part of New South Wales and Australian history, and the memorial should be given every support. The memorial commemorates not only the massacre and the fact that justice was done; it is testimony to the true history of Australia. The memorial is an initiative of the Myall Creek Memorial Committee, led by Gamilaroi Elder Lyall Munro Senior and Dr John Brown of the Uniting Church. Indigenous and non-indigenous community members were also involved, including descendants of the Aboriginal people who were massacred and descendants of the white stockmen who were hanged. This is a true sign of reconciliation.
The Myall Creek memorial is funded by the New South Wales Government Heritage Assistance program and the Local Symbols of Reconciliation project of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. Additional funds have been raised by committee members and the Uniting Church, and the Bingara Shire Council has also contributed. I support this on-site commemoration. It is important that massacres of Aboriginal people are remembered by all Australians. Furthermore, it is historically significant that the events of Myall Creek are remembered and recorded in history as an example of British justice doing the right thing by Aboriginal people.
I am pleased to report that the New South Wales Department of Aboriginal Affairs is updating and reprinting a key historical text which documents the Aboriginal perspective of colonisation. The text is called Survival: A History of Aboriginal Life in New South Wales. The original author and historian, Nigel Parbury, will produce the second version for release in 2001. Today there is no excuse for not knowing our true history. Many documents that present a balanced and true history of Australian colonisation are now readily available, such as "Blood on the Wattle" by Bruce Elder, who resides at Kiama on the South Coast, and "Survival", by Nigel Parbury. We do not, cannot, and should not live in denial. We should not live a life of ignorance. We should know the facts of our history.
I assure the House that I will take great pride in attending the commemoration on Saturday, along with my colleagues the honourable member for Rockdale and the honourable member for Wallsend, and I will represent the Premier of New South Wales at that important historic event. We all need to be aware that it is no good trying to deny what has happened in our history. The sooner we are prepared to live up to what has happened in our history, to accept the good and the bad of what has happened, the better off this country will be. Until we are prepared to accept that atrocious things were done to the indigenous people of this country, reconciliation will never come about. I believe that this House will support this motion in a bipartisan approach, because I know that this Parliament has taken that approach to Aboriginal affairs for many, many years.
Mr HAZZARD (Wakehurst) [10.16 a.m.]: The Opposition is pleased to support the motion moved by the honourable member for Wollongong. The significance of the motion is that this House recognises Australia's history, which perhaps is not fully understood by many members of the Australian population. The event at Myall Creek in early June 1838 is perhaps recognised by Aboriginal people as a turning point in history. Until that time a number of unfortunate encounters had taken place between the indigenous people of Australia and the white settlers who had come here, involving direct violence towards Aboriginal people. To some degree that violence was reciprocated. Until that time there was perhaps a lack of understanding of and respect for the indigenous people of Australia. People were killed, and yet non-indigenous Australians were not brought to account for their actions. Obviously other harmful acts of violence on indigenous Australians were brought about by colonisation, and those acts have perhaps had a far greater effect than some of the acts of immediate violence, such as the Myall Creek massacre.
However, the Myall Creek massacre was the first time that white people had actually been brought to account for their actions. The honourable member for Wollongong recounted that a number of people who were brought to trial were initially acquitted. However, following a public outcry seven of the original group were tried again for having engaged in an outrageous act of violence against various indigenous Australians who were living on the Myall Creek station. This time they were found guilty and were hanged. The atrocity was committed in the absence of the manager of the station by what in effect constituted a crowd of criminals, who thought it was appropriate to teach these black people a lesson. Those indigenous Australians were simply tied up, taken away and murdered.
When the station manager returned to the Myall Creek station and found the bodies, which at that stage had been burned, he was justifiably outraged. In his role as manager of the cattle station, he worked with Aboriginal people and had a good relationship with them. He, along with others, expressed that outrage to the authorities, who eventually took some action. A trial was conducted, but the 11 accused were acquitted. However, subsequently, seven of the 11 were tried on other charges, found guilty, and were later hanged. Sadly, at the time there were reports in newspapers of an acceptance of the valueless nature of the lives of Aboriginal people. Indeed, the Sydney Herald carried a story that referred to Aboriginal lives as having less value than the cost of printing the documents necessary to bring the murderers to justice. This was a terrible time in the history of New South Wales. That a major newspaper of the day such as the Sydney Herald should suggest such a thing demonstrated the lack of appreciation and understanding in those days of the significance, contribution, importance and value of Aboriginal people.
I am pleased that there has been a significant change of view since 1838. Indeed, as we debate this motion today one of the most momentous occasions in Australian history is being celebrated at Uluru. While driving to Parliament House this morning I heard a radio report that the Olympic torch had been taken off a plane that had just landed at Uluru from New Zealand and handed to the local Aboriginal people, the Anangu, who handed it on to Nova Peris-Kneebone, an Aboriginal and Australian icon. Nova, her daughter Jessica and her husband Shaun, have brought together the values of indigenous and non-indigenous Australians and have shown that we in the twenty-first century really do have great hope for the future—an entirely different attitude from that of those settlers back in early June 1838 who rode out to the Myall Creek station and committed such evil deeds.
It is important that parliaments such as ours, the oldest Parliament in Australia, should record these events. However, it is important also that we record them with a great sense of hope for the future. We should record such events as the people's walk for reconciliation across the Sydney Harbour Bridge last Sunday week and last weekend in Brisbane when 40,000 people gathered for a similar purpose. The official estimate of the number of people who took place in the Sydney walk was 150,000. I participated in that event with the Leader of the Opposition, Kerry Chikarovksi, the Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr, and the Leader of the National Party, George Souris, and I would suggest that number was more like 250,000 to 300,000. In fact, I walked across the bridge twice: I walked at 8.00 a.m. with the official party and again at 11.00 a.m. with my family. The flow of people across the bridge, in the great spirit of goodwill and reconciliation, did not abate at all over those hours.
The voice of those who want reconciliation in New South Wales and Australia will continue to grow louder throughout the twenty-first century regardless of the attempts of those who seek to denigrate the benefits of reconciliation. As a community we will continue to move down the path of reconciliation. It is all very well for us to move motions of this type in parliaments throughout Australia, and although we should look back at our history with acknowledgment and forward to the future with great hope, at the end of the day that hope will not be realised unless practical outcomes are worked on now. I will not recount them all in detail this morning; I have done so on numerous occasions in this House. However, there are so many areas of disadvantage—
Mr Markham: Social justice.
Mr HAZZARD: The honourable member for Wollongong refers to social justice. Indeed; it is social justice, it is fairness and it is equity. Today Aboriginal people suffer practical disadvantage in education, health, unemployment, and law and order. If that is still the case in another 10, 15 or 20 years time, we should not at that point be proud of our history. Now is the time to take action, to look back at our history and to look forward with hope to our future. We should take practical steps now to improve the lives of Aboriginal people.
Mr MILLS (Wallsend) [10.26 a.m.]: I am pleased to support the motion moved by the Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Deputy Premier on Aboriginal Affairs, in particular, paragraph 3, which commends the Myall Creek Memorial Committee, and all the Aboriginal and other Australians who have worked together in a spirit of reconciliation to acknowledge the shared truth of our history. I have been honoured with an invitation to attend the opening of the memorial next Saturday for the victims of the Myall Creek massacre. I thank the organising committee, which is headed by the Gamilaroi elder Lyall Munro Snr and the Reverend John Brown, for that invitation. I will attend with great pride. I acknowledge also the hard work that has been done by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians in that area to establish this memorial.
I also express my happiness that Aboriginal people and Aboriginal culture have survived 212 years of European occupation—a key point of celebration that will be in the minds of everyone attending the memorial next Saturday at Myall Creek. Australia's first people look forward to prospering and to their ongoing survival, both of which are vital to Australia's future. The project arose from groups of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the Uniting Church. The committee comprises people from north and north-west New South Wales, Gamilaroi elders and non-Aboriginal people from the North Coast. I recall reading a hallmark article in a recent weekend newspaper that highlighted the lack of knowledge of events such as the Myall Creek massacre not only by the Australian community as a whole but also by the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal descendants of those who were involved, including the relatives of those who were hanged, who only recently became aware of their families' involvement.
I acknowledge the co-operation and assistance of the Bingara shire in this project. Funding for the project has been contributed by the New South Wales Government through its heritage assistance program and by the Local Symbols of Reconciliation Project of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. I also noted last Sunday an advertisement taken out by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission [ATSIC] saying "Thank You!" to all the people who walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge two weeks ago. It is clear from the advertisement that the work of reconciliation goes on. ATSIC reported in that advertisement that as a result of people having participated in the walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it had received many queries from members of the public on how they could further promote reconciliation within their own communities. The work of reconciliation does indeed continue, and this weekend's activities are an ongoing part of that process.
A key feature of this weekend's event, apart from celebrating Aboriginal survival, is to recognise, as the motion states, the importance of sharing the whole truth of Australian history. As I said earlier, most non-Aboriginal people have not been taught the history of the European efforts in Australia to destroy Aboriginal society. And as the motion also states, we acknowledge the significance of Myall Creek as an appalling example of the treatment of Aboriginal people on the colonial frontier, yet a worthy example of justice being done.
Many years ago, but more intensively in recent times, I undertook some reading on the subject and I advocate three authors who deserve careful reading by members of the community and by honourable members of this House. Those authors outline a shameful side of Australian history. Henry Reynolds, who is a professor of history at James Cook University, is someone whose works need to be read. The Other Side of the Frontier was published in 1981 and it first opened my eyes to what was going on. A subtitle of that book is "An Interpretation of the Aboriginal response to the Invasion and Settlement of Australia". More recently in 1998 Professor Reynolds published, This Whispering in Our Hearts, and last year he published a book whose title makes the content pretty obvious, Why Weren't we Told? An important theme of my contribution to this debate is the acknowledgment and sharing of the whole truth of Australian history.
A second book that is important and should be read is by Bruce Elder which was written in 1988 and published by National Book Distributors, Blood on the Wattle. Its subtitle is "Massacres and Maltreatment of Australian Aborigines since 1788" and it includes a whole chapter on the Myall Creek massacre of 1838. The third book is quite an old book published in 1970 by Australian National University [ANU] Press and written by C. D. Rowley, The Destruction of Aboriginal Society. At that time, C. D. Rowley was a professor of political studies at the University of Papua New Guinea but he had been director of the Social Science Research Council of Australia's Aborigines Project from 1964 to 1967. It was 1967 when the referendum on Aboriginal issues took place in Australia and the book comprises Volume 1 of that project.
It is interesting to consider the title of the oldest of the these books, The Destruction of Aboriginal Society, because at the time it was written, assimilation was still the end goal of Australia's Aboriginal policy. Rowley wrote in the preface in regard to the Aboriginal people whom he had met, "One hopes that the results of our work will play some small part in opening up their way to equality and justice." The concern and sympathy were there, but the realisation of the great cry of Aboriginal Australians in the 1980s—the cry "We have survived!"—had not reached the consciousness of non-Aboriginal Australians in the late 1960s. I rather think that the book would have a different title and would have been written in some other way if written now. Rowley is very interesting to read because of the evidence that was available in the 1960s. I cite a couple of extracts that indicate how the frontier between European settlement and Aboriginal Australia ran with blood. At page 35, the book states:
It was quite possible for men of good repute among the settlers to justify the one good bloody lesson as likely to save lives in the long run, for it might establish the mastery of the settlers, and so avoid further clashes.
Rowley cites W. H. Breton, who wrote in 1834:
... it would be ... most judicious ... to make upon them at once, a strong impression; for if only one or two be killed, the sole effect is to instigate them to revenge their companions, whereby a series of murders on both sides is the consequence.
Rowley went on to state:
The same writer could criticise the 'Christian whites' who 'consider it a pastime to go out and shoot them'.
Just fifty years after the First Fleet, and in the governorship of Gipps, the law on one spectacular occasion was actually carried out, in the well-known case of the Myall Creek murders. But this case presented an almost unique set of circumstances. Most such events could not be dealt with effectively because Aboriginal evidence was not valid (since non-Christians could not be sworn). But this case was marked by the unusual circumstances that one of the whites present not only did not participate, but informed the nearest magistrate ... [who] took his duties seriously (another unusual circumstance in such cases). There was a governor who realised that, unless the law were to be rigidly applied, there was no hope of control at all.
... Plunkett, the Attorney-General of New South Wales, was determined enough to lead the prosecution himself. Even then, the first jury acquitted the eleven men charged; but Plunkett arranged to have seven of them charged on a further count of murder. All seven were found guilty of murdering one of the children included in the massacre ... These seven were executed.
A reason for not prosecuting the remaining four was that the main evidence against them was that of a 'civilised' Aboriginal who worked on Myall Creek. Because he was ignorant of the 'ordinances of religion' his evidence was not acceptable. The massacre ... was one of a series.
At the time, the Sydney Herald argued that "Aborigines had no 'right' to the land" because "they bestowed no labor upon the land". Rowley goes on to state:
If the Aborigines had no real right to the land, then the settlers could argue that they were protecting their property against alleged Aboriginal law-breakers.
Rowley pointed out that this reasoning constituted "arguments for violence in self-defence or in defence of property." Rowley went on to analyse what war means and asserts that, as far as white settlers were concerned, it was a case of war against the Aborigines, and the immorality of war excused what they did. [Time expired.]
Mr O'DOHERTY (Hornsby) [10.36 a.m.]: I am pleased to support the motion and I join my colleague the honourable member for Wakehurst together with honourable members opposite with whom I share a bipartisan spirit on this issue in recognising the importance of remembering Myall Creek. As young students study this incident, I hope they are able to reflect, increasingly as time goes by, upon the many factors in the relationship between black and white people that are represented by a remembrance of the Myall Creek massacre. It may be right to say that in some ways the incident represents the very worst as well as some of the best of what was happening in the 1800s in the very difficult history of relationships between black and white people in Australia.
I say that it is an incident showing the very worst because the massacre occurred when the gang of 12 in 1838 simply rode onto Myall Creek station to murder and slaughter in the worst way a group of Aboriginal people who were camped on what was their traditional land. That represents at the very worst the relationship between black and white people in Australia but, in some ways, it also represents a good turning point. Despite the earlier acquittal of the gang, on a second trial a number of the gang's participants who were guilty of this dreadfully heinous crime were found guilty. Subsequently they were hanged. That was probably the first time that the establishment had taken some serious action against white people in response to atrocities committed against black people. It was a long time coming in Australia's history, having taken until 1838 before being recognised.
It is the interesting also to note the history of the event considered against the background of what was happening in England and the pressure upon Governor Gipps to deal with the Myall Creek massacre properly. A short time before the massacre occurred, a statute in England recognised that indigenous people had some rights to the land. That probably caused additional tension leading to what was a very open campaign by settlers in Australia to drive the blacks off their land. That was represented by what I think is a chilling but very eye-opening account in the Sydney Herald at that time which referred to black people's lives as being less important than land and what could actually be grown from the land. In 1838-39, the Herald stated:
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 these silly [court] documents on which we have already wasted too much time.
I feel emotional as I read those grossly offensive words; it is good that we recognise how grossly offensive they are. Yet that article reflects the thinking of most white Australians in the 1830s. There were voices in the wilderness, and we must recognise the important contribution of those noble non-indigenous Australians who began to champion the cause of black Australians. In light of the pressure from England and those voices in the wilderness crying out for basic human rights, Governor Gipps was determined to take action against those responsible for the Myall Creek massacre. When they were acquitted in the first trial, loud cheering broke out in the courtroom. That was indeed grossly offensive. However, the perpetrators were retried and punished for the crime.
As students study the history of the Myall Creek massacre and the events of the 1830s, let us hope that they extract from their studies some themes about modern Australia. Aboriginal people say that it is important to recognise and commemorate events such as the Myall Creek massacre. We must talk about them and continue to discuss their meaning as this is an important part of the reconciliation process. I certainly agree with that sentiment and I support those who, through their efforts, have established a proper memorial to the Myall Creek massacre. Their efforts are very important to both the history and the future of our nation. The First Secretary of the Welsh National Assembly said yesterday in this Chamber that we look back at history and extract from it some honesty about our past that helps us to deal with our future.
Unless we are honest about the past, we will not achieve reconciliation—which is a coming together of people—and have a better future together. The Parliamentary Secretary, the honourable member for Wollongong, and other honourable members who are nodding agree that that is part of the reconciliation process that involves all Australians. I celebrate that process and was pleased to participate in the Sydney Harbour Bridge walk a week and a half ago. That was a great occasion. I walked with the Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Wakehurst, the Premier, the Parliamentary Secretary and many other honourable members. We celebrated the fact that, irrespective of our backgrounds and the many reasons that brought us to this place, we were unified as members of Parliament.
We were unified on that day and on this issue. This bipartisanship is an important feature of the New South Wales Parliament. I was pleased to walk not only with my many parliamentary colleagues but with my family: my wife, Georgina, and our sons, James and Daniel. It was an important event in the young lives of my sons aged eight and almost six. I think back to my childhood and to the events that stand out in my memory. My family has many relatives in Melbourne and, whenever they visited Sydney, we would take them to visit the Opera House—which was eternally under construction when I was growing up—and to the southern pylon of the Harbour Bridge. I have clear memories of climbing and counting the steps in the pylon.
I hope that my children will remember walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which was closed for only the third time since its opening. We talked to our children about the significance of the event, which had been explained to them at school—it is a great feature of schooling in this State that such things are discussed with students. We told our children that we were celebrating the unity of the Australian people and the great theme of bringing together black and white Australians. We are not hiding our past: we recognise indigenous Australians' prior occupation of the land and recognise the wrongs that were done to them—not necessarily by us but by those who have gone before.
If we recognise what happened in the past, are honest about it and say sorry, we will be able to move on to a better future. We discussed those themes, and many other topics, as we walked across the bridge. I do not want to paint too rosy a picture: the New South Wales Parliament being what it is, there were robust discussions at various points of the walk. That was great. We chipped the Premier about the fact that we could not buy tickets for the train because there were no staff at the station and the ticket machine was broken. He took our comments in the right spirit. Robust debate is an important feature of the New South Wales Parliament. There was an historic scene at the end of the march that I do not think will be repeated.
We joined the honourable member for Wakehurst, the Leader of the Opposition and her sister at the coffee shop at Darling Harbour and sitting at the next table were Kim Beazley, Bob Hawke, Simon Crean, Duncan Kerr and other Labor luminaries. Daryl Melham moved a chair to join their table and I said, "Here is an example of Labor's branch stacking". We then discussed the fact that we could probably learn a lot from the Labor Party. We urged Kim Beazley to continue writing books and he said that we should steal rather than buy them. The Leader of the Opposition's sister, Julieanne, said that we did not have to steal them because we could buy them remaindered for $1.50 at any bookstore. It was an entertaining day on which we celebrated the true spirit of togetherness. I have great pleasure commending the reconciliation process and this motion to the House.
Mr THOMPSON (Rockdale) [10.46 a.m.]: The Myall Creek massacre memorial committee has undertaken a significant project with the support of Bingara Shire Council and neighbouring shires. Some funding has been provided by the New South Wales Government's heritage assistance program and by the local symbols of reconciliation project of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. The horrendous event that occurred at Myall Creek on 10 June 1838 was only one of hundreds of such massacres that occurred along the frontiers of settlement during the nineteenth century. There were also a number of massacres in the first half of the twentieth century but, like most of the others, they were not recorded in any detail.
As I have often said in this House, these events have been ignored and virtually written out of our history. However, things are beginning to change. The Myall Creek memorial committee members were correct in their judgment that, for reconciliation to occur, there must be an honest acknowledgment of our true history: we must all face the facts of Australia's past, not just at Myall Creek but throughout Australia. The memorial project began as an initiative by a number of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the Uniting Church who are committed to achieving greater understanding and justice between our peoples. From that beginning, the committee has expanded into a broad-based community group, comprising non-Aboriginal people from Inverell, Warialda, Delungra, Bingara, Barraba, Narrabri, Moree, Tamworth and Armidale.
It also includes the Gamilaroi elders from Moree, Inverell, Tingha, Tamworth, Narrabri, Gunnedah and Armidale. The co-chairs of the committee are Lyall Munro of Moree and the Rev. John Brown of the Uniting Church. This event has special significance for me—my wife and I will attend the function on Saturday—because my wife, Lucy, comes from the Inverell district. She spent her childhood on a property called Yeral, which is located only a few kilometres from Myall Creek. Part of next Saturday's function will take place in the Myall Creek hall where Lucy, her brothers, sisters and parents often socialised with friends and neighbours through the 1950s and early 1960s.
Lucy went to primary school at nearby Bingara and Delungra and to high school at Inverell. Neither she, her brothers and sisters nor any of the other children—almost no man, woman or child in the district—had heard of the Myall Creek massacre. It was not on the school curriculum. Like the rest of us, Lucy learned about Captain Cook and the early explorers. We were all taught about the kings and queens of England, but none of us heard about the true history of our own country. The Myall Creek massacre has special significance in our history. Approximately 30 Aborigines had been murdered in the most hideous and shameful fashion. But that, in itself, was not unusual nor was it uncommon. What was significant was that for the first time white men were convicted of the crime and were hanged. In fact, seven of the killers were executed. In his book Blood on the Wattle Bruce Elder recorded it this way:
And so it was that arsenic-laced flour was distributed to Aborigines and waterholes were poisoned. The mode of murder and massacre may have changed but still many thousands of Aboriginal men, women and children continued to be slaughtered well into the twentieth century. That is the true history of this aspect of Australia. That is what has to be faced and acknowledged. It is by exposing and recognising the reality of it—especially by saying "sorry"—that our generation can truly progress towards reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.
Before their execution the men confessed to their crime. Their defence of their actions, a pitiful plea on their part, was that, because killing aborigines was a common frontier sport, they did not realise that it was illegal. They certainly did not realise that it carried the death penalty. It had never occurred to these men, brutalised by the values of the society in which they lived, that the real rule of law actually existed. They were victims of their society; a society which suffered ethical schizophrenia. Laws were bent into fantastic shapes by expediency and a class-ridden autocracy.
They were hanged on 18 December. The repercussions of their executions reverberated up and down the frontier for the next fifty years. Myall Creek may have been British justice vindicated but it was also a warning to all squatters and frontiersmen.
The Government hoped that the lesson was "Don't kill Aborigines". The message received on the frontier was translated as "If you kill Aborigines don't, under any circumstances, let the authorities know." The result of the trial and the executions was that nearly all further massacres in New South Wales went unrecorded and, as recorded in one Sydney newspaper, the whites turned to more devious means of ridding themselves of the "black menace" …
Thus the history of thousands of Aborigines was determined, in part, as a result of the Myall Creek massacre. A new, unwritten law emerged: death by stealth.
Mr COLLINS (Willoughby) [10.51 a.m.]: I support the motion before the House moved by the honourable member for Wollongong. I commend the comments of the honourable member for Rockdale about the important, and I have to say, shameful and dark part of Australian history of which all Australians need to be made aware. The significance of this motion is threefold. First, it recognises the blatant injustice dealt to the Aboriginal community in the early part of the nineteenth century. Second, it then records the application of justice of a then British justice system to an infant colony. Third, as we have just heard from the honourable member for Rockdale, it relates the tragic consequences—which were really swept under the carpet—of the atrocities perpetrated on Aboriginal people, especially during the nineteenth century, in a spirit of ignorance and shame.
We have advanced a long way since then and this country can take heart from the fact that we are prepared, in a bipartisan spirit, to support such a motion in the Parliament today. It is important to have a memorial to those who died at Myall Creek for the significance that it represents in the advancement of the Aboriginal cause in this country, and now in the process of reconciliation which has so triumphantly emerged during this millennium year. Like most speakers in this debate so far, I had great pleasure and pride participating in the reconciliation march across the Sydney Harbour Bridge two weekends ago. It was the most extraordinary public event that I have participated in, or am likely to participate in again during my lifetime. That applies to everyone who was there on that day. It was a one-off event; a unique occasion. It was a turning point in Australian history.
It gave me enormous satisfaction to walk over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and, as I approached the southern toll gates, to look back and see that vast swelling crowd. I am surprised at the underestimation of the numbers. I place on record that for anyone to say there were only 150,000 people in that march is surely laughable. We are in the numbers game in this House, and we need to do some recalculation. The bridge would hold approximately 150,000 people from end to end at any given moment. Hour after hour they came, new people—not the same people going around and around—caught the train to North Sydney and walked over the bridge. If the size of the crowd was less than half a million people, in this city of four million people, I, and all honourable members of this House who participated, would be astonished.
The fact that half a million people chose to walk over the bridge and to break down all barriers—age, demographic, political, social—is something of which the Australian community can be immensely proud. It was, before our eyes, a turning point in our history. The debate will never be the same again. The point has been made; the case has been proven. The New South Wales Parliament can take some satisfaction from the fact that three years ago it became the first Parliament to put on record a reconciliation motion——the first of its kind. New South Wales was the first State to conduct a reconciliation ceremony in this very Chamber, which was emulated by all other Australian States and Territories. So the page has been turned. I acknowledge the long-term personal interest of the honourable member for Wollongong. I strongly commend the motion. I cannot attend the dedication ceremony on the weekend but I ask the honourable member for Wollongong to pass on the strong sentiments of the Coalition in support of the people of Myall Creek this weekend.
Mr LYNCH (Liverpool) [10.56 a.m.]: I support the resolution and congratulate the honourable member for Wollongong on placing it on the business paper and on moving the motion. I also note that, as is often the case with these motions in this place, it has been debated on a bipartisan basis. It is worth noting and it is pleasing that despite the many things that divide us in this place, a division tends not to occur in respect of matters such as this. Myall Creek and the events surrounding it in 1838 and the years after seem to me to be a critical part of the post-invasion history of Australia. As a statement of general principle—it has been said in this debate and I have certainly said it in similar debates—if people do not come to terms with, accept and understand their history then they cannot possibly move forward. At one level that is a trite generality but it is in fact a quite incisive analysis of how societies operate. Each of us are defined by our past and society is defined by its past. Unless we come to terms with and accept it then our future will be difficult, to put it mildly.
Some of the things about Myall Creek that make it central include the following. Certainly it was not the only incident of Aboriginal deaths at the hands of whites. Massacres, deaths, murders—planned and unplanned by gunshot or disease—had certainly been going on for 60- or 70-odd years before this particular incident. Many of those massacres both before and after are itemised in the books of Henry Reynolds that have already been referred to—Frontier and Other Side of the Frontier. There is a plethora of evidence dealing with those sorts of incidents now. Richard Hall wrote a book called BLACK Armband Days which summed up that part of Australian history. The term "black armband" is used by some in a pejorative sense suggesting that people should not rely on the negative aspects of the history, but unless you accept those parts you cannot get a proper view of the whole. It is totally appropriate to use the phrase "black armband" and totally appropriate for someone to write a book called BLACK Armband Days. So in that sense Myall Creek is certainly not exceptional.
What is exceptional is that white men were brought to justice for that massacre. Another book written by Henry Reynolds, This Whispering in Our Hearts, contains a history of the elements of white society that did not go along with the majority view. It is worth remembering that. The phrase "this whispering in our hearts" was used by a man called Windyer who argued that Aboriginal people would inevitably proceed to extinction and that their culture would disappear. He said further, "Why does that worry me, why is there this whispering in my heart that this is going to happen?" In a sense the massacre at Myall Creek becomes the whispering in the heart of the colonial enterprise of the nineteenth century.
That was the one massacre that was exposed, that was the one massacre for which white people were brought to justice. It was a whispering in the consciousness of the European civilisation; I should say European society—"civilisation" is certainly the wrong term to use in this debate—in Australia at that time. One of the interesting aspects of the occurrences at Myall Creek is that the people who were hanged, whilst they certainly were guilty of murder, were nevertheless not from the strata in Australian society at that time that had the benefit of the land, had a lot of money, and consequently had power—they were not the people who were normally brought to book.
I was fascinated to learn that Myall Creek station was Henry Dangar's station. Anyone who knows about the 1891 general strike and the fights between the shearers and the role that the Dangar family played with pastoralists fighting the Australian Workers Union at that time would understand that fascination. The interpretation of what happened at Myall Creek is one of the most critical elements in the history of this country. That was the one massacre following which people were brought to book. It is sad that the message that was meant to be conveyed as a result of those executions was not—that is, that it was not appropriate to massacre Aboriginal people. It seems that the lesson was: You can do it, but don't get caught. That is the most tragic element of that part of our history. [Time expired.]
Mr MARKHAM (Wollongong—Parliamentary Secretary) [11.01 a.m.], in reply: I thank all members who have participated in this debate. It is important for the House to debate this motion this week so that on my visit to the unveiling of the Myall Creek memorial next Saturday I can pass on this House's support to the memorial committee and to all the people who have been involved in it. My colleague the shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the honourable member for Wakehurst, is supportive on the memorial and has expressed his sorrow that he will not be able to attend the ceremony on Saturday. I will pass on his best wishes to the committee on Saturday. Today a number of members have said things that give me great hope that there is an advancement in the thinking of people in this State.
Members of Parliament are looked upon as leaders, they advance community issues in this House as well as in the broader community. Today that is what is occurring here. A number of members mentioned the peoples' walk for reconciliation across the Sydney Harbour Bridge on Sunday 28 May. The honourable member for Willoughby suggested that 150,000 people participated, the figure that was reported in the media. I agree with the honourable member. That is a joke! At least half a million people participated in that walk—a great demonstration that people want reconciliation. Many members of this Parliament participated in that historic walk because they believe that reconciliation is a possibility and that it will be achieved. On 14 May the Sun-Herald contained an article under the heading "Healing hands" written by Frank Walker. The article stated:
The article explained the real hurt and real feelings of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people from that area. Many books, which have been mentioned by my colleagues this morning, document similar occurrences around Australia. It is imperative that the Australian community becomes aware of those occurrences, and the memorial at Myall Creek is a small step towards that awareness. A lot of research has been undertaken by the committee and that will be reflected on Saturday when the memorial is unveiled. The committee has erected a large granite boulder on a knoll overlooking the site of the massacre.
Sue Blacklock is a descendant of a survivor of one of the worst massacres of Aboriginal people in NSW history. She is the proud mother of St George Illawarra rugby league star Nathan Blacklock and a leader of the Aboriginal community around Inverell.
In 1838, her great-grandfather, John Munro, was a little boy who ran to escape a vicious armed posse of convicts and white settlers …
The woman Blacklock embraced is Beaulah Adams, who made the shocking discovery just a few months ago while researching her family tree that one of the white murderers, Edward "Ned" Foley, was her great-uncle.
A single plaque will be attached to the rock. In addition, seven other smaller rocks will be set up along the winding 350 metre path leading from the car park to the monument. A plaque will be attached to each rock telling a part of the story. That memorial will be there for a long time to come and it is something we need to make sure that the country knows about. It is an acknowledgement that we need to recognise our history. The Myall Creek commemoration on Saturday will go part way towards achieving that. I repeat: this Parliament has always taken a bipartisan approach to reconciliation, regardless of our political colours or persuasion; it is something we have done and should continue to do—I know we can continue to do it. I thank all honourable members who have participated in this debate and supported my motion.
Motion agreed to.