Twenty-eight Aboriginal Australians are murdered in what was known as the Myall Creek massacre.
On Sunday 10 June 1838, a group of 10 convict stockmen, lead by a squatter, rode onto Myall Creek Station near what is now Bingara in Northern New South Wales and brutally massacred about 28 Aboriginals, mostly older men, women and children in an unprovoked and premeditated attempt to remove them from what had become pastoral land. This event has become known as the Myall Creek Massacre and, whilst only one of many such outrages committed across Australia over a 100 year period, is notable now for the fact that it was the first time that the perpetrators of such crimes were brought to justice. Following a second trial, seven men were executed. This did not however herald an end to the massacres which continued for decades and remain as a stain on Australian history.
On the site of the Myall Creek Massacre now stands a simple but poignant granite memorial, acknowledging those who lost their lives, the perpetrators and those who courageously contributed to the pursuit and achievement of justice. Importantly now, it stands as a symbol of the desire for a more equitable Australia and as an emblem for those determined to achieve true and lasting reconciliation between our indigenous and more recent settler populations.
In 1837, Henry Dangar established Myall Creek Station as part of his growing pastoral empire. In 1837 and 1838, the station was managed by William Hobbs, a young freeman from Somerset whose personal staff comprised three assigned convicts; Charles Kilmeister the stockman, George Anderson the hut keeper, Andrew Burrowes , along with Aboriginal stockmen Davey and Billy. By mid 1837, it is believed that the area immediately to the North of Bingara and extending up to Myall Creek, originally peopled by the Wirrayaraay tribe, may well have been swept clear of its traditional owners. Despite this, there was constant fear of Aborigines and all men went armed when away from the station.
In late 1837 Major James Nunn, under orders of Acting Governor Snodgrass, came to the area from Sydney and with a party of about 30 troopers and volunteer stockmen conducted a murderous campaign extending over some months. In one incident, up to 300 Aborigines may have been killed in a surprise attack at Snodgrass Lagoon on Waterloo Creek on 26 January, 1838 and in another, a large party of Aborigines were reported to have been surprised at dawn in a ravine at the headquarters of Slaughterhouse Creek, with heavy loss of life. Nunn’s expedition cut a blood-thirsty swathe across the North West, for which he was warmly congratulated by the press, the squatter fraternity and elements in the government including Snodgrass.
Shortly before this, a group of about 50 Aborigines moved to Myall Creek Station at the invitation of stockman Charles Kilmeister. They had been living at McIntyres, a cattle station about 30 kilometres upstream from what is now Bingara. They had been urged to move by their friend Andrew Eaton, a hut keeper at McIntyres, who feared for their safety. In his book ‘Waterloo Creek’, historian Roger Milliss commented
“Everything points to an unusual bond developing between the little clutch of whites and the crowd of blacks who had suddenly descended on them, something approaching real friendship, not just for the enticing of young girls but for the older men and their children as well – all taking place in the short space of a fortnight or three weeks.”
On Sunday morning, 10 June 1838, ten of the Aborigines, representing most of the able-bodied males, accompanied Thomas Foster, the superintendent of Newtons, a neighbouring station, to assist him cut bark on his employer’s station. Whilst there they learned that a party of armed stockmen had visited the previous day and had plans to go onto Dangar’s. Foster prevailed upon the Aborigines to return immediately to Myall Creek. By half past four they were on their way. They were already too late.
Between three thirty and a quarter to four, a group of 11 stockmen came galloping up to the huts of Myall Creek Station, brandishing their guns and swords. Unfortunately for the Aborigines, who were preparing their evening meal, William Hobbs, the station superintendent, and Andrew Burrowes, one of the assigned convicts, were absent from the station. It is likely that the marauding gang knew this, having been tipped off by Burrowes.
The horsemen herded the Wirrayaraay into the workmen’s hut with only two boys aged about eight or nine able to escape. One of the stockmen, John Russell, undid a long tether rope from around a horse’s neck, entered the hut with one or two others and began tying the defenceless people’s hands together.
Despite his evening socialising with the Aborigines, Kilmeister, one of the station convicts, joined with their tormentors. George Anderson, another of the assigned convicts, refused to join and was later prevailed upon to give evidence against the others. The stockmen were deaf to the cries of their victims as they were lead over a rise to the West of the hut. There is no eyewitness account of the killings but about 800 metres from the huts, the defenceless people were hacked and slashed to death. Only one of the whole clan was spared. John Blake appears to have selected an Aboriginal woman for himself and so spared her. All of the other Aboriginal people were beheaded and their headless bodies were left where they fell.
Late that evening, the ten Aboriginal men who had been away at Newton’s collecting bark arrived at Anderson’s hut and learned the awful story of what had befallen their kin. With Anderson’s urging, they were persuaded to get as far away from the station as possible. Soon after, the ten men, two women and three boys headed off into the night towards McIntyres. A third boy had been hidden by Anderson in order to save him. The following day, the murderers returned to Anderson’s hut and spent the night there and, on Tuesday morning, set about burning the bodies of their victims. Kilmeister was deputized by Fleming to mind the fire during the day whilst the remaining murderers set out to find the Aborigines they had missed. During the next three days, the stockmen caught up with the work party that had then reached McIntyres and most were murdered. Further shocking atrocities were committed by this gang in the area with much loss of life before the party dispersed on Friday 15 June 1838.