10 June 1838
Myall Creek Massacre
On June 10th 1838, ten white Europeans and one black African in northern New South Wales killed 28 unarmed Aboriginal people in what became known as ‘The Myall Creek Massacre’. The murder victims were part of the Kamilaroi people and had been camping peacefully at the station for several weeks after being invited to do so by one of the stockmen. They were mostly women, children and old men, as the younger men were away at the time on a neighbouring station. Testimony was later given at the trial that the children had been beheaded while the adults were slaughtered and dismembered with three swords the gang had brought with them.
The eleven men were arrested and tried at court in Sydney. At the first trial, after deliberating for just twenty minutes, the jury found all eleven men not guilty. One of the jurors later wrote that, although he considered the men guilty of murder, he could not convict a white man of killing an Aboriginal person. The Attorney General, however, demanded a second trial at which seven of the men were found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang. The leader of the massacre, John Fleming, was never captured and was allegedly responsible for several further massacres. Another of those not tried at the second hearing, John Blake, committed suicide in 1852.
Myall Creek was by no means outstanding in terms of numbers killed. It was just one of countless massacres that took place across Australia between 1788 and 1928. It is, however, highly significant for being the only time that white men were arrested, charged and hanged for the massacre of Aborigines.
Injustices against the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people since European settlement are, of course, not limited to mass murders. Successive policies of ‘protection’ and ‘assimilation’ over the last two hundred years have resulted in pervasive discrimination, as well as disintegration of their culture, language and traditions. The social and psychological effects on individuals, groups and communities have been immeasurable, with a cascading impact through ‘intergenerational trauma’. Yet there is cause for great hope. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is the oldest living culture in the world, dating back over 60,000 years. Despite the negative impact of colonisation, they have demonstrated enormous strength, survival and resilience. While progress is often slow, Australia is in the process of healing.