Indigenous Law Bulletin
The Myall Creek Massacre of 1838 stands as a significant event in Australian history. It took 162 years for the first official Commemoration Service of this massacre, which will also take its place as a significant historical event.
On 10 June 1838, a gang of stockmen led by a squatter rode in and murdered at least 28 Aboriginal people, mostly women, children and old men. Eleven of the 12 who carried out the massacre were tried, but were acquitted by a sympathetic jury. The then Governor of NSW, George Gipps, pushed for a re-trial of seven of the men. They were all found guilty and were hanged despite protests from landowners and pastoralists. The squatter involved was never brought to trial. This was the first time since invasion that white men had been put on trial for murdering Aboriginal people.
On 10 June 2000, on the road between Bingara and Delungra in north-west New South Wales, several hundred people gathered at a new memorial site overlooking Myall Creek and the station where the massacre took place. Descendants of the victims and of the perpetrators stood side-by-side sharing ownership of this dark aspect of Australian history. The significance of the Commemoration Service lies in its acknowledgment of the truth of the shared history of Australia.
The 1838 massacre and subsequent conviction forced a recognition, of sorts, of Aboriginal people. Governor Gipps pushed for limited recognition of land issues in the passing of the 1842 Land Act (NSW), which initiated the allocation of reserve lands for Aboriginal people. These reserves in the following years were at times revoked as land became increasingly desirable for settlers, and in many cases became managed missions. The massacre and trial also met up with broader international political movements around basic human rights, including the push for anti-slavery in the colonies.
The Myall Creek massacre site stands as a raw illustration of the history of colonisation. The erection of the monument serves as a physical, emotional and spiritual testimony, which serves to obliterate any denial of this aspect of Australian history.
Heidi Norman is a lecturer at Jumbunna, Centre for Australian Indigenous Studies Education and Research, University of Technology, Sydney.