Kimberley WA Massacres

The Kimberley is the northernmost region of Western Australia, with an area of 425,000 sq.km, about the same as California, and the population of a small Californian town, 30-40,000 depending on the season, approx. 40% Indigenous (Wikipedia). White settlement began in the 1880s, mostly for cattle grazing, and there were a couple of gold rushes soon after. The climate is tropical, and the terrain, although nowhere greater than 1,000m above sea level, is mountainous, rocky and cut through with gorges, but flattens out to the south where it meets up with the Great Sandy Desert (see for instance my review of Two Sisters, Ngarta and Jukuna).

The Kimberley and the neighbouring northern Northern Territory encompass many distinct Aboriginal languages which are of a different family from those of the rest of Australia, but I think the main WA ones are:

Nyulnyulan – Broome to Derby
Worrorran – Derby to Wyndham
Jarrakan – Wyndham to the NT border and down towards Halls Creek
Bunuban – around Fitzroy Crossing (map)

There’s more again on Kimberley language groups here and more generally, in the Aboriginal Australia page above.

My starting point for this post is Chris Owen’s Every Mother’s Son is Guilty: Policing the Kimberley Frontier of Western Australia 1882-1905 (2016) which I made a start on reviewing earlier (here). Under ‘massacres’ in the index Owen lists:

Pinjarra massacre, 1834, in southern WA (previous post here)
Flying Foam massacre, 1868, in the Pilbara (story here)
Fred Marriot massacre, 1886
Big John Durack massacre, 1886
George Barnett massacre, 1888
Goose Hill massacre, 1888
Jail Creek/Turkey Creek Massacre, 1890s
Mistake Creek massacre, 1915 (Guardian here)
Mowla Bluff massacre, 1916
Bedford Downs massacre, 1924
Forrest River massacres, 1926 (Wiki here)

According to Owen these are only the most notorious. The Indigenous population fought back against the encroachments of the white settler, the settlers retaliated disproportionately and often burnt the bodies to conceal the evidence. Graziers in the East Kimberley, who had come from Queensland and the Northern Territory, already had a history of murder to protect their properties. The editor of the Northern Territory Times (18 Aug 1888)* wrote that police in the Kimberley should disregard any laws and “simply admonish them and disperse them in the Queensland fashion” ie. kill them. “It is the only way to make the natives respect the lives and property of white men.”

Fred Marriot, Halls Creek, 1886. Marriot was one of a number of men speared on or around the Halls Creek gold fields at that time. ‘Typically reports would attribute the killing to Aboriginal aggression’ but the reason for Marriot’s death was his abduction of an Aboriginal woman, though there were other reports that he gave the Aborigines poisoned flour (Owen says ‘oral’ reports by which I think he means Aboriginal). As was the case with every spearing, prospectors organised a reprisal party. Police records say one Aborigine was killed. A colonist, GH Lamond said “four blacks were killed and several wounded”. Oral accounts suggest ‘as many as 100 Jaru or Kija’ were killed. [Moola Bulla: In the shadow of the mountain, Kimberley Language Resource Centre, 1996]. This is corroborated by the private correspondence of prospector George Hale:

A number of diggers went out to take revenge. Having bailed up a large number of blacks in a gully who showed fight, they proceeded to slaughter them with repeating rifles. It is certain that a great many were killed, some say at least a hundred. [quoted in The Forrest River Massacres, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1995]

‘Big’ John Durack, Ord River Station, 1886. (Big John was cousin to John Wallace Durack who was brother of Michael Durack who was father to writer Mary and artist Elizabeth Durack). Big John while riding round the Durack station came on a party of Aborigines whom he immediately fired on. He was speared and died. A reprisal party was mounted and the police reported two men ‘who appeared to be the ringleaders’ were shot and killed. However, a local solicitor wrote to the West Australian six years later, “100 or 150 natives were slaughtered in cold blood.” A subsequent note in the police file identified the solicitor’s eyewitness as William Collins, squatter. “He with others … rounded about 120 natives up and shot a large number consisting of men, women and children.” Mary Durack wrote that these reprisals were known as “nigger hunts” and that the silence surrounding them made it impossible to know how many were killed.

George Barnett, a teamster, was speared and died, in July 1888 while working alone north of Halls Creek (Newspaper report). There are various accounts of the punitive expedition that ensued. August Lucanus, a special constable in the expedition wrote in his 1929 memoirs that there “must have been at least 200 blacks … they put up a fight … we dispersed them at last”; A paper down south reported “the party found and dispersed over 600 adult male natives” and some women and children; Colonel Angelo, the government resident at Roebourne at the time, later wrote “it is almost certain that sixty to seventy natives there and then paid the extreme penalty”, and that the murderers were “enraged diggers” (gold miners) ; and Mary Durack claimed the colonists “turned out almost to a man to participate in a massacre that is regarded as one of the most sweeping in local history.”

Note: Colonel Angelo, who tried to end slavery in the Pilbara pearling fleet, was removed from office because he upset the locals (West Australian).

Goose Hill, 1888 is relatively unusual because the police and colonists involved were charged with murder. A party of “six men and three native trackers” pursued, they said, “20 natives” following the spearing of a horse. Most of the Aboriginal people escaped into the swamp along the Ord River, but three were caught up with, two of them shot dead and a third, a boy, having climbed into a tree was seemingly used for target practice and left dead in a fork. As was usual, a minimal statement was filed, but a Police Sergeant Troy investigated further and discovered evidence of the deaths above and at least two others. Owen writes that a newspaper report twenty years later suggested that the death toll may have been as high as 80. Native Assistant Banjo, who was among those charged, made a comprehensive statement, including the detail that all the party were drinking heavily before and during the pursuit. The judge in the Supreme Court made a damning summation for over an hour, but it took the jury just 15 minutes to return ‘not guilty’.

Jail Creek/Turkey Creek, 1890s. Owen speculates that police sometimes found it more expedient to murder prisoners than to walk them for weeks to the nearest justice. Hector Chunda, a Kija and Miriuwung man says,

Some Kartiya [white men] round em up all the blackfella longa bush, put em chains around their necks … Right, all the kartiya get their guns, line em up, every girl and boy, and shoot em down … Whang em all the children on the rocks … chuck em all them dead bodies in the firewood place, put em kerosene and chuck em matches. Burn em up them, finished, they all there. [P. Marshall ed. Raparapa Kularr Martuwarra: Stories from the Fitzroy River Drovers, Magabala, 1988]

I can’t find any other reference to Jail Creek or Turkey Creek.

Mistake Creek, 1915. Mick Rhatigan, a former police constable working at Mistake Creek, near Turkey Creek station (half-way between Halls Creek and Wyndham) killed seven Aboriginal people in reprisal for the killing of a cow. A policeman found two charred bodies near Mistake Creek and five others some distance away. In Keith Willey’s Boss Drover (1971) the unnamed ‘cold heartless bloke’ who killed plenty of Aboriginal people is clearly Rhatigan.

Geegully Creek, Mowla Bluff, 1916. Nyikina Elder John Watson said that a punitive expedition by police and other colonists took place after station manager George Why was assaulted by Mangala people over “a small dispute”. Nyikina Mangala men, women and children were rounded up, ordered to collect firewood, and then shot and their remains burnt. Watson says he was told that three or four hundred were killed and only three escaped. [P. Marshall ed. Raparapa Kularr Martuwarra: Stories from the Fitzroy River Drovers, Magabala, 1988. There’s also a film, Whispering in our Hearts: The Mowla Bluff Massacre, 2002]

Bedford Downs, 1924. Kija Elder Dottie Watby says that after a bullock was killed, Kija and Worla people were forced to cut wood and were then given poisoned damper. Managers and stockmen from adjacent stations, including the notorious Jack Carey, started shooting, finally stacking the bodies with the wood and setting them alight with kerosene. Jack Carey, between 1919 and 1924 is said to have ‘threatened most Aboriginal people he met’; to have shot an Aboriginal man to take his wife, Mary Karraworla; and three stockmen for leaving a gate open. [From Digging Sticks to Writing Sticks: Stories of Kija Women, Catholic Education Office, Perth, 2001]

Forrest River or Oombulgurri massacres, 1926. The conclusion of the Forrest River Royal Commission was that twenty Aboriginals were killed and their bodies burnt in reprisal for the killing of pastoralist Frederick Hay, though one participant said ‘hundreds’ were killed. Police constables James St Jack and Dennis Regan were charged with murder but were never tried, due to “insufficient evidence”. Hay’s killer, Lumbia was tried and convicted. Lumbia had confronted Hay after the pastoralist had raped one or both of his wives, one of whom was a child. Hay flogged Lumbia 20-30 times with his stock whip and was speared as he rode off.

In the 1880s Catholic clergy in the Kimberley were clear that the rapid decline in the Indigenous population was the result of killings rather than illness (I couldn’t locate Owen’s newspaper reference). Almost all the 450 pages of text have references to the unpunished killing of Aboriginal people by white colonists. Black deaths in custody and hugely disproportionate imprisonment rates demonstrate that racism remains endemic in the WA Police Force and in WA society generally.

I hope this “Australia” Day we will all reflect on what misery and injustice our prosperity is built.

 

Chris Owen, Every Mother’s Son is Guilty: Policing the Kimberley Frontier of Western Australia 1882 – 1905, UWAP, Perth, 2016

see also:
Every Mother’s Son is Guilty (review)
Pinjarra Massacre, 1834 (here)
Wardandi Massacre, Wonnerup/Lake Mininup WA, 1841 (here)
Cocanarup (Kukenarup) Massacre, Ravensthorpe WA, 1880s (here)

Sturt massacre 1922 (ABC)


*Northern Territory Times (18 Aug 1888) (Trove)
The native question has yet to be
grappled with and settled. The niggers
have not yet grasped the fact that the
Europeans are masters, and cannot be
interfered with by them with impunity.
They have yet to be taught the salutary
lesson that if they do not molest travel-
lers and their property, they will not be
molested. Early in July a teamster
named Barnett, originally from Queens-
land, while travelling on the Kimberley
road, about 140 miles from Wyndham,
was attacked by natives. Unfortunately
he was alone, and had no one to help
him, or report the occurrence. He had
apparently tried to escape, and was
found two days after lying dead beside
his horse, with ”seven spear wounds in
his body”.
On the same day another man who
was riding along the same road, some
distance ahead of Barnett, saw some
freshly cut bushes and brushwood laid
across and near the track; suspecting
some devilry he hurried past, and,
turning to look as he went by, saw six
natives in the act of throwing their
spears. He immediately threw himself
off his horse, but was hardly quick
enough, for one spear struck him in the
left side, making a nasty flesh wound.
He remounted at once, and galloping
off, was soon out off the reach of their
spears. About the same time Mr.
Durack had a valuable horse killed,
and another wounded on the Twelve
Mile plain, twelve miles from Wynd-
ham.
To try and punish the perpetrators,
and put a stop to these outrages, a
party consisting of seven Europeans,
mostly old Queenslanders, and four
black-trackers, has been sent out,
ostensibly to arrest the offenders. It
is to be hoped however, that they will
not trouble to arrest, and bring
them in to the township, but
simply admonish them, and disperse
them Queensland, fashion. It is the
only way to make the natives respect
the lives and property of white men.

Every Mother’s Son is Guilty, Chris Owen

Every Mothers Son is Guilty

The most shocking thing about the photo of Kimberley (WA) Aboriginal prisoners on the front cover of this book is that it was produced at the 1905 Western Australian Royal Commission “on the Condition of the Natives” as part of the Police’s defence!

Police from Wyndham, a port in the far north, would go out into the bush for weeks at a time arresting Aborigines who they thought were complicit in the killing of cattle. Without warrants, and often without complaints from the station owner concerned –

in a morning raid, where there may or may not have been shooting of people allegedly resisting arrest, known as ‘dispersal’, men, and at times, children as young as ten would be detained, arrested and charged with the criminal offence of cattle killing.

… the accused would be neck chained and chained together at a distance of just 61 cm [2 feet] apart.

Neck chaining was approved by Police Regulations for desperate prisoners, but was in fact not used down south, and was only used in the north for Blacks, where its use was almost universal. Witnesses too would be chained and all would be forced to walk up to 24 kms a day in tropical heat, for distances of up to 400 km to the provincial centres of Broome, Halls Creek and Wyndham (map). Overnight they were left chained, and were further chained around trees. On arrival, they would be chained to bolts in the floors of their gaols. Trial was by a local JP, who could be the offended property owner, or a senior policeman. Typically they were gaoled for three years, with or without whipping, during which time the chains were not removed

The neck chains used at Wyndham weighed 2.4 kgs [5 lb] and the links were so strong they could only be opened with “a hammer and chisel with the prisoner’s head on the blacksmith’s anvil”, a process that would take up to ten minutes.

Every Mother’s Son is Guilty (2016) arose out Owens’ PhD thesis into the history of policing in the Kimberley from 1882, when the first police stations were established, to 1905, which marks the release date of the findings of the Roth Royal Commision. I was alerted to it by blogger Kindness, who commented on another post (I’m sorry, I forgot to note which one). I have the book on intra-library loan, which is a mistake at this time, as I have too much to do for AWW Gen 3 Week to do it justice.

Roth apparently had limited time and resources – as is usual when governments only wish to give the appearance of making an investigation – and his report covers only the years 1901-04.

If he had examined reports from the earlier period he might have discovered a considerable body of evidence describing dubious policing and legal practices, extensive violence towards Aboriginal people and a colonial culture that not only tolerated this violence but one that often encouraged it.

As the cattle (and sheep) barons, in the 1880s, pushed into the West Kimberley from the south, and into the East Kimberley – eg. the Duracks – from the NT and Queensland where they already had a history of widespread murder to protect their properties, the people being displaced began to fight back. Referring to Wyndham in 1894, Premier John Forrest said, “A sort of warfare was going on there between the whites and the blacks.”

… Aboriginal groups were involved in conflict, utilising the enormous semicircle of ranges and hills along the Napier Range from Derby in the West Kimberley to Wyndham in the East Kimberley… Aboriginal people killed more Europeans in acts of resistance on Warwa, Nyikina, Unggarangi and Worowa country in the West and on Kadjerong country in the East than in the area in and around Bunuba country where [famous outlaw] Jandamarra was fighting.

Stories of those times, and particularly Mary Durack’s Kings in Grass Castles (1959),  gloss over the killings of Blacks, though her father admitted elsewhere that following the spearing of Big John Durack in 1886 “a lot of blacks were shot”.

In the Index the author lists 12 massacres, only one of which, Pinjarra, I have previously covered. And I also need to do a post on Jandamarra. I will do my best to get to them all during 2020.

Since I wrote the above, the closure of the Eyre Highway connecting Perth with the eastern states has given me more time than I expected so I have written another (very long) post based mostly on the material in this book, which I will put up after Australian Women Writers Gen3 Week which starts on Sunday.

 

Chris Owen, Every Mother’s Son is Guilty: Policing the Kimberley Frontier of Western Australia 1882 – 1905, UWAP, Perth, 2016

Cake in the Hat Box, Arthur Upfield

22856836.jpg

Coming out of Albury last trip, west along the Murray Valley Highway, which follows the river along the Victorian side, I stopped at Strathmerton to check my load and found myself opposite both an op shop and a patisserie. The combination was irresistible and I soon found myself with a cauliflower pie and another Western Australian Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte novel.

Cake in the Hat Box (1955) is set in the Kimberleys, in WA’s North West, rugged, tropical cattle grazing country. Unlike Mr Jelly’s Business (review) which is set in a real town where the author worked in the 1930s, the setting for this story is a fictional settlement, Agar’s Lagoon, maybe based on Durack which marks the turn-off from the ‘Great Northern Highway’, in those post WWII days a primitive dirt track, to the port of Wyndham.

I’ve only been to the very north of WA a couple of times – something I hope to rectify in the coming years – but the descriptions of country sound authentic and Upfield’s ADB entry says, “In 1948 he led a 5000-mile (8047 km) expedition through the Kimberleys, Western Australia, for the Australian Geographical Society.”

The murder at the centre of this novel is that of a policeman found dead in his Landrover on a remote road. His Aboriginal companion (‘black tracker’), Jackie Musgrave, who is missing, is the initial suspect. However, Boney believes that he is dead and explicitly leaves his murder to be discovered and punished by his fellows, the Musgrave mob who live to the south, in the desert. The Aborigines around Agar’s are of a different language group and ‘belong’ to the various stations – one of the principal characters says that her Aborigines are as much the property of the station as the cattle.

The AITSIS map (here) shows just how many language groups there are in the East Kimberley, and the book Two Sisters which I reviewed (here) some time ago gives an account of Aborigines, Walmajarri people, moving out of the desert, although a bit to the west of this story, and onto the stations.

I like Boney mysteries, and have listened to so many that I was unable to read this one without hearing the mellifluous Humphrey Bower in my head. However, as I have said before, Upfield is not free of the racism of his time, and that is particularly true of this story where the mainly white principal characters are interacting all the time with Aborigines.

Sam left the seaport of Wyndham on August 16th, his six-wheeler loaded with ten tons of stores for stations south of Agar’s Lagoon. For ten miles the track was almost level as it crossed the flats south of Wyndham, a ship sailing on a sea of grass as yellow and as tall as ripe wheat. Thereafter it proceeded up an ever-narrowing valley between flat-topped ranges sparsely covered with stunted scrub and armoured with red and grey granite. The ranges merged into a maze with walls a thousand feet high, and the surface of the track was of loose stone and slate, level at no place for more than ten feet.

Gotta love a good trucking quote! Later, an old station owner describes how he used a wagon drawn by 52 donkeys to get over the range. Sam discovers Constable Stenhouse who has been shot dead and reports the death in Agar’s, where fortuitously Boney has been held up on his way home from Broome to Queensland. Stenhouse, married to a local girl, had been a notorious wife beater:

‘Wife got knocked round a bit. She was only two hands high, and couldn’t take it. If she’d been my sister, Stenhouse would have been sitting dead in his jeep years ago.’

Though the speaker goes on:

‘Fair’s fair, I reckon. A good belting don’t do any woman any harm, but no woman is expected to take punches from a bloke like Stenhouse.’

In fact Stenhouse’s wife had died of her beatings some years earlier and now her brother, a cattleman, is the principal suspect for the murder of her husband. Boney does a tour of the neighbouring properties; the ‘Musgrave mob’, never seen except for their smoke signals, come looking for Jackie; we meet some interesting people, White and Black; and a conclusion is soon reached.

But to to return to my argument, the best you can say about Upfield’s views, here expressed by Boney, is “patronising”:

‘Those aborigines have many traits similar to dogs … They’re full of knowledge and helpful in their own country, and are nervous and suspicious when away from it. We feed them and clothe them and we bring them to understand enough of our language to communicate. They smoke our tobacco and ride our horses, many of them drive our cars and trucks, and are able to repair windmills and pumps.

‘Nevertheless, they retain their tribal customs and cling to inherited instincts and convictions. They are loyal to white men living for a long time in their own locality, and suspicious of all others… Be patient. A thousand years are as nothing in this timeless land, and when the last aboriginal sinks down to die, despite the veneer imposed on him by our civilization, he will be the same man as were his forebears ten thousand years ago.

After that, should you read it? My answer is a qualified yes.

The mystery is well done, with the right number of red herrings, and Boney is an engaging character. The landscape of the Kimberleys is spectacular and Upfield describes it well, as he does the male-dominated drinking culture. Ernestine Hill provides similar descriptions, a couple of decades earlier, in her travelogue, The Timeless Land, which no doubt Upfield had read, and she actually hitched a lift with (famous station owner) Michael Durack in this area. Northern Australia is still racist, in a mostly off-hand way (ie. murder is now frowned on, though there are still ‘deaths in custody’) so the depiction of White attitudes is not so wide of the mark. The description of Aboriginal activities is probably accurate, and to a large extent, sympathetic, but Upfield’s descriptions of Aboriginal motivations are inherently racist and should be discounted.

 

Arthur Upfield, Cake in the Hat Box, first pub. 1955. My edition (pictured) Pan Books, London, 2nd printing 1966.