The Black Line

TheNightingale2019.jpg

This year’s Anzac Day post was sparked by an argument with my daughter. Psyche and I argue pretty noisily, which was a problem when we were both teenagers (OK, I was 40) and neither was prepared to back off. Not so much now that I’m a bit older. We were watching the Australian movie The Nightingale (2018) and the argument was about whether Aborigines made guerilla attacks on white settlements, as implied by the movie. I said Yes, and she said, No they didn’t she works with and talks with Aboriginal people and they only made reprisals.

School children learn the names of Aboriginal Resistance leaders these days and Perth’s new city square, Yagan Square, is named after one. Another, in the Kimberleys in WA’s north, who came up when I was writing up Kimberley Massacres was Jandamurra. There are others in every state. The page, Aboriginal Resistance (here), lists many instances culled from just a few sources, stating “when this many are seen in such a long list they help to explode the myth that Europeans walked in here and took over without any real resistance” .

The Nightingale is set in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1825, only a few years after white settlement began in earnest. A young Irish woman convict, Clare, working as a servant is raped by a British lieutenant and her husband and baby murdered. The lieutenant and a small party head off through the bush towards Launceston pursued by Clare intent on revenge. She secures the assistance of “Billy” an Aboriginal man who speaks perfect English . Billy, real name Mangana, is seeking to rejoin the women of his family who have been taken north. There are more rapes and a lot more bloodshed, and some stuff about the Aboriginal and Irish cases being equivalent. Let’s say 3/5.

So. Time for research. If I were home I’d turn to Henry Reynolds, the historian most responsible for arguing that white settlement involved a series of frontier wars. I have a couple of his books, but here I am in Darwin (or there I was at time of writing).

First, the Black Line.

Prior to European colonisation, there were up to 15,000 Aboriginal people in Tasmania living in nine nations. White settlement began in 1803, and ramped up quickly following the end of the Napoleonic wars. The reaction of the original inhabitants was hostile (unsurprisingly) and by 1824 the two communities were clearly at war. In 1826 all Aborigines were declared to be “insurgents”, meaning they could be shot on sight; in 1828 Governor Arthur declared martial law; and in 1830 he commanded the white community to form a line, the Black Line, across the island in order to drive the remaining Aboriginal population south to the Tasman Peninsula where they could be rounded up and relocated to reserves on islands in Bass Strait (between Tasmania and the mainland)

The community being called upon to act en masse on the 7th October next, for the purpose of capturing those hostile tribes of the natives which are daily committing renewed atrocities upon the settlers … Active operations will at first be chiefly directed against the tribes which occupy the country south of a line drawn from Waterloo Point east, to Lake Echo west …

Lieutenant-Governor of Tasmania, George Arthur, September 1830

The operation resulted in only two captures and two deaths, but nevertheless had the desired effect of forcing all Aboriginal people off lands claimed by white settlers. (Source: National Museum of Australia, here).

And that brings us to The Conversation, 24 Apr. 2014, Tasmania’s Black War: A Tragic Case of Lest We Remember (here). The author, Nicholas Clements, a researcher with University of Tasmania, believes that the proximate cause of Aboriginal anger was not so much white settlement as the constant taking by white men of Aboriginal women for sex. This accords for instance with the causes given for the killing of whites in my recent post on Kimberley massacres (here).

The toll from eight years of war, the most violent anywhere in Australia, was Colonists: 223 killed, 226 wounded; Aborigines: 306 killed, thousands dead of disease, just 200 survivors remaining to be exiled to Flinders Island.

The National War Memorial, which is happy to memorialize not just two World Wars but our participation in immoral conflicts from the Boer War and Boxer Rebellion to Viet Nam and Iraq, refuses to recognise the combatants on either side of Tasmania’s Black War for the spurious reason that neither side involved ‘Australian’ soldiers.

I’m not sure the War Memorial – which is increasingly being repurposed as a temple to glorify the Nation, rather than to deplore the conflicts to which the division of the world into nations inevitably gives rise – is in any case the appropriate place to confront our bloody history.  But until we, the right as well as the left, do acknowledge our history then there can be no hope of Reconciliation, and today is a good day to remember that.

 

Jennifer Kent writer/director, The Nightingale, 2018. Featuring as Clare: Aisling Franciosi; Mangana: Baykali Ganambarr, an Elcho Is, NT/Galiwinku man

see also: My review of Robert Drewe, The Savage Crows (here)

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.

Pinjarra Massacre

Pinjarra Massacre Art

My original post on the Pinjarra Massacre of 28 October 1834, sometimes mendaciously called the Battle of Pinjarra, was ‘Following My Review of That Deadman Dance’ on 6 June 2015 (here). I have now updated it to include more material from the time. The image above is a segment of a stunning piece of work, not attributed to any artist that I can see, advertising the Pinjarra Massacre Memorial: Touring Exhibition, May 2015 (here).

For the information of non West Australians, Pinjarra is about 80 km south of Perth and inland of Mandurah and the Peel Estuary. The Bindjareb, the original inhabitants of that region, are one of 14 language groups making up the Noongar nation of south-western WA.

The Pinjarra Massacre was the result of an ambush of the Bindjareb people by a force of 25 armed men led by Governor Stirling. The stated intention was to quell unrest arising from the recent expansion of white settlement. The result was one dead on the British side and at least 20 dead on the Bindjareb side. Chris Owen, author of Every Mother’s Son is Guilty (review coming) speculates in an article in the Guardian of 18 Nov. 2019 that the Bindjareb death toll may have been as high as 80 (here).

A newspaper report of the time (below) states that Stirling’s party faced 70 men armed with spears who retreated to the river and mostly attempted to hide

Those who were sufficiently hardy or desperate to expose themselves on the offensive, or to attempt breaking through the assailants, were soon cleared off, and the remainder were gradually picked out of their concealment by the cross fire from both banks, until between 25 and 30 were left dead on the field and in the river. (The Western Australian Journal, Sat. 1 Nov. 1834)

Some ‘battle’! Bindjareb Park (here) memorializes the dead.


The following letter, by Associate Professor Simon Forrest, Curtin University Elder in Residence, appeared in the West Australian of 1 June 2015. As you will see, he is responding to an earlier letter:

“The story of the events on October 28, 1834, near what is now the town of Pinjarra has historically been referred to as the Battle of Pinjarra.

The letter by Alex Munro (21/5) says the modern day reference to the battle as a “massacre” is historically incorrect. The battle, he says, occurred because of an attack on settlers in the Swan River Colony and the burning of the flour mill at South Perth, now the Old Mill.

His letter faithfully keeps to the non-Aboriginal version of events. Any efficient analysis of John Septimus Roe’s journal of the punitive expedition will, together with research around the historical events leading up to the battle or massacre,  question Mr Munro’s viewpoint.

Although the South Perth mill is part of the story, it was not burnt by Noongar, as implied by Mr Munro. The Aboriginal leader, Calyute, and his men did raid the mill to take flour that was normally given to them but because of a not so good season of crops in Guildford, flour was rationed and the first to miss out was the Noongar.

Also contrary to what Mr Munro states as an attack by Noongar on the colony is not so.

Governor James Stirling was certainly concerned about a possible alliance of the local Noongar groups that may have led to an attack on the colony but it never eventuated.

One of his reasons to travel to the Pinjarra area was to try to stop the Bindjareb people (this is where Pinjarra gets its name) joining such an alliance.

The West Australian of the time listed 21 Noongar who were killed, including women and one child. If the conflict at Pinjarra on that fateful day was a battle, a battle normally takes place between armies of warring men, but this was not the case.

Also, if it was a battle,  the armed conflict between the two groups of men may have taken possibly five minutes because Noongar men were only armed with spears.

Roe’s journal states the conflict started at around 8am and the killing of Bindjareb people continued until around 10am. The use of the word “battle” becomes questionable and a word like “massacre”, particularly from a Noongar perspective, challenges the view of the perpetrators.

It is also interesting to note that Stirling endeavoured to keep his expedition secretive. Only he and Roe left Perth on horseback, so Noongar spies would not get information about an armed expedition.

On the way to Peel’s place in modern day Mandurah, Stirling arranged reinforcements to his expedition at points along the way.  When the expedition left Peel’s place the expedition now numbered 24, comprising five civilians (including Roe) and 19 mounted police and soldiers (including Stirling).

On that fateful morning Stirling’s group surrounded the Bindjareb Noongar on three sides.  The initial skirmish that started with one of the two smaller groups of Stirling’s men and the Bindjareb men led to the rest of the Bindjareb retreating in the direction of the Stirling-led larger group hiding behind a hill, as stated in Roe’s journal: “On approaching an abrupt rising ground, the rest of the party halted out of sight”.

Stirling’s group opened fire as the Bindjareb tried to escape towards the river.

This event has been well researched by Noongar scholars and non-Aboriginal scholars.  I take many people to Pinjarra and follow Stirling’s exact route and talk about the events of the day in a spirit of reconciliation, an acknowledgement of our shared history.

The “Battle of Pinjarra” was certainly not a battle, and it may not have been a massacre. But we know the leader of the Swan River Colony led a secretive, punitive expedition to attack a group of Bindjareb people, living and camping on their land, as they had done for many thousands of years.

The Bindjareb retaliated against Stirling’s punitive force, fighting for their freedom, land, culture and way of life.”


THE WESTERN AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL,
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 1834.

ENCOUNTER WITH THE NATIVES IN THE PINJARRA DISTRICT, ON THE BANKS OF THE MURRAY.

The report of this successful and decisive encounter with the Natives of the Murray, who have for some time been the terror of the neighbourhood was received with general satisfaction, — an opinion having prevailed that the system of lenity and forbearance hitherto adopted by the Government was not calculated to ensure safety to either the lives or property of the settlers. We have not space to revert to the many atrocities committed by the tribe, upon which at length retribution has fallen ; they are, however, within the recollection of our Readers, having but recently transpired, and will fully justify the severity of the punishment. – A Gentleman, an eye witness, has obligingly favored us with the following narrative of the encounter ; from the respectability of the party, the accuracy of this report may be implicitly relied upon.

The party consisted of His Excellency Sir James Stirling, Mr. Roe, Capt. Meares and his son Seymour, Mr. Peel, Capt. Ellis, Mr. Norcott, with 5 of the Mounted Police (one sick), Mr. Surveyor Smythe, one soldier to lead a pack-horse, Mr. Peel’s servant, Corporals 2, privates 8, of H. M.’s 21st Regt. – to leave at Pinjarra. In number 25.

On the night of the 27th of October, the party bivouacked at a place called by the natives “Jim jam,” about 10 or 11 miles in a direct line E.N.E. from the mouths of the Murray, where is abundance of most luxuriant feed for cattle, at a broad and deep reach of the river flowing to the N.W., and at this time perfectly fresh. After an early breakfast, the whole encampment was in motion at ten minutes before six the next morning, steering south-eastward for ” Pinjärra,” another place of resort for the natives of the district, and situated a little below the first ford across the river, where it was intended to establish a town on a site reserved for the purpose, and to leave half the party, including the military, for the protection of Mr. Peel and such other settlers as that gentleman might induce to resort thither.

Crossing the ford, where the river had an average depth of 2½ feet, and was running about 1½ miles an hour to the north, an easterly course was taken for the purpose of looking at the adjoining country; — but the party had not proceeded more than a quarter of a mile over an undulating surface of the richest description, covered with nutritious food for cattle, when the voices of many natives were heard on the left.

This being a neighbourhood much frequented by the native tribe of Kalyute, which had long been in the almost unchecked commission of numerous outrages and atrocious murders on the white people resident in the district, and which had hitherto succeeded in eluding the pursuit of the parties that had been searching for them since their treacherous murder of private Nesbitt of the 21st Regt., and spearing Mr. Barron only a very few weeks ago, the moment was considered propitiously favorable for punishing the perpetrators of such and other diabolical acts of a similar nature, should this prove to be the offending tribe.

For the purpose of ascertaining that point, His Excellency rode forward a couple of hundred yards with Messrs. Peel and Norcott, who were acquainted both with the persons of the natives and with their language, and commenced calling out and talking to them for the purpose of bringing on an interview. Their own noise was, however, so loud and clamorous, that all other sounds appeared lost on them, or as mere echoes. No answer being returned, Capt. Ellis in charge of the Mounted Police, with Mr. Norcott his assistant, and the remaining available men of his party, amounting to three in number, were despatched across the ford again to the left bank where the natives were posted, to bring on the interview required.

The instant the police were observed approaching at about 200 yards distance, the natives, to the number of about 70, started on their feet, the men seized their numerous and recently made spears, and shewed a formidable front; but finding their visitors still approached, they seemed to feel unable to stand a charge and sullenly retreated, gradually quickening their pace until the word “forward” from the leader of the gallant little party brought the horsemen in about half a minute dashing into the midst of them, the same moment having discovered the well known features of some of the most atrocious offenders of the obnoxious tribe. One of these, celebrated for his audacity and outrage, was the first to be recognised, at the distance of 5 or 6 yards from Mr Norcott, who knew him well, and immediately called out “these are the fellows we want, for here’s the old rascal Nöonarr;” on which the savage turned round and cried, with peculiar ferocity and emphasis, “Yes, Nöonarr, me,” and was in the act of hurling his spear at Norcott in token of requital for the recognition, when the latter shot him dead.

The identity of the tribe being now clearly established, and the natives turning to assail their pursuers, the firing continued, and was returned by the former with spears as they retreated to the river. The first shot, and the loud shouts and yells of the natives, were sufficient signal to the party who had halted a quarter of a mile above, who immediately followed Sir James Stirling at full speed and arrived opposite Capt Ellis’s party just as some of the natives had crossed and others were in the river.

It was just the critical moment for them. Five or six rushed up the right bank, but were utterly confounded at meeting a second party of assailants, who immediately drove back those who escaped the firing. Being thus exposed to a cross fire, and having no time to rally their forces, they adopted the alternative of taking to the river, and secreting themselves amongst the roots and branches and holes on its banks, or by immersing themselves with the face only uncovered, and ready with a spear under water to take advantage of any one who approached within reach.

Those who were sufficiently hardy or desperate to expose themselves on the offensive, or to attempt breaking through the assailants, were soon cleared off, and the remainder were gradually picked out of their concealment by the cross fire from both banks, until between 25 and 30 were left dead on the field and in the river.

The others had either escaped up and down the river, or had secreted themselves too closely to be discovered except in the persons of eight women and some children, who emerged from their hiding-places (where in fact the poor creatures were not concealed) on being assured of personal safety, and were detained prisoners until the termination of the fray. It is however very probable that more men were killed in the river, and floated down with the stream.

Notwithstanding the care which was taken not to injure the women during the skirmish, it cannot appear surprising that one and several children were killed, and one woman amongst the prisoners had received a ball through the thigh. On finding the women were spared, and understanding the orders repeatedly issued to that effect, many of the men cried out they were of the other sex, but evidence to the contrary was too strong to admit the plea. As it appeared by this time that sufficient punishment had been inflicted on this warlike and sanguinary tribe by the destruction of about half its male population, and amongst whom were recognised, on personal examination, 15 very old and desperate offenders, the bugle sounded to cease firing, and the divided party reassembled at the ford, where the baggage had been left in charge of four soldiers, who were also to maintain the post.

Here Capt. Ellis had arrived, badly wounded in the right temple, by a spear at 3 or 4 yards distance, which knocked him off his horse; and P. Heffron, a constable of the Police, had received a bad spear wound above the right elbow. No surgical aid being at hand, it was not without some little difficulty the spear was extracted, and it then proved to be barbed to the distance of five inches from the point.

Having re-crossed the river in good order, with the baggage on three horses, the whole party formed a junction on the left bank, fully expecting the natives would return in stronger force, but in this were disappointed. After a consultation over the prisoners, it was resolved to set them free, for the purpose of fully explaining to the remnant of the tribe the cause of the chastisement which had been inflicted, and to bear a message to the effect that “if they again offered to spear white men or their cattle, or to revenge in any way the punishment which had just been inflicted on them for their numerous murders and outrages, four times the present number of men would proceed amongst them and destroy every man, woman and child.” This was perfectly understood by the captives, and they were glad to depart – even under such an assurance ; – nor did several of their number, who were the widows, mothers and daughters of notorious offenders shot that day, evince any stronger feeling on the occasion than what arose out of their anxiety to keep themselves warm.

The severe but well-merited chastisement which had thus been inflicted, upon this troublesome people, who had rendered themselves equally the bullies of all the tribes around and the dread of the settler, made it very evident that the post which it had been in contemplation to establish on the very spot could not with, common prudence be thought of until a little time should develop the consequences likely to arise from the encounter.

Under these circumstances, and as Capt. Ellis was displaying alarming symptoms of torpor and delirium, accompanied by great weakness and continued flow of blood from his wound, it was considered desirable to return to Mr. Peel’s establishment at the mouth of the Murray Estuary with as little delay as possible. The party accordingly started at ten o’clock on their return, came out on the shore of the estuary at the distance of ten miles west, and in ten miles more arrived at Mr. Peel’s station at 4 o’clock on the same afternoon, by fording the several mouths of the Murray, about which the traces of natives were both numerous and very recent.

Captain Ellis was supported in his saddle during greatest part of the homeward journey by a man riding on either side of him, and became quite delirious. Having been copiously bled by Corporal Malone of the 21st, surgical assistance was sent for express from Fremantle, and at 4 o’clock next morning, when His Excellency and the Surveyor-General mounted on their return to Perth, both the wounded men were doing very well.

Thus terminates, for the present, an affair which is calculated to produce very beneficial effects on a complete nest of hornets, which had rendered themselves the pest of the surrounding country, and whose murders of Mackenzie, Budge, Wood, Nesbitt and some others, besides their almost successful attempts on the lives of Jenkins, Barron, Layman, &c, have thus fallen heavily on their own heads, – leaving as the only subject of regret that Kalyute and some other similar characters were, according to the accounts of the women, absent in another part of the country; being most probably in the vicinity of the settlement, where so many traces had been observed.

It would be an act of injustice to close this short narrative of the proceedings of the day without testifying to the efficient services and manly bearing of the handful of Police who commenced the attack, led on as they were in so able and spirited a manner by Capt Ellis and Mr.Norcott ; nor can less be said of the detachment of H. M.’s 21st Regt. and the Civilians who were present on the occasion, – all of whom, being fully impressed with the justice and necessity of the measure, contributed their utmost to achieve the result. It were presumptuous to do more than merely allude to the personal conduct of His Excellency Sir James Stirling throughout the whole business, whose promptness and decision in carrying into effect what his energetic mind as rapidly conceived, led to his rendering this affair of an hour as complete and masterly a manoeuvre on a small scale as could well be accomplished.

The Natives of the Perth district and the neighbourhood of the Swan, who have for the last few days visited us, doubt the account of the numbers killed, but generally evince a satisfaction that the atrocities of the Murray tribe, to which they have all been exposed, have met with this merited chastisement. Their expressions of gratification are, however, mingled with suspicion of our good intentions towards them ; and their commendation of the act is not unfrequently followed by the inquiry ‘Now, now, white man Swan River man babin’ (friend ),


THE WESTERN AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL,
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 1834.
On Wednesday last, Captain Daniell of H. M.
21st Regt, returned to head-quarters with a portion
of the detachment stationed at the Murray, ac-
companied by Mr. Norcott, Superintendent of
police, and two of the Mounted Police, as it has
not been considered necessary to retain so large a
force at that station any longer. A constant patrol
has been kept up in the neighbourhood of the
settlement at Peel Town since the affair with the
Natives at Pinjarra, and several parties have con-
tinued to scour the country in various directions ;
the only party, however, which traversed the
country in the immediate vicinity of the scene of
action was directed by Captain Daniell, accom-
panied by Lieutenant Armstrong of the 21st Regt.,
Mr. Norcott, and Mr. Peel, notwithstanding the
unfavorable state of the weather which, it may be
remembered, we had during the past and previous
week.
On arriving at Pinjarra, they found that the
bodies of the natives who were killed, were all
decently interred, in one spot there being three
graves of large dimensions, about twelve feet each
in length, supposed to contain the members of
separate families, and at a short distance from
them were the graves of thirteen men. The party
was unable to reach the quarter where the heavi-
est firing took place, owing to the brooks being
much swollen, from the incessant rains; but it
was generally believed, that in this spot, also,
there were several graves,—and but one opinion
prevails, that, during the night after the encounter,
the natives returned and buried their dead, in the
manner we have described.
Captain Daniell’s party bivouacked within 400
yards of the scene of action, and returned to their
quarters, at Peel Town, after a three day’s march,
without crossing any recent traces of the natives.
The vicinity of the Canning River, it is thought,
will be visited by the remnant of this obnoxious
tribe ; and, indeed, a rumour has reached us, com-
ing, we believe, from the natives of the Swan
tribes, that Galute, the villain who has been the
subject of frequent notice in our columns, has
speared two natives of their tribe, in consequence
of the death of one of his women, who happened
to receive a fatal shot in the affray.

see also:
Nov. 2019: Massacre Map updated to include WA (here)
My posts:
The ‘Battle’ of Pinjarra, Pinjarra WA, 1834 (here)
Wardandi Massacre, Wonnerup/Lake Mininup WA, 1841 (here)
Cocanarup (Kukenarup) Massacre, Cocanarup Station, Ravensthorpe WA, 1880s (here)
Kimberley Massacres, 1886-1924 (here)
also in WA:
Flying Foam Massacre, in the Pilbara, 1868 (here)
Forrest River massacres, 1926 (Wiki here)

Wardandi Massacre

molloy-john-older
John Molloy

The Wardandi are the language group within the Noongars whose home territory in south western Western Australia encompasses the coastal land from Bunbury south to Cape Leeuwin (map). The region was most famously settled (ie. commandeered) by the Bussell family, in 1839, but among the original white settlers were John Molloy and his now well-known wife Georgiana.

Jessica White, who is writing an ecobiography of Georgiana Molloy (here), wrote in her end of year (2017) mailout:

I had an essay published in the Journal for the Association of the Study of Australian Literature on my research on John Molloy’s role in a massacre in 1841. This involved painstakingly piecing together accounts in the archives and newspapers, and attending to the language that was used.

and it is this essay and her account of the massacre and its subsequent denial that I wish to review.

The events leading to the massacre(s) began on 22 Feb, 1841. Some Noongars were employed in threshing wheat on the farm of Molloy’s neighbour George Layman, and some Noongar women were employed in the house. A dispute arose over payment (in damper) and Noongar man Gayware approached Layman. Layman grabbed Gayware by the beard and shook him, Gayware speared him and Layman struggled inside and died.

Molloy, as local magistrate, raised a party of settlers and workers (one account says ‘soldiers’), pursued and surrounded the Noongars, killing seven, and then subsequently pursued a larger body of Noongar north towards Bunbury where many more were killed around ‘Lake Mininup’. (Wonnerup, Layman’s property, is a few kilometres north of present-day Busselton and Minninup another 15 km or so up the coast.)

White has put together her account from newspapers, diaries, official records and Noongar oral histories. She writes:

As I pieced together these documents and attended to their language, I realised that the massacre had been depicted in such a way as to obfuscate John Molloy’s role. I also came to understand that this role had been covered, uncovered and contested over the ensuing years.

The earliest contemporary ‘account’ is the diary of Frances Bussell which records on the evening of 27 Feb, “Captain Molloy drank tea here. 7 natives killed.” Any further information is lost as the pages from 5 to 25 Feb have been torn out.

A newspaper account, in the Inquirer of 10 Mar 1841 (here), of the initial reprisals following the death of Layman states that “five or six natives were shot to death. Unfortunately the actual murderer was not amongst the killed.” And interestingly, “It is certainly to be regretted that any native, not being the actual murderer, should have been slain in the encounter; but supposing all that we hear to be correct, the result is at least excusable if even not justifiable.” This account follows Molloy’s official report that he acted after hearing threats against himself by Gayware while he was observing a Noongar campfire from a position of hiding.

The most graphic account of the second part of the massacre is in Warren Bert Kimberley’s History of Western Australia (1897):

Colonel (sic) Molloy ordered his soldiers to prepare to march, and he took command of them and the chief settlers in the south-western districts. He gave special instructions that no woman or child should be killed, but that no mercy should be offered the men. A strong and final lesson must be taught to the blacks. All were well armed. Into the remote places this party went, bent on killing without mercy…  Isolated natives were killed during the first few days, and, so it is said, some women among them, but the main body had hidden from the terrible white men. A few parties fled from the threatened districts to the southern coast, and escaped. The majority hid in the thick bush around Lake Mininup. Although several natives were killed, the settlers and soldiers were not satisfied… Here and there a native was killed, and the others seeing that their hiding place was discovered fled before the determined force. They rushed to a sand patch beyond Lake Mininup…  The soldiers pushed on, and surrounded the black men on the sand patch. There was now no escape for the fugitives, and their vacuous cries of terror mingled with the reports of the white men’s guns. Native after native was shot, and the survivors, knowing that orders had been given not to shoot the women, crouched on their knees, covered their bodies with their bokas, and cried, ‘Me yokah’ (woman). The white men had no mercy. The black men were killed by dozens, and their corpses lined the route of march of the avengers.

James Battye (after whom our principal library is named) in Western Australia: A History (1924) attempts to excuse all the bones at Lake Mininup:

In 1841 there occurred an incident which, if true, can only be described as an act of atrocious cruelty and savagery on the part of some of the settlers in the south west … An avenging party under Captain Molloy set out and, it is said, ultimately succeeded in surrounding the whole body of natives on an open sand patch …

No records of the encounter exist, and it is more than likely that it has been built up to account for the collection of bones, which in all probability represents an aboriginal burial-ground…

White’s is an excellent account of how Molloy in particular but officialdom in general used weasel words and indirect language to obscure what even the newspapers called “not justifiable” killings. Let us leave the last word to an oral history collected by Whadjuk/Barladong scholar Len Collard in A Nyungar Interpretation of Ellensbrook and Wonnerup Homesteads (1994):

“The first mob was caught, was just the other side of the Capel River (Mollakup). When I was a little boy we found some skulls up there. One of them had a bullet in it, it had gone through the forehead and just sticking out the back. There was quite a few with holes knocked in them in the skulls and the next mob they caught was at Muddy Lake (Mininup) that’s this side of Bunbury and then they chased the other right through Australind somewhere around Australind area they caught up they killed some more there and the rest got away.”

Molloy of course was never brought to account for the murders that occurred under his command, and over time his role was ‘forgotten’, not least by Georgiana Molloy’s biographers. Happy Black Armband Day.

 

Jessica White, ‘Paper Talk’, Testimony and Forgetting in South-West Western Australia, Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, 2017/1 here

I’m not sure this massacre has an ‘official name, though it appears in at least some (recent) accounts as Wonnerup Massacre. Googling “Wardandi Massacre” brings up a lot of information on this and other massacres.

see also:
Report in Western Mail of 26 June 1914 (here)
Nov. 2019: Massacre Map updated to include WA (here)
My posts:
The ‘Battle’ of Pinjarra, Pinjarra WA, 1834 (here)
Wardandi Massacre, Wonnerup/Lake Mininup WA, 1841 (here)
Cocanarup (Kukenarup) Massacre, Cocanarup Station, Ravensthorpe WA, 1880s (here)
Kimberley Massacres, 1886-1924 (here)
also in WA:
Flying Foam Massacre, in the Pilbara, 1868 (here)
Forrest River massacres, 1926 (Wiki here)