An illustration of the Myall Creek Massacre by the London-based illustrator ‘Phiz’. (Supplied: NSW State Library)
The Myall Creek massacre remains one of the darkest events in Australia’s colonial history.
In 1838, white stockmen hunted and murdered 28 Aboriginal men, women and children at Myall Creek in New South Wales.
Seven stockmen were hanged for the crimes, the first time there had been acknowledgement of frontier atrocities and pursuit through the courts.
Now 180 years later, the memories of the massacre are laying the foundation for reconciliation.
This weekend descendants of the Aboriginal people massacred and the perpetrators will gather with hundreds of others at the Myall Creek Memorial.
Located near the massacre site on Myall Creek Station between Bingara and Inverell in Northern NSW the memorial was established in 2000.
The memorial at the site of the 1838 massacre of Aboriginal people at Myall Creek in northern New South Wales. (Supplied: Department of Environment: Mark Mohell)
It’s a simple memorial stone with a plaque which reads:
“In memory of the Wirrayaraay people who were murdered on the slopes of this ridge in an unprovoked but premeditated act in the late afternoon of 10 June, 1838.”
The stone lies at the end of a pathway featuring seven other plaques which tell the story of the massacre.
Descendants lead reconciliation
Critically, it was direct descendants who were responsible for the memorial’s existence.
Aunty Sue Blacklock can trace her history back to survivors of the massacre and Beulah Adams and Des Blake are descendants of the perpetrators. They worked together to make the memorial happen, and each year reunite for the service.
“We won’t forget but we will forgive, and walk down that path together,” said Ms Blacklock, who just days before this year’s service was invited to visit the Myall Creek Station and walk to the massacre site. It remains hallowed ground 180 years on.
“If you stood on one place, to me it’s like I could hear the screams,” she said.
“It was very quiet, there was no noise, It was just like the wind was bringing their screams as it blew, I could feel their hurt.”
The story of Myall Creek is one the elders are eager to tell, and Ms Blacklock says each year more students attend the service.
People take part in a smoking ceremony at the Myall Creek Memorial site in 2016. (Supplied: Alistair Raynor)
“It’s a joy for me to see all these different schools be involved,” she said.
Among some of them are sixth generation Wirrayaraay children who will be dancing at the memorial service.
“To see them dance, and the smiles on their faces, knowing they are dancing for their ancestors, just brings joy to all the elders’ hearts,” she said.
“We need to honour the truth of our history if we are to become and integrated and mutually respected community,” Reverend John Brown, a Uniting Church Minister who is also part of the original memorial committee, said.
“It has become a national focus of commemoration and remembrance of these terrible parts of our history,” Jan Lyndon said.
Ms Lyndon is co-editor of ‘Remembering the Myall Creek Massacre’ which was launched last Friday as part of the 180th commemoration of the event.
“It provides a focus for remembering these sorts of clashes everywhere in Australia and so it’s an important site of national memory.”
Sisters Avril Burgess and Adele Chapman-Burgess work together on a traditional cloak to be displayed at the ceremony. (Supplied: Adele Chapman-Burgess)
Marking history with tradition
To mark the occasion of the 180th anniversary, a traditional possum cloak has been created and will be displayed at the ceremony.
Traditionally, Indigenous children were wrapped in possum skins at birth.
More skins were added as the children grew, and decorated with personal stories and connections to country when they wore them ceremonially.
Ironically, the 30 possum skins used for the Myall Creek Memorial gathering cloak had to be imported from New Zealand as it is illegal to kill possums in Australia.
The central theme of the cloak is Myall Creek and song-lines fan out to represent the song-lines from Boggabilla at the border to Glen Innes in the New England, the travelling routes of the Aboriginal people killed in the massacre.
It also features the stories of people like Adele Chapman-Burgess, who is a member of the National Friends of the Myall Creek Memorial, and one of the artists who helped create the cloak.
Avril Burgess and Adele Chapman-Burgess with the completed possum skin cloak. (Supplied: Adele Chapman-Burgess)
“The ochre was sourced locally by elders, and we tried to keep everything on country,” Ms Chapman-Burgess said.
“I really can’t explain how it feels to be given that responsibility and honour of working on this particular cloak, because it will be quite special.”
The memorial service begins this morning at 9.30am.