Convincing Ground massacre
|Location||Portland, Victoria, Australia|
Kilcarer gundidj clan
|Kilcarer gundidj: 60-200; All but 2 young men killed|
When Portland, Victoria was established as a whaling station in 1829, there was tension between the local Gunditjmara people Kilcarer gundidj clan and the whalers. In 1833 or 1834 this tension turned into a full-fledged massacre in a dispute over a beached whale. The Convincing Ground is located in Portland Bay southwest of Melbourne, near the coastal town of Portland in the Shire of Glenelg and is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register. Professor Lynette Russell from Australian Indigenous Studies at Monash University said "The Convincing Ground is probably the first recorded massacre site for Victoria."
The dispute appears to have arisen over the ownership of a beached whale. While reports are varied on casualties, it is clear that Gunditjmara people were determined to assert their right to the whale as traditional food and when challenged by the whalers, were aggressive in return.
According to Edward Henty and Police Magistrate James Blair in conversation with George Augustus Robinson, the Protector of Aborigines in 1841, the whalers withdrew to the head station only to return with their firearms. Robinson's journal entry says "And the whalers then let fly, to use his expression, right and left upon the natives. He said the natives did not go away but got behind trees and threw spears and stones. They, however, did not much molest them after that." No mention was made in the conversation as to casualties. Later reports arising from a meeting in 1842 that Robinson had with Gunditjmara people stated only two members survived the massacre.
"Accounts vary, but the number of Aborigines killed is believed to be between 60 and 200."
The reason for this uncertainty over casualties and the actual date of the massacre appears to stem from the fact that the incident was only reported and documented several years after its occurrence. The earliest documented mention of the Convincing Ground locality is in an entry of Edward Henty's diary dated 18 October 1835.
George Augustus Robinson visited the site of the massacre in 1841 and talked with local squatters and made the following official report (although he made more extensive notes in his journal):
Among the remarkable places on the coast, is the "Convincing Ground", originating in a severe conflict which took place in a few years previous between the Aborigines and the Whalers on which occasion a large number of the former were slain. The circumstances are that a whale had come on shore and the Natives who fed on the carcass claimed it was their own. The whalers said they would "convince them" and had recourse to firearms. On this spot a fishery is now established.
Robinson was only briefed by Aborigines on the massacre when 30 men and women from various clans of the Gunditjmara people met with him on 23 March 1842 at Campbell's station on the Merri River and told him that all but two men of the Kilcarer gundidj clan were slain in the massacre. The two survivors were called Pollikeunnuc and Yarereryarerer and were adopted by the Cart Gundidj clan of Mount Clay. The Cart Gundidj would not allow any member of the clan to go near the settlement of Portland following the massacre, although in May 1842 Cart Gundidj resistance leader Partpoaermin was captured at the Convincing Ground after a violent struggle.
Historian Richard Broome estimated that about 60 were killed at the Convincing Ground massacre. Bruce Pascoe, in his book published in 2007 titled Convincing Ground - Learning to Fall in love with your country, said:
The battle site became known as the Convincing Ground, the place where the Gundidjmara were ‘convinced’ of white rights to the land. The Gundidjmara were beaten in that battle but never convinced of its legitimacy.
Origin of 'Convincing Ground'
There has also been debate over the origin of the term, Convincing Ground, with three different European based accounts:
- Edward Henty and Police Magistrate Jim Blair's account of a violent altercation to "convince" the Aborigines of European "rights" to land and resources which led Robinson to write that a large number of people were slain;
- that it was a place where whalers settled disputes between themselves; and
- a popular account that the site was named by explorer Thomas Mitchell when he visited in August 1836, was still being promoted in 2008 by Portland Rotary Club.
Henty's diary entry referring to the Convincing Ground by name in October 1835 precedes the visit of Mitchell so logically invalidates this account. Historian Professor Ian D. Clark wrote that the account by Henty and Blair as told to Robinson is the most likely source of origin.
A fourth account - the oral tradition and reports by the Gunditjmara people - was that a massacre took place almost wiping out an entire clan to "convince them" of white rights to the land."
Professor Clark told Message Stick documentary in 2007:
If we deny the history that goes with the Convincing Ground - and that is both the very good documentary evidence that we have, plus the very good oral history that we have from the Gunditjmara people, we are denying Aboriginal people their history, and if we deny Aboriginal people their history, we are denying a major part of the history of Australia.
Stuart Rintoul, in a 2007 newspaper article about the Federal Court decision granting Gunditjmara people native title to land including the Convincing Ground site, wrote that Keith Windschuttle and writer Michael Connor dispute that a massacre took place and allege that the story of the massacre is "myth-making" and "very dubious".
The Victorian Heritage Council Committee[attribution needed] stated in a report:
Paragraph 19 explanatory notes 3 April 2006
Claims have been made by the Executive Director of Aboriginal Affairs Victoria and other parties that the Convincing Ground is the best documented massacre site in Victoria, and certainly in Western Victoria. The Committee finds this claim unsubstantiated. The Committee considers that the repeated publication of the account of the massacre by historians and consultant archaeologists has created an enhanced public awareness and recognition of this account since the late 1970s (and particularly during the 1990s). It has therefore become generally accepted that a substantial body of historical evidence exists for the massacre at the Convincing Ground. The Committee finds that this is not the case.
In the recording viewed by the committee, the Gundidjmara Elders point to the 'White' historical documentation as strong corroboration of their understanding of what happened at the Convincing Ground. This documentation rests on Robinson's journals and report.
The Committee was unable to further explore the detail of the Aboriginal (or non aboriginal) oral history in reaching its decision, and no evidence was available to the Committee about an Aboriginal oral history tradition extending back to the time of the alleged massacre.
Present day controversy
In 2005 a developer was granted the right to build homes on the site. This caused a dispute between the Western Victorian Glenelg Shire Council and the local Koorie community on whether or not the location should be protected.
Kilcarer clan traditional owner Walter Saunders, a descendant of one of the two massacre survivors, explained the cultural importance of the site on ABC radio:
It stands on the same level as the Eureka Stockade and Gallipoli from our perspective. It is the first recorded massacre in the state. This is where Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people fought over the resources of this great country and they happened to kill a large number of my relatives and my mother's relatives.
As a result of a confidential agreement in 2007, some development would occur but the "Convincing Ground" would become a public reservation.
- Victorian Heritage Register: PROV H2079: Convincing Ground[permanent dead link], Victorian Heritage Register Document (6.4 MB document)
- Museum Victoria: Encounters: Convincing Ground
- Convincing Ground[permanent dead link], Michael Connor website, 2007.
- The Convincing Ground Pt 1, Australian Broadcasting Corporation TV Message Stick Documentary Transcript, Broadcast 19 February 2007.
- The Convincing Ground Pt 2, Australian Broadcasting Corporation TV Message Stick Documentary Transcript, Broadcast 26 February 2007.
- Martin Boulton, "Anger over plans to build on massacre site", The Age, 28 January 2005. Accessed 26 November 2008
- Convincing Ground, Victorian Heritage Database. Accessed 27 November 2008
- The Convincing Ground Pt 1, Australian Broadcasting Corporation TV Message Stick Broadcast 19 February 2007. Accessed 27 November 2008
- Ian D. Clark, pp17-22, Scars on the Landscape. A Register of Massacre sites in Western Victoria 1803-1859, Aboriginal Studies Press, 1995. ISBN 0-85575-281-5. Excerpt also published on Museum Victoria website, accessed 26 November 2008
- Richard Broome, pp81, Aboriginal Victorians: A History Since 1800, Allen & Unwin, 2005, ISBN 1-74114-569-4, ISBN 978-1-74114-569-4
- Pascoe, Bruce (2007). Convincing Ground: Learning to fall in love with your country. Canberra, ACT: Aboriginal Studies Press, AIATSIS. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-85575-549-2. Retrieved 25 October 2011.
- Portland About, Rotary Club of Portland website. Accessed 27 November 2008. This account says "Surveyor and explorer Thomas Mitchell visited Portland Bay during his search for good pasturage south of the Murray River in August 1836. He was amazed to find the settlement in existence. Indeed when an Aboriginal guide asserted that he could see houses and a ship at anchor Mitchell was disbelieving. However, when a boot print and broken bottle were found in the sand, and cattle tracks nearby, he was convinced and so named the beach area the 'Convincing Ground', by which name it is still known today."
- The Convincing Ground Pt 2, Australian Broadcasting Corporation TV Message Stick Broadcast 26 February 2007. Accessed 27 November 2008
- Stuart Rintoul, Native title granted on massacre lands[permanent dead link], The Australian, 31 March 2007. Accessed 22 Feb. 2013[dead link]
- Reporter: Freya Michie, The site where Aboriginal history is clashing with commercial development, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Stateline Radio News, Transcript, 21 October 2005. Accessed 27 November 2008
- Media Release, Media - Parties Agree on Convincing Ground, Glenelg Shire Council 29 January 2007. Accessed 27 November 2008