List of massacres of Indigenous Australians
Groups of Indigenous Australians were massacred on many occasions between the start of the British colonisation of Australia in 1788 and the 1920s. These massacres formed a significant element of the frontier wars.
The following list tallies a few of the better documented massacres of Aboriginal Australians, which took place mainly during the colonial period.
- 1 Some frontier massacres on record
- 1.1 New South Wales
- 1.2 Tasmania
- 1.3 Victoria
- 1.4 Western Australia
- 1.5 South Australia
- 1.6 Queensland
- 1.7 Northern Territory
- 2 Violence and massacres after federation
- 3 See also
- 4 Notes
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
- 7 External links
Some frontier massacres on record
New South Wales
- 1789 An epidemic spread through several tribes neighbouring the first European settlement, in Sydney, with at least 50 per cent mortality. The epidemic was reported to be smallpox to which the indigenous population had never before been exposed and to which they had acquired no resistance, and the vaccine for which was discovered five years later by Edward Jenner. Deliberate introduction by the British is no more than a hotly disputed theory, there being no evidence of any such plan or of its execution. The theory's main proponent is "independent scholar" Christopher Warren whose argument first appeared in the Journal of Australian Studies in March 2014 in which he conceded in his conclusion that "today's evidence only provides for a balancing of probabilities and this is all that can be attempted.":79
- 1816. Appin massacre. New South Wales Governor Macquarie sent parties against the Gundungurra and Dharawal people on their lands along the Cataract River, a tributary of the Nepean River (south of Sydney), in reprisal for violent conflicts with white settlers (in which several died) in the adjoining Nepean and Cowpastures districts, during a time of drought. The punitive expedition split in two at Bent's Basin, with one group moving south-west against the Gundungurra, and the other moving south-east against the Dharawal. This latter group came upon Cataract Gorge, where the soldiers used their horses to force men, women and children to fall from the cliffs of the gorge, to their deaths below.:7 On April 17, around 1 am soldiers arrived at a camp of Dharawal people at Appin. Captain Willis from the party of soldiers wrote: "The fires were burning but deserted. A few of my men heard a child cry [...] The dogs gave the alarm and the natives fled over the cliffs. It was moonlight. I regret to say some (were) shot and others met their fate by rushing in despair over the precipice. Fourteen dead bodies were counted in different directions."
- 1824. Bathurst massacre. Following the killing of seven Europeans by Aboriginal people around Bathurst, New South Wales, and a battle between three stockmen and a warband over stolen cattle which left 16 Aborigines dead, Governor Brisbane declared martial law to restore order and was able to report a cessation of hostilities in which 'not one outrage was committed under it, neither was a life sacrificed or even Blood spilt'. Part of the tribe trekked down to Parramatta to attend the Governor's annual Reconciliation Day.
- 1838. On 26 January Waterloo Creek massacre, also known as the Slaughterhouse Creek or Australia Day massacre. A Sydney mounted police detachment, despatched by acting Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales Colonel Kenneth Snodgrass, attacked an encampment of Kamilaroi people at a place called Waterloo Creek in remote bushland. Official reports spoke of between 8 and 50 killed. The missionary Lancelot Threkeld set the number at 120 as part of his campaign to garner support for his Mission. Threkeld also claimed Major James Nunn later boasted they had killed from two to three hundred natives, a statement at odds with his own claim, and both not based on any direct evidence but endorsed by historian Roger Milliss. Other estimates range from 40 to 70, but judge that most of the Kamilaroi were wiped out; as the band involved was only part of the tribe, this is hard to reconcile.
- 1838. Myall Creek massacre - 10 June: 28 people killed at Myall Creek near Inverell, New South Wales. This was the first Aboriginal massacre for which white European and black African settlers were successfully prosecuted. Several colonists had previously been found not guilty by juries despite the weight of evidence and one colonist found guilty had been pardoned when his case was referred to Britain for sentencing. Eleven men were charged with murder but were initially acquitted by a jury. On the orders of the Governor, a new trial was held using the same evidence and seven of the eleven men were found guilty of the murder of one Aboriginal child and hanged. In his book, Blood on the Wattle, journalist Bruce Elder says that the successful prosecutions resulted in pacts of silence becoming a common practice to avoid sufficient evidence becoming available for future prosecutions. Another effect, as one contemporary Sydney newspaper reported, was that poisoning Aboriginal people became more common as "a safer practice". Many massacres were to go unpunished due to these practices, as what is variously called a 'conspiracy', 'pact' or 'code' of silence fell over the killings of Aboriginal people.
- 1838. In about the middle of the year at Gwydir River. A war of extirpation, according to local magistrate Edward Denny Day, was waged all along the Gwydir River in mid-1838. 'Aborigines in the district were repeatedly pursued by parties of mounted and armed stockmen, assembled for the purpose, and that great numbers of them had been killed at various spots’.
- 1838. In July 1838 men from the Bowman, Ebden and Yaldwyn stations in search of stolen sheep shot and killed 14 Aboriginal people at a campsite near the confluence of the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers in New South Wales.
- 1841. On 27 August. The Rufus River massacre, various estimates - between 30-40 deaths.
- 1842. Evans Head massacre - the 1842/1843 massacre of 100 Bundjalung Nation tribes-people at Evans Head by Europeans, was variously said to have been in retaliation for the killing of 'a few sheep', or the killing of 'five European men' from the 1842 'Pelican Creek tragedy'. It is also referred to as the 'Goanna Headland massacre'.:75-78
- From 1838 to 1851 during the spread of pastoral stations along the Macleay River, it is estimated that some 15 massacres took place of the indigenous peoples of this Djangadi area.
(formerly Van Diemen's Land)
- 1804. Conflicting evidence of eye-witnesses indicated that either three Aboriginal Tasmanians were killed or "a great many were slaughtered and wounded" on 3 May 1804 at Risdon Cove when a large number came upon the 75-80 colonists there.
- 1828. On 10 February - Cape Grim massacre, Cape Grim, Van Diemen's Land. Four shepherds of the substantial Van Diemen's Land Company ambushed and killed 30 Pennemukeer Aboriginal people. Company men had killed another 12 Aboriginals only days earlier.
- 1828–1832 The Black War in Van Diemen's Land refers to a period of intermittent conflict between the British colonists, whalers and sealers (including those of the American sealing fleet) and Aborigines in the early years of the 19th century. The conflict has been described as a genocide resulting in the elimination of the full-blood Tasmanian Aboriginal population which had numbered somewhere between 1,500 and 22,000 prior to colonisation.: There are currently some 20,000 individuals who are of Tasmanian Aboriginal descent.
- 1833–34. Convincing Ground massacre of Gunditjmara: On the shore near Portland, Victoria was one of the largest recorded massacres in Victoria. Whalers and the local Kilcarer clan of the Gunditjmara people disputed rights to a beached whale carcass. Reports vary with from 60 to 200 Aborigines killed, including women and children. An 1842 report on the incident notes that the Gunditjmara people believed that only two members of the Kilcarer clan survived.
- 1838. On 11 April, by the Broken River at Benalla. A party of some 18 men, in the employ of George and William Faithful, were searching out new land to the south of Wangaratta for their livestock. According to Judith Bassett, some 20 Aborigines attacked, according to one recent account possibly as a reprisal for the killing of several Aboriginal people at Ovens earlier by the same stockmen and at least one Koori and eight Europeans died. It was long known locally as the Faithfull Massacre though Chris Clark argues that 'there is no reason to view this incident as anything other than a battle which the Aborigines won'. Local reprisals ensued resulting in the deaths of up to 100 Aboriginal people. It also seems they were camping on a ground reserved for hunting or ceremonies.
- 1838. Additional killings of these people occurred at Wangaratta on the Ovens River, at Murchison (led by the native police under Dana and in the company of the young Edward Curr, who could not bring himself to discuss what he witnessed there other than to say he took issue with the official reports). Other incidents were recorded by Mitchelton and Toolamba. This "hunting ground" would have been a ceremonial ground probably called a 'Kangaroo ground'. Hunting grounds were all over so not something that would instigate an attack. The colonial government decided to "open up" the lands south of Yass after the Faithful Massacre and bring them under British rule. This was as much to try and protect the Aboriginal people from reprisals as to open up new lands for the colonists. The Aboriginal people were (supposedly) protected under British law.
- 1839. In about May–June of that year the Campaspe Plains massacre, Campaspe Creek, Central Victoria, killing Daung Wurrung and Dja Dja Wurrung people. In May 1839, Daung Wurrung killed two shepherds in reprisal for the murder of three Daung the previous month. An armed party of settlers led by station owner Charles Hutton killed up to 40 Daung at a campsite near Campaspe Creek. The following month, Hutton led an armed party of police who killed six Dja Dja Wurrung at another camp. All six had been shot in the back while fleeing. The Assistant Protector of Aborigines for the region, described the massacre as "a deliberately planned illegal reprisal."
- 1839. In about the middle of the year, the Murdering Gully massacre near Camperdown, Victoria was carried out by Frederick Taylor and others in retaliation for some sheep being killed on his station by two unidentified Aborigines. The Tarnbeere Gundidj clan of the Djargurd Wurrung people, around 35-40 people, was wiped out. Public censure led to Taylor's River being renamed Mount Emu Creek and, fearing prosecution for the massacre, in late 1839 or early 1840 Taylor fled to India. Of particular note for this massacre is the extent of oral history, first hand accounts of the incident, the detail in settler diaries, records of Weslayan missionaries, and Aboriginal Protectorate records.
- 1840-50. The Gippsland massacres in which 250-1000 Indigenous Australians were indiscriminately killed.
- 1840. On 8 March. The Whyte brothers massacred, according to various estimates, from 20 to 51 Jardwadjali men, women, and children on the Konongwootong run near Hamilton, Victoria. Aboriginal tradition puts the death toll as high as 80.
- 1843. The Warrigal Creek massacre, amounting to 100-150 Aboriginal people.
- 1846. George Smythe's surveying party shot in cold blood from 7 to 9 Aboriginal people, all but one women and children, at Cape Otway.
- 1849. Massacre of Muruwari people at Hospital Creek in Brewarrina district in retribution for a suspected killing of a white stockman.
- 1849. Massacre of Aboriginal people at Butchers Tree near Brewarrina, along the Barwon River, and on the Narran River.
- 1830. Fremantle The first official 'punishment raid' on Aboriginal people in Western Australia, led by Captain Irwin took place in May 1830. A detachment of soldiers led by Irwin attacked an Aboriginal encampment north of Fremantle in the belief that it contained men who had 'broken into and plundered the house of a man called Paton' and killed some poultry. Paton had called together a number of settlers who, armed with muskets, set after the Aboriginal people and came upon them not far from the home. 'The tall savage who appeared the Chief showed unequivocal gestures of defiance and contempt' and was accordingly shot. Irwin stated, "This daring and hostile conduct of the natives induced me to seize the opportunity to make them sensible to our superiority, by showing how severely we could retaliate their aggression." In actions that followed over the next few days, more Aboriginal people were killed and wounded.
- 1834. Battle of Pinjarra, Western Australia: Official records state 14 Aboriginal people killed, but other accounts put the figure much higher, at 25 or more.
- 1836. August, Lieutenant Bunbury after killings in the York area, tracked one wounded Aboriginal man into the bush and shot him through the head. Bunbury also recorded the names of another 11 Aboriginal men he killed during this period. Settlers to the district collected ears of Aboriginal men slain.
- 1841. On 27 August an extensive massacre at Lake Minimup in Western Australia, led by Captain John Molloy who "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 the blacks. ... The white men had no mercy. The black men were killed by dozens, and their corpses lined the route of march of the avengers."
- 1865. The La Grange expedition was a search expedition carried out in the vicinity of La Grange Bay in the Kimberley region of Western Australia led by Maitland Brown that led to the death of up to 20 Aboriginal people. The expedition has been celebrated with the Explorers' Monument in Fremantle, Western Australia.
- 1868. Flying Foam Massacre, Dampier Archipelago. Following the killing of two police and two settlers by local Yaburara people, two parties of settlers from the Roebourne area, led by prominent pastoralists Alexander McRae and John Withnell, killed an unknown number of Yaburara. Estimates of the number of dead range from 20 to 150.
- 1887. Halls Creek. Mary Durack suggests there was a conspiracy of silence about the massacres of Djara, Konejandi and Walmadjari peoples about attacks on Aboriginal people by white gold-miners, Aboriginal reprisals and consequent massacres at this time. John Durack was speared, which led to a local massacre in the Kimberley.
- 1890–1926. Kimberley region - The Killing Times - East Kimberleys: During what the colonial government called "pacification", recalled as "The Killing Times", a quarter of Western Australia's police force was deployed in the Kimberley where only 1% of the white population dwelt. Violent means were used to drive off the Aboriginal tribes, who were hounded by police and pastoralists alike without judicial protection. The indigenous peoples reacted with payback killings. Possibly hundreds were killed in the Derby, Fitzroy Crossing and Margaret River area, while Jandamarra was being hunted down. Reprisals, and the "villainous effects" of settler policy left the Kimberley Aboriginal people decimated. Massacres in retaliation for attacks on livestock are recorded as late as 1926. The Gija people alone recall 10 ten mass killings for this period.
- 1849. Avenue Range Station Massacre (Mount Gambier region of South Australia) - at least 9 indigenous Buandig Wattatonga clan people allegedly murdered by the station owner James Brown who was subsequently charged with the crime. The case was dropped by the Crown for lack of (European) witnesses. Christina Smith's source from the Wattatonga tribe refers to 11 people killed in this incident by two white men.
- 1842. 50 or more killed in the Whiteside poisoning. Settlers poisoned at least 50 Aboriginal people to death in the Brisbane valley in 1842
- 1842. 30-60 or more killed in the Kilcoy poisoning. On the outskirts of Kilcoy Station owned by MacKenzie, 30-60 people of the Kabi Kabi died from eating flour laced with strychnine or arsenic.
- 1849. Perhaps more than 100 killed in the Upper Burnett. The murder of the Pegg brothers, two adolescent employees at Foster and Blaxland Gin Gin station in June, was avenged in a large-scale punitive expedition with 'over 50 station-hands and squatters' catching up with 'more than a 100 myals' camped at the mouth of Burnett River allegedly on the ground of the later 'Cedar' sugar plantation or Gibson's Cedars Estate. No numbers were made but the 'affray' was later described as 'one of the bloodiest in Queensland frontier history'.
- 1849. Unknown numbers killed on the Balonne and Condamine. By 1849 clashes between Aboriginal people and settlers occurred on the Balonne and Condamine Rivers of Queensland.
- 1850. Hundreds allegedly killed near Paddy Island in the Burnett River. A large-scale punitive expedition was formed following the alleged murder of Gregory Blaxland junior at Gin Gin station in August of that year - by settlers from Walla, Tenningering, Yenda, Wetheron, Monduran, Kolonne, Eureka, Ideraway, Baramba, Boonara and Boubyjan stations. Both William Henry Walsh and Sir Maurice Charles O'Connell is known to have participated in this expedition and Walsh later revealed some details during a parliamentary debate in Queensland some two decades later. They caught up with a large party of Aborigines near Paddy's Island at the mouth of the Burnett River and a major skirmish took place resulting in "hundreds" of Aborigines being shot down'. The number 200 has been mentioned.
- 1857. Hundreds killed in retaliation for the Hornet Bank massacre. Massacre of the Yeeman tribe and numerous attacks on many others following the attack on the Fraser family and their employees at Hornet Bank station. In the early hours of the 27 October 1857, members of the Yeeman tribe attacked the Fraser's Hornet Bank Station in the Dawson River Basin in Queensland killing 11 men, women and children in retaliation for the deaths of 12 members shot for spearing some cattle and the deaths of an unknown number of Yeeman nine months earlier who had been given strychnine laced Christmas puddings by the Fraser family. Following the deaths of his parents and siblings, William Fraser, who had been away on business, began a campaign of extermination that eventually saw the extinction of the Yeeman tribe and language group. Fraser is credited with killing more than 100 members of the tribe with many more killed by sympathetic squatters and policemen. By March 1858 up to 300 Yeeman had been killed. Public and police sympathy for Fraser was high, and he gained a reputation as a folk hero throughout Queensland.
- early 1860s. "Water view", North Bundaberg, at least 15 to 20 Aborigines killed in a dispersal by Native Police. This event, known as "Bierra bong" (meaning many or plenty death) in the local Aboriginal language, later gave name to Bundaberg's main street "Bourbong street". The co-founder and proprietor of Colanne Station (Kolan) Nicholas Edward Nelson Tooth (1843–1913) in 1895 wrote about finding of numerous remains from Native Police dispersal "Two or three of us were one day looking for ebony wood (for stockwhip handles) when we suddenly came on a heap of human bones, among which were 15 or 20 skulls ... At first we thought it was an old burying place of the blacks, but I afterwards learnt from a black that it was the spot where the native police had come upon a large camp of blacks and dispersed them."
- 1861. Central Highlands. Between October and November 1861, police and settlers killed an estimated 170 Aboriginal people in what was then known as the Medway Ranges following the killing of the Wills family.Native Police shooting into an aboriginal camp at the Nogoa River on 26 October 1861, estimated they shot from 60 to 70 dead before running out of ammunition.
- July 1865. Native troopers ambushed a Darumbal ceremonial gathering outside Rockhampton and shot dead 18 Aborigines, and then set fire to their corpses.
- 1867. Goulbolba Hill Massacre, on John Arthur Macartney's St Helens Station Central Queensland: large massacre in 1866 or early 1867 involving men, women and children. This was claimed to be the result of settlers pushing Aboriginal people out of their hunting grounds and the Aboriginal people being forced to hunt livestock for food. A party of Native Police, allegedly under Frederick Wheeler, who had a reputation for violent repressions, was sent to "disperse" this group of Aboriginal people, who were "resisting the invasion". He is supposed to have also mustered up a force of 100 local whites. Alerted to Wheeler's presence by a native stockman, the district's Aboriginal people hid in caves on Goulbolba Hill. According to eyewitness testimony taken down from one local white in 1899 (thirty years after the event), that day some 300 Aboriginal people, including all the women and children, were shot dead or killed by being herded into the nearby lake for drowning. There is no other supporting evidence of this event.
- 1869. Bowen district. On page 2 in the issue of 1 May 1869, the Port Denison Times reported that "Not long ago," in this district, no less than a total of about "120 aboriginals disappeared on two occasions forever from the native records." This statement was clearly referring to just two Native Police conducted (possibly settler supported) punitive expeditions (see also the Empire (Sydney) 25 May 1869, page 2). No reader of this journal later objected to this statement.
- c. 1872. Over 200 killed by Native Police at Skull Hole on the head of Mistake Creek, Bladensburg Station (near Winton) Central Queensland. In 1888 the visiting Norwegian scientist Carl Lumholtz recalled how he in about 1882-84 "was shown" at Bladensburg "a large number of skulls of natives who had been shot by the black police" some years earlier. in 1901 P.H.F Mackay wrote an article to the Queenslander citing one witness and participant in this dispersal - the later property manager Hazelton Brock - who classified the incident as "the Massacre of the Blacks" and stated that it took place at the Skull Hole on Mistake Creek. Thus two unrelated sources give evidence and details (notably with reports of forensic evidence in both cases) of at least one large-scale dispersals at Bladensburg some time about 1877–1879. It was "one of the most blood curdling sights I ever saw" Hazelton Brock is supposed to have stated. Both sources describe it as connected to an Aboriginal attack on a bullock wagon during which one man was 'murdered'. The dispersal was headed by Acting Sub-inspector Robert Wilfred Moran (1846–1911) and his troopers and a group of settlers headed by George Fraser - 14 men in all - and the target was a large camp with hundreds of blacks in the "Skull Hole" in "the Forsyth Ranges on the head of Mistake Creek." Hazelton Brock is cited for the statement that over 200 blacks were killed.
- 1873. The Battle Camp collision, Far North Queensland in about December 1873 supposedly took the life of a number of Aborigines. The event took place during the first rush of miners travelling from the Endeavour River to the Palmer river in about November or December 1873. In an article in the Queenslander's Sketcher in December 1875, one digger recalled the Palmer rush two years earlier. One morning he and his party had, he told: …passed ‘Battle camp’ … It was here the blacks of the interior first re-ceived their ‘baptism of fire;’ where they first became acquainted with the death-dealing properties of the mysterious weapon of the white man;…Here and there a skull, bleached to the whiteness of snow, with a round bullet-hole to show the cause of its present location…
- 1874-75. Blackfellow's Creek, Far North Queensland. A letter from a miner dated "Upper Palmer River April 16, 1876", describes his camp at a place known locally as "Blackfellows creek". He explained, leaving very little doubt as to its appearance, that: "…To my enquiry as to why it was so named, the answer is that not long since 'the niggers got a dressing there' – whatever that may mean; possibly a bright coloured shirt apiece, for decency's sake. There have been, certainly, 'dressings' of another sort dealt out in this part of the country to the blacks,…. Be that as it may, however, the Golgotha on which we are at present camped would well repay a visit from any number of phrenological students in search of a skull, or of anatomical professors in want of a 'subject.'"
- 1878. “Dispersing the mob”. A total of 75 dead or dying was counted after just one Native Police "dispersal", most likely somewhere in the Cook district in Far North Queensland. In the January 1879 issue of Brisbane Daily News, the highly acclaimed editor Carl Feilberg, recorded the numbers of killed during a dispersal in the far north (most likely Cook district) saying “A gentleman, on whose words reliance can be placed, has stated that after one of these raids he has counted as many as seventy-five natives dead or dying upon the ground. Of course the official returns will report the aboriginal race to be fast dying out.”
- 1879 Selwyn Range, North-West Queensland. It has been estimated that a total of 300 Aborigines (supposedly of the Kalkadoon tribe) were shot in a series of Native Police and settler "dispersals" ending in the Selwyn Ranges. It was retaliation supposedly on the Kalkadoon tribe following the alleged "murder" of the squatter Bernard Molvo and his men James Kelly, “Harry” or Henry Butler and “Tommy” or Thomas Holmes who was killed while in the process of forming a station at Suleiman Creek (this event was called the 'Woonamo massacre' as the bodies of the victims was found in the 'Wonomo billabong' at Sulieman Creek). Luke Russell, the manager of Stanbook station, Alexander Kennedy and later Sub-inspector Ernest Eglington and his troopers were all involved in a series of retaliations culminating in the Selwyn Range. Robert Clarke estimated in 1901 that a total of 300 was shot.
- 1879. 28 Aboriginal men shot and drowned at Cape Bedford, Cook district Far North Queensland: Cape Bedford massacre on 20 February 1879 – taking the lives of 28 Aborigines of the Guugu-Yimidhirr tribe north of Cooktown - Cooktown based Native Police Sub-inspector Stanhope O'Connor with his troopers, Barney, Jack, Corporal Hero, Johnny and Jimmy hunted down, subsequently "hemmed in" a group of Guugu-Yimidhirr Aborigines in "a narrow gorge", north of Cooktown on, "of which both outlets were secured by the troopers. There were twenty-eight men and thirteen gins thus enclosed, of whom none of the former escaped. Twenty-four were shot down on the beach, and four swam out to the sea" never to be seen again. This was just one of numerous similar episodes, most of which will remain uncounted for, on the Far North Queensland mining frontier during the 1870s.
- 1884. Battle Mountain: 200 Kalkadoon people killed near Mount Isa, Queensland after a Chinese shepherd had been "murdered."
- 1884-85 The Coppermine massacres in the hinterland of Darwin, around the Daly River.
- 1888. Diamantina River district in south west Queensland. A killing of a station cook near Durrie on the Diamantina in 1888 led to a reported attack by a party of the Queensland Native Police led by sub-inspector Robert Little. The attack was timed to coincide with an assembly of young Aborigines around the permanent waters of Kaliduwarry. Great gatherings of Aboriginal youth were held at Kaliduwarry on the Eyre Creek on a regular basis and attracted youths from as far away as the Gulf of Carpentaria to below the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. Perhaps as many as two hundred Aborigines might have been killed on this occasion.
- 1890. Speewah, Far North Queensland: Early settler, John Atherton, took revenge on the Djabugay by sending in native troopers to avenge the killing of a bullock. Other unconfirmed reports of similar atrocities occurred locally.[self-published source?]
- 1874. Barrow Creek Massacre. In February Mounted Constable Samuel Gason arrived at Barrow Creek and a police station was opened. Eight days later a group of Kaytetye men attacked the station, either in retaliation for treatment of Kaytetye women, the closing off of their only water source, or both. Two white men were killed and one wounded. Samuel Gason mounted a large police hunt against the Kaytetye resulting in the killing of many Aboriginal men, women and children - some say up to 90. Skull Creek, where the massacre took place, 50 miles south of Barrow Creek, takes its name from the bleached bones found there long after.
- 1880s-90s. Arnhem Land. Series of skirmishes and "wars" between Yolngu and whites. Several massacres at Florida Station. Richard Trudgen also writes of several massacres in this area, including an incident where Yolngu were fed poisoned horse meat after they killed and ate some cattle (under their law, it was their land and they had an inalienable right to eat animals on their land). Many people died as a result of that incident. Trudgen also talks of a massacre ten years later after some Yolngu took a small amount of barbed wire from a huge roll to build fishing spears. Men, women and children were chased by mounted police and men from the Eastern and African Cold Storage Company and shot.
Violence and massacres after federation
Kimberley region - The Killing Times - 1890–1920: The massacres listed below have been depicted in modern Australian Aboriginal art from the Warmun/Turkey Creek community who were members of the tribes affected. Oral history of the massacres were passed down and artists such as Rover Thomas have depicted the massacres.
- 1906-7 Canning Stock Route: an unrecorded number of Aboriginal men and women were raped and massacred when Mardu people were captured and tortured to serve as 'guides' and reveal the sources of water in the area after being 'run down' by men on horseback, restrained by heavy chains 24 hours a day, and tied to trees at night. In retaliation for this treatment, plus the party's interference with traditional wells, and the theft of cultural artefacts, Aboriginal people destroyed some of Canning's wells, and stole from and occasionally killed white travellers. A Royal Commission in 1908, exonerated Canning, after an appearance by Kimberley Explorer and Lord Mayor of Perth, Alexander Forrest claimed that all explorers had acted in such a fashion.
- 1915 Mistake Creek Massacre: Seven Kija people were alleged to have been killed by men under the control of a Constable Rhatigan, at Mistake Creek, East Kimberley. The massacre is supposed to be in reprisal for allegedly killing Rhatigan's cow, however the cow is claimed to have been found alive after the massacre had already taken place. Rhatigan was arrested for wilful murder apparently because the killers were riding horses which belonged to him, but the charges were dropped, for lack of evidence that he was personally involved. While there are four versions of the incident in the oral histories they vary only in minor details. The historian Keith Windschuttle disputes the version put forward by former Governor-General of Australia, William Deane, in November 2002. The official 1915 Turkey Creek police station files which document the massacre contains a claim by an Aboriginal person that Rhatigan was involved, supporting the view of Aboriginal oral history. Despite this, Windschuttle claims that the police inquest ultimately cleared Rhatigan (eyewitnesses reported that Rhatigan was not present) and that the massacre was not a reprisal attack by whites over a cow, but "an internal feud between Aboriginal station hands" over a woman. "No Europeans were responsible. There was no dispute over a stolen cow, and it had nothing to do with theories about terra nullius or of Aborigines being subhuman.". Members of the Gija tribe, from the Warmun (Turkey Creek) community have depicted the massacre in their artworks (see Warmun Art).
- 1924 Bedford Downs massacre: a group of Gija and Worla men were tried in Wyndham for spearing a milking cow on the Bedford Downs Station. When released from the court they were given dog tags to wear and told to walk the 200 kilometres back to Bedford Downs. On arrival they were set to work to cut the wood that was later used to burn their bodies. Once the work was finished they were fed food laced with strychnine by white station hands and their writhing bodies were then either shot or they were clubbed to death. The bodies were subsequently burned by the local police. This massacre has been depicted in artworks by members of the Gija tribe, the identities of the alleged perpetrators passed down and the events re-enacted in a traditional corroboree that has been performed since the massacre allegedly occurred. It has been questioned by Rod Moran (a Western Australian journalist) whether this massacre actually occurred or if it is merely a local legend with no foundation in fact. In a magazine article, he argues that there is no evidence for such a massacre and that it is much more likely to be an invention. Moran bases his argument on the implausibility of the claim that the men were 'marked for death' with a ticket or tag that they declined to remove even when warned to do so; that it is improbable, because of the number of perpetrators allegedly involved, that word of such an alleged massacre would not have 'leaked out' until over sixty years later; on a lack of written contemporary documentation; and that the Europeans and survivors that are mentioned are not named. The accounts became widely known after oral histories collected for the 1989 East Kimberley Impact Assessment Project (EKIAP) were published in 1999. As is customary for Indigenous reports, the EKIAP did not name anyone who was dead. Moran was unaware that several of the original written accounts did name not only the eyewitnesses and survivors but also the killers and other whites who were present but did not participate.
- 1926 Forrest River massacre in the East Kimberleys: in May 1926, Fred Hay, a pastoralist, attacked an Aboriginal man by the name of Lumbia and was speared to death. A police patrol led by Constables James St Jack and Denis Regan left Wyndham on 1 June, to hunt for the killer, and in the first week of July Lumbia, the accused man, was brought into Wyndham. At his preliminary hearing, Lumbia testified that Hay had flogged him 20-30 times with his stockwhip because Hay believed he had butchered one of the station's cattle, which he denied. According to a claim made by the Rev Ernest Gribble at the later Royal Commission, Hay had then raped one of Lumbia's child wives and was speared and killed by Lumbia as he was departing. At his trial Lumbia was not provided with a lawyer but was represented by Aborigines Department Inspector E.C. Mitchell, who acted as his advocate. After escaping from the courthouse and being recaptured, Lumbia was chained to a post in the street while the jury continued to hear the prosecution case before finding him guilty in his absence. The prosecutor claimed Hay was murdered while protecting his stock and the alleged rape was not mentioned. Statements by Lumbia and his wives recorded before the trial through an Aboriginal interpreter, Mrs Angelina Noble of Forrest River Mission and produced in court, made no mention of rape. In the months that followed, rumours circulated of a massacre by the police party. The Rev. Ernest Gribble of Forrest River Mission (later Oombulgurri) alleged that 30 people had been killed by the police party and a Royal Commission, after sending out an evidence-gathering party, found that 11 people had been massacred and the bodies burned. In May 1927, St Jack and Regan were charged with the murder of Boondung, one of the 11. However, at a preliminary hearing, Magistrate Kidson found there was insufficient evidence to proceed to trial.
- 1918 Bentinck Island: Part of the Wellesley Islands group, which includes Mornington Island, Bentinck Island was home to the Kaiadilt clan of just over 100 people. In 1911 a man by the name of McKenzie (other names unknown) was given a government lease for nearby Sweers Island that also covered the eastern portion of the much larger Bentinck Island. Arriving on Bentinck with an Aboriginal woman plus a flock of sheep, he built a hut near the Kurumbali estuary. Although the Kaiadilt avoided contact and refrained from approaching McKenzie's property he is alleged to have often explored the island, shooting any males he found while raping the women. In 1918 McKenzie organised a hunt with an unknown number of settlers from the mainland and, beginning from the northern tip of the island, herded the Indigenous inhabitants to the beach on its southern shore. The majority of the Kaiadilt fled into the sea where those that were not shot from the shore drowned. Those that tried to escape along the beach were hunted down and shot, with the exception of a small number who reached nearby mangroves where the settlers' horses could not follow. Several young women were raped on the beach, then held prisoner in McKenzie's hut for three days before being released. As the Kaiadilt remained isolated throughout much of the 20th century, the massacre remained unknown to the authorities until researchers recorded accounts given by survivors in the 1980s.
- 1928 Coniston massacre: On 7 August 1928, a white dingo trapper, Frederick Brooks, was allegedly murdered by Aboriginal people on Coniston station in Northern Territory. Brooks had been killed with traditional Aboriginal weapons after which the body was buried. Padygar and Arkikra, two Aboriginal men, were arrested for the murder. They stood trial in Darwin but were ultimately acquitted. The actual killer of Brooks it was later revealed from accounts by Aboriginal eyewitnesses, was Kamalyarrpa Japanangka (aka 'Bullfrog'). The sixty-year-old Brooks was camped at Yurrkuru waterhole, 20 km west of the Coniston homestead, when he was attacked early one morning by a group of Warlpiri people, which included Kamalyarrpa. The murder had been planned by Kamalyarrpa 'Bullfrog'. A series of reprisals followed stretching over the period from 14 August to 18 October 1928 and instigated by groups of civilians and police on horseback and headed by Constable George Murray. Official records say that thirty-one Aborigines were killed, yet unofficial estimates say that more than sixty men, women and children from Warlpiri, Anmatyerre and Kaytetye people were shot at a number of sites. A survivor of the massacre, Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri, later became part of the first generation of Papunya painting men. Billy Stockman was saved by his mother who put him in a coolamon. A court of inquiry said the European action was ‘justified'.
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- ‘The massacre of Aboriginal people in a ‘war of extermination’ was widespread and relentless. As one of the early missionaries, R.D.Joynt, wrote (1918:7), hundred had been “shot down like game.” And possibility, however, that they might have succeeded in preserving their cultural integrity ended drastically around the start of the 20th century when a huge London-based cattle consortium The Eastern and African Cold Storage Company acquired massive tracts of land to carve out a pastoral empire from the Roper River north into Arnhem Land. Purchasing all stocked and viable stations along the western Roper River, they began moving cattle eastward. Determined to put down all Aboriginal resistance, they employed gangs of up to 14 men to hunt down all inhabitants of the region and shoot them on sight. With police and other authorities maintaining a “conspiracy of silence”, they staged a systematic campaign of extermination against the Roper River peoples (Harris 1994:695-700). They almost succeeded.’ Gerhard Leitner, Ian G. Malcolm, The habitat of Australia's aboriginal languages: past, present and future, Walter de Gruyter, 2007 pp.143-4
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