June 10 marks 182 years since horrific Myall Creek Massacre

It is a day that will forever be stamped as one of infamy in the annals of Moree and district history books – a day of shame.

On June 10, 1838 a group of 28 unarmed Aborigines, including women, children and elderly men, were murdered in cold blood by a group of convict stockmen at Myall Creek.

The victims of the atrocity were members of the Wirrayaraay, a tribal clan of the Kamilaroi people.

They had arrived at Myall Creek Station a few weeks earlier for safety, and were known to the settlers working on the place.

They trusted stockman Charles Kilmeister but he would later betray them.

Marauding stockmen were known to roam the district, slaughtering innocent Aborigines.

The group of men, led by head stockman John Fleming from Mungie Bundie Run near Moree, arrived at Henry Dangar’s Myall Creek Station with murder on their mind.

The premeditated trip had been planned to coincide with the absence of station manager William Hobbs.

Apart from sickening gratification, there was no reason to harm the Aborigines.

The group of Wirrayaraay people were invited – more likely, lured – to Myall Creek Station by Kilmeister, who turned against them and joined the murderous party.

Station hut keeper George Anderson was told by one of the group, John Russell, that they were going to take the Aborigines “over the back of the range and frighten them”.

Anderson refused to join the party and later gave damning evidence at the trial of the accused murderers.

After the massacre, the bodies of the victims were piled up and burned and the remains of at least 28 corpses were later found.

The final death toll, however, has never been confirmed.

When station manager William Hobbs returned to Myall Creek Station and discovered the bodies, he was of firm mind to report the matter.

However, he was strongly dissuaded by Kilmeister.

Hobbs discussed the matter with neighbour Thomas Foster who passed on the information to squatter Frederick Foot.

Foot rode to Sydney and reported the massacre to newly-appointed New South Wales Governor George Gipps, whose subsequent investigation was supported by Attorney-General John Plunkett.

Gipps directed Muswellbrook Police Magistrate Edward Denny Day to investigate.

George Anderson’s testimony was crucial to the case and he identified the arrested men as the murderers.

He was sacked from his position at Myall Creek Station by owner Henry Dangar, who had gathered a group of local land-holders from the Gwydir district to finance the charged men’s legal defence.

At the second trial – the first was allegedly a farce with all defendants acquitted – seven of the 11 defendants were found guilty of murder.

After the verdict was announced Judge Burton addressed the guilty men.

“Prisoners of the bar, you have been found guilty of the crime of murder by a jury of your countrymen . . . you have been sent to this colony for some crime committed at home; you have all lost your liberty for some cause or other, through some of you have since regained that liberty by service; you are well acquainted with the law which says, that whoever is guilty of murder shall suffer death. The law is no conventional law, no common rule of life formed for human purposes; it is founded on the law of God.”

Judge Burton continued: “In that hut the prisoners, unmoved by the tears, groans, and sighs, bound them with cords, fathers, mothers, and children indiscriminately, and carried them away to a short distance, when the scene of slaughter commenced, and stopped not until all were exterminated, with the exception of one woman.”

On December 18 Charles Kilmeister, James Oates, Edward Foley, John Johnson, John Russell, William Hawkins and James Parry were publicly hanged at Sydney Gaol.

The accused found not guilty included alleged ring-leader John Fleming, who later became a respected farmer and church warden in the Hawkesbury district.

Last August, a $25,000 State Government grant for the Friends of Myall Creek Massacre Memorial was announced to support commemorations this year.

Member for Northern Tablelands Mr Marshall commended the work done by Friends of the Myall Creek Massacre Memorial group and the wider community in developing education and awareness of the massacre.

“I have attended the annual memorial service on six occasions over recent years and noticed the rapidly-growing crowds attending, with visitors from far and wide making time to join the commemoration,” Mr Marshall said.

“On the site of the Myall Creek Massacre now stands a simple but poignant granite memorial, acknowledging those who lost their lives, the perpetrators and those who courageously contributed to the pursuit and achievement of justice.

“Importantly now, it stands as a symbol of the desire for a more equitable Australia and as an emblem for those determined to achieve true and lasting reconciliation between our indigenous and more recent settler populations,” he said.

Normally, the community and many visitors would be gathering this week on Gomeroi country to remember those who lost their lives in this horrific event.

However, due to COVID-19 restrictions this cannot occur.

A virtual ceremony in memory of the Gomeroi people has been created and can be accessed by visiting the link here

Words: Bill Poulos