Police chief apologises for a 1928 massacre of Aboriginal children, women and men
By Diet Simon
As recently as 1928 an officially endorsed massacre of innocent Aboriginal men, women and children was perpetrated by a white policeman leading a posse of horsemen in the Northern Territory of Australia . A police chief has apologised.
Officially the killers were to capture an Aboriginal man accused of killing a white dingo hunter.
All members of the mounted party shot to kill, no-one keeping a record of their tally, says a book about massacres and maltreatment of Aborigines since 1788, “Blood on the Wattle” (ISBN 1 86436 410 6, cover pictured).
According to historians, the riders led by Constable William George Murray, shot dead more than 50 men, women and children at at least six sites between August and October 1928. But the Warlpiri, Anmatyerre and Kaytetye people of the area say that up to 170 innocent people were indiscriminately slaughtered as the horsemen roamed up and down the Lander River.
The official figure stated at an inquiry was 17, all allegedly shot in ‘self-defence’ against Aborigines bearing spears and other wooden weapons. No charges were ever laid; a board of inquiry set up to investigate the killings ruled the party had “acted in self-defence”.
Returning to Alice Springs, Murray, who’d had no formal police training, “was immediately hailed as a conquering local hero. News of his ‘work’ along the Lander had filtered back to the town and he was greeted with admiration and approval. Once again white justice had been brought to the recalcitrant blacks.”
80 years later Aboriginal volunteers built a memorial, unveiled in 2003, to commemorate the Coniston massacre, often referred to as Australia’s last state-sanctioned mass killing, writes Jens-Uwe Korff on his website Creative Spirits.
“We're not bitter. We just want everybody to know and to acknowledge this black spot in Australian history," said Geoff Shaw, a Kaytetye man, during the opening of the memorial. “This is what they call hallowed ground, like Gallipoli is for white fellas.”
In August 2018, the Northern Territory Police Commissioner, Reece Kershaw, laid a wreath and apologised for what happened.
“There was no excuse or justification for what occurred here 90 years ago,” he said in a speech at Yurrkuru.
“As a police officer and commissioner I’m sorry for what has occurred.”
Hundreds of people gathered in the outback for the 90th anniversary. Constable Murray's grand-niece, Liza Dale-Hallett, attended and agreed that there should be better recognition of the frontier wars between Indigenous people and white settlers.
Despite ample documentation of massacres in official papers, settlers’ letters, diaries and newspapers of the time, many present-day Australians deny that any massacres happened or might say such things as “get over it”. Hardly any Aboriginal history is taught in schools. Many say honestly that they just did not know. A prominent pro-Aborigine historian Henry Reynolds wrote a book titled "Why Weren’t We Told?"
A push is now underway by Coniston massacre descendants to create a Day of Remembrance, a formal apology and a national truth telling process. Descendants of the perpetrators and the survivors of the last officially recorded frontier massacre united on 23 August 2018 to call for a national truth-telling process, so the nation can move forward “as one mob”.
I’d say any of that has the chance of a snowball in hell to happen.
The government funded Central Land Council, whose official brief is to promote Aboriginal land ownership, says Australians would be shocked to hear the Coniston massacre happened just 10 years after the end of Word War One.
“Too few people know about the massacres,” the Central Land Council chairman, Francis Tjupurrurla Kelly, told Guardian Australia.
“I think they would be shocked if they knew these murders did not happen during some distant past but 10 years after the first world war ended.”
Central Land Council delegate Harry Nelson asked if a National Park could be created around the massacre sites to mark the area's history. Other suggestions were for a national day of commemoration for Indigenous massacres similar to Anzac Day.
The Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said he would look at what could be done.
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