Background, 1788 – 1837
The infamous massacre of Aborigines at Myall Creek in Northern New South Wales in June 1838 occurred in the fifty first year after the British began their penal colony near Sydney cove.
The encroachments of the Europeans brought years of devastating strife to Aboriginal peoples, who had lived on this country for thousands of years. They suffered terribly, as they were exposed to diseases to which they had no immunity and they died in large numbers. They were driven from their lands, which had sustained them physically and spiritually. Demoralized and debauched, they were coming to be seen as a doomed race.
A proportion of the white population abused them, despised them and coveted their lands. The first British Governor, Captain Arthur Phillip, was, in the poet Les Murray’s words, ‘a kindly, rational man’, who attempted to develop harmonious relations with the Aborigines. However, he and subsequent leaders failed to bridge the cultural gaps and failed to protect Aborigines from those who tormented them. Likewise, that proportion of the white population who sympathised with the Aboriginal peoples were usually powerless to prevent atrocities on the frontier. Even the judgement of those who sought to help Aboriginal people was often clouded by presuppositions of cultural superiority. There was little knowledge of or value given to Aboriginal languages and belief systems.
As the pastoral industries continually advanced into Aboriginal lands, those in the vanguard of occupation were aware of their isolation and numerical inferiority. Some feared a rising of the tribes and lived with a siege mentality. Any news of Aboriginals clashing with whites or interfering with livestock could be a spur to action. With the closest agents of the British law several days’ ride away, low level skirmishes gave way to atrocities of which the massacre at Myall Creek is an extreme, though well documented, example.
The Events of 1837 and Early 1838
In the early...