National Heritage Places - Myall Creek Massacre and Memorial Site
New South Wales
The massacre of approximately 30 Wirrayaraay people at Myall Creek, the subsequent court cases and the hanging of the seven settlers for their role in the massacre was a pivotal moment in the development of the relationship between settlers and Aboriginal people. It was the first and last attempt by the colonial administration to use the law to control frontier conflict between settlers and Aboriginal people.
The Myall Creek massacre is outstanding in the course of Australia's cultural history as it is the last time the Colonial Administration intervened to ensure the laws of the colony were applied equally to Aboriginal people and settlers involved in frontier killings.
The Myall Creek Massacre and Memorial Site was added to the National Heritage List on 7 June 2008.
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A brief history of events
Following the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 a pattern of relations developed between Aboriginal people and European settlers that would last for more than a century. Despite instructions from the British Colonial Office to treat Aboriginal people with goodwill and kindness, competition for land and resources following European expansion inevitably resulted in frontier conflict.
In response to the intensifying conflict the Colonial Administration ordered settlers to defend themselves and ordered Aboriginal people to stay away from European habitation. Aboriginal people were increasingly being viewed as a serious threat to settlers and it wasn't long before settlers took things into their own hands.
The massacre of approximately 30 Wirrayaraay people at Myall Creek on the 10 June 1838 was the culmination of a series of conflicts between settlers and Aboriginal people in the Liverpool Plains region.
The twelve men responsible for the massacre included freed and assigned convicts that had spent a day unsuccessfully pursuing Aboriginal people. When they came to Myall Creek station they discovered a group of Wirrayaraay. The Wirrayaraay were rounded up and tied together. A few minutes later they were led off and massacred. Two days later the men responsible for the massacre returned to the scene of the crime to burn the bodies.
The Myall Creek massacre was marked by a series of unusual circumstances for the time. First the massacre was reported to authorities by one of the station hands, then the Governor assigned a police magistrate to investigate the reports.
Eleven of the twelve settlers involved in the massacre were arrested for the murders but were found not guilty. Seven of the men were re-arrested and tried again. The second trial delivered a guilty verdict and the Judge sentenced all seven men to death.
On 18 December 1838, after all legal objections were exhausted and the Executive Council rejected petitions for clemency, the sentences were carried out. The hanging of the seven European settlers for their part in the Myall Creek massacre caused controversy throughout the colony. It led to heightened racial tensions and hardened settler attitudes towards Aboriginal people.
The significance today
The descendants of the Wirrayaraay people who were massacred at Myall Creek, and other Aboriginal people who visit the place, continue to have a strong association with the area.
Since the 1850s, the story of the massacre has been retold in a number of poems and books and has continued to remind and teach Australians about the mistreatment of Aboriginal people during the period of frontier conflict; it has also become part of Australia's reconciliation movement.
In 1998, the Uniting Church held a conference on reconciliation at Myall Creek, which led to the creation of the Myall Creek Memorial Committee. In 2000, 162 years after the massacre, the Committee opened the Myall Creek Memorial 'in an act of reconciliation and in acknowledgment of the truth of our shared history'. This memorial brought together the descendants of the victims, survivors and perpetrators of the massacre.
Today it is an annual event. Each year several hundred people gather from across Australia to attend the service and commemorate those who were killed. The Memorial Site helps unite descendants of those who were murdered and descendants of those who carried out the massacre in an act of personal reconciliation.
The bronze plaque at the Memorial Site reads:
In memory of the Wirrayaraay people who were murdered on the slopes of this ridge in an unprovoked but premeditated act in the late afternoon of 10 June 1838. Erected on 10 June 2000 by a group of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians in an act of reconciliation, and in acknowledgment of the truth of our shared history. We Remember them (Ngiyani winangay ganunga).