Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Black Armband 2 - Elliston Massacres

I'm a South Australian, so I'll draw on South Australian history for my Black Armband examples.


Example One takes us to beautiful Eyre Peninsula on the west coast of South Australia, and to the white coastal township of Elliston (see red on map opposite).

This section of coast was home to large numbers of Aboriginal people.

Following the "settlement" of South Australia in 1836, it was also home to a small but growing number of European colonists. Their descendents, and other white Australians, live in Elliston today. The descendents of the original owners of the land don't.

Here are two accounts that explain why. The first is an indigenous history of a massacre in 1839 , the second a settler history of a nearly identical massacre ten years later.

The first is from Iris Burgoyne's The Mirning: We Are the Whales and is published by, and available from, Magabala Books in Broome.

The intruders landed on our soil and took our land without paying a penny. We fought for our tribal boundaries, yet we could not get a tiny plot. They sat back and took everything. They did not understand our ancestors were the landlords of this country. When equal rights were granted to the Aboriginal people in the sixties, we were promised our land. We were promised the world. Truth was a theory constantly disproved. Only lies went on forever.

This story was passed to me by my people. Their spoken words were always the truth. As young girls at Koonibba, we sat and listened to the old people like Jack Joonary, Jilgina Jack and Wombardy. (Photo shows old people in their camp at Koonibba - Mike). They were well over a hundred. They shared many of their experiences. They told us about how they survived the Elliston massacres in about 1839 and 1849. Jack Jacobs from Franklin Harbour, old lame Paddy and Dick Dory spoke about it as well. That day they escaped death as they tricked the European horsemen and ran into the bushes. They stood and watched in horror as their people were driven off the cliffs into the sea.

A camp of about two hundred Aboriginal people lived on the outskirts of Elliston. One day two Aboriginal men went out hunting. They looked over the bushes and watched a farmer as he rode his horse and cart into his yard. As the farmer stepped down, he noticed the hunters. When he checked his sheep the following day, he found there were four missing. Naturally, he suspected the Aboriginal men and reported them to the police.

The policeman approached the camp and asked the people whether the hunters stole the sheep. They replied that no one had taken any sheep. The policeman was suspicious of them. “Who went out hunting yesterday?” he asked.

The people named the two men and told the policeman they came back with wombat and kangaroo. But he did not believe them. He thought that the Aboriginal people lied. They arrested the two hunters, who spoke no English and kept them in the cells. A few weeks later a judge came from Adelaide for the trial, which was held in a big shed in Elliston. The Aboriginal people stood outside in the dark, peeped through the window and watched the two men as they pleaded with the judge. The men tried to tell the judge they hunted wombat and kangaroo, but the judge couldn’t understand them and said, “Hang them! Give them an example. Show them what will happen if they steal again!”

That very night they were hung in the centre of the town. Those innocent fellows hung there all the next day, while the Aboriginal people mourned them. That night, whilst the European townspeople slept, people from the camp released the two boys and buried them. They snuck around to the boarding house where the judge slept and coaxed him outside with a whoobu-whoobie, a device that made different sounds like and engine, a dog growling or a horse neighing. When the judge emerged, they grabbed him, knocked him unconscious and hung him up in the very same place. The next morning the townsfolk discovered what happened and decided to take the law into their own hands. The policeman rounded up farmers with about ten horses and rode out to the camp. They herded all the Aboriginal men, women and children like animals and forced them off the cliffs at Elliston. People tried to escape, but they were cut down by whips, sticks and guns.

Three teenagers – one girl and two boys – and a baby survived the massacre. The baby gently tumbled out of its mother’s arms onto the soft sand. The teenagers dared not move whilst the horsemen at the cliff top watched for survivors. They listened to the moaning and dying carried with the swirling breeze. When the coast was clear, they staggered around and looked for signs of life amongst the bodies, but to no avail.

They escaped along the coast towards Streaky Bay and with them, news of the tragedy spread. Aboriginal people were horrified and immediately fled the coast for Talewan, the Bight, Yardea, the Gawler Ranges and Ooldea. About ten years later, in 1849, there was another massacre near the Sweep Holes. No Aboriginal person has lived in Elliston ever since.

Those two hunters could not have carried off those sheep. They were executed without evidence. All the authorities had were tracks in the bushes. Usually when a farmer slaughtered sheep, Aboriginal people collected the guts and runners. That was if there was no bushtucker around. They believed in healthy food. Aboriginal people did not steal those sheep. There were kangaroos, lizards, goanna, possums and birds. They lived where there was an abundance of fish. They saw farmers looking after those sheep and knew they were not allowed to touch them. It was something of value.

Years later, people discovered those Aboriginal men were innocent. Non-Aboriginal men stole the sheep and started their own farm. The police were told the Aboriginal men were murdered for no reason. They owned up but nothing could be done. Innocent people were killed.

This is Iris' account of the first massacre. But as if that weren't enough, a second, nearly identical massacre occurred a decade later. I've got to point out that were it not for the fact that these massacres had become part of local folklore, they might not be known about today. Many of the episodes of frontier war between the "settlers" and the Aborigines were not recorded. The author of what follows had access to people who had had "secrets" passed on by word of mouth in the local community.

(I came across a similar thing when I was teaching local history in a school south of Adelaide some years ago: a student who lived in the Clarendon-Kangarilla area tried reseraching the Aboriginal history of the area, and was told by several elderly residents that there had been a massacre of Aborigines, pushed down a steep cliff in the hills to the east of the towns, in the early days. Of course, there were no records and the informants were not enthusiastic about discussing the matter.)

In the account that follows, note how there is again, no direct evidence of Aborigines actually killing the victim. Nor were Aborigines who resisted the dispossession of their lands given to beheading people. Their victims (and there were a number on the West Coast) were speared. My first question is what was the motive for the murder, and did the murderer(s) use the local Aborigines as a scapegoat? Note too, how the author adopts an "end justifies the means" viewpoint in the conclusion. And I thought it was just us commie bastards that did that!

Across the Bar to Waterloo Bay: Elliston 1878-1978, compiled and published by the Elliston Centenary Book Committee.

It was in the year 1848 that John Hamp was murdered by natives, which started the legends, various rumors and conjectures which have persisted in the area around Elliston for over one hundred years regarding the “Elliston Massacre”.

After hearing many and varied stories of the murder and subsequent extermination of the native tribe one clear fact only was definite. John Hamp was found dead when his brother returned to the hut he shared with his brother near the northern end of Lake Newland. It was then late in the day. The indications were that the crime had been committed by the natives, who had decapitated the body, leaving John’s head beside the body, then ransacked the hut, and taken all the food. No natives had been sighted.

John Hamp and his brother were joint lessees of the pastoral run from Talia Station southward to Lake Newland.

Talia Station was managed by Dr Browne…

John’s brother, immediately after discovering the body, rode to Talia Station to let Dr Browne know, and to ask his advice regarding what should be done. Dr Browne immediately took it upon himself to organize a punitive force to punish the natives, and to report the killing to the police. He sent a message to Trooper Gerherty, the police trooper for that area…

So the small force was assembled and eventually left Talia to hunt the natives. As some time had elapsed since the murder all the natives had left the area, and it was to be a hunt, for there were hiding places all the way southward, which Dr Browne assumed was the direction taken, as there were numerous watering places along the coast and lakes…

As the bush gave good cover for the natives, who knew all the tracks through it, it was not an easy task for the pursuers to search it thoroughly, and the chase was necessarily slow. From the Lake Newland area the force of white men proceeded south, keeping near the coast, looking for signs of the natives. Not until they passed Waterloo Bay did they find any, when they surprised a party at a waterhole near a lake, later named Hamps Lake. There were men, women and children in the party at the waterhole, who took fright when they saw the armed men, and made for the titree. Some shots were fired at them, without effect other than to further frighten the natives who ran southward through the titree scrub, from one lake to another, and not until they broke from the cover of the titrees to the more open mallee and sheoak land, near where the roads to Port Lincoln and Lock now separate did they present any fair target to the pursuers.

Even though the country was more open, the low growth and scrub did not make it easy going for the horsemen, who however continued to shoot when they caught sight of the fugitives, and several natives were shot. The majority, however, continued their flight southward, and the leading horseman saw them race for the cliffs and jump over. As the white men were on unfamiliar ground, they approached the cliffs very cautiously, and when they did reach the brink and look down no trace of any natives could be seen. Straight down, 150 feet below, was the sea!

All the natives were presumed drowned.

So ended the “Elliston Massacre”.

Immediately after, Dr Browne addressed the men who comprised the punitive force, and told them bluntly that by killing a native, or natives, or being party to such killings, they had all broken the law and could themselves be hung as murderers. He explained that the men had achieved the purpose of the expedition in wiping out the coastal natives, or by driving them to their death over the cliffs, so unless they wanted to be arrested for murder they should say nothing about the events of the last few days while even one of the party was still alive. So they all swore an oath of secrecy…

…the only survivors of the massacre…were a small boy, whose mother had hidden him in some bushes when she fled during the chase of the natives, and a girl, quite young, who was left behind because she was lame. Who cared for these children I do not know, but more than one person told me of them living and visiting Elliston well into this century.

It is my opinion, in view of the description of the country and the stories of the natives, their knowledge of the coast and coastal country, their agility in descending and climbing the cliffs, and the delay of the party of white men in starting the pursuit, that the natives escaped, probably by leaving for the Gawler Ranges before the pursuit started, or even while it was in progress, and that the natives surprised at the waterhole at Hamps Lake were only a section of the tribe, and possibly unaware of what had happened at Talia. Of these people the few who were shot could have been the only losses, as once over the cliff they would know all the caves and hiding places below, only to leave for the Gawler Ranges when the hunt died.

Whatever the result – extermination or else escape – the purpose of the punitive force was achieved. The natives did not continually frequent the coast, and in the area concerned there were no further crimes committed.

I take that to mean that no more colonists were murdered, not that there were no more massacres, but I guess that depends on how you define "crimes".

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

John Hamp was not decapitated. His head was not put in a camp oven. His body was not discovered by his son nor by his brother. This story was told to a gullible journalist by a drunk in pub and has been repeated ever since. It is an Urban myth

Anonymous said...

Yes, there was at least one horrific event which took place in the surrounding area of Elliston. The details of this has been lost in history. The above stories may give you some idea as to what may have happened but cannot be deemed fact (although they have definite similarities with locol folkore). Locol belief is aborigines were rounded up and chased off a cliff with few surviving, hence the name Blackfellows cliff, 15km from Elliston township.

Anonymous said...

goodreading said...
the story may remain a urban myth told by a drunk, the facts remain that natives of this area and many others proved that the blood lines of this country were Massacred for their land, how ironic that today that these non-aboriginal people own these lands today, now do they realise how they got the land mmm.

Anonymous said...

This story is NOT an urban myth. My great-grandmother was a nurse and cared for the aboriginies in that area. They carved a walking stick for her and gave it to her as thanks for her care. I have the stick. She witnessed the massacre. She told her grand-daughter (my mother) that a wealthy land owner returned home one day to find (someone) had been beheaded and his head left next to his body. No-one would own up to the killing so he herded up every aboriginal he could find and forced them over the cliff. She witnessed the massacre. She left the area after that and continued her nursing care of aboriginals around the Booleroo Centre area.

Anonymous said...

There were massacres like this all over Australia, where the white man thought the easiest way of stealing the indigenous people's land was to exterminate them altogether! To hide the dastardly act that took place in Elliston, the present white occupants of the town have put up the ' largest mural in the Southern Hemisphere ' in this wicked town, hoping to attract tourists there by the droves - what a joke, when the massacre is not even depicted in the mural. The Aborigines of Australia should make Elliston a sacred site, where once a year, they should gather here to pray for the dead. The law of karma keeps deadly accurate records. The descendants of the people who carried out this massacre will suffer terribly. Elliston is one of the cursed towns of Australia. Period.

Anonymous said...

The last anonymous comment clerly shows they have no idea who now lives in the area 100 years plus later. lets blame everyone for the past. Perhaps we should blame the Vikings as they invaded England and eventually thr english came to australia...no blame them they shouldnt have gone to Englnd and then the ships wouldnt ahve come...u moron

Anonymous said...

This blog does touch my heart.... although I am an Aboriginal from Ceduna, further down the west coast, these stories have been told to myself by my parents. And no doubt that they were told this by theirs. But still that town gives me shivers - And I do believe it is cursed and very errie town.

Anonymous said...

I stand at the Elliston hall looking at the mural and contemplate the 2 Aboriginals that stand sentry on the cliffs looking out to sea. Ellistons history is embedded in the limestone but the accuracy of certain events has been unfortunately stretched and does nothing to help the younger generation understand the hardship and atrocities that occured all those years ago.

Anonymous said...

There must be court records of this. Where are they?

Anonymous said...

There must be court records of this. Where are they? Also local newspaper stories at the time etc. Where are they?

Anonymous said...

what may have happened in that time is a terrible thing but that is the past and things like that happened in all lands of the world at one time, i dont say we should forget, i say if reconciliation is to occur in this country then stop living the past and blaming the people of this generation for things they had no control over, or is it just about the $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Anonymous said...

what may have happened in that time is a terrible thing but that is the past and things like that happened in all lands of the world at one time, i dont say we should forget, i say if reconciliation is to occur in this country then stop living the past and blaming the people of this generation for things they had no control over, or is it just about the $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Anonymous said...

The sins of the past can never be forgotten. Elliston is a sorry place and there will never be enough tears shed to cleanse the wrong doing. Some healing will be found through remembering. We must never forget.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock said...


I have just recently been on a week's holiday travelling around Eyre Peninsula with my wife. At Elliston, I had an interesting conversation with the manager of the caravan park where we stayed after I asked if there was a memorial to commemorate the massacre of Aborigines that occurred in 1839. he told me that there was nothing because most of the locals are descended from the people who carried out the massacre. He was able to tell me that 2 Aborigines were suspected of taking 4 sheep from a white farmer. The fact was, they hunted wombat and kangaroo, but the white community did not believe them. A judge from Adelaide pronounced them guilty and ordered that they be hanged. In response, the Aborigines hanged the judge. In response, local farmers and police took the law into their own hands and forced most of the Aboriginal population (about 200) over a cliff into the sea.

The actual thieves, 2 European men, had stolen the sheep – not the Aborigines.

The manager told me that he was a friend of an Aboriginal man who lived in the district for many years and told him that there were other massacres along the SW coast of SA also, but there is very little known about them.

There should be public acknowledgement of what happened to the original landowners there in 1939.

Anonymous said...

Hi i am aboriginal and i agree with you completely, I believe that it's not about the money at all it's about the acknowledgement of this country and what happened in the past as this country was taken away from our ancestors. It is sad though to hear about this continuing on when we should all be just getting on with our own lives and not going on and on about the past. It's been advertised in museums, art gallery's and movies/ documentaries have been made and everyone knows what happened decades ago there's no need to go on about it. That's all i want to say really.

N. Brown said...

About 45 years ago I spoke to a man who was present at an Elliston massacre who described the event and the leadup to me. He was a distant relative of mine and had been quite young - a teenager at the time. His story was that Europeans had divided the land into 2 main types of land, that owned by absentee land lords and that owned by free settlers. One of the free settlers was killed violently and everyone believed that it had been Aboriginies which had done it. His story was that some time had elapsed and that it had been notoriously difficult to track down those thought to have been responsible. One of the settlers came up with the idea of getting all of the local Aboriginies together by deception and that they had put the word around that as a "peace offering" they were offering to butcher a bullock on the cliffs of Elliston, and basically thow a "feast" for the local Aboriginal people. This feast included booze. According to this source who was present, when the local aboriginals were drunk and full, they then drove them over the cliff. My source was about 95yo when he told me and I was about 17. My father was also present at the conversation and confirmed that he had heard a similar account.

Anonymous said...

And bits off their bones and others probably from early ship wrecks still wash up at times along the SA coast.

peter petterson said...

You white Australians cannot change facts; history is not always accurate but overall Australia was as bad as the American south. Just accept things were pretty bad at times and honour the dead.

Anonymous said...

Here is how sad some of these post are, and how you can tell when someone is truly desensitized, privileged and unaware... Its irrelevant what processes got them there. The point is it was a genocide and an intentional act to eliminate another group of people. How they do it when they do it ... irrelevant. Court documents? Are you kidding. Has anyone hear bothered to look at the laws in the USA or Australia regarding people of color? The fact that there were statutes that dubbed them incompetent, incapable of telling the truth, and immoral due to their race? Wow some seriously sheltered history and seriously clueless people.

Anonymous said...

This is nothing more than here say combined with a Chinese Whisper.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately there is so much assumed and wrong information in this article that it gives little credibility to all concerned and eliminates those that may want to show empathy.

mike said...

Always amazes me how reluctant white Australians (and I am one) are to recognise past historical events which happened here, but which show them in a negative light, and how they will, with an almost religious fervour, commemorate wars in which Australians died far away, usually unnecessarily, fighting someone else's cause.