History is often cruel. Pascoe (1) put it succinctly when he wrote, “Invaders like to kill….” My observation is that in these circumstances, we remember murderers, not their viictims. In 1839 they murdered >35 indigenous people in the early hours of a day in October on the banks of Mt Emu Creek. No first person contemporary records exist. Secondary sources recorded the evidence of these murders over a period in the months and years following. Proof, these events actually happened.
To go back to the start of my interest in this tale, I think it necessary to know why I have a developed this interest. I spent my formative years in Camperdown. My father was the curator of Gulfoyle’s (sic (2)) historic botanical gardens, and I grew up on the site. He established them in 1869 on a hill between Lake Bullen Merri and Lake Gnotuk. (3)
On a clear day from that vantage point, a Scott, like my father, could see far into the distant hills of The Grampians, (Traditionally known as Gariwerd (4) where his countrymen had settled 100 years before. Mt Emu Creek wandered its way past on its way to the sea, in the middle ground and far into the distance. The advantage of that from that prominent place we could see, and hear, almost anything that might have disturbed the peace of the countryside. For instance, on the day in 1950 a 57 day railway strike ended. We heard the hoot of the first train to run between Melbourne and Port Fairy in weeks, long before it reached a spot where it could be seen on the plains below. In summer, we saw smoke drift up from a distant fire lit to burn grass along the railway tracks.
The same would have been true for any spectator in 1839 scanning the ground below from that hillside eerie that October. The sound of gun shot is heard with clarity on a still day. When, two days later the killers returned to burn the bodies, smoke drifting into the air would have marked the spot. As the smoke rose high in the air the terrible crime they were attempting to cover was signalled far away. No class I attended mentioned aboriginal people had lived here for thousands of years. That is despite some mention, from time to time some children had been to the shores of Lake Colongulac, or Lake Condor, and bought to school a trophy stone axe they collected on the shores during a weekend visit. Although, the school displayed many souvenirs of found indigenous life.
Worse, no teacher ever mentioned the life of a terrified native woman, Bareetch Chuurneen. She survived that horrible carnage of 1839 and fled with her infant child. She is reported to have made her way to the eastern bank of Lake Bullen Merri and sought shelter at the property known as Wuuroung. (5) The teachers took not a moment of my schooling to tell what Wangegamon, another native survivor of the massacre, saw. (6) He witnessed the event from the shelter of long grass on the opposite bank of the creek. He told of the awful loss of his wife and child. He recognised the body of his wife when her body cast into the water with other the dead, but he could not find the body of his child. Wangegamon witnessed the horrible cover-up the cruel killers resorted to when they returned and burned the bodies. He also recognised the killers as they shoved burnt bones into bags and took them away.
The old man I have become does not blame his teachers entirely because I know they were following a curriculum that was possibly written in the 1930’s or earlier. The second World War saw to that. However, history curriculum has always been political, and it was never more evidently so that at present as Mr Trudge (7) sets out to change its teaching curriculum yet again.
I have grown to understand the importance of Aboriginal people as a race of survivors in a hostile world, (8) Perhaps that is why I intend to spend some of my remaining days to delve deeper into a subject of fleeting importance to textbook writers, journalists and other scribes to record the lives Bareetch Chuurnmeen, Wangegamon, Larkikok, Woreguimoni, Karn, and Benadug,. Their clans-people deserve recognition more than their killers Taylor, et al. (9)
The question is, why was the wealth of aboriginal history rarely mentioned at school? This is a question increasingly asked by other non-aboriginal people. The singer Mark Seymour has penned a new song asking the same question (13). I find a compulsion to add to this local story Professor Lyndall Ryan (10) has recorded as “Colonial Frontier Massacres Australia”. The study has been going since 2000. It has found great praise and awful criticism. The criticism of Michael Connor (11) for one, where, for instance, he called Murdering Flat a murder, not a massacre site. As if one death is more important than another. This has riled me to answer forcefully.