What happens in the past, should stay in the past – or should it? But the question Tingha elder and Friends of Myall Creek committee member Kelvin Brown might have people ask is whether it’s even possible for the past not to affect the present?
Sunday marked the 179th anniversary of the Myall Creek massacre, where direct descendants of victims and the perpetrators stood side by side in a painful but ultimately healing act of truth-telling. Below them – the valley where, on June 10, 1838, women, children and elderly men were corralled as men on horseback rode into their midst, hacking them with swords, and trampling them under hoof.
“It’s the legacy,” Mr Brown said. “The inter-generational trauma of what happened then that still affects people today.”
That time has not healed all wounds, is a belief shared by the guest speaker at this year’s commemoration service, NSW Senior Crown Prosecutor Mark Tedeschi AM QC.
Mr Tedeschi described the Myall Creek massacre as a crime that has come to represent the multitude of massacres that occurred during the 120 years of colonial and later Australian history.
Unlike the many other killings of Australia’s Indigenous people, history records more about the killings committed by 12 non-Indigenous stockmen, because they were documented in the rare police investigation and court proceedings that followed.
By modern standards, Mr Tedeschi said the attack would meet the criteria of a “war crime” and a deliberate state-sanctioned act of “genocide” for which not only the murderers but the country’s leaders would be punishable under “the rules of international criminal law”.
“Very few schools ... teach what almost invariably happened within a few years of the discoveries of the great explorers. The expansion of white pastoralists into areas that had previously been occupied by Indigenous clans for millennia.
The expropriation of their land, the destruction of their culture and society, and the massacres of tens of thousands of them in hundreds of locations throughout Australia.
A real acceptance by mainstream Australia of the horrors that were perpetrated against our Indigenous communities in our colonial period will bring with it an understanding of the long-term trauma that has been transferred down the generations.”