Lest we forget the war against Indigenous Australians

Dr Joseph Toscano writes on the commemoration of indigenous resistance and early Melbourne history and the need for a monument to the indigenous freedom fighters, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, who were the first judicial executions in Melbourne on January 20, 1842.

Update: About 80 people attended commemoration - Photoset | Youtube Videos: Bunurong Elder Carolyn Briggs - No tolerance for racism | Gunnai activist Robbie Thorpe - Australia is a crime scene | Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner 2010 commemoration
Related: Time for a memorial to commemorate the Indigenous Resistance | Event Details | Lord Mayor Robert Doyle commemorated story of aboriginal resistance | Belgrave Survival Day (Event)

Any visit to Canberra isn't complete without a visit to the National War Memorial. The massive driveway that leads to the Memorial is dotted with monuments to the Australian men and women who fought and died in wars Australia has been involved in. Around the country nearly every suburb, every town and every rural hamlet in Australia has an avenue of honour or monument to commemorate those who fought, those who were wounded and those Australians who paid the ultimate price, fighting wars stretching from the Boxer Rebellion in China, 1898, to Afghanistan in 2010.

Nowhere in the National War Memorial, nowhere among the thousands of monuments erected to Australians, who in the majority of cases died fighting other people's wars for the glory of God, Queen and Country, is a mention made of those original Australians who paid the ultimate price for protecting their families, their people, their way of life and their lands.

The Australian story is rich in examples of Australia's First Nation peoples - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who paid the ultimate price resisting the colonisation process. Every inch of Australian soil was owned by Indigenous Australians before the colonisation process began in 1788. Every inch was taken by force. It is ironical more Australians know about the colonisation process in North America than they know about their own history.

While most Australians know about Sitting Bull, Geronimo, the Apaches and Custer's Last Stand, most couldn't name an Australian First Nation people and fewer still would know the name of an Indigenous freedom fighter. The Collective Amnesia that marks the troubled relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians is a feature of a colonisation process that was both brutal and secretive. That very same collective amnesia two hundred and twenty two years after the colonisation process began continues to dominate the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

In an effort to address that collective amnesia, the Anarchist Media Institute organised a Commemoration on the 20th January 2006 at the corner of Bowen and Franklin St Melbourne to mark the 164th Anniversary of the execution of the Indigenous freedom fighters, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, at the very spot they were executed in the Melbourne CBD. The community interest generated by this first commemoration led to the establishment of the Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner Commemoration Committee in 2008. Since 2006, Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians have come together to ensure that one of the greatest stories in this country's history becomes as familiar to our fellow Australians as the story of the Eureka Rebellion and the Ned Kelly saga.

At 8.00am on Tuesday the 20th of January 1842, over 5,000 people, a quarter of Victoria's white population, gathered at the outskirts of Melbourne crowding round the gallows erected on a small rise east of Swanston Street and north of La Trobe Street. The crowd, in a carnival mood, had come to see the public execution of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner - the first two people executed in Victoria.

Early in October 1841, Tunnerminnerwait, Maulboyheenner, Pyterruner, Truganini and Planobeena - 5 of 16 Tasmanian Aborigines who had been brought to Melbourne by Robinson in 1839 to 'civilise' the Victorian 'blacks', stole two guns and some ammunition from a settler's hut at Bass River. Over the next seven weeks, they robbed many stations in Dandenong and Mornington, wounding four white men and killing two sealers 'Yankee' and William Cook.

All five were captured by a party of police, settlers, soldiers and black trackers on the 20th of November 1841. Five days later when they arrived in Melbourne, they were charged with murder. They appeared before Judge Willis on the 20th December 1841. The five were defended by Redmond Barry - the standing Defence Council for Aborigines (as Chief Justice he sentenced Ned Kelly to hang 39 years later in 1880). He argued that as they were not naturalised citizens, half the jury should have been made up of people not subjects of the Queen.

The only evidence to link the party of Aborigines with the murders was the confessions of the Aborigines themselves. Barry, the Defence Council, continued to question the legal basis of British authority over Aborigines. He claimed the evidence was dubious and circumstantial. Truganini turned Queen's evidence and claimed the men had killed the sealers. Maulboyheenner implicated Tunnerminnerwait; Pyterruner, Planobeena and Tunnerminnerwait refused to shift the blame on the others. Later that night, the jury took only 30 minutes to find the two men guilty of murder; they acquitted the women. The jury made a very strong plea for clemency "on account of general good character and the peculiar circumstances under which they were placed".

Judge Willis ignored the plea for clemency. On the 20th of January 1842, the men were dressed in white, paraded through the streets of Melbourne in an open cart drawn by two grey horses. The executioner John Davies, a convict who had been sentenced to life for sheep stealing, was promised his freedom and ten pounds if he acted as executioner. Eighteen convicts had competed for the post of public executioner; some wanted the heads of the Aborigines as payment. A carnival atmosphere surrounded the execution until the trapdoor was opened.

The men only fell a short distance, not enough to break their necks. "There was a dead pause and a cry of shame from the crowd. The two.....twisted and writhed convulsively in a manner that horrified even the most hardened". A spectator kicked away a piece of timber holding up the trap door and they fell to the full length of the rope. Tunnerminnerwait died instantly. Maulboyheenner continued to struggle wildly as his noose had dislodged. The bodies hung for the regulation hour; they were stripped of their clothes (a regular perk for executioners), their naked bodies were put in wooden coffins and buried in the Aboriginal cemetery (the site of the current Queen Victoria Market).

It is easy to dismiss the group as a bunch of cold blooded murderers, arsonists and thieves, but their behaviour tells another story. The Van Diemens Land Aborigines knew what was in store for the Victorian Aborigines. Survivors of a 33 year war in Tasmania that saw the Aboriginal population reduced from over 10,000 people to a little under a 100, they knew how to use firearms and how to survive in the bush. Their struggle was carried out with a great deal of compassion. The Tasmanians believed that by taking up arms against the squatters, they would be able to ignite an Aboriginal revolt that would drive the invaders into the sea.

The way they conducted their guerrilla campaign highlights they had motives that went far beyond survival and vengeance. They collected and stockpiled firearms whenever they could; they stockpiled food, they burnt down the houses they raided driving the squatters in the Port Phillip region back to Melbourne. They understood the only way to drive the squatters out of the country was by using their own weapons against them. Their struggle was a compassionate one; women and children and many of the squatters were spared. The killing of the two sealers was clearly a case of mistaken identity, as they were believed to be from a party that was chasing the Tasmanians. Those squatters that were wounded were injured in the heat of battle and were not killed.

The Tasmanians capture only occurred as a result of the help of local Aborigines. The colonial authorities had a great deal of difficulty finding black trackers, as the local Aborigines supported the Tasmanians war against the squatters. On several occasions, the Tasmanians were helped by local Aborigines, and on one occasion local Aborigines were involved in the attack on a hut. Ironically, the local black trackers who were lured into the hunt with promises of guns and goods only received a few knick-knacks once the Tasmanians were captured.

One hundred and sixty eight years later, it's no accident their story plays no part in the history of Melbourne. The collective amnesia that surrounds the brutality surrounding the early days of the European colonisation of Victoria and the rest of Australia, is nothing new. What is new are the repeated attempts by historical revisionists in Australia over the past decade to re-write the history of first the contact. They have successfully alienated indigenous Australians from the community and have weakened indigenous Australians' attempts to achieve justice through the courts and the political arena.

Nothing highlights the continuing hostility towards indigenous people living in Melbourne more than the hysteria that surrounded the occupation of a tiny portion of the Kings Domain by indigenous activists during and immediately after the Commonwealth Games in 2006. Their demands for a small area of Kings Domain to be permanently set aside as an indigenous Information Centre to educate both visitors and residents alike about Melbourne's black history, were mocked and those who were involved in the occupation were publicly humiliated.

The past is a pantheon of pivotal moments. For governments to recognise some and ignore others - is a tragedy. Any resident or visitor wandering through Melbourne would be hard pressed to find any public acknowledgement of this city's indigenous past. In 2006 and 2007, the Anarchist Media Institute organised a small gathering at the site of the execution to acknowledge Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner's role in the history of Melbourne.

In 2008, 2009 and 2010, the Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner Commemoration Committee have organised the commemoration. We encourage our fellow citizens to join us at midday on Wednesday 20th January 2010 at the corner of Bowen and Franklin St, Melbourne, to commemorate the judicial murder of the indigenous freedom fighters Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner on the spot the execution occurred so many years ago.

The interpretation of history changes with each generation. The difficulty about interpreting Australia's early colonial history is that only the colonisers left written records about what occurred. These records were incomplete. In many cases, you have to read between the lines to find out what really happened. The story of Tunnerminnerwait, Maulboyheenner, Pyterruner, Truganini and Planobeena is a great Australian story that all Australians should be familiar with. It is a love story, a story of survival against all the odds, a story of armed resistance, rebellion, compassion, brutality and most importantly of all - hope.

It is a story that is as pivotal to the creation of 21st century Australia as Gallipoli and Kokoda were. To acknowledge Gallipoli and Kokoda and ignore their struggle is our loss as a people and a nation.

Time for a significant public monument

Considering the number of statues and monuments that have been erected around Melbourne to honour the Europeans who founded it, it would be appropriate if a significant public monument was erected on the spot Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were executed to mark their contribution to the story of the City of Melbourne and Australia.

At midday on Wednesday 20th January 2010 people will be gathering at the corner of Bowen and Franklin St. Melbourne to commemorate the 168th Anniversary of the execution of the indigenous freedom fighters, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner. Two years ago I stood as a Melbourne Lord Mayoral candidate on a platform that included the establishment of a significant monument on the spot they were judicially murdered. In a city that is littered with monuments to the colonisers its only fitting that a monument be erected to those who paid the ultimate price for trying to defend their way of life and lands they had continuously occupied for over 40,000 years.

Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle at 2009 commemoration
The idea of erecting a public monument gained some traction in the public arena as a result of the Lord Mayoral campaign and the new Melbourne Lord Mayor, Robert Doyle, spoke at the Commemoration in 2009. Currently the Melbourne City Council is conducting a three year investigation into the best way they can acknowledge Melbourne's indigenous past. The idea of erecting a monument to Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner is one of the ideas the Council's Indigenous Advisory Committee will canvas. Ultimately, whether a monument is erected or not is a Melbourne City Council decision. The Indigenous Advisory Committee is only an advisory body. What recommendations are accepted or rejected is up to the Councillors on the Melbourne City Council.

Our campaign faces the very real risk of being strangled by red tape. Our demand to erect a standalone monument is a simple and powerful one. The Melbourne City Council's decision to refer this matter to an advisory committee is at best an attempt at consultation, at worst a delaying tactic. Whether a monument is erected or not is essentially a numbers game. Every year more and more people have attended the Commemoration. Whether a monument is eventually erected will be determined by the number of people who attend the Commemoration. The greater the number of people attending, the greater the public pressure to erect a monument.

JOIN US at midday Wednesday 20th January 2010 at the corner of Bowen and Franklin St, Melbourne to show your support for the erection of a monument to acknowledge Melbourne, and the rest of this country, is built on the dreams, hopes, aspirations and blood and bones of men, women and children who paid the ultimate price actively resisting the colonisation process.

Article Dr Joseph Toscano

reposted from Anarchist Age Weekly Review No. 865, 11th January - 17th January 2010

Image - Painting by WFE Liardet, The first execution, 1875. La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria.



Bring back Pemulwuy's head for traditional burial - and all the other Aboriginal remains confiscated by the British government. How dare they put these remains on display like animals.

Freedom fighter is just another word for a Terrorist.Do you really want a monument for these Terrorists?

A hounded, massacred people defending themselves against invaders were terrorists? Warped perception of history forming the lie that is Australia.

Change your attitude to help the struggle for Aboriginal rights. It feels much better on that side of the fence, believe me.

Here is a Question tell me which people are terrorists and which are not out of this list.The IRA,Al-Qaeda,Mosad,CIA,Ned Kelly.Osama Bin Laden,Saddam Hussein,George Bush, John Howard.

I think if you can answer this it will show us what side of the fence you are on and I will be able to understand your position more

I doubt that you really do want "to understand (my) position more", I think you're just fishing for targets. I'm not obliged to address your list, but I will indulge myself.

IRA = originally freedom fighters, trying to decolonise Northern Ireland, a just cause. I abhor most of their methods.

Al-Qaeda - Terrorists who got their start with CIA money, spearheading the Moslem resistance to US/white domination of the world. Abhor their methods but can grasp the logic (though not share their vision) of where they're coming from.

Mosad - Terrorists, helped to decolonise Israel, have ever since then done Israel's dirty work worldwide in cahoots with CIA and other likeminded evil Western organisations. Abhor their methods.

CIA - America's official terrorism organisation, see http://indymedia.org.au/2012/01/21/the-world-war-on-democracy.

Ned Kelly - Can't make up my mind whether he was just a common murdering thief or a Robin Hoodesque figure fighting for justice. Too small fry to be a 'terrorist', I suppose.

Osama Bin Laden, terrorist, got his seed money from the CIA to fight the Russians in Afghanistan, dispensed with when he stopped being useful to the USA.

Saddam Hussein - terrorist, originally sponsored, pampered, funded by the USA. The US invasion ("terrorism") has killed a million Iraqis, mostly civilians, left millions more maimed.

George Bush - terrorist, see above.

John Howard - fellow-traveller/bum-kissing puppet of the arseholes above, hence fellow-terrorist.

But let's not dwell on this sidetrack, the issue here is honouring Aboriginal resistance.

If you can't accept that that's what it was, you're saying they should have just laid down and died. Would you have?

Get a different attitude. Own and honour your history, join the struggle to put right what is still so dreadfully wrong.

It's the only way to peace in this country.

I see you deleted my comment what you got no sense of humour?alright I agree with all you answers good call.
Now I want to join the struggle but short of violence nothing will change So what do you want me to do to help?but remember some not all Aboriginals must also change their bad ways for us to be taken seriously, communities must act like people worth saving if they do the general opinion Of Aboriginal Australia will change There is no excuse for not sending their children to school that has to change to give the next generation a chance,Good examples need to be set in communities I will be blunt Petrol and glue sniffing and drunken behaviour has to stop most Australians look at that and say why bother helping people like that and whether you like it or not it is a fair call from the general pubic