(Adapted and abridged from articles by the UK Guardian newspaper.
A 1927 Royal commission in Australia called it “Our conspiracy of silence”.
But today, calls are growing for a national truth-telling process. Almost 70% of Australians accept that Aboriginal people were subject to mass killings, incarceration and forced removal from land, and their movement was restricted. This is what Genocide is.
(therefore almost one third of Australians still don’t recognize this history yet)
Starting in 1794, mass killings were first carried out by British soldiers, then by police and settlers – often acting together – and later by native police, working under the command of white officers, in militia-style forces supported by colonial governments.
In November 1828 the Governor introduced martial law against Aboriginal people in the settled districts, effectively giving the military the power to shoot on sight any Aborigine found there.
These tactics were employed, without formal repercussions, for a century, occuring as late as 1926.
- Government forces were actively engaged in frontier massacres until at least the late 1920s.
- These attacks became more lethal for Aboriginal people over time, not less. The average number of deaths of Aboriginal people in each conflict increased, but from the early 1900s casualties among the settlers ended entirely – with the exception of one death in 1928.
- The most common motive for a massacre was reprisal for the killing of settler civilians but at least 51 massacres were in reprisal for the killing or theft of livestock or property.
- Very few times were the colonial perpetrators of genocide found guilty and punished – in the aftermath of the Myall Creek killings in 1838.
- In NSW and Tasmania between 1794 and 1833, most of the 56 recorded attacks were carried out on foot by detachments of soldiers from British regiments, and an average of 15 people were killed in each one.
- In NSW and Victoria between 1834 and 1859, at least 116 massacres of Aboriginal people in mostly daytime attacks, with an average of 27 people killed in each attack.
- From the late 1840s, massacres were carried out as daylight attacks by native police, sometimes in joint operations with settlers.
- Preliminary data from Queensland shows that between 1859 and 1915 an average of 34 people were killed in each attack.
- There are at least nine known cases of the deliberate poisoning of flour given to Aboriginal people to kill them.
There were also efforts made to cover up the ongoing atrocities.
In 1927 a royal commission into the Forrest River massacre in Western Australia concluded that a police party had killed at least 11 people then burned their bodies in makeshift ovens. In his report the commissioner, GT Wood, said a “conspiracy of silence” had thwarted attempts to find out what really happened.
“Many Kartiya [white people] didn’t see us as fully human.”First Nation Citizen, Australia
Sandy Hamilton is descended from a soldier in the 46th Regiment which, on orders of the NSW governor Lachlan Macquarie, killed at least 14 Aboriginal people at Appin in 1816.
“We need to take ownership of our history,” Hamilton says. “We deserve to know the truth of how we came to be who we are. Then we can also make real choices about who we want to be as a society, as Australians.”
Liza Dale-Hallett is a great-niece of George Murray, a police constable who led the killings at Coniston in 1920, in which at least 50 Aboriginal men, women and children died. The aborigine people say up to 170 were slaughtered.
“It happened all over Australia and this is a part of our history,” Dale-Hallett
Henry Meyrick, an english settler writes to his family in England in 1846:
“The blacks are very quiet here now, poor wretches. No wild beast was ever hunted down with such unsparing perseverance as they are. Men, women and children are shot whenever they can be met … I have protested against it …in the strongest language, but these things are kept very secret as the penalty would certainly be hanging.”Henry Meyrick, White Settler letter
The language in these old sources is highly coded. Today we call this “spin”.
“Dispersal” is a common historical euphemism for the genocide in Australia. “Land clearing”, “expeditions” and “hunting parties” are other terms, actions which were undertaken to “teach the blacks a lesson”.
There are also formal barriers to the truth that must also be constantly addressed in order to “de-normalise” the Australian genocide. For example, the last piece of official Australian legislation which still contained references to Australia being “an uninhabited land” upon white settler arrival, (although it was clearly inhabited by many and ancient First Nations’s civilizations) was not removed until the early 1990s. This is a shockingly late time for such immoral government codified references to be tolerated in a western nation, especially one which lectures frequently on human rights.
Learning about this history of genocide in Australia will come as a shock to some, just as it has been to the citizens of Canada to learn of their governments’ ongoing genocide of Inuit children. But Australians trying to move past blame or guilt are coming forward in greater numbers, and their voices are only growing louder.
“We have done a lot already to make sure nobody has an excuse to stay ignorant,” Francis Jupurrurla Kelly, a First Nations activist says.
Much more needs to be done in the AUKUS type nations – Australia, Britain, USA – plus Canada to ensure that no one has any excuse to be ignorant about the Genocides inflicted by white empire builders against the original populations of these countries.
Intense focus must be shone like a laser beam on the white christian nations that constantly lecture and moralize to others about human rights and freedoms. The previously hidden and hushed Genocides carried out by successive governments of Great Britain, Canada, Australia and in particular the United States, must be kept “front and centre” in today’s global conversations.
For only by focussing on the actions of these nations in their bloody histories, can we better understand their bloody and violent actions today.