Massacre history "should be taught"
Aboriginal leaders and politicians have called on the Federal Government to ensure schoolchildren are taught the "true" history of the nation's shameful past. The call came at an emotional ceremony deep in the remote Australian outback to mark the 75th anniversary of one of the nation's most recent Aboriginal massacres. The massacre took place at Coniston, about 300 km north-west of Alice Springs in 1928, following the murder of a white man. Police killed between 31 and 100 Aboriginal men, women and children. A flawed and widely criticised inquiry, which did not hear from Aboriginal witnesses, later found police acted in self-defence. In a remarkable act of reconciliation, descendants of those killed last month met and embraced relatives of the police officer who led the punitive killings. "It's not about payback", ATSIC acting Chairman Lionel Quartermaine said. "It's about acknowledging what took place and how best we can go forward". The Coniston massacre of 1928 has been told and retold among generations of Aborigines in Central Australia, but many other Australians are still unaware of the brutal events. Mr Quartermaine said Australia needs to face up to its "shameful history" for true reconciliation to occur. "Australian children need to be taught about the history so this country can move on and be at peace with itself. Only the truth can set this country free", he said. "In this country we talk about wars at a far distance and we always say 'lest we forget', yet we say to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 'forget it, forget what took place'." Northern Territory Senator Nigel Scullion described the day as a true act of reconciliation. He said he would speak to the Federal Government to ensure children in the mainstream education were taught about past massacres like Coniston. "We can't change history but we can make sure it's written according to what actually happened. Reconciliation is genuinely in the hands of our children" , Senator Scullion said. For 64-year-old Marita Ah Chee, a member of the Stolen Generations, the day was vital to the healing process. "I never thought this would happen", Mrs Ah Chee said. "It's so positive to see this happen today. I can tell my grandchildren we made peace with the policeman's niece. I gave her a hug". The Coniston massacre occurred during a series of raids around Coniston Station as payback for the death of a white dingo trapper, Frederick Brooks. Mrs Ah Chee remembers her mother telling her how she survived being hunted down by a police officer by running at night as his party slept. "Everything that moved he was shooting". According to legend, Brooks was killed by an Aboriginal man named Bullfrog at the place now called Brooks Soak, a soak on a dried up riverbed about 20km south of Coniston Station. Bullfrog was either angry about his wife sleeping with Brooks, or that the white man had failed to honour his side of a deal for tobacco and sugar rations. Before long the bush telegraph had exaggerated the murder into an incident where 30-40 Aboriginal people had apparently murdered and chopped up Brooks and shoved his remains down a rabbit hole. Constable William George Murray arrived on the scene around the same time, to investigate reports of cattle-killing in the area. Determined to teach the locals a lesson, and failing to investigate the murder properly, Murray set out on a campaign of violence that was to leave dozens of Aboriginal men, women and children dead over the next few weeks. Murray's grand-nephew Chas Dale said he felt "deep heartfelt sorrow" for the victims. Like Mrs Ah Chee, Dr Dale said he grew up hearing stories of his Uncle George. But it was not until later in life that he realised the devastating impact of his great-uncle's actions. "My father told me Uncle George was a legend — naturally enough I grew up proud of Uncle George", Mr Dale said in a letter to the local Aboriginal people. "His values and attitudes were proudly passed on from Uncle George to my father, and from my father to me. "But my lack of feeling, my lack of compassion, became a terrible burden for me. I have come to realise how very terrible the killing times were to all involved. "I'm two generations removed yet these times have been devastating to me. I can barely imagine the impact of these killing times on those directly involved. "I'm slowly healing from my past and I hope that my sorrow expressed to you today can help you heal . your wounds of our tragic past." Now the ghosts of Brooks Soak have finally been acknowledged and laid to rest, Aboriginal leaders and politicians are looking to the future. They want to ensure the lessons of the past are never forgotten.
* * *Acknowledgements to Koori Mail