Massacre map flawed

A NATIONAL Indigenous “massacres” map will be reviewed after the Voice spotted errors in sites listed around Perth.

A fortnight ago the University of Newcastle launched stage three of its Colonial Frontier Massacres in Australia 1788-1930, adding 41 sites in Western Australia to the online map for the first time.

But of three sites listed in the Perth metro area, one’s in the wrong place and another appears to conflate deaths over an extended period and in various places into one event.

The first recorded affray in the colony occurred in the fledgling Perth townsite on May 3, 1830, after curious Whadjuks tried spearing chickens and, according to the commandant of the military contingent Lieut Frederick Irwin, “plundered the house of a man named Paton”.

• Whadjuk warriors watch James Stirling’s exploration up the Swan River in this 1827 painting by WJ Huggings. Three years later they’d discover their spears were little help against the intruders’ firepower.


According to Lieut Irwin’s account an Aboriginal leader was shot in the jaw while resisting settlers who were trying to drive the Whadjuks away, but he was carried by his kin from the Perth townsite towards Lake Monger, where they were fired on by soldiers.

Irwin denied there was any massacre.

The day after the shooting, he had three Noongar men who had been regular visitors to his military cantonment brought in.

“They intimated, by signs, that some of their people were dead or wounded in the lagoon, after yesterday’s fire,” Irwin reported.

“When this was told me, I took them off to the lagoon, but they could show none, and I concluded they meant only to signify that some of their people had fallen there.”

The uni’s map places this incident near Ellenbrook, with a death toll of 30.

A second site on the map claims 16 deaths in the “Perth area” between April-September 1833, but that appears to be a reference to a meeting between Lieut Irwin and Whadjuk elder Munday in August 1833. At the meeting Munday complains not of a single massacre, but the death of 16 family members by various soldiers and settlers since the Europeans had arrived, detailing in great detail where they had been killed.

Dr Chris Owen, who worked on the list for the university, acknowledged the 16 deaths were unlikely to have been a single massacre, while also pointing out he wasn’t responsible for placing the sites on the map, which was done by the team in the eastern states.

“It is difficult to work out where massacres occurred, and there’s a lot of potential sites I left out, because they might be intimated at, but [colonists] weren’t writing down on the record ‘we shot the natives’,” Dr Owen said.

Numerous contemporary accounts the Voice trawled through also show a different style of occupation; settlers note the regular killing of Noongars – at some points it’s a weekly occurrence – however few incidents had the six deaths required by the university to qualify as a massacre.

Dr Owen says that is an issue in terms of representing the impact of occupation through a list of massacres, because the effect on the Noongar population was just as devastating.

“We’ve added 40-odd sites to the map; there were probably thousands of killings of one or two people,” he said.

“I have a list of deaths where the numbers were less than six across WA, and it would be hundreds and hundreds.

“It’s another research job in itself.”

Dr Owen hopes these incidents will be represented on the map in some form as it is constantly reviewed and updated.

But he says one of the biggest hurdles researchers face is the difficulty sourcing funding for this style of project; he’s been a lone hand in Western Australia.

“I did it for almost nothing, so yes, getting money is like pulling teeth.”


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