Time of reckoning

James Stirling led a charge against Noongar families at the Pinjarra massacre which saw women and children killed. Stirling’s electors have voted to strip his name from the city.

Governor … murderer? Electors banish Stirling

STIRLING mayor Mark Irwin says changing the city’s name “has not been identified as a priority” after electors voted to ditch the former colonial governor’s name over his involvement in the Pinjarra massacre.

On Monday at the annual meeting of electors, a vote was passed to rename the city “to reflect the long standing and relevant history of this land in such a way that is inclusive and in recognition of the Noongar community”.

James Stirling arrived with the first settlers aboard the Parmelia in 1829 to found and administer the Swan River Colony, but almost immediately there was conflict with the Noongar owners who were forced from their traditional hunting grounds.

Their treatment was so poor the British government was forced to write to Stirling warning him to crack down on the “atrocities” being committed by settlers, while at the same time the governor was under pressure at home to take action over an increasing number of Noongar retaliatory attacks.

Things came to a head in 1834 following the murder of prominent settler Thomas Peel’s servant Hugh Nesbitt at Mandurah, with calls for a military barracks to be established in the area for the settlers’ protection.

Dawn raid

Stirling led a detachment of 25 soldiers, police and settlers against the Binjareb people blamed for the murder, surprising them on the banks of the Murray River in a dawn raid. Details of Stirling’s cavalry charge vary, but its estimated there were about 70 Indigenous people who faced the guns, while surviving men were hunted down and summarily killed.

The death toll varies, but in a contemporaneous account unpublished for nearly two centuries, the Voice discovered the names of about a dozen potential victims, with three women, two children and two visitors from a neighbouring tribe included.

There are those who argue that Stirling’s prime motivation for the attack was protecting his own financial interest; less than a month earlier he had applied for full title to his land grant on the mouth of the Murray River. Even at the time of the massacre sympathetic settler Robert Menli Lyon argued that Stirling was demonising the Binjareb in order to protect his own interests.

Mr Irwin said the council “acknowledges and respects” the Wadjuk Noongar people as the traditional owners of the land.

“The city has demonstrated a longstanding commitment to reconciliation, and indeed council endorsed the city’s third Reconciliation Action Plan just last week following extensive consultation with elders and a working group including local Aboriginal community members,” Mr Irwin said.

“We recognise that reconciliation is a journey.

“Through our Reconciliation Action Plans we remain committed to the naming and dual-naming of public spaces, and the inclusion of Nyoongar language and artwork in the city’s entry statements, however, changing the city’s name has not been identified as a priority to date.”

The council says it would take advice from the state government given Stirling’s state-wide importance, particularly as any renaming would need approcal from the local government minister.


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