The land remembers

I grew up on a farm in between the tiny township of Ellerslie and the slightly bigger township of Mortlake in the Western District of Victoria. Until the age of 14, I attended school at St Colman’s Primary School (120 kids) and then to Mortlake High School (approx. 200 kids).

Now I’m a public servant, walking the walk and hopefully talking the talk. After more than 20 years I’ve learned about a five per cent ability to hide my country girl ways and to not say what I think straight after thinking it. But that’s another story.

On Tuesday 16 April I attended Indigenous cultural awareness training offered through my Department. The topics covered were numerous and eventually swung around to the early history of colonial conflict between white settlers and the Indigenous people. At that stage one of my fellow attendees spoke up and said when he was growing up in his local country area, knowledge of 19th century massacres of Indigenous people by white settlers – including the murder of whole tribes and family groups by poisoning, shooting, and other methods – was common knowledge and had often been spoken of in his childhood.

I spoke up too and said that similarly, in my local region, the inglorious history of first contact between European settlers and Indigenous people was known and would crop up in conversation from time to time when I was growing up. I confirmed that people definitely weren’t proud of this chapter in the history of the area, but there was no attempt to deny it and that there was a sense of shame about the massacres and murders that had taken place.

I asked him where he came from originally and he said it was from the Western District of Victoria. ‘Oh’ I said, ‘me too.’

At lunch I approached him and asked him whereabouts in the Western District he hailed from. ‘Near Darlington’ he said. (just up the road from Mortlake). ‘Really?’ I responded. ‘I grew up in between Ellerslie and Mortlake!’

It turned out that Bryan and I had gone to school together and I had been in the same class as his older brother.

We chatted and shared information about the history of the region. I knew of local massacre sites that he did not know of, and he knew of some that I didn’t.

I mentioned to one of the course facilitators that the whole thing was quite a coincidence as although I occasionally met people in Canberra from my general area in Victoria, I had never met anyone that I had gone to school with here ( not surprising seeing the small enrolment size of St Colmans when I was there). The course facilitator replied that it was equally unusual that two course attendees such as Bryan and I were able to speak with authority about the history of European settlers/Indigenous people in our local region, as in most cases the dreadful massacres and murders in other parts of Australia and not been spoken of and had been hushed up and the course attendees were gobsmacked to learn the extent of them as they had not given sufficient attention in our history books. In our case, there had been sufficient local knowledge and European oral tradition for the stories to make their way into 2013 and into an Indigenous culture awareness course for Canberra public servants.

The book ‘Blood on the Wattle’ (Australian massacres of Aboriginal people) was recommended by the course facilitators as being an excellent reference for the events in this period of history. I have heard of two others: ‘A Distant Field of Murder’ (about the impact of Europeans on the Indigenous people of the Western District in the 1840s) and ‘Scars on the Landscape’ ( A register of massacre sites in Western Victoria 1803 – 1859). Looks like I’ll have to order them so I can see if the murderous events Bryan and I have heard whispers of have found a voice in these books.

If not, maybe I’ll write my own. Or at least get the stories that I know, and that other people from my local area know, down on paper. No-one lives forever. And when people die, their stories die with them.

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~ by margoforte12 on April 17, 2013.

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