An ABC TV report on Sunday, April 17, estimated 1000 people attended the 200th anniversary memorial of the massacre of Aboriginal men, women and children at Appin, April 17, 1816. It was many more than had attended the memorial in any of the last 20 years and a pleasing reassurance to the organisers, led by the descendants of the Dharawal (also Tharawal) people who survived. Dharawal elder Uncle Ivan Wellington, left, explains to an ABC film crew early in the day how he has been working for 30 years to educate people about the consequences of white colonisation for Aboriginal people. He makes frequent school visits and is often amazed how little is known about the history of the conflict and the devastation of his people. He is committed to passing on cultural knowledge to young Aboriginal people, developing their confidence and pride in their ancestry. His work and that of his fellow descendants is clearly bearing fruit, which could be see in the program that followed.
The day began with a free sausage sizzle in the Cataract Dam Recreation Area, supported by Wollondilly, Camden and Campbelltown Councils, community organisations and schools. Aboriginal families gathered – some of Dharawal descent – others more recently arrived from different Aboriginal lands. Yet others were non-Aboriginal like me – there to give support. Later, we all descended to a large site near the wall of the dam, overlooking the spillway into the gorge, where the crowd could be seated in a wide circle for the ceremony. Nor far above, in a rocky, sheltered niche, right, lay the memorial plaque –
The massacre of men, women and children of the Dharawal nation occurred near here on April 17, 1816. Fourteen were counted this day, but the real number will never be known. We acknowledge the impact this had and continues to have on the Aboriginal people of this land. We are deeply sorry. We will remember them. Wing Myamly Reconciliation Group. Sponsored by Wollondilly Council.
A ceremonial program and smoking ceremony led by Uncle Ivan began, watched by special guests including – Dharawal and Gundungurra descendants, Aboriginal elders, the Governor of NSW, General The Honorable David Hurley, state and federal MPs and the mayors of Wollondilly, Camden and Campbelltown. The Welcome to Country was given by Dharawal descendants Frances Bodkin (in Dharawal language), Uncle Ivan, Glenda Chalker, and Gavin Andrews. Gavin told the story of the massacre from a Dharawal perspective and described Governor Macquarie’s instructions to ‘punish the hostile natives by clearing the country of them entirely’ as effectively giving vigilante groups permission to pursue this instruction to the military with a free hand, which he said they continued to do. Pictured above are Dharawal descendants and musicians Matthew and Ken Doyle accompanying Linda in an evocative dance.
For an illustrated background story to the day and to the massacre see the excellent account by professional historian Dr Stephen Gapps.
Two other noteworthy events were taking place during the same weekend as remembering the Appin massacre. Young members of Wagana Aboriginal Dancers from Katoomba were participating in the meetup youth dance companies festival in Canberra, left, from April 15 to 17. The company has been evolving over a long period under the leadership of Wiradjuri dancer and choreographer Jo Clancy. She was raised and still lives on Gundungurra and Darug country in the Blue Mountains and the dancers’ consultation with elders is a vital part of their growth in cultural knowledge and confidence in their identity.
The other activity was mentioned in the last blog post. On April 14, Moogahlin Performing Arts, based at Carriageworks, posted on Facebook, “Today we kick off ‘NgAl-Lo-Wah Murrytula (Darug: together we share/enjoy)’ – a walk and cultural reclamation project that was initiated by two Western Sydney Elders, Uncle Wes Marne (93 years old) and Aunty Edna Watson (75 years old). Over the next three days they are taking 14 young people who were nominated by their community to participate along arterial roads/walking tracks of Western Sydney, laying down and recording their knowledge along the way.
“Chookas to our Elders, young people, and the rest of our creative and production team! We hope you stay warm and have a wonderful time, and look forward to the stories you’ll share on your return!” Pictured: Aunty Edna Watson, Uncle Wes Marne, Uncle Allie Watson. Image by James Photographic Services.
There is little doubt that the title of the Fairfield exhibition earlier this year was absolutely timely. Talk the Change/Change the Talk. Although painfully slow, change is occurring in Australian race relations under the sustained leadership of Aboriginal people. On April 18, the Sydney Morning Herald carried an item by lawyer Tim Dick Reconciliation is still not on the horizon. Next day, his opinion was refuted by a letter writer Rivers of reconciliation running towards true healing. There is substance in both positions, but the scales of justice are tilting towards Aboriginal people and more Australians appear to be responding.