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NSW's Mount Dispersion Massacre Site declared an Aboriginal Place

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

A colonial massacre site, Mount Dispersion near the Murray River in south-west NSW has been protected under an Aboriginal Place declaration.

PRESS RELEASE

A colonial massacre site near the Murray River in south-west NSW has been protected under an Aboriginal Place declaration, Heritage NSW has announced as National Reconciliation Week starts, in a step further on the path of healing and reconciliation.

The Mount Dispersion Massacre Site, near Euston, is of special significance to several Aboriginal tribal groups including the Kureinji and Barkandji peoples as the site of a significant colonial massacre and trauma in the 1830s, and for its sacred association with the Great Warrior (or Hunter) and Cod creation Dreamtime story.

“The gazettal signifies the place as of exceptional cultural significance to Aboriginal people,” said Glenda Chalker, Chairperson of the NSW Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee (ACHAC).

The 1836 massacre unfolded during an expedition by explorer and surveyor Major Thomas Mitchell, when he and his party encountered a large group of Aboriginal people at Lake Benanee. Fearing his party might be subject to attack, Mitchell conducted an ambush at a small hill beside the river. Shots were fired with at least seven Aboriginal people killed, and the remainder fleeing across the Murray River.

Upon his return to Sydney in 1836, Mitchell submitted a report to the Governor stating that after the massacre he learned the Aboriginal people had come from the Darling with the intent to fight him.

In 1838 Mitchell revised his account and justified the massacre by presenting the Aboriginal people as hostile and intent on revenge for the shooting of several Aboriginal people at Menindee during his 1835 expedition.

Tilki, the only recorded Aboriginal survivor from the Mt Dispersion Massacre, spoke of the conflict from his own perspective, as a child carried on his mother's back. He stated that as she and other women were searching for mussel-fish in the river, Mitchell's men fired into the group, with Tilki’s left thumb being injured by a musket ball.

“Telling the truth about the colonial history of NSW helps to address past injustices, allowing for healing and reconciliation. The telling of the events at Mount Dispersion contributes to the understanding of the shared history of NSW”, Ms Chalker said.

The committee was proud to support the recognition of places of frontier conflict. “We fully support the declaration of Mt Dispersion Aboriginal Place”, Ms Chalker said.

“Conflicts and massacres occurred right across the state, with many of our old Aboriginal people dying during these events. These people and these places need to be acknowledged, recognised and remembered as part of the ‘truth telling’ for New South Wales and for wider Australia”.

“We need to ensure our children, and all, learn about these events and the real history of NSW to empower us not to repeat these mistakes and mistreatment,” said Steve Meredith, Heritage NSW Regional Manager.

The declaration of an Aboriginal Place gives public recognition and protection to Aboriginal heritage places under NSW state legislation and recognises places and events important in the Aboriginal history of NSW.

“As Chairperson, I am grateful to the Nominators, the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee (ACHAC) and Heritage NSW for their work to make this Declaration and the recognition of past trauma to our First Nations people,” Ms Chalker said.

Read the Statement of Significance.

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