True heroes uncovered the Myall Creek massacre. To our shame, we don’t know their names

The trial of 11 men in 1838 for the murder of some 28 Aboriginal men, women and children at Myall Creek Station was the only time in the history of colonial New South Wales that justice was brought for the mass murder and dispossession of Aboriginal peoples became. This has only been achieved because many people have done the right thing.

Mark Tedeschi Illustration by Aresna Villanueva.

Mark Tedeschi Illustration by Aresna Villanueva. Credit:

It began with George Anderson, a convict shack landlord who lived on the remote station and tended the cattle and sheep of wealthy landowner Henry Dangar. When eleven armed and mounted ranchers, led by free settler John Henry Fleming, suddenly invaded the cleared area around the Myall Creek Station huts, Anderson knew the fate of the Wirrayaraay people encamped there.

Anderson tried his best to convince Fleming and the others not to harm the Aborigines and tried desperately to protect one of them, Heppita, a woman with whom he had developed a relationship. For free.

The second person to do the right thing was Davy (Yintayintin), an 18-year-old Indigenous from Peel River County who was employed to help the convict workers at the train station. Employment at Dangar ensured Davy’s security. As the ranchers tied the Wirrayaraay to a long rope and led them from the huts into the bush, Anderson asked Davy to follow him at a distance and tell him what had happened. Some time later, Anderson heard two shots ring out, and when Davy returned, he told him that the entire group had been massacred except for Heppita (who was also known as Ipeta). Her life was spared for a few days to accommodate the ranchers’ sexual assaults.

At the time of the massacre, Myall Creek station manager William Hobbs was on another Dangar property. Five days after the murders, he returned to Myall Creek and learned what had happened. At the site of the massacre, Hobbs was horrified to find a mass of piled, partially burned, dismembered bodies of men, women and children in the ashes of a large fire. The sight was so shocking and the stench so vile that Hobbs felt sick and afraid.

A few days later, Hobbs told Frederick Foote, a free settler on a neighboring pasture, about it. Foote was so outraged that he informed the nearest police magistrate in Invermein (Scone), Edward Denny Day, and later the New South Wales Governor, Sir George Gipps, who had recently arrived in Sydney. The governor immediately ordered Denny Day to conduct a thorough investigation and bring the perpetrators and witnesses to a trial in Sydney.

Most judges at the time were landowners and would have been reluctant to conduct a proper investigation. Overall, they supported and encouraged the dispossession of the indigenous population. However, Edward Denny Day was cut from a different cloth, and he did the right thing. He conducted an exemplary investigation and managed to arrest 11 of the 12 perpetrators.

The last and possibly most important person to do the right thing was John Hubert Plunkett, the New South Wales Attorney General. At that time, the Attorney General personally conducted the most important criminal cases. Plunkett was an Irishman whose family had suffered for centuries from persecution and discrimination at the hands of their English overlords, and he was adamant that NSW would not follow the same path as his native country. Plunkett vigorously pursued law enforcement, despite the disapproval of almost all white colonial society.

Justin Scaccy

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