The Myall Creek Massacre is one of many stains on our national history, an uncomfortable event that many Australians, myself included, would prefer to forget.
The 1838 Myall Creek Massacre is often swept under the rug when reminiscing over Australian history. Eleven men massacred almost 30 Aboriginal men, women and children, in an unprovoked and senseless attack. They kept one woman alive for a few days, raping her continuously in what would have been an unimaginably horrific ordeal.
The 11 men who committed the massacre were all convicts or former convicts. However, while 10 of the men were European, one of them was African. Though he may not have been treated the same way as the white men treated each other and may have been coerced into partaking in the massacre, he was nonetheless part of the group which executed the collective crime.
Why is this important? At the time, African-Americans were still enslaved in the South, while they faced enormous persecution in the North. Europeans were colonizing Africa, often committing the same types of massacres that Myall Creek witnessed. Yet an African man in Australia found himself on the same side as European men for one simple reason; there weren’t that many Africans in Australia.
In 1840, the U.S. had a population of roughly 17 million, of which almost 3 million were black (both enslaved and free). In Africa itself, European colonists were vastly outnumbered by the native population already living there. In Australia, small amounts of Africans contrasted with the relatively numerous Aboriginal population, and this is why white Australians did not view Africans as a potential threat. There was already a sizable “other” population, which constituted a more immediate challenge to the establishment and maintenance of a white society.
The white populations of early America and Australia were both strangers in foreign lands. However, their histories diverged in many ways, including their relationships with other racial groups. The Native American population of the U.S. was either being killed off or forced westwards by the mid-1800s, while the African-American population had grown substantially in prior decades. African-Americans had become the new “other” in the U.S., while Aboriginals remained the constant “other” in Australia.
The Irish and English killed each other for centuries, only to become bosom-buddies in the colonies once they were thousands of miles away from the British Isles. Hitler despised the racially-inferior European Slavic population just east of Nazi Germany, yet admired the Japanese. The British killed thousands of white Dutch settlers in South Africa just over a century ago, once they had replaced the African population as the largest military threat. There is no genetic predisposition in our DNA to hate others based on particular traits; it stems from perspective, both on an individual and social level.
After the Myall Creek Massacre, seven of the 11 men were found guilty of murder and hanged. It was not the first massacre of Aboriginals, nor was it the last. However, as the Aboriginal population declined and the European population increased, the Aboriginal population that survived was given more rights, and they were finally granted full citizenship in 1967. Great disparities between the two groups remain, and they will not be fixed anytime soon. However, a self-imposed change in perspective (rather than it developing slowly from a change in circumstances) can help us treat others a little more humanely so that real progress can be made.🔷