I remember freezing cold mornings in July when I’d climb off the bus at McGrane Oval for the sports carnival dressed head to toe in a violent blue.
Our school teams were named after rivers; Bogan, Darling, Castlereagh and Macquarie. No matter what anyone tried, Macquarie would always take gold.
Growing up in central west New South Wales, the landscape surrounding me was littered with references to Governor Lachlan Macquarie; the Macquarie River, Macquarie Regional Library, the Macquarie Raiders and Macquarie Street.
These references still exist around me now; Macquarie Park, Macquarie Bank, Macquarie University.
This former NSW Governor is commemorated in almost every town in NSW. But who was he?
In Sydney’s Hyde Park, his statue stands tall. The plaque reads:
“He was a perfect gentleman, a Christian and a supreme legislator of the human heart.”
Near the town of Appin sits another plaque. It reads:
“The Massacre of men, women and children of the Dharawal Nation occurred near here on 17th April, 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.”
In the early hours of April 17, 1816, a military reprisal raid killed 14 Aboriginal women, children and men. Some were killed by bullets; others driven off the gorge of the Cataract River. The raid was ordered by the then NSW Governor, Lachlan Macquarie.
On April 10 of the same year, Macquarie wrote an entry in his diary.
“… I have this Day ordered three Separate Military Detachments to march into the Interior and remote parts of the Colony, for the purpose of Punishing the Hostile Natives, by clearing the Country of them entirely, and driving them across the mountains; as well as if possible to apprehend the Natives who have committed the late murders and outrages, with the view of their being made dreadful and severe examples of, if taken alive. — I have directed as many Natives as possible to be made Prisoners, with the view of keeping them as Hostages until the real guilty ones have surrendered themselves or have been given up by their Tribes to summary Justice. — In the event of the Natives making the smallest show of resistance – or refusing to surrender when called upon so to do – the officers Commanding the Military Parties have been authorised to fire on them to compel them to surrender; hanging up on Trees the Bodies of such Natives as may be killed on such occasions, in order to strike the greater terror into the Survivors.”
Macquarie—a supposed ‘supreme legislator of the heart’.
On Darug Country, in Windsor, sits another statue of Macquarie.
“It’s really hurtful to have it there considering what it represents. The colonisation processes were disgusting all throughout the world, and those processes still exist in systems now,” said Leanne Watson, a proud Darug woman.
“I’ve never looked at his statue and thought, remove it. I’m more for let’s put the real history there. What he really did.”
“I think it has to come from an Aboriginal perspective. What is really hurtful to my people is that there is nothing, in this area there is no public art or anything to do with the First People, there is some in Sydney but not enough. Why don’t we have public art that tells our story?
“People come to Windsor and they don’t know that Aboriginal people are here, they don’t think we were here, they don’t know any of that history. It needs to be visible that there is a history and a culture here.”
Head of Indigenous Studies at Macquarie University, Professor Bronwyn Carlson, is an Aboriginal woman living on Dharawal Country.
“We have struggled in this country, not blackfullas, but others have struggled in this country to have an understanding of a truthful narrative of beginnings,” she said.
“I think until that time … we are never going to progress. Indigenous people will always be resistant to it and struggle with it.
“The impact on us, because of this, because of the monuments, because of the stories, because of the narratives, is our ill health, our continual battles and our treatment in this country as not being the First People for one, but for not being considered worthy.”
So, where to from here?
“Education is the way forward. I have to wonder why our government … comes out and demonstrates their ignorance, and then realises that arts and humanities are the exact places where these kinds of narratives are discussed,” Professor Carlson said.
“So, you have to wonder why we are upping the fees of arts and humanities to make it inaccessible for many people?”
“But they will still come, they will enrol, and they will learn.”
The Black Lives Matter movement has disrupted the foundations of our national identity and it brings hope for change, for justice—and truth.
With the tearing down of colonial statues across the world comes the question: what do we expose when we rip these from view?
Perhaps it’s the truth about these romanticised colonial narratives that have bled their way into every aspect of our lives, from the streets we live on to those childhood sporting teams we represented.
To heal these wounds and move forward, Macquarie mustn’t always take gold.
It could be time for Macquarie to step down, or it could be time for us as a nation to welcome change, to honour all voices and embrace our true shared history.
“The winds of change are here, and the government is concerned and worried about that because it is destabilising their status quo, and so the power will shift,” Professor Carlson said.
“All of this oppression and dispossession hasn’t ever wavered us. Can you imagine 232 years of unwavering commitment to the cause? That is powerful.”
By Rachael Knowles