No excuse to stay ignorant: hundreds to gather for Coniston memorial

A 2003 Coniston commemoration ceremony

Hundreds of people are expected to attend a 90th anniversary memorial for those killed in the Coniston massacre in Central Australia as leaders call for a special day to honour fallen loved ones.

The commemoration ceremony is being held at Yurrkuru (Brooks Soak) on Friday and organisers anticipate those attending will include families of the massacre victims as well as descendantsof the perpetrators.

Central Land Council chairman Francis Jupurrurla Kelly said he hoped a memorial could be held each year in the future. The last memorial was in 2008 at Baxter’s Well near Barrow Creek and marked the 80th anniversary, he said.

“We want a special day to remember our fallen loved ones who were murdered in the frontier wars, just like we commemorate the victims of Australia’s other wars on ANZAC Day,” Mr Kelly said.

The Coniston massacre in 1928 was the last known slaughter of innocent Aboriginal people — more than 60 Aboriginal men, women and children were shot and killed between August 14 and October 18, 1928.

Their attackers, groups of men on horseback led by Mounted Constable George Murray, were acting in retaliation to the killing of white dingo trapper Fred Brooks by Kamalyarrpa Japanangka, or Bullfrog.

Mr Kelly said he would like the dark chapter in Australia’s history to be properly acknowledged.

“Too few people know about it,” Mr Kelly said. “I think they would be shocked if they knew. “We want everyone to know that these murders did not happen during some distant past but 10 years after the First World War ended.

“Until all Australians know about the crimes committed against our families and many others during hundreds of documented colonial massacres we can’t move forward as one mob, one country. Other countries with murderous pasts have managed to come together by telling the truth. I don’t think it’s beyond Australia to do the same.”

Mr Kelly said the truth about the massacres should be taught to school children in the Northern Territory and other parts of Australia.

“The curriculum has to change,” he said. “Maybe this could be part of our treaty with the Northern Territory government, but hopefully we won’t have to wait that long. We would also like to see interpretive signs at Yurrkuru and all the many massacre locations around Central Australia.”

Mr Kelly said the Coniston massacre was “like a school shooting — hard to forget”.

“We have been remembering our murdered loved ones for 90 years now and we don’t want anybody else to forget them,” he said.

“That’s why I helped to make a documentary about the massacres, called Coniston. They should show it on TV more often.”

“The Central Land Council also published an oral history book and a study guide about the killing times, called Every Hill Got A Story. I’m one of many authors.”

“So we have done a lot already to make sure nobody has an excuse to stay ignorant about what happened and why. It’s now time for governments and others to do their bit to tell the truth and help us move forward together,” Mr Kelly said.

Melbourne historian and curator Liza Dale-Hallett will be one of those attending the commemoration ceremony on Friday with her twin brother Chas Dale.

Ms Dale-Hallett and her brother learnt as children that their great uncle was Constable Murray who led the attacks.

“I was doing Australian history at the time,” Ms Dale-Hallett said. “I was horrified and not a little surprised because I knew George. Even though he lived in Adelaide and we lived in Melbourne, I’d met him a number of times.”

Ms Dale-Hallett said it was important for her family to be represented at the ceremony. It will be the second Coniston memorial she has attended. She also attended a memorial for the 75th anniversary.

“For me and my brother, we’re here to support the communities who were impacted by what happened 90 years ago,” she said. “But we’re also very invested in the future and the future is very much about understanding the past which we all share.”

Ms Dale-Hallett said she was in awe of the communities who had welcomed her and given her gifts on her last visit.

“I’ve never met such generosity before,” she said. “It was very, very moving. It was beyond words.”

“I think it was simply the most courageous thing anyone could do — to look into the eyes of someone who is standing there as a descendant of someone who caused their community such trauma.”

“I can’t think of anything more impressive than that.”

Others expected to attend the memorial include Labor Senator Pat Dodson, NT chief minister Michael Gunner and NT police commissioner Reece Kershaw.

By Wendy Caccetta

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