Australia has a selective memory.
This could be seen as hundreds gathered at Myall Creek on Sunday, June 10, to remember the dark point in history when 11 non-indigenous horsemen hunted, hacked and murdered 28 Aboriginal men, women and children in 1838.
They remembered Myall Creek with reverance, oblivious to the hundreds of other massacres. No, 180 years onward, Myall Creek is still remembered though others have been willfully erased from the collective memories of the masses.
That was the take-home message at the commemoration of the Myall Creek massacre. What made the massacre unique was the fact that it marked the first time that perpetrators were actually punished in a court of law for their deeds against the first inhabitants; however other, more gruesome crimes, went unpunished and were eventually forgotten in time.
Labor Arts Shadow Walt Secord, son of a Mohawk Indian, grew up on an indigenous settlement in Canada and had plenty to say as a member of a First Nation himself.
Genocides happen because people forget.Walt Secord, Labor Shadow Minister for Art
“The perpetrators of atrocities rely on their deeds being overlooked in time, and we know that those who seek to cover up genocide, to try to hide and deny such history, only serve to make it possible again. And those who commit atrocities rely on the fact that people will forget them tomorrow,” he said.
“Indeed I believe that denial is the last stage in genocide, the precondition for the next. Genocides happen because people forget.”
Unlike others, the Myall Creek victims are - thankfully - still remembered. But Ted Stubbins reminded us of the forgotten heroes as he took the podium to address the audience fresh after becoming a lifetime member of the Friends of Myall Creek.
He spoke of white landholder and grazier Fredrick Foot who travelled to Sydney to ensure that an investigation into the incident took place.
“Fredrick Foot’s key role is often overlooked,” Stubbins said. “In the excellent presentations we have heard today, nobody has mentioned Fredrick Foot. I don’t think we would have been here today without Fredrick Foot.”
History and all its details need to be remembered and acknowledged for there to be healing. It is when the descendants of the victims and perpetrators are reconciled that we can all heal, and learn the lessons that past wrongs have to teach us. And there were plenty of descendants from both sides at the events on Sunday.
Cultural dances and commemoration are special - but what can we do to ensure memories are kept alive? The interactive state-of-the-art Cultural and Education Centre that has been on the cards for so many years is still a pipe dream.
Once built, it will stand as a ‘beacon of hope’ to remember the Myall Creek massacre. A lighthouse for reconciliation that will ensure that such atrocities are never forgotten and never happen in Australia again.