One of the darkest days in the Illawarra’s early European history was marked with a sombre ceremony on Sunday, as a group of indigenous and non-indigenous people gathered at Cataract for the 200th anniversary of the Appin Massacre.
Responsible for the deaths of at least 14 Dharawal men, women and children – with some shot or decapitated and others driven over cliffs near Cataract River – the massacre was one of the first government-ordered killings of Aboriginal people in Australia’s settlement records.
On April 17, 1816 the military was deployed, at Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s orders, to “inflict terrible and exemplary punishments” on “hostile natives” who made “the smallest show of resistance”.
He wrote in his diary that the military had 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”.
NSW Reconciliation co-chair Cecilia Anthony said the commemoration ceremony, which has been held since 2000, helped to highlight an event in Australia’s history which was not well known.
“Because of the way Australian history was taught until fairly recently, the full history of post-invasion just wasn’t known,” Ms Anthony said.
“People aren’t aware that the wholesale rounding up of Aboriginal family groups and communities was very common.
“But for Aboriginal people this is very contemporary in their thoughts.”
“The first step of any reconciliation is acknowledgement of truth, whether it’s good, bad or ugly – and we as a nation are just at the start of that process.”
Amid Wollongong City Council’s Illawarra 200 events – which mark the bicentenary of white settlement in the region – Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said the Appin massacre’s anniversary held lessons for today’s society.
This is an ugly aspect of our history, and we can’t resile from the tragedy that it highlights and that’s still going on in Australia.
“This is an ugly aspect of our history, and we can’t resile from the tragedy that it highlights and that’s still going on in Australia,”
“We still have big issues with our Aboriginal citizens, and the Appin massacre was right at the beginning of a history of unfolding sadness.
“We can’t change the past, but we have to recognise it.”