Early Colonialism in Australia


My Hero: Charles Harpur

Frank the Poet, Matthew Flinders, Barron Field, Charles Sturt, Eliza Dunlop, Charles Harpur, Henry Kendall, Louisa Anne Meredith, Catherine Helen Spence…. what a great line-up for early colonial Australian writers! These writers revealed many of the core features of the early colonial era: the strange way in which the flora and fauna were depicted (Barron Field’s “Kangaroo” & the paintings of John Glover); the difficulties posed by the terrain and the climate for people of European background (the anonymous poet of “Swan River”, Charles Sturt’s descriptions of inland travels and Louisa Anne Meredith’s descriptions of land around Sydney town. Then there was much about the wonderful, sanctifying impact of the natural landscape on our spirit (Charles Harpur in his “Mid-summer Noon in the Australian Forest” & Henry Kendall in his “Bell Birds”). Then there was also the difficult place for women in the early colonial days. Catherine Helen Spence presents her character Clara Morison as an emerging feminist.



Finally, and most painfully, there is much about the early interactions between whites and the indigenous population. This occurs in Charles Sturt’s journals of his journey into the Darling River area and it occurs in Eliza Dunlop’s writing. Eliza was an amazing woman who in 1839 wrote such a wonderful heart-felt, empathetic poem about the plight of an Aboriginal woman who managed to escape the Myall Creek Massacre with a baby in her arms. She had seen the murder of her husband and the decapitation of her youngest child- at her feet. Eliza Dunlop captures all this in her wonderfully moving and disturbing poem “The Aboriginal Mother (from Myall’s Creek)“.

A horrific description of the massacre and its context, which squares with the details of this poem, can be found in the link above. Here is the essence of the event:

It was late in the afternoon when Fleming’s gang arrived on the ridge to the west of the Myall Creek station huts. Anderson and Kilmeister were in their hut while the Aborigines where gathering around their camp fire. As the gang came riding up to the station huts and into the Weraerai camp, the terrified Aborigines went hurrying into the convict’s hut pleading to Anderson and Kilmeister for protection. Two boys, Johnny and Jimmy, jumped into the creek and hid. Kilmeister went outside to speak to Fleming and his gang, many of whom Kilmeister knew. Anderson waited at the door of the hut and could not hear what was discussed between Kilmeister and the stockmen but shortly afterwards Kilmeister walked away to get his horse.

John Russell took a long tether rope from his horse and, followed by a couple of the other stockmen, went to enter the hut. When Anderson asked him what he was going to do Russell replied words to the effect, “take the blacks over the back of the range and frighten them.” Russell and the other stockmen with him then entered the hut and began tying the Weraerai’s hands together with whip cord. The terrified women and children were crying and pleading to Anderson to help them. When all the Weraerai were tied or handcuffed to the tether rope, they were led out to where the other stockmen remained mounted at the front of the hut. At the back of the enroped line of Weraerai was  a small girl who had remained untied. As she emerged from the hut Anderson grabbed her and hid her behind the door before going back outside where Kilmeister had now returned mounted on his horse and had joined Fleming’s gang.

As they were about to be led away, Davey, the young Aboriginal stockman spoke up and asked if they would spare “a gin” for him. They did so and cut a young woman free. Anderson then stepped forward and asked them to spare Ipeta for him. They refused and instead cut another young woman free for him. Anderson and Davey then stood and watched as the crying, pleading Weraerai including, Ipeta,, Daddy, Joey and young Charley and babies in there mother’s arms were led away towards the ridge to the west of the huts.

A short time later, as the sun set, Anderson heard just two shots. The rest of the Weraerai were then slaughtered and dismembered with the three swords that the gang had with them. This process would have obviously taken some time and one can only imagine the terror experienced by those men women and children as they waited their turn to be slaughtered.

The gang spared just one woman who they took with them as they rode off into the night. It seems clear she was spared to satisfy their sexual desires.

For the next few days the gang rode around looking for more Aborigines to slaughter. They were particularly keen to catch up with King Sandy’s mob which they did at McIntyre’s station. King sandy’s mob having returned there seeking protection after collecting the survivors from Myall Creek. When Fleming’s gang rode into McIntyre’s station King Sandy’s mob fled. Some were slaughtered as they ran but details of just how many were killed were not documented.

Blog Topics for Week 5: 

1/ Take any one of the authors introduced today and write them a concise letter thanking them for the insight they have given to the experience of living in the early 19th Century.

2/ In the voice of the Aboriginal mother depicted in Eliza Dunlop’s poem write a letter -from the Aboriginal woman’s perspective- thanking Eliza for her understanding. 

3/ Respond to either Charles Harpur’s or Henry Kendall’s picture of the healing power of nature, either with a similar picture of your own, or a comment of gratitude to them for pointing out things that are important to remember. 

4/ Create a digital kit for any one of the authors covered in today’s lecture. 

5/ Tell Frank the Poet how important his dream has been for getting the balance right on who are the really valuable people in Australia. 

6/ Create your own topic building on insights discovered today. 


PS: Most of you know that I received an email from a friend today who had read one of your blogs on David Unaipon. This friend wanted to share with me the fact that his wife’s father had been a minister in the 1930s in South Australia and had invited David Unaipon to come and preach in his church. Apparently this invitation nearly cost the minister his job (because of so much unfriendliness towards Aboriginals). This friend also shared with me the fact that his wife (as a child) remembered that when David Unaipon came to the minister’s house he had to sleep on the back verandah because no hotels in the area would put up an Aboriginal ( no matter how intelligent or well known!). Amazing! Is it not!

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