HTAA Conference Keynote – day 1

Usual caveat applies: my notes, from the History Teachers’ Association of Australia last year.

Peter Read, on “Murder, Ignorance and Reconciliation in the Nothern Territory”

1932: 4 Japanese fishers killed by Aborigines, on a reserve. What were the Japanese doing there, when only police, missionaries and protectorate people were meant to go there?! Near Groote Eylandt.

1933: two policemen sent to arrest the Aborigines who did this. One of them was killed. Large party of police planned for retribution (to arrest the Aborigines responsible); all whites were claimed to be in danger.

NB: there were already concerns at this stage down south and even in London about frontier police, laws and judges being unjust.

*There was a huge backlash at the idea of this police party from many different protest groups. As a result, the police party is not sent.

*Missios sent to find out who killed the Japanese and Dhakiyarr, who was said to have killed McColl (the policeman), and convince them to go to Darwin. They arrive in 1934.

1934: Dhakiyarr and others are arrested. Two Aborigines claimed
to have Dhakiyarr’s confession, although they are conflicted – one said McColl was killed because he attempted to rape D’s wife, the other doesn’t mention it. Journos self-censor ad refuse to mention this bit; judge not happy at impugning of police reputation.

There’s a 3-day trial. Ends in death sentence, within 28 days. This is extended; lots of protests at it. Appeal to High Court by Chief Protector (eventually), with 24 reasons.

*D was eventually set free by the High Court, because no jury could now be found that was not biased. Was meant to be returned to his country.
*The day after this, D was put into the half-caste compound in Fannie Bay, part of Darwin… and then he disappeared. Was presumed to have gone bush. There are rumours today that he was killed by police, but there is NO mention in the archives of this idea.

2002: A letter from D’s grandsons was sent to the Chief Minister of the NT, revealing their sorrow at not having had a funeral ceremony. They then did have a ceremony – a funeral and a cleansing of those involved, including McColl’s family.

*They told the story they knew: D and family went to their island; police group landed there and chained up the women (who were possibly out foraging), made them take them to the men. D saw this, and he speared McColl – the leader.

* Why was D so worried about the consequences of the killing of the Japanese fishers? Because 21 years before this, in D’s mother’s country, police had killed several Aborigines because of the mistaken belief that they had killed a geologist.

**You need to see the big picture, to see the little picture.

My take: I really enjoyed this lecture. Despite having grown up in Darwin, I have never heard about Dhakiyarr before. Illuminating.

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