History: On this day in 1879…

CN: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers should be aware that this contains traumatic historical information about massacres that occurred in this country post-invasion.

On this day in 1879, in far north Queensland at Cape Bedford more than 40 Guugu-Yimidhirr people were killed. Native Police and their superintendent hemmed twenty-eight Aboriginal men and thirteen women in a narrow gorge; none of them escaped. Four swam out to sea, and never returned, and it is thought that they drowned.

Source: Poland 1988

An inquiry heard, “Both outlets were secured by the troopers. There twenty-eight men and thirteen gins thus enclosed, of whom none of the former escaped. Twenty-four were shot down on the beach and four swam out to the sea never to be seen again.”

Sub-Inspector O’Connor of the first Lower Laura detachment was reportedly involved in retaliation for alleged spearings of two whites. The massacre was investigated by Bishop Hale of the Aboriginal Commission and later by journalist R Spencer Browne.

There was no consequence for anyone involved in the apparently sanctioned killing of over 40 Guugu-Yimidhirr people.

The prevailing context is that violence was commonplace against Indigenous people throughout this period and where any resistance ensued – the reprisals by the native police and pastoralist were often abhorrent in their manner (including that they often targeted women and children) and with over 300 massacres this killing was no different.

Throughout the period of mass reprisals and massacres, countless deaths occurred which to this day cannot be accounted for with any pinpoint accuracy. We know that our oral histories tell us and we know that there are often times records of massacres occurring but the detail and ability to track exactly who was killed presents great difficulty for many families and communities.

Regardless – we remember them. We remember their resistance, their sacrifice and remind ourselves that their power resides in us to continue to resist – as they would have wanted us to. There has never been justice – just us.

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