8:30pm – Thursday, April 19 on ABC1
In Sydney in December 1838, seven men stand accused of the mass killing of a group of unarmed Aborigines. The massacre of about 30 Wirrayaraay people at Myall Creek was the culmination of a series of conflicts between settlers and Aborigines in the Liverpool Plains region of NSW. The men responsible for the massacre included freed and assigned convicts who had spent a day unsuccessfully pursuing a group of Aborigines. When they came to Henry Dangar’s Myall Creek Station, they discovered a group of Wirrayaraay who they rounded up and tied together. The Aborigines were then led off and massacred. Two days later, the men responsible for the massacre returned to the scene of the crime to burn the bodies.
Twelve men are charged with murder. To most people in Sydney, the killings are simply the price of colonisation. The Sydney Herald refers to ‘black animals’ unworthy of attention. The first trial finds 11 out of the 12 not guilty. But there are dissenting voices and leading citizens attend an inaugural meeting of the Aborigines Protection Society to discuss Indigenous rights and Aboriginal claims of land ownership.
As the public debate becomes more heated, seven of the acquitted men are re-arrested to face re-trial.
This time, a key witness, George Anderson, whose testimony in the first trial had been half-hearted in fear of retribution, tells his story in graphic detail. The second trial delivers a new verdict – guilty.
The Judge sentences all seven men to death. After legal objections are exhausted and the Executive Council rejects petitions for clemency, the sentences are carried out. The hanging of the seven European settlers for their part in the Myall Creek massacre causes controversy throughout the colony. It leads to heightened racial tensions and hardened settler attitudes towards Aborigines. But NSW Governor George Gipps is unrepentant – for him, the British Empire is a force for civilisation and this trial has again highlighted the need for Australia to look closely at its social and moral attitudes moving forward as an emerging nation.