A bid to remove McMillan memorials

David Braithwaite

A MOTION will be put to Tuesday night’s Wellington Shire Council meeting to remove cairns erected to honour Angus McMillan.

In the wake of ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests around the world, councillor Carolyn Crossley will move a motion “to address the long-standing issue of the inappropriateness of the McMillan cairns and in the spirit of genuine reconciliation, that council move forward in partnership with the Gunaikurnai people in a truth-telling process of place, people and history”.

If the motion is adopted, council would remove cairns on land it directly manages, on the corner of Foster and York Sts, Sale, and Blackburn and McMillan Sts, Stratford.

Council will need to gain approval from the state government and other land managers to remove the cairns which aren’t on council-owned land, in Bundalaguah, Bushy Park, Heyfield, Port Albert, Rosedale, Willung South and Yarram.

The motion also has council reviewing the appropriateness of public reserves named after Mr McMillan.

Angus McMillan was a pastoralist who explored what is now east Gippsland on behalf of Captain Lachlan Macalister, naming the Nicholson, Mitchell, Avon and Macalister rivers.

In the mid-1920s, the Victorian Historical Memorials Committee recognised McMillan and fellow explorer Paul de Strzelecki with a chain of historical cairns across Gippsland.

The view of McMillan being an heroic explorer and pioneer was disrupted in the late 1970s when historian Peter Gardner highlighted the extent of frontier conflict in Gippsland, naming McMillan as a key figure.

Historian Don Watson named McMillan as the leader of the ‘Highland Brigade’, a group of Gaelic-speaking Scotsmen who conducted reprisals against the Gunaikurnai.

The extent of McMillan’s leadership of these conflicts has been contested, although his own accounts indicate he was involved.

At least seven massacre sites in Wellington Shire have McMillan listed as the attacker or organiser: two sites at Boney Point and Hollands Landing, between 1840 and 1842 where 21 Aboriginal people were killed, and five massacre sites in and around Woodside and Port Albert in 1843, where 300 Aboriginal people were killed.

Council has been working with the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation in recent years relating to the McMillan cairns.

Council leaders toured Gunaikurnai cultural sites last year.

“During that tour, the GLaWAC cultural officer made it very clear how destructive and hurtful these cairns are to the local Aboriginal community,” Cr Crossley wrote in the background notes to her motion.

“Like within all communities, there are differing views regarding the McMillan cairns.

“Some community members want the McMillan cairns removed and some want to make sure that any changes are utilised as an opportunity to update and capture a more accurate history associated with McMillan.

“At this time, many local government areas around the world are taking stock and removing statues and monuments to colonial figures that had dark and ruthless histories in relation to the first nations they encountered.”

In Cr Crossley’s motion, council will work with GLaWAC to find an appropriate way of recognising “our shared history”.

Tuesday’s meeting begins at 6pm, and will be livestreamed on council’s YouTube page.

People wishing to speak to the motion during the meeting need to be at council’s Sale customer service desk by 6.10pm, when they will be directed to a meeting room where they can present to council via Skype.

Comments can be registered by completing a council meeting question or comment submission form before 1pm on Tuesday. All written submissions will be distributed to councillors and read out during the council meeting.