Opinion | McMillan cairns vote problematic

Wellington Shire Heritage Network

THERE were several issues with the Wellington Shire Council motion proposed to demolish the McMillan cairns.

The first was the lack of consultation with the general community.

There was short notice of the proposal.

Two years ago, then mayor councillor Carolyn Crossley advised Wellington Shire Heritage Network that council “was gradually making progress [on a position regarding the cairns] and hoped to hold a ” ‘conversation’ series” and she would welcome the network’s involvement in such a forum.

Nothing more was heard, until the weekend before the council meeting when the position was presented as a ‘fait accompli’.

The second issue was the lack of alternatives – destruction and removal was the only option.

Social media comments show a large majority in favour of retaining the cairns, but most of them consider amendments and additional information appropriate.

The third problem is the basis for the ongoing denigration of McMillan.

Peter Gardner’s book, Our Founding Murdering Father, had been the catalyst for most of this but, as Gardner himself reiterated on radio last Wednesday morning and has written in his publication (few seem to read past the heading), that for most raids “there is no proof” that McMillan led or was even involved, but that the evidence is circumstantial.

In reference to one, Gardner even notes that “McMillan may have been absent from Gippsland as well as establishing his own Bushy Park run, was the overseer for both Lachlan Macalister’s huge Boisdale run and Godfrey Vaughn Bentley’s Sandy Creek Run.”

There is no doubt the First Nation peoples were the greater losers in a conflict of cultures.

The arriving Europeans saw the country as empty and unsettled, misunderstanding how the Indigenous people shared and used the land within their groups, without the need for boundaries and fences.

The indigenous people saw no difference between the free roaming kangaroo and the sheep and cattle as a source of food.

The outcome was ongoing conflict for many.

After numerous ‘thefts’ of stock, some settlers became increasingly aggressive, attacking any Aboriginal presence, and indigenous attacks on settlers also increased.

Whether that was the case for McMillan cannot be confirmed, but in any case he was not the only settler facing this conflict.

It can be assumed that all the early settlers and many of their employees were responsible for such reprisals and attacks.

The very presence of the new arrivals decimated the Indigenous population in many ways.

As well as any attacks, the removal of their native food source and the restriction of their access to land and waterways impacted on their diet.

And the introduction of dozens of new diseases to a population which, as we would recognise today, had been in self-isolation for generations, was just as fatal.

However, it does not resolve anything to replace one myth with another.

We can temper the glorification of McMillan, who made many contributions to the development of the shire and surrounding areas, without branding him as the sole perpetrator and leader of all the reprisals, or attributing to him unproven murderous intent: in many of his roles, he was merely an employee.

The cairns recognise early expeditions that involved McMillan, which journeyed from the then drought-stricken Monaro area through to the coast.

The group was shown the way by indigenous guides (Jemmy Gibber and others).

History should remember all the participants.

As well as modifying the wording on the plaques, the prominently located cairns could be used for the Indigenous people to tell the story of their lifestyle before the arrival of Europeans and explain how they managed and shared their country.

It is certainly time for more conversations with all our residents, and for a reasonable and informed decision.