The horror of Warrigal Creek lingers

Elizabeth Balderstone, Warrigal Creek


MY family and I are the current custodians of the site of the Warrigal Creek Massacre.

Like many other Wellington Shire residents we are deeply disappointed by the result of the council vote on the removal of the two McMillan cairns.

If we feel such sadness and emptiness, I cannot begin to imagine how this outcome must have felt and feel for Grattan Mullet and Rob Hudson – who both spoke to the meeting on behalf of the Gunaikurnai – and other proud First Nation people.

As I expressed to councillors the following day, I had hoped so much that we as a community might have stood tall in this act of reconciliation, and shown a willingness to join hands in this world we are facing and shaping today.

I first visited Warrigal Creek in 1974 – about the time the site was listed on the Register of the National Estate.

The tragedy of the 1843 massacre and various interpretations of the exact events surrounding that time have long been acknowledged locally, as well as written about extensively.

Whether or not Angus McMillan definitely was at Warrigal Creek at the time of this massacre will likely never be known, but his celebrated leadership in Gippsland in those early decades of European settlement inevitably links him with conflict, and decimation of the First Nation population, as was recognised by the Australian Electoral Commission two years ago.

For many years, our local Yarram Yarram Cultural Group has collaborated and exchanged ideas with Gunaikurnai representatives considering ways to recognise the full truth of early European settlement in our district, as well as learning more about local Indigenous culture and traditional knowledge.

More recently, Reconciliation Wellington has established and grown significantly in membership.

I do not disagree with much of what is said in the article by the Wellington Heritage Group – the last thing we ought to attempt is the rewriting of history.

I used to consider that additional plaques or added information next to the McMillan cairns may be an adequate solution, but almost 100 years on from their erection, it seems time to remove these cairns from their prominent positions and take away such a hurtful ‘celebration’ of Gippsland’s early European settlement.

Perhaps some of the cairns may be preserved (or reconstructed) in more appropriate environments such as local museums.

They now in fact themselves can symbolise history as Australia faces its past with greater honesty and strengthens its self-awareness as a nation.

We have invited shire councillors – together or as individuals – to come to Warrigal Creek and sit quietly near the bend of the creek here and really contemplate what took place about July 1843, and our shared history more broadly.

I encouraged each of them to watch the Warrigal Creek Massacre documentary film produced by Swinburne University academics and students three years ago, and since watched by large audiences throughout Gippsland and across Victoria.

We all – right now – have the chance to play a part in acknowledging the whole truth of Gippsland’s early European settlement, and in partnership with the Traditional Owners of our region, tell this story from all perspectives and celebrate our rich and beautiful Gippsland – especially at that significant corner in Sale.

I hope our Wellington Shire community continues the conversation with open minds, swiftly and positively towards this end.