Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"Some Bad Work Done Here"

This story keeps getting better and the Honours supervisor has her work cut out for her, keeping me tethered to the twenty-first century.
Eight weeks before Lockyer sailed into King George Sound there was, in his own words, "Some bad work done here."
For twenty years no legal entity other than tribal law and the cult of the alpha male had jurisdiction over the country between South Australia and Albany. The seas and islands all along this wild coast were peopled by a -

"complete set of Pirates going from Island to Island along the Southern coast from Rottnest to Bass Strait in open Whale Boats, having their Chief resort or Den at Kangaroo Island, making occasional descents onto the mainland and carry off by force native women, and when resisted make use of Firearms with which they are provided; amongst themselves they rob each other, the weak being obliged to give way to the stronger; at Kangaroo Island a great scene of villainy is going on, where to use their own words there are a great many graves, a number of desperate Characters, runaway prisoners from Sydney and Van Dieman's Land."

Journal of E. Lockyer. 17/2/1827. Historical Records of Australia.

The Maori, William Hook, signed his testimony to Lockyer with an X.
He told of the day when he was ordered by the boat steerer Randall to take five Menang men from Oyster Harbour to Green Island to catch muttonbirds - and ordered to leave them there.
Whilst the men were marooned on the island (Menang people did not swim, although there was the beginnings of a raft found there later), Randall went inland, armed with guns and cutlesses and captured four women. Two escaped that night, even though their arms were tied together.

Two days later, Hook was ordered back out to the island with a keg of water for the marooned Menang, but they rushed the boat and he pushed off again. The next day, the same, but this time a man was shot through the chest.
Randall then went himself to Green Island and the local men went peaceably into the boat, probably knowing it was their only chance to return home.

The thing is, they were not taken home. Angry Menang families stood at Emu Point awaiting the return of the whaleboat and their menfolk. There was no way the sealers would have volunteered to a death by spearing.
Instead, they kept rowing. They rowed through the Emu Point channel and the shore was lined with angry, mourning Nyungar Menang. The boat glided by and headed into the chop of the channel mouth there.
Imagine the stink of fear in that little boat, armed sealers watching the bleached white sand with the black line of Nyungar above the high tide mark. The northern curve of Middleton Beach must have fairly bristled with spears.
So Randall and his crew took the men out to Michaelmas Island - a long journey from the channel by whaleboat but they were used to covering this kind of distance, as they'd been holed up at Breaksea and Seal Island for some time. (Seal Island?! It's a rock! A miserable, windswept rock!)
It's possible the sealers marooned the four Menang men on Michaelmas Island for five or six weeks, whilst they camped next door at Breaksea with their wives and daughters.

No wonder then, when they returned to their families courtesy of Lieutenant Festing, the four men, some bearing the scars of cutlasses across their necks, marched down to the shore where Lockyer's convicts were watering ...

"As they passed Me, I looked and tried to stop them; it was no use, their looks convinced me there was something wrong." Journal of E. Lockyer. 27/01/1827.

... and put three spears into the bathing blacksmith Dennis Dineen.


  1. Glad to see the post modern condition didn't last long. Mine seems to have lingered a few weeks now, but nothing a good tale doesn't fix.

    There is something to said for signing your confessions with an X. It leaves as many questions as answers, the truth being as temporary as the witnesses. Literacy, and the civility it confers, seems to paint a very thin veneer over our ability to descend into villainy.

    I often wonder how much of my psyche is hereditary, no so much in a genetic sense but being so deeply ingrained and nurtured from birth by successive generations of (perhaps even only osmotic) oral and non verbal influence, it might as well be genetic. Can a way of feeling or a particular mood be handed down, is there a certain instinctual, familial course of action taken in response to a given situation? Who and how far can you trace it back to?

    When I read the accounts you relate here it cements the sense I have of the Nyungar's deep communal distrust and anger at the Wadjella. Their history is a literary peripherality, so succinctly inferred in that last quote of Lockyers. But their untold inheritance is captured in the terror of ricocheting through the night, hands bound rough behind backs, white devil's semen running their thighs and saltpeter burning the air.


  2. Sarah I have copied and kept this blog to use in my Indig. cultural unit which is looking like it might start happening!! Is that OK if I give full references. I know the story from the Kinjarling Report but you tell it better and in much more detail than that stuffy document.

  3. Go for it Seahell, this post is all historically correct as far as Lockyer's journal goes ...
    CQ my father is a gunsmith and the smell of black powder entered me again when you mentioned the word saltpetre, thanks. I'd forgotten about that.
    I think you're right about inherited memory and there's something of that floating around this place.
    Best tap into it methinks. Thanks for your insightful comment. Toa.