Coniston Massacre Remembered, 90 Years On...

Hundreds of Aboriginal families from the Warlpiri, Anmatjerre, Kaytej and Warumungu tribes along with representatives from Territory and Federal government attended the Coniston Commemoration event held at the site of Yurrkuru – approximately 3-hours north-west of Alice Springs. A place now also known, as Brooks Soak. 

People gathered to mark the mere 90 years since the murder of a dingo trapper Frederick Brooks, sparked a wave of massacres and indiscriminate killings through the Central Desert. Brooks had been working at Coniston Station and had left to set dingo traps. He camped near a soakage with local people.

Warlpiri people say that Brooks had a sexual encounter with the wife of a Warlpiri man named Bullfrog. This is against tribal lore. Bullfrog retaliated by killing Brooks and burying the body. The site where the commemoration event was held was only a few hundred meters from the tree where Brooks was killed. 

The death sparked a series of indiscriminate reprisals. Killing parties led by Mounted Police Constable George Murray moved through the lands. 

Although there is no official number of the lives lost. Warlpiri people say it was as high as a hundred, including women and children but many speculate much higher.

On Friday the 24th of August 2018, the 90th anniversary of the massacres was remembered by hundreds of Aboriginal people, Federal and Northern Territory politicians, police representatives and the brave descendants of Countable Murray. 

CAAMA was there to capture the event and stories for you… 

The first voice you are going to hear is Harry Jakamarra Nelson as he Welcomes everyone to the event. Harry is a Traditional owner and highly respected senior man in the Warlpiri tribe. He is the nephew of Bullfrog… the man who murdered Brooks at Yurrkuru. 

That last voice was Teddy Jupurrurla Long from Willowra -  the Traditional owner for the site Yurrkuru – the place where Dingo trapper Fred Brooks was killed. 

The next voice you hear will be Barbra Shaw. Ms Shaw is a high profile Aboriginal rights activist who has sat on numerous committee and councils and is also a delegate for the Central Land Council…

This audio also includes a prayer from Richard Doolan.

The next to speak the event is Terresa Napurrurla Ross. Napurrurla is a highly skilled Warlpiri interpreter based in Yuendumu. She has been paramount in collecting stories from the old people to help remember the Coniston Massacres correctly. Here she shares what she knows are her intentions for the future of this story...

Many descendants where asked to share their stories with the crowd as a means for the truth about this massacre to be shared and for healing to continue…

The next voice you will hear is Sonny Curtis who is a Warlpiri and Warumungu man… 

The next voice you hear is Kaytej man Tommy Thompson.. he shares what he knows about the Coniston massacres...

NOTE:  Warlpiri, Ammatjeyere, Kaytej, and Waramungu are all different Aboriginal tribes that belong to each country in the central desert region...

Below are some maps that might help:

Harry Jakamarra Nelson from Yuendumu knew Bullfrog well. He is Bullfrogs nephew who learnt culture and law from him as he grew…he now shares his story.

Ron Hagen from Anmatjere country….and Jangala Martin from the Plenty region, and the old-man Mr Stafford, were next to share what they know about the story…

The voices you are hearing are the descendants of tribes that were killed in a wave of massacres now known as the Coniston massacres of 1928... understandably it was a very upsetting day for some.

The next to speak at the commemoration event was Dwanye Ross, a traditional Owner of the area.. He chokes back tears as he shares his thoughts and feelings about what happened…

Barbara Shaw (co-MC) then addressed the crowd, thanking people for sharing their stories and acknowledging the Government Representatives who were in attendance. 

Ms Shaw then went on to explain the importance of the Central Land Council River Mapping Project and how it helps locate and acknowledge various site including sacred sites and massacre sites… 

In the next audio you can hear Ms Shaw explain the map before Teddy Juppururla Long explains the map in Anmatjere for his family and Robin Japanangka Granites translates in english. Then Maisy from Willowra explains the map in Warlpiri and Petronella Vaarzon-Morel translates and explains in English. 

The theme of the commemoration event was truth-telling. There was never any blame or anger, instead the sharing of stories and acknowledgement of what happened helped create an environment of healing.

Part of that healing was considerably helped by the attendance and bravery of Liza-Dale-Hallett. Liza is the Great-niece of Mounted Police Constable William George Murray - the man who ruthlessly lead the killing parties. 

Here is her speech now...

The family were then gifted their own copies of the book 'Every Hill Got A Story'. An incredible book compiled by the Central Land Council that perfectly documents stories from Aboriginal people from central Australia to give a previously unheard perspective of the early days of colonisation. 

The books were presented to the family by the Deputy Chair of the Central Land Council Sammy Butcher who then gave this speech...

The Northern Territory Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw was next to address the crowd. 

He used the opportunity to apologise to the Aboriginal descendants for the behaviour of Mounted Police Constable William George Murray and highlight the important role that Aboriginal police officers play in educating the NT Police force.

The Federal Member for Lingiari, Mr Warren Snowden was next to speak. He acknowledged the theme of the event - Truth Telling - and admitted that many in Canberra don't know about the Coniston Massacres... Yet, we as all Australians share this history. 

The Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner was the next speaker for the event. He used the opportunity to apologise on behalf of the NT Government for what had happened. He also shared a personal story that links his family to that massacres. 

The Local Member for Stuart Scott McConnell, was specially asked to speak at the event by the men he grew up with who still affectionally called him 'Tin-truck'. Scott grew up in Willowra community and has grown up hearing about the massacres from the local aboriginal people. He enforced that this story is an Australian story that should be known and recognised across the country.

The next person to speak was the Northern Territory Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Ken Vowles...

Teddy Jupurrurla Long was then invited to share his story. He speaks in Warlpiri and Robin Japanangka Granites interprets for us... Again, they push for the story to be shared and the truth to be told for all Australians to hear, acknowledge and understand. 

Warlpiri man Harry Japanangka Nelson is the nephew of Bullfrog, the man who killed Fred Brooks. His murder is what sparked the reprisals. Harry shares the story he was told from Bullfrog himself....

The final speaker of the day was Francis Jupurrurla Kelly, the Chairman of the Central Land Council and film maker who made a film named Coniston. He calls for a day of acknowledgement similar to ANZAC day for all Australians to know what happened and to show respect for our collective history. 

All attendees where then asked to walk together to where a memorial stone had been place in 2003, to make the site and to acknowledge the killing of Frederick Brooks. Wreaths were place at the site.

By Teghan Hughes