Winga Myamly

This is the text of a five minute speech at the Campelltown Arts Centre on the 13th April 2016. It focused on Winga Myamly Reconciliation Group’s role in organizing the annual Memorial event to remember the Appin Massacre of 1816 and the following question.

Appin Massacre – Remembering and Reconciliation: examining the history of the Appin Massacre, reconciliation and remembering. What, if anything, have we learnt as a community since this tragic event?

I begin by acknowledging the Dharawal people, the traditional owners of this land, a people who were almost destroyed by invasion, disease and murder and yet have survived to continue to care for this area, tell their stories and gift us with this land. I also acknowledge all Elders and Aboriginal people here today.

I am here to represent Winga Myamly Reconciliation Group. The name Winga Myamly means ‘sit down and talk’ in the Wiradjuri language. This is the basis for the group- a chance for us all to ‘sit and talk’ and, of course, to learn. It was formed in 1993, as part of the growing reconciliation movement in Australia of people who wanted to form bonds rather than pretend past injustices did not happen.

We have been privileged over the years to sit with many Elders who were fundamental to the continuation of the group but have since sadly passed. I respectfully acknowledge the contribution of Aunty Beryl Ah-Sam, Aunty Coral Sadler, Uncle Trevor Guthrie, Aunty Ruby Langford-Ginibi, Aunty Christine Craig and the Rev Ken Fox.

While the group has participated in a variety of activities our main activity has been to organize a memorial for the Appin Massacre.

What have we learnt since this tragic event of 1816? For almost 200 years, our nation barely knew of the massacre. The few survivors of the day lived with the horror of the memories, some continued to quietly share their language and culture with their children, however many lost this knowledge due to dislocation and, no doubt fear. What about he local settlers? Those who had developed relationships with the Dharawal found their relationships had been destroyed by the escalation of the frontier wars. Others learnt that the gun is all-powerful and that they had the backing of the government to take up arms.

On an official level, versions of the massacre were recorded in record books and newspapers, of course it is only the victors who got to publically tell their version of events. There was no mention of the Dhurawul people in the history books I read or in the local museum when I was a child. It seemed history in the Macarthur area began with the cow’s arrival at the subsequently named ‘Cowpastures’.

These days, many of us wonder how to learn and how to walk with the Aboriginal community. Remembering the Appin Massacre has become one such way.

In the late 1990s, a small handful of people from the reconciliation group began to gather each year on April 17th at Cataract Dam, close to the site of the Appin Massacre to remember this little known event. From the year 2000, the event grew, and from 2007 when the commemoration moved to the weekend, numbers grew rapidly, from a few dozen to a few hundred people.

Support grew in many ways. Many Descendants and Elders, the Thurawul Land Council, Aboriginal organisations, Wollondilly, Campbelltown and, later, Camden Councils, university teachers and students began to acknowledge and support the day. Politicians came along, sometimes just standing in the background, sometimes saying a few words and, importantly, reported back to their colleagues. Churches were also represented at the gatherings- including local Pastors and a Bishop. Some of the local media began to attend and report in the papers.

I am reluctant to name individuals because this could take my whole five minutes. However some aspects of the day have been so special over the years. We are welcomed so warmly to the country by Aunty Glenda Chalker. To hear the Dharawal language echo through the bush as spoken by Dharawal woman Aunty Frances Bodkin, with the English translation often by Uncle Gavin Andrews, is very moving. Dharawal culture is shared in song and dance by Matthew and Glen Doyle. We remember that Dharawal culture is alive. We are cleansed and reconciled by a smoking ceremony conducted by Uncle Ivan Wellington who is fundamental to the planning along with Aunty Muriel Brandy. Reconciliation NSW ambassador and former politician Col Markham and his wife Melissa inspire all Non-Aboriginal people in our determination to walk with Aboriginal people. And of course Sr Kerry and Sr Patricia whose insight and courage planted the seed in the first place. They continue to be the lifeblood of the event.

At the 2007 Memorial Ceremony, Winga Myamly, with sponsorship from Wollindilly Council, unveiled a plaque, which now sits in the garden at Cataract Dam for any passerby to read…

The Massacre of men, women and children of the Dharawal Nation occurred near here on 17 April 1816.

Fourteen were counted this day, but the real number will never be known.

We acknowledge the impact this had and continues to have on the Aboriginal people of this land.

We are deeply sorry. 
We will remember them.

What have we learnt? These days a quick Google search will find hundreds of articles, research papers and images about the Massacre. I think back to the early days of the memorial service- there was no information available, very few people had even heard of the Appin massacre, and it seemed like no one wanted to know. Sadly there are Australians who still are not aware of our history. We know that it is only by learning and acknowledging our history that we can begin to have reconciliation. 15 schools will have students representing them next Sunday… in the middle of holidays. This to me is a wonderful example of the general community’s commitment to remember, to be reconciled and to have different future.

This event is an opportunity for Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal people come together, to physically walk together. Through this journey we have learnt that reconciliation occurs through listening… and learning from the stories of the people… remembering stories never told in history books… stories of people whose spirit survives.

Ann Madsen (March 2016)


Reconciliation in the Macarthur Region