Elliston massacre formally recognised
In 1849, with Australia's frontier wars in full swing, an unknown number of Aboriginal people were rounded up at gunpoint and marched over the sheer limestone cliffs near Elliston on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula.
For many years the massacre was denied by the white community, however the local people, the Wirangu, passed the story down from generation to generation. In more recent times academics have proven the event did happen: an anthropologist, Dr Tim Haines, said "perhaps tens or scores of people, maybe 25, maybe 50" were killed.
Yet some people in Elliston, a town with roots stretching back to the frontier wars, believe that isn't enough to constitute a massacre and opposed any memorial saying as much. The town was caught in a stalemate as the Wirangu pressed for recognition, yet they had the support of the local surfing community and late last week Elliston council finally resolved the issue.
Jack Johncock is a Wirangu elder.
Swellnet: It appears the attempts to have the massacre formally recognised hit another snag. Where is the issue up to?
Jack Johncock: All sorted, bro. It’s all done. All the wording is now approved for the monuments up on there on the cliff. We had a meeting with the Elliston council on Tuesday and sorted it late last week.
There was some issue around the word 'massacre being' included?
That’s right. There was a lot of controversy around the word massacre being included. That’s been going on a long time. The township of Elliston was very split about the use of the word. We...that is the Wirangu, put a proposal to council for what we wanted written up on the monuments. Something that represents the memory of the people that went over the cliff there.
Like you say, there was a lot of controversy about the word ‘massacre’. So I was very surprised when I went to the Elliston meeting last Tuesday and not one councillor nor anyone in the gallery mentioned the word massacre. They ummed and ahhed for a good bloody three hours!
I wasn't supposed to talk but I was sick of this bullshit going around and around and around. So I said, “Look, I’ve come up here, I’ve taken time off work. You're either going to vote for the phrase or vote against it. One way or another you've gotta take it off the floor. How about getting some bloody balls and voting yes or no.”
So they decided to have morning tea. (laughs)
Then, while they were having morning tea, a few of the councillors put their heads together and their lawyer came out and saw me and said, “Would you guys mind if they went ahead with the current wording but they take the word ‘large’ out of the statement?”
Actually, it may have been the word ‘many’ not ‘large’, but really, the only thing we were adamant about was that we wanted the word massacre in there. That's all. So they moved that motion about the word ‘many’, and I took it back to a Wirangu meeting in Port Lincoln last Thursday and we were happy for it, so it’s all go now.
Well that’s brilliant.
Yeah our lawyers are writing back now to say we’ve accepted it and to go ahead and print it on the marble.
Thanks. I’ve been fighting this cause for thirty years and my mother before me spent her whole life fighting it so my mother can rest in peace now.
You said the township was divided. Might this ruling fix things?
Oh look, it was the bloody surfing community that supported us, you know? I’m going to write letters to the editor of the two local papers here on the west coast thanking the Elliston councillors that supported us and the surfers that supported us. I can't tell you what it means.
We had a lot of support from the surfing community, not just Elliston but up the coast too, Streaky, Cactus. I used to coach the Western United footy club so I know a lot of people out that way and they’d always say, “Don't give up Jack. Keep going. This is something that has to be done.”
This is from the wider community and in particular the surfing community, so I am absolutely rapt with guys like Ian Dudley and his wife, and all the people up at Elliston there who just kept trying. Feels good, you know?
We wouldn’t have got this over the line if it wasn't for their support. There's a few of them. They stood there. Some of them went to all the meetings and they weren't afraid to mouth off at what they thought was right.
Perhaps you could settle an argument for us. The premier wave in Elliston is called Blacks - short for Blackfellas - the name has long been attributed to the massacre, but is that correct?
No. Blackfellas has got nothing to do with it. What it is, is back in the day that was where the blackfellas used to go out off the rocks and collect their shellfish and stuff. That’s the only reason it's called Blacks. It's got nothing to do with the massacre.
You’ve achieved a lifelong goal and settled a mystery. Well done.