Australia’s violent past documented in Indigenous massacre map

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A landmark project by the University of Newcastle has documented more than 250 Indigenous massacres across Australia, the sheer numbers catching researchers by surprise.

Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison's great-great-grandfather, Charlie Hammond, was the sole survivor in a massacre of Indigenous people in Gippsland, Victoria.

"He was just the only standing person, boy, at that moment,” he said.

Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison
Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison.

Charlie Hammond’s story was one of survival, but it was a story of tragedy for more than a dozen Indigenous people killed in the massacre in 1850.

It's just one of nearly 250 massacres, now verified and recorded by the University of Newcastle.

Researchers were expecting to uncover around 100 sites during the project.

But by the time the project is finished, that number is projected to be closer to 500.

“We've only scratched the surface, we're doing more research to fill in more gaps and we're now coming to the view that frontier massacre was a characteristic of the frontier in Australia,” said Professor Lyndall Ryan who led the project.

The University of Newcastle's map
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The stage one research project started 12 months ago, and recorded 172 incidents across eastern Australia between 1788 and 1872.

The locations of the massacres have been recorded in an online map of Australia.

Since the project’s launch, the map has recorded more than 200,000 page views, with more than 400 comments offering information about sites not yet recorded on the map.

“Putting it all together, it's like knitting the evidence together, a bit like a jigsaw puzzle,” said Professor Lyndall Ryan.

“It's amazing how it all comes together as corroborative evidence, but if it doesn't come together, it doesn't get on the map.”

Professor Lyndall Ryan
Professor Lyndall Ryan.
SBS News

The project’s stage two update has added another 81 sites, extending the record to 1930 and incorporating South Australia and the Northern Territory for the first time.

Stage three aims to include sites in Western Australia and extend the record up to 1960.

“I think it gives a more complete picture of Australian history,” said John Maynard, another researcher on the project.

“It's not a one-sided history and the reality is we've got to recognise those aspects.

“It's not all rosy, but all aspects of history need to be told.”

University of Newcastle map

Uncle Max Harrison says the project was a good thing for Indigenous Australians.

“I feel that it should come out, I feel that it should be known and shown, the settlement of this country,” he said.

It's another chance to uncover more of Australia's colonial past.

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