• The plaque at Blackmans Point doesn't mention the massacre of hundreds of Aboriginal people 200 years ago. (NITV: Shahni Wellington)Source: NITV: Shahni Wellington
With the support of the local council, Traditional Owners are now closer to having the brutal deaths of hundreds of Aboriginal men, women and babies at Blackmans Point formally recognised.
Shahni Wellington

The Point
8 Jun 2021 - 3:31 PM  UPDATED 8 Jun 2021 - 4:15 PM

Birpai people have told the dark history of what happened at Blackmans Point, near Port Macquarie, for generations. 

They speak of the atrocities that took place on this beautiful country; around 300 men, women and children massacred in 1826.

The story has been passed down through word-of-mouth, a traditional oral documentation that has served First Nations peoples across this land for millennia. 

For Birpai and Dhanggati woman and member of the Guulaguba Barray Aboriginal Corporation, Aunty Rhonda Radley, the pain of her murdered ancestors is still felt - but it's been a long journey for the wider public to acknowledge what has always been truth within her community. 

"Through history there’s always been wars… there’s been killings, bad business has happened," Ms Radley told NITV. 

"Just because it’s in your backyard, you don’t [choose to] not believe it or not connect with it or bury it."

"Why don't they believe us?"

Blackmans Point is a picturesque part of the New South Wales coastline where the Hastings River meets the sea.

For five decades now, Aunty Rhonda's family have been campaigning to have the ugly past formally recognised.

It includes an on-going application to have the site registered as an Aboriginal place with Heritage New South Wales.

In 1967, as Australia voted in favour of recognising Aboriginal citizens in the census, Aunty Rhonda's grandfather, Uncle Guula, approached the local council for formal recognition of the massacre.

The request was never fulfilled. 

"In our ways, you tell that story enough through the generations and that's all the proof that you need - that's truth," Aunty Rhonda said.

"So to say now, we have to have a piece of paper?

"Part of me (accepts that) because I'm a researcher - But the other part of me goes, 'No, they should just believe us, why don't they believe us?" she asked.

More than fifty years later, Aunty Rhonda believes it's time - and the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council has had a change of heart. 

'Start the healing process'

For the first time, the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council has indicated it is ready to move forward in an era of truth-telling. 

Speaking to NITV's The Point, new chief executive officer, Dr Clare Allen, said one of the council's key priorities is to make sure their story is told. 

"Our job is to actually tell the story and if the Indigenous people want that story told, and it's part of the healing and reconciliation, then I think that is a good thing - we're on this journey together," Dr Allen said. 

"So for me it is a real good opportunity for us to start the healing process."

The council is consulting with and taking direction from Birpai traditional owners on how to formally acknowledge the massacre.

A plaque acknowledging Country was erected at Blackmans Point by the council 40 years after the original request by Uncle Guula - but made no mention of the atrocities or the massacre. 

As time continues to pass, many family members who were on the forefront of the campaign for recognition have died.

Birpai Elder, Uncle Billo Holten, has had his ashes spread at the Point - and Rhonda Radley and her family are determined to give all of their ancestors the closure they deserve. 

Documented in film

A major catalyst in the support for recognition was a short documentary made on Port Macquarie's "most violent historical event."

'Blackmans Point Massacre' premiered in April, hearing from Birpai people and examining the long journey to have the massacre formally acknowledged. 

The project was in conjunction with company Big Mob Films, working with Birpai youth to document the stories of their Elders.

According to documentary producer, Sam Mehan, the massacre was a re-occurring topic with the old people.

"That was the one that kept coming to the forefront, so it felt important then to follow through on that and bring it to life," Mr Mehan said. 

Interviews for the film began in 2015 and was assisted to completion this year by the Port Macquarie-Hasting Council.

“The soldiers got round the blacks and shot a great many of them, captured a lot of women and used them for an immoral purpose and then shot them.”

The documentary featured Professor Lyndall Ryan, who created the Colonial Frontier Massacre Map Project. 

The professor is working with the Birpai people to collate more 'western' proof of Blackmans Point Massacre. 

The massacre is not yet included in the formal map, and there remains uncertainty about the number of people killed.

Modern processes do not favour cultural methods of documenting such a traumatic event, despite having journal entries from 1889 that support the history.  

Written evidence from the journal of Henry Lewis Wilson, relays a story of a bloody confrontation at Blackmans Point.

It reads “The soldiers got round the blacks and shot a great many of them, captured a lot of women and used them for an immoral purpose and then shot them.”

Sam Mehan said the community is more determined to collect what is required, so they are able to move forward and heal.

"We've got to find this truth, you know, we owe it to our old fellas to find that evidence."

Catch the full story tonight on The Point 730pm Live on NITV.