The Elliston Massacre
Elliston also features the largest mural in the southern hemisphere, covering 500 square meters. The mural was painted by local artists and community members.
The area was first described by Matthew Flinders in his ship log in 1802 - and subsequently explored further.
The area was further explored in 1840 by Edward Eyre on a journey to Western Australia. The township didn't acquire its name until 1878 when Governor Jervois noted it on a regional map.
The township in the late 1800s was a small, mainly fishing community, surrounded by farming land.
Many small indigenous mobs also called this area home, and camped on the outskirts of the small town as they moved between ancient tribal sites, little did they know they would play such a large part in this communities dark disturbing future...
In 1836, of the settlers who came to South Australia, some made their way onto the Eyre Peninsula to the vast fertile soils. Some of the European settlers decided the land in the area we now call Elliston was sufficient for settlement, farming and fishing. So they made plans to start their small community.
A mob of about two hundred Indigenous people lived on the outskirts of Elliston. Two young Aboriginal hunters went about the business of bringing food back to the tribe. On their journey, they came across a farm where sheep were being kept. Upon their arrival at the farm, the farmer who owned the property arrived home and took note of the two Aboriginal hunters. On the next day, after the usual counting of heads of sheep, the farmer noted four sheep had gone missing. He linked the missing sheep to the two Aboriginal hunters he had seen the day before and reported the missing sheep and the two hunters to the local police.
Local police troopers descended upon the camp of the closest Aboriginal mob and began asking who stole the sheep from the farmer the day before. The Elders replied that no one had taken any sheep. The policeman was suspicious and asked; “Who went out hunting yesterday?”
The mob named the two men, knowing they had done no wrong, and told the police trooper they came back with a wombat and a kangaroo. The officer suspected the Aboriginal elders were protecting their hunters by lying about the sheep. He arrested the two hunters, who spoke no English and locked them in the gaol.
Weeks later a judge was sent from Adelaide for the trial of the two hunters, which was held in a large barn in Elliston. The Aboriginal hunter's mob stood outside in the dark, watching through holes in the walls and through tiny windows, listening as their hunters were accused.
The hunters, who spoke no English, professed their innocence in their native tongue. The hunters told the judge they hunted wombat and kangaroo, but the judge couldn’t understand them and said, “Hang them! Give them an example. Show them what will happen if they steal again!”
The townsfolk took the two Aboriginal hunters and hung them that night in the centre of town. The two bodies were left swaying all the next day as a warning to the Aboriginal people. The Mob wept and mourned their lost family members and the next night cut them down and took them away to bury them in their own tribal custom. Whilst some of the tribe cut the young men down, others sneaked through the town to the building where the Judge was sleeping, they coaxed him from his slumber with a "whoobu-whoobie" ( An Aboriginal device that can sound like a horse neighing, or a dog growling) and knocked him unconscious.
They then hung the white judge from the very spot he had hung the Aboriginal hunters.
The next morning, when the townsfolk found the judge hanging, the town banded together and formed a posse. The local police trooper rounded up horsemen from farms and told the local farmers of the Judge's demise.
The posse rode to the Aboriginal camp and herded the tribe, men, women and children, together, any that tried to escape were shot, whipped or beat with sticks. The posse herded the tribe to the local cliffs and forced them off the side to their deaths.
Only four Aboriginals from the tribe survived the brutal justice of the townsfolk. Three teenagers, one girl, two boys and a baby. The baby survived by its mother taking the full impact of the fall. The teenagers that survived lay quiet and still, waiting for some time as the white men at the top of the cliff looked for survivors to kill. Eventually, the posse moved on and the children made their escape down the beach towards Streaky Bay.
The news of the massacre spread swiftly among the indigenous mobs and they began to flee the area towards Talewan, and the Gawler Ranges, not wanting to suffer a similar fate at the hands of the merciless white folk of Elliston.
History repeats, and within ten years, the townsfolk of Elliston, repeated their horrible massacre of more local Aboriginal tribes near the local "sweep holes", for very similar reasons to the first massacre. After the second massacre, no Aboriginal people have ever lived in Elliston.
It was well documented that when a farmer killed his sheep in the town, the Aboriginal mobs would collect the guts and whatever was left and use it for their own purposes, if there was no food from their own local resources around.
The only evidence the Police had against the two hunters was tracks in the scrub.
It wasn't until many years later that the Aboriginal men were proven to be innocent, two white men admitted to stealing the sheep to start their own farm in a near-by town. The two Aboriginal men were hung for no reason, and a whole innocent tribe was put to death for the death of one man, who had not given a fair trial to a fellow human being.
Local legends persist, and amongst Mobs in the area, the place is considered cursed. It is said that amongst the cliffs where the Aboriginal Mob fell to their deaths, that at times, their voices, screams and cries can be heard. Reports of phantoms have also been made near the cliffs and near the sweep holes.
Iris Burgoyne: The Mirning - We are the whales - publshed by Magabala books
Black armband Blogspot
Elliston Community Website
Across the bar to Waterloo bay: Elliston 1878 - 1978. - Compiled by the Elliston book commitee
A special Thank you to Andrew Brown who reminded me of this story!
Original story written Dec 6. 2011
Edited 31/1/2012: © 2013 -Allen Tiller