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My family connection to Aboriginal genocide

  • 30 April 2013

In 2012, I began to write a memoir of my active involvement in support of the rights of Indigenous Australians and I have been seeking information about the Kamilaroi people who were part of my growing up in the NSW country towns of Werris Creek and Walgett.

Kamilaroi traditional country roughly covers the New England district where many of my forebears lived and I sought information on massacres that have been documented regarding Kamilaroi people.

These include the Waterloo Creek massacre on the Gwydir River in January 1838 where troops and stockmen under the command of Major James Nunn massacred up to 200 Kamilaroi people over a number of days.

In June 1838 a party of convicts and former convicts led by a settler murdered over 40 Kamilaroi people camped peaceably on Myall Creek Station. They were executed by gun and sabre and most victims were beheaded.

An account by historian Lyndall Ryan of Newcastle University, 'A Very Bad Business': Henry Dangar and the Myall Creek Massacre 1838 reveals that those responsible returned the next day to murder 12 people absent on the first occasion. Seven of the 12 men charged with the crime were hanged.

In my research into the New England area, I came across Bluff Rock: Autobiography of a Massacre written by Katrina Schlunke (Curtin University Books 2005). Schlunke is unknown to me but she is my cousin by birth. She discusses two books of the local history genre written by her aunt Genevieve Newbury, Mother of Ducks and Echoes on the Wind. The books make a number of references to my father, grandfather and great grandparents.

Under the heading 'The Pioneering Families of New England', Schlunke reveals that the children of John Eckersley Newbury and Bridget Newbury owned 18 pastoral leases in New England with names like Snowflake, Ward's Mistake and Deepwater. I was gobsmacked to learn that my great-grandfather was a convict and a squatter.

I wondered how he had progressed so well from his convict beginnings. So, I sought to gain a profile of his life.

John Eckersley Newbury (1820–1900) was born in Manchester, England, and he worked as an errand boy. In 1838, he stole a pair of boots and lead from a roof. He was sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia.

He arrived in Sydney on the John Berry on 22 March 1839. He had one attribute that many did not — he could read and write. By 1850, he