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After the massacre



Myall Creek NSW


after the massacre

when we wake to truths

that make our hearts beat fast

walk the blood-red gravel track

that draws us down

to write the story on our heart

needled on our skin

to pin our bones into its frame


and stand

with Milton's fear

for blindness and denial

then grope and touch

the blood-stained earth

with spines of ironbark

and smell the stench of burnt flesh

where only eucalypts should waft


we weep


then truth that quickens

our nation's gut

stirs the country's womb unbirthed

in all its wrench of birthing pangs

rips and tears at every sinew


all we know

there is no going back




in search of history

'did we not know their blood channeled our rivers' — Judith Wright


how do you remember

a day that history clouded

smothered in bleached blankets

and bundled into recesses

dark alcove corners of our nation's history

and dared anyone to lurk there?


know trojan horses

stand all over our country

with their story inside

that bursts to be told

side by side

with every town's war memorial


we go in search of one of those stories


you don't find this place by accident

it's a journey from the coast

drive inland, west as we say

step off your veranda

away from safety and comfort of home.


Myall Creek Reserve

a picnic area to enjoy lunch

and cuppa from our new thermos

no corner shop for many a mile.


the occupants here are stringy barks

eucalypts and grass trees

magpies sing nearby

waiting for our leftovers

and above a solitary blue King-fisher

in the tenement of a large ironbark


a peacefulness halos us

in the distance sheep graze

in a patch of irrigated green

cattle munch


the blood-red gravel path walks us

the Myall Creek Memorial Way

as pilgrims we read each plaque

bow our heads remember

through tears I notice mica glint

from the stunning granite stones

that hold the stations of the story


here is the place of a massacre

finally acknowledged named dated

clutched out of the recesses of memory

and into history


tiny wrens flicker the scrub like sparks of sapphire

ants are at a frenzy

moving thousands of tiny rounded pebbles


the smell of gun powder,

screams of mothers and children

amidst the stringy barks and brown grasslands

above the flowing creek

has stilled

smell of burning flesh is hard to forget

yet when history bursts forth

the birthing pangs sated

trojan horses whimper and collapse




shared history

'History despite its wrenching pain

cannot be unlived,

but if faced with courage,

need not be lived again' — Maya Angelo


there's something in the shining light

that lends itself to thoughts of hope

perhaps it is a brashness — the way it glows

so cheerfully in this cloudless winter time

perhaps the way it dresses up the land

catches blue kingfishers on their wing

festoons the leaves the rocks the trees


today it lights the darkest claw of time

burns away clouds of brutal wrong

touches blood-stained earth

of blame of shame

too long consumed

too many years too many tears


one hundred and eighty years on

we walk the Myall Creek Memorial Way

the light plays the red gravel of it's track

and flickers on tiny wrens in nearby scrub


there's a quietness amidst our camaraderie

swish of ropes yells grapple of chains

are stilled now

murdering rage and gall are quieted

smell of gun powder spent

yet screams that cried that stark cold night

still sigh amidst the sway

of stringy bark and eucalypt


there's something in the shining light

that lends itself to thoughts of hope

perhaps it is the cleansing smoke the way

we catch the mica glint on granite stone

and how we stop and read and bow our heads

no longer in the blinding dark and listen

to a peoples heart and our shared history



Colleen KeatingColleen Keating is a Sydney poet. Her latest work, A Poetic Journey, based on the life of Hildegard of Bingen and published by Ginninderra Press, will be launched in mid August 2019.

The Myall Creek Massacre Memorial Ceremony will be held on site on Sunday 9 June 2019.

Topic tags: Colleen Keating, poetry, Myall Creek



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Existing comments

Thanks Colleen, we've walked that walk and stood in that place too, and wondered how could it ever have happened. And wondered too how he who organised it could her got off scot free while those who perpetrated were, at least, held responsible.

Ginger Meggs | 03 June 2019  

Brilliantly moving. Thank you Colleen.

Pauline | 04 June 2019  

Thank you, Colleen, for expressing our horror at the warped minds that perpetrated such violent deeds at this and many other massacres of the innocent First Australians. We also give thanks for those courageous descendants of both the perpetrators and the victims who had the foresight 20 years ago to remember the evil act in such a moving annual commemoration. Sorry that I can't be there this year.

Doug Hewitt | 04 June 2019  

I was very moved by the poems. Along with commemorating the horror of the Myall Creek massacre annually, surely we can also find space to celebrate the cultural achievement of Governor Gipps' and Catholic J H Plunkett's dogged pursuit of applying the rule of law for the first time to such a crime? That was a truly significant moment in indigenous-European relations in colonial Australia. The proposed cultural centre at Myall Creek could surely do this achievement justice by commemorating Plunkett especially, and Gipps too, in some visible monument to act as inspiration for the future.

Christopher Clancy | 05 June 2019  

I think we need to be very careful about perpetuating inaccurate and partial historical truth in legend, song and poetry, Colleen, because it can block the way to reconciliation and moving on. One of the unprecedented contemporary aftermaths of this atrocious massacre is that seven colonists were hanged for their participation in this crime: it was no Glencoe, which gained no justice for the victims. I remember, in regard to another massacre, this time on the SA/NT border, descendants of the Aboriginal victims and police met for a very moving forgiving and reconciliation ceremony. This is the way we need to go: actions, not words.

Edward Fido | 10 June 2019  

Yes Christopher, I agree wholeheartedly. And not forgetting the courageous Denny Day (see his life and times by Terry Smyth). He was the vicar’s son from Ireland and local policeman, who tracked the murderers and brought them to justice - fittingly for the times, at the end of a rope. The State of Florida in the US executed its first white man for murdering an African American in August 2017! (The State has been executing scores of African Americans for decades). It gives me some comfort, thinking about this horrific massacre, that 180 years earlier in NSW, men like Gipps, Plunkett and Denny Day believed that black lives matter. Mike

mike kelly | 11 June 2019  

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