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Issue #1716      January 27, 2016

Hanged warriors are not forgotten

The treatment of fallen Tasmanian Aboriginal warriors Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner is just as relevant today as it was when they were publicly executed amid carnival-like fanfare in 1842, according to artist Paola Balla. She’s curating Executed in Franklin Street, an exhibition of paintings, writings, video and photography relating to the warriors now on show in the Melbourne Town Hall.

Joseph Toscano (left) and Robbie Thorpe in 2012 calling for a memorial for the first people hanged in Melbourne. (Photo: Angela Wylie)

In what will be a national first, the Melbourne City Council has announced it will also fund a major memorial to the pair. Artists Brook Andrew and Trent Walter have been selected to create the monument, titled Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner. When completed, it will be first major memorial to the “Frontier Wars” in an Australian city.

Documents record 16 Tasmanian Aborigines were taken to Melbourne by “Protector of Aborigines” George Augustus Robinson in 1839, to help “rein in” Victorian Aboriginal people.

Five of the party, including Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, absconded and became resistance fighters. In 1842 the pair were tried and convicted of the murder of two whalers in south-east Victoria. It is understood the whalers were killed as revenge for abducting and murdering Aboriginal people in Tasmania.

At the trial questions of sovereignty, jurisdiction and treaty were raised.

The warriors were tried with three women, Truganini, Planobeena and Pyterruner, who were acquitted and returned to Tasmania.

Sentenced to death, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner’s execution was the first public one in Melbourne. It was the leading news of the day, with between 4,000 and 5,000 people, mainly women and children, reportedly turned out for the spectacle. The scene was described as resembling a racecourse rather than an execution.

“These men were treated like animals on display,” Paola Balla, a Wemba-Wemba and Gunditjmara woman, said. “This was the first major case of [an Aboriginal] death in custody that we know about. For me it wasn’t an historical story, it’s a story of now.

“That callousness and that indifference to Aboriginal suffering, not connecting emotionally. I think it has just continued. You can see it in the race hate that’s coming out at our people now with the protests over forced [community] closures.”

Ms Balla refers to the 1842 execution as terrorism; authorities wanted other black people to see what would happen if they defended their country.

The push for the recognition of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner started in 2006 when a group of 11 gathered for a commemoration, after Melbourne man Joe Toscano read the story of the pair in a second hand bookstore.

Soon after, a committee was formed to campaign for the memorial and momentum has grown over the years. Dr Toscana even stood as lord mayor to draw attention to the campaign. He said the Melbourne memorial should act as a template for activists around Australia to emulate. “It is important for us as a nation and a people to ensure these struggles are acknowledged and remembered,” he said.

“For far too long· Australians have focused on remembering the exploits of troops fighting other people’s wars in distant lands.”

At noon on January 20 there was a gathering on the corner Bowen and Franklin streets, Melbourne, the site where Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were hanged, followed by a commemorative walk to the site at Queen Victoria Market where they are purported to be buried. Speakers included Caroline Briggs and Gary Foley.

Dr Toscana asked participants to bring flowers, as on Anzac or Remembrance Day. Speeches were broadcast live on Radio 3CR.

Executed in Franklin Street runs until February 1.

Koori Mail

Next article – “A better world is possible” – Final Declaration of the 33rd Southern Cross Brigade

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