A group of local Gamilaraay people and Moree Plains Shire Council are leading the way for reconciliation by working together to develop a memorial to acknowledge the Waterloo Creek Massacre.
On January 26 this year, the 179th anniversary of the Waterloo Creek Massacre, members of the Waterloo/Slaughterhouse Memorial Committee approached Moree mayor Katrina Humphries and director of planning and community development Angus Witherby about assisting them in recognising the massacre, otherwise known as the Slaughterhouse Creek Massacre.
There has since been two meetings between the committee and council, who, at their next meeting in a few weeks, will be formally signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which outlines what each party can and will do on this journey to acknowledge what took place at Waterloo Creek.
The MoU marks a significant step forward in reconciliation efforts around the country, being the first time a local government body has joined together with an Aboriginal group to acknowledge the reality of early settlement.
“We certainly see it as a real opportunity to achieve practical reconciliation and, more importantly, community healing,” Mr Witherby said.
“Many indigenous families are still greatly affected by what’s happened in the past to them and their ancestors.
“The driving force behind this is healing, predominantly for Gamilaraay but also for non-indigenous people.”
Over the next few months, council and Gamilaraay people will be conducting historical research to find out exactly what happened at Waterloo Creek on January 26, 1838 with the goal to erect a plaque at the location where the massacre occurred.
Council will be putting out a brochure calling for people to come forward with oral history stories passed down from the generations about what happened at Waterloo Creek.
One descendant of the Winagay mob killed at Slaughterhouse Creek, Paul Spearim has been a driving force behind the MoU and said the idea of the memorial is to highlight the real history and truth about colonial settlement.
“It’s important for all different nationalities to understand settlement in this country,” he said.
“It’s not about making people feel guilty, it’s just about understanding the reality that these events did happen. We want to make sure the story is told and not hidden anymore.
“We’re moving together, ourselves and council, in ensuring that the site where the massacre took place, will have plaques and other things that make the site more identifiable to the public to look at it and understand that this is part of Australian history, let alone local indigenous history.
“In the long term, it’ll bring the Moree community and Gamilaraay people together.”
Mr Spearim said there are plans for the Waterloo Creek site to be used for educating children and the community about what happened as part of a broader cultural understanding of Gamilaraay and colonial history.
“The long-term goal is for Aboriginal people to be employed on a full-time basis as guides where they take you out to Waterloo Creek and Myall Creek and tell the story of what happened,” he said.
Mr Spearim believes about 200-300 Aboriginal people were killed by police at Waterloo Creek, as opposed to the 50 that most history records state.
“There was an inquiry into the event in 1839 which found no-one at fault; all charges were dismissed,” Mr Spearim said.
“We’re trying to find out why there weren’t any criminal charges laid and the exact number of Gamilaroi people that were massacred.”
The MoU will be a living document and will be renogotiated as the project evolves. This is just one step on a long journey to reconciliation but one that all parties see as a positive one.
If you are a descendant of the perpetrators or victims of the Waterloo Creek Massacre, or have any information about what happened, contact Angus Witherby at Moree Plains Shire Council on 6757 3222.