Dispossession and Violence: A brief note on the Newcastle-Lake Macquarie region in the 1820s-1830s.
by Greg Blyton
Withstanding the immense misconceptions within Australian historiography in relation to Indigenous people is a reality. This reality concerns a determined people who defended their heritage, land and waterways in the Hunter region against British colonization throughout the 19th century. British occupation occurred in this region primarily along the waterways including the Hunter River and Lake Macquarie and at each point of initial contact there was a reliance on military force to dispossess Indigenous people.
Commencing at the mouth of the Hunter River in 1804 with the establishment of a penal settlement, colonization slowly extended along this waterway to around Maitland until the Hunter Valley was opened up for civilian occupation following the transfer of the colony to Port Macquarie during the 1820s. The period from 1822 to 1826 saw the land, waterways and lives of Indigenous people along the Hunter River, come under direct threat from British colonists with the occupation of Crown Land Grants. These grants amounted to over half a million acres and nearly 1,000 colonists became landowners in the Hunter Valley under English Common Law. When the British began occupying these Crown Land Grants conflict erupted with Indigenous people who actively defended themselves and their land against invaders who would not share resources and abused the women.
A petition was presented to Governor Ralph Darling in August 1826 from British occupants along the Hunter River requesting military assistance to combat resistance by Indigenous people. Darling responded to perceived aggressions by Indigenous people by sending in military forces to 'oppose force with force' and instructed the civilian sector to use force if necessary against Indigenous people who followed the Governor's order. The official record stated that four Indigenous men were shot under military escort while attempting to escape and several more were gaoled during this period. Around the same time in 1826 the evangelical missionary Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld at Lake Macquarie wrote of a "war" which commenced against the Aborigines of the local Hunter River districts.
At Lake Macquarie conflict with Indigenous people wasevident in the early 1830s when more colonists came to the region and began occupying Crown Land Grants around the lake shores. Once more Indigenous people actively defended themselves and their land from the invaders and as was the case with the Hunter River landholders, the colonists requested military assistance to counter Indigenous resistance. Once again the Governor sent in military forces and in the official record state several Aboriginal people are shot and gaoled.
As a result there is a truth within the history of Australia over the past two hundred years that Indigenous people were overthrown by military conquest along the Hunter River and Lake Macquarie. Lands were taken from Indigenous people by force and the days of native people paddling their canoes along the majestic waterways of the Hunter River and Lake Macquarie were gone. While diseases such as smallpox had a significant part in the decline of native populations in NSW, Indigenous peoples also died from violent conflict during the British occupation of their land and waterways. This is clearly the case along the Hunter River and at Lake Macquarie.
The truth of Australia's ancient social history is very important to the future of this nation. This concerns the reconciliation of the past and the acceptance that while tribal life disappeared at the end of the nineteenth century native people survived to face a future unlike any their ancestors could ever have imagined. It is important for a country to acknowledge the past, not to only enjoy its proud deeds, but to accept the misfortunes of the past and grow from this acquiescence. Australia must learn to nurture tolerance and understanding, embrace reconciliation and forgiveness and in the process enrich the national identity and future of this land. It is too late to change the past, but it is not too late to acknowledge this truth.