Cathy Oke is a Councillor with the City of Melbourne where she has been a key advocate for the City’s recent decision to honour two Tasmanian Koori resistance fighters, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, who were publicly hanged in Melbourne seven years after Melbourne was colonised. The City’s decision comes after recent calls for Aboriginal resistance fighters to be commemorated at the Australian War Memorial.

Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were the first people hanged in Melbourne, found guilty by a court for the murder of two whalers in Western Port, in an apparent act of resistance to settlement and colonisation. This was January 20 1842, seven years after Melbourne was colonised.

Their execution was the biggest story of the day when it took place, with the backdrop of the subjugation of Tasmanian Aboriginal people. It is a complex story to unravel; and one that I was not aware of when I was first elected a Councillor at the City of Melbourne despite its significance in the history of Melbourne.

Why isn’t theirs a story more people are familiar with?

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We all know the story of Ned Kelly, of John Batman or Burke and Wills; but for most of us, our understanding of Indigenous history during colonial times is poor.

Six years on, I’m pleased to have advocated on behalf of a very committed group who have worked tirelessly for their story to be remembered in a meaningful way.

The City of Melbourne has recently published a research paper commissioned to examine the lives of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, their historical significance and the context of the times. Councillors have unanimously agreed to have a permanent marker placed at the site of their public execution on Franklin Street near the Old Melbourne Gaol.

Another important part of Council’s commitment is to have a ‘living’ memorial – such as a heritage walking tour, a performance piece or other activity to educate the community. What shape these permanent and living memorials take is yet to be determined, with options to be presented to Council in April this year.

Hopefully, these small, but important, steps will help keep this part of our history alive in our collective conscience.

The City of Melbourne is committed to making Indigenous history accessible, discussed and discovered. That’s why we have developed an Indigenous Heritage Action Plan as part of Council’s Reconciliation Action Plan to promote relationships, respect and creating opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Change can be incremental, but it’s my hope that the story of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner will be remembered, discussed, debated and celebrated.

In that spirit, over the next few weeks we will be celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and culture in a big way in the city.

From the 5th – 16th February Melbourne will showcase and explore a diverse program of art – from literature to dance at the Melbourne Indigenous Art Festival.

The program is spectacular, offering something for everybody. I hope to see you there.

While you are checking out the program online and planning your festival, I’d encourage anyone with an interest in Aboriginal heritage to read the Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener research paper, available from the Melbourne City Council website and share it with others.