One man’s healing

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Tim Burder is a Victorian-based photographer currently putting together a collaborative art project to photograph and exhibit some of the many landscapes where massacres of Aboriginal people were perpetrated. These photos will each be exhibited with an audio recording of the story of the massacre told by descendants. This is the story of Tim Burder’s personal reconciliation project, the Healing Ground project.

On Halloween, the 31st of October, 2013, my son Max and I travelled from the Bundjalung National Park on the coast to Inverell in northern NSW. It took a few hours of driving through coastal cane fields then the tableland’s national parks and pastoral country. It was a pleasant sunny day and not too humid as we climbed the hills. Max was reading Lord of the Rings and I was listening to the ABC.

Two interviews stood out for me on this day, given that, by sunset, I wanted us to visit the Myall Creek Massacre Memorial park. The first was an interview with an illustrator/author who had recently produced a book about the mythical stockman, Banjo Patterson’s Clancy of the Overflow. The other of an author who’d just produced a book about stockmen. Both people talked about the “stockman” concept in glowing Australian hero terms, as a military historian would talk about the Anzac ‘spirit’. I noticed among other terms interspersed there, “Quintessentially Australian”, “Aussie Battler”, “Pioneer Spirit” et cetera.

The Myall Creek killings and other massacres of Aboriginal men, women and children tell a different story about the “settlement” of this land as revealed on the plaque at Myall Creek:

“On 10 June 1838, a gang of stockmen led by a squatter rode into Myall Creek Station and brutally murdered about twenty-eight unarmed women, children and old men. The younger Wirrayaraay men were away cutting bark on a neighbouring station. Eleven of the twelve men who carried out the massacre were arrested, tried and acquitted. In a second trial seven of them were found guilty and executed. The squatter involved was never brought to trial. This was the first time that white men had been executed for murdering Aboriginal people. However this did not end the massacres. They continued throughout the continent, often unreported, until the 1920s.”

I wasn’t always so aware of my country’s sometimes violent past; my eyes were opened in 2001 when my family and I visited Warmun in the Kimberly region of Western Australia where I came across a painting by a local artist. The painting was of the Mistake Creek Massacre landscape. As a landscape photographer I felt that I wanted to honour that place and its story.

In 2010, Tony Abbott, now the Prime Minister of Australia, said that the Acknowledgement of Traditional Owners statement at the start of official government events was tokenistic.

The name of my project is Healing Ground and its purpose is to dispel any myths about how we non-indigenous Australians have come to enjoy the benefits of this country. Its purpose is to instill in the audience a sense of what it would mean to fully acknowledge history and the traditional owners of the country in which we live. The purpose is cultural reconciliation by facing up to our past.

I like to think that the true Australian “spirit”, if there actually is one, would be one where people can come together and co-operate. Where we can fully acknowledge our past and reconcile with those that have been treated unfairly. Where we fully respect each other’s differences in culture and as individuals and where we realise that we are actually all in this together.

By the way, apart from the odd British military mission in the first 50 years of settlement, most Australian massacres of the First Peoples seem to have been committed by settlers and stockmen.

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