Indigenous community remembers Flying Foam Massacre
A tragic chapter in North Western Australia’s history started over a stolen bag of flour, historians believe.
Dozens gathered at the site of the Flying Foam massacre, on the Burrup Peninsula near Karratha to mark its 150th anniversary, and to preserve the history of the area for future generations.
Up to 60 Yaburara people were killed at the site, in an area now globally recognised for its ancient rock art.
In 1868, settlers were sent out on killing expeditions along King Bay and Flying Foam Passage on the Burrup Peninsula after two police officers and a local workman were killed.
“It was a genocide really, a whole group was destroyed or nearly destroyed,” emeritus professor at the Australian National University (ANU) Ann Curthoys said.
“There may have been some survivors but it [the area] was virtually destroyed by these killings and by these events.”
The Burrup Peninsula is home to one of the world’s most significant collections of ancient Aboriginal rock engravings, but some believe it is under threatfrom erosion from surrounding industrial development.
There have been calls for the site to be World Heritage Listed.
Audrey Cosmos, a descendant of some of those killed, said the massacre was part of their history and it could not be forgotten.
She said she would like to see the area preserved for future generations to learn about the massacre.
“It falls under the National Heritage List … it’s important to have it preserved and protected,” she said.
“I wouldn’t want to see too much development here, you’re obviously not getting a lot of history from the plaque but if you had information here at the bay.
“We just need to all come together and make it happen.
“It was never really written about.”
WA massacre history not well known
Professor Curthoys said there had been more research conducted into Frontier Wars along the east coast of Australia than in the west.
“There’s just not been as much work done to uncover these stories; I think they’re [only] known in local communities,” she said.
City of Karratha Mayor Peter Long said the geography of the North West may be a factor.
“We’re very spread out, there’s only two million of us in a third of Australia here, that’s probably part of the problem,” he said.
“It’s a very significant event. We have to acknowledge that it happened.”
Mayor Long said the council had plans to build more shade and signage in the area.
Professor Curthoys said holding commemorative events was a good start.
“The fact that this 150th anniversary is happening is very significant; it’s part of a wave of recovery of knowledge,” she said.
Ms Cosmos said she was still learning about what happened to her ancestors, but there were gaps.
“A lot of this history of the massacre has been erased,” she said.
“I’ve done a lot of reading and research in the past year of the massacre that took place here … [in] one of the books, there were 10 pages missing — what happened to those pages?”
Historians still learning about massacre
Professor Curthoys said there was a lot of conflict between European settlers and Indigenous people at the time of the massacre.
“It was thought the killings started after someone stole some flour and was put in jail,” she said.
“That person was released from jail by some friends, who killed a policeman and two others in the process.
“The local administrator then sent out parties of people to search for the perpetrators.
“Really it was much more than that — they weren’t just there to look for the perpetrators, they were out to terrify the local population.”
Professor Curthoys said historians were still going through records to find the truth.
“It’s not well-marked in Australian history but I think that’s changing,” she said.
“What you’re getting now are various written accounts that are well-researched and telling the story, so I think this is changing and I think this commemoration itself will help achieve some of that change.”
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