Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle has declared he’s had enough of the unhappy campers occupying the City Square and that they should pack up their tents and go. Just how much time the occupiers have left before Doyle instructs the police to evict them is unknown at this stage (”I would think days,” he said), but if history is any guide, they may have reason to hope for a stay of execution.
Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were among 16 Tasmanian Aborigines who were brought to Melbourne in 1839 by the protector of Aborigines, George Robinson, to “civilise” the Victorian Aborigines.
In late 1841, the two men and three women, stole two guns and waged a six-week guerilla-style campaign in the Dandenongs and on the Mornington Peninsula, burning stations and killing two sealers.
They were charged with murder and tried in Melbourne. Their defence counsel was Redmond Barry, who questioned the legal basis of British authority over Aborigines. (Thirty-nine years later, Barry would sentence Ned Kelly to hang.)
The women were acquitted and the men found guilty, although the jury made a plea for clemency on account of the “peculiar circumstances”.
Judge Willis ignored the request and the men were hanged in front of 5000 people — a quarter of Victoria’s white population — from gallows erected on a small rise near what is now the corner of Bowen and Franklin streets. Their bodies are buried under the Queen Victoria Market.
167 years later, in June 2008, the Melbourne City Council Community Services Committee agreed to consider establishing a memorial to Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner. Despite Robert Doyle voicing public support for the project in January 2009, over three years later, the Committee is still wondering what to do.
The moral of this story? Possession is 9/10 of the law.
The best way [to procure a run] is to go outside and take up a new run, provided the conscience of the party is sufficiently seared to enable him without remorse to slaughter natives left and right. It is universally and distinctly understood that the chances are very small indeed of a person taking up a new run being able to maintain possession of his place and property without having recourse to such means – sometimes by wholesale . . . (9 December 1839)