Massacre at Orara River

From Reference 12

'Do we shoot them? Of course we do ... There is only one way to keep the beggars down: When they commit a murder, pay them out for it in their own coin' was the response offered by one of the officers who killed seven men, four women and five children in the Clarence River district of New South Wales in 1845. Their only crime had been the theft of a few sheep.

Near Grafton on the northern New South Wales coast some troopers came upon a large number of Aboriginal people camped beside the Orara River. The troopers opened fire indiscriminately. The crime once again had been cattle stealing. A local squatter grimly reported later that 'their dead bodies subsequently floated down past the Settlement'.

Also see Reference 28

After Pagan was speared when shooting those who took blankets

Reference 9

An explosive mood was developing. The flashpoint came at Tabulam. 'At this time,' Bawden remarked, 'every man carried a musket wherever he went.' While Pagan's workers were struggling to haul equipment across the river, someone reported the theft of blankets outside an unfinished hut. Impulsively Pagan ordered them to ride after the thieves.

'They immediately started on the tracks, but without ammunition, except what was in the guns,' Bawden continued. 'Coming over a hill they found themselves within two or three hundred yards of the blacks' camp. Mr. Pagan, being in advance, immediately fired the only shot he had, and then seized the gun of one of the men who accompanied him and fired it also. The party then turned away when a blackfellow, who was concealed behind a tree, threw a boomerang which killed Pagan. Upon reaching the hut, the whole party, consisting of eight men, got all the sheep into one flock, and barricaded themselves in the hut, although theIr number was ample to drive off 500 blacks.'

Pagan's body was left in the bush.

Next day one of the men rode for the police post just set up at Red Rock, five miles downriver from Smith's Flat. It was an eighty-mile journey, and took two days and a night. Major Oakes saddled up immediately and led a party of eight horsemen north. Among them were one of the Mylnes, Robert Walker of Newbold, Grose's manager Alfred Lardner, and ´╗┐some ex-convict police. They reached the Ogilvies the first night, camping on Yulgilbar Reach.

Here they heard that a hutkeeper had been murdered out in the hills. This was a young Englishman, who had been asking to leave for a long while, only to be put off by Edward. Oakes swore in everyone present as special constables led them on a fruitless chase through the back country, flushing out nothing but emus and kangaroos, then made for Tabulam.

They arrived to find Pagan's men still barricaded in that hut. Their attackers had long ago vanished. For three days they followed tracks through the bush until both men and horses were exhausted. Edward then rode back to Swanlea for reinforcements. Finally Oakes was given a report of a tribal party seen building gunyahs some miles out from Yulgilbar. Assuming these to be the killers, Bawden wrote, Oakes called a conference beside that tranquil reach. He continued:

'It was decided as no one knew the ground well, that they should start at 3 a.m., one section proceeding down the river bank the other inland within hail of each other; another to the head of the valley where the blacks had been seen; the intention being for the river party to drive the blacks up the valley, and the valley party to intercept them. At daybreak they were taken by surprise, but took to the river. On the valley party reaching the scene, several of the blacks were seen to have been shot, while a New Zealander, the police flogger, tomahawked all he could get at-young or old. Nothing was found in the camp belonging to the murdered man. One of the policemen and two of Pagan's men then went to follow up the tracks of another party of blacks. On the second morning suddenly rounding a cliff on Rocky Creek, they found themselves between two camps. The policeman dashed through, firing right and left with a double-barreled gun, while his companions bolted and reported the policeman killed. Much to their surprise he returned to the station next day, having single-handed driven off the blacks. and recovered Pagan's hat out of the camp. Such is the difference between a brave man and a coward. At this time, such was the dread of firearms among the blacks, there is little doubt that three determined men, who did not fire except in self-defence, would have been able to disperse 100 blacks' (Ref 29).

'Instead of dispersing them, these men had given way to desperate panic. According to Major Oakes' rather confused report, eight Aborigines were killed. When their comrades fled to Ramornie, Dobie's homestead was attacked three nights in succession and a hundred and fifty sheep slaughtered. Oakes then wrote of a great number of Aborigines discovered on the Orara River nearby. 'A cordon was formed during the night, hemming the camp in, with the river behind it. At a given signal at daybreak, the camp was rushed and men, women and children were shot down indiscriminately. Some took to the river, and were shot as they swam. Their dead bodies subsequently floated down past the Settlement[Grafton].'

An appalling fact was soon to be revealed. Had McDonald troubled to ask the right questions, he might have discovered that the Swanlea hutkeeper had not been murdered by Aborigines at all. 'It turned out afterwards,' Bawden said, 'that the man was probably killed by a fellow servant. But, as any proceedings would have entailed a journey to Sydney, the matter was not investigated, and the suspected person leaving the district soon afterwards, no more was heard of it, and no inquiry held.'

It was the tragedy of Myall Creek all over again.