Elliston recognises Aboriginal massacre and leads reconciliation in Australia

For over a year the small fishing community of Elliston on South Australia's west coast was divided over the use of the term 'massacre' on a monument commemorating the murder of up to 200 Wirangu people in 1849 by colonial settlers.

"Now we have four Aboriginal boys playing for Elliston this year, winning the premiership! That's what it has done for the community."

Wirangu people have fought for many years for a memorial, but it came to fruition when the Elliston council opted to build a coastal walking trail along the same cliffs where the Wirangu were murdered.

"If it wasn't for a little thing like a coastal walking trail we wouldn't have this thing that traditional owners have been waiting a 169 years for," Elliston District Council chairman Kym Callaghan said.

"It's accidentally brought an enormous amount of reconciliation and healing to a small place like Elliston."

In the eyes of Labor Senator Pat Dodson, a key member of the reconciliation movement, the Elliston community's acknowledgement of the past is historic.

"This is an absolutely significant moment for Australia," he said.

A local community — the leadership at the local level — acknowledging a local, historical injustice that took place and moving to rectify it has huge consequences for the national understanding of the reconciliation movement.

"This is an example where the two groups of people have come together, created something to recognise what did take place and have a resolve to move forward and endeavouring to create a new future and new space."

A century of hurt

Older generations of the Wirangu community share the same story of a lengthy detour around Elliston families would take to drive between Port Lincoln and Ceduna.

The detour would add an hour to the already four hour drive.

"As a kid we weren't allowed to come through Elliston or Streaky Bay to get to Port Lincoln," said Wirangu Elder Peter Miller.

"My old man never took me through Elliston, my father couldn't come near Elliston, my mother too.

With the opening the memorial, this has changed.

"Now as his son, to be here, I can feel his pain, but I am also looking forward with the community members here."

"You look around now — you see black and white people here, together," Mr Johncock added.

Senator Dodson attended the memorial's opening ceremony.

"To hear the stories of people that are from this country, knowing that this had been a place of sadness and atrocities and not wanting to come here, driving around it," he said.

"Yet today, because of the hard effort of the council, and the leadership and the council, there is a healing of that.

"People are quite happy to come here and to celebrate not only the monument, but to look forward to the future."

"We look forward today we see and we feel change — change is happening for the better," Wirangu Elder Veda Betts said.

"Since the memorial has been here, hearts have opened, minds have been bestowed with wisdom. We are rising as one for a better tomorrow."

Still some division

Despite most of the Elliston community's commitment to acknowledging the massacre of Waterloo Bay, some disagreement remains.

At one point, a petition was circulated through the community calling on the word "massacre" to be removed from the planned plaque.

"I try and ignore them really, I think they are insensitive to the feelings of these people — they are entitled to their opinion, but as I've said before, if you don't believe it happened, don't go up there," Mr Callaghan said.

"As the Wirangu Elders have told me, 'rise above them, and move on'."

Source: ABC News

Emmanuel Economou