. . . . Then came Cullin-la-ringo.
After a long journey from Victoria with his family, servants, stockmen, wagons and over 7000 thousand sheep, Horatio Wills pitched his tents by the Nogoa River in early October 1861. Eight months earlier, “the perfect state of peace” on the Nogoa had been shattered by Lieutenant Patrick. More violence had followed in the months since as Patrick went about his work. . . .
[But let’s not get distracted with details of history lest some of us, God forbid, suspect I write with winking approval of what happened to the Wills family and household.]
The Willses were not to blame for any of this but, as the paper pointed out:
The blacks, like their civilised invaders, confound the individual with the race; that, in common with all people, whether savage or half-civilised, they exact the penalty from the first of the adverse nation who falls into their hands. In war, this course is sometimes followed by belligerent States, professing to rank with civilised nations. Indeed, the principle of reprisals is nothing else than punishing the innocent for the guilty.
The family had been at Cullin-la-ringo for ten days when about a hundred Gayiri men and women descended on their camp and killed them all in broad daylight. Among the nineteen dead were seven children. Though they had many guns to defend themselves, the only shot fired in the attack was from Wills’ revolver. His head was nearly severed. Bodies were left scattered among the tents. . . . News of the killings at Cullin-la-ringo broke around the world. It remains the bloodiest massacre by blacks in the history of Australia.
“An uncontrollable desire for vengeance took possession of every heart,” [Queensland Governor] Bowen told the Duke of Newcastle, the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Bowen had no quarrel with such “just chastisement”. All over the north, settlers and Native Police rode out to kill. Scrubs and mountains were scoured. Blacks were shot and driven over cliffs. The Rockhampton Bulletin reported the clashes with something like delight.
The Native Police overtook the tribe of natives who committed the late outrage at Nogoa, and succeeded in driving them into a place from whence escape was impossible. They then shot down sixty or seventy, and they only ceased firing upon them when their ammunition was expended.
Those who sought shelter in Rockhampton – “the little town of mud and dust” – were driven back out into the bush to be shot. As it was after Hornet Bank, blacks were executed hundreds of miles from the scene of the crime. Runs on the Comet, the Nogoa, the Dawson and the Mackenzie were stripped of Aborigines. About four hundred are thought to have died in the weeks after Cullin-la-ringo, but that is no more than a cautious guess. The Yiman, Wadjigu, Gayiri and Darumbal peoples were nearly wiped out.
After Cullin-la-ringo there was no hope left of reining in the Native Police. Vengeance was blessed. No limits were set on the awful powers of the force. More than ever, the government placed the highest value on the energy of its officers and their discretion – in both meanings of that slippery word: judgement and secrecy. Nowhere would the occupation of Australia prove bloodier than here, and no instrument of state as culpable as the Native Police. Slaughter was bricked into the foundations of Queensland.
- Marr, David. Killing for Country: A Family Story. Black Inc, 2023. pp 249-253
The above took place a little more than twenty years after one of the earliest settlements in Queensland, the idealistic mission station named Zion’s Hill.