The oral storytelling tradition of the Aboriginal people is without equal. Although imbued with mythological turns of phrase, plenty of what has been passed down for literally hundreds of generations and thousands of years happens to be inspired by true events.
Recently, the tale of a 7,000-year-old volcanic eruption was found to be substantiated by geological evidence. Now, in a darker tale, it appears the story of a massacre nearly a century old also appears to have happened in reality, too.
Writing in the journal Forensic Science International, a team of researchers explained how a massacre at Sturt Creek Station in the Tanami Desert has archaeological evidence to back it up, despite no written accounts of the incident ever existing.
Sturt Creek, also known as Tjurabalan, is a vital lifeline for the region, split between Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Providing water to an otherwise inhospitable, arid landscape, it also happens to be a place of spiritual importance to both the Walmajarri and Jaru people.
Aboriginal oral tradition recounts that a massacre took place here. It seems that a man and his son escaped the horrors, and their story is told by the descendants of those killed in the ambush. It’s said that they were shot, and their bodies were burned – all in retaliation for the murder of two white stockmen at nearby Billiluna Station back in 1922, something that has written records.
Their murder was blamed on an Aboriginal man, and a police search party scoured the area for him. It’s been suspected that the police may have caused the subsequent massacre.
Until now, however, no physical evidence existed to back up these claims – just a story, and a few paintings. The only hint that there might have once been physical records of this massacre is a police diary dating back to 1922, which has four days conspicuously missing.
So, a quest to find it, led by Flinders University, began.