Memorial call for hanged 'Freedom Fighters' in Melbourne

Miki Perkins The Age June 8, 2012

Buried beneath the tarmac and tourist trinkets of the Queen Victoria Market lie the bones of two men, condemned as bloodthirsty outlaws and hanged in the shadow of the old Melbourne Gaol.

But unlike bushranger Ned Kelly, most Victorians have never heard of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, Aboriginal fighters who defied the colonial authorities and who were the first people executed in Victoria.

Now they will be remembered in a memorial at the site of their execution, on Franklin Street behind the City Baths, as part of an indigenous heritage plan being developed by the City of Melbourne.

For five years activist Dr Joe Toscano and a committee of supporters - including patron and Boonwurrung elder Carolyn Briggs - have been lobbying the council to commemorate the two men, saying it was important to acknowledge there was resistance to colonisation in Victoria.

''What this will do is give a focus to this city's indigenous past and present,'' Dr Toscano said. ''What could be more appropriate than recognising the ultimate sacrifice that was made by two of the men in this revolt?''

Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were among 16 Tasmanian Aborigines who were brought to the new town of Melbourne in 1839 by the so-called Protector of Aborigines, George Robinson, as intermediaries with the Victorian Aborigines. In 1841 five of the group - two men and three women - stole two guns and waged a six-week, guerilla-style campaign in the Dandenongs and the Mornington Peninsula, burning houses and killing two sealers.

They evaded their pursuers by walking 50 kilometres a day, but were later caught and the two men found guilty of murder, despite defence lawyer Redmond Barry (who sentenced Ned Kelly to hang 40 years later) questioning the legal basis of British authority over Aborigines. A crowd of 5000 gathered to watch the execution on January 20, 1842, and the bodies were stripped of their clothes and buried in wooden coffins in the city's cemetery, now the Queen Victoria Market.

Historian and writer Tony Birch said the deaths of the two men highlighted the incapacity of the British colonial society to give regard to indigenous sovereignty. ''The deaths of these two men convey the reality that the Port Phillip district was 'settled' with violence on the part of colonial society … in commemorating their lives and death, we remember other indigenous people who have acted accordingly,'' Dr Birch said.

Dr Toscano wants the City of Melbourne to turn the site into public space and Dr Birch said any commemoration should go further than simply putting names and dates on a plaque.

Lord mayor Robert Doyle, Greens councillor Cathy Oke and ALP member councillor Jennifer Kanis - both contenders for the state seat of Melbourne - and councillor Jackie Watts all support the memorial push.

Illustration from the State Library archives depict Maulboyheenner (left) and Tunnerminnerwait





Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener

Tunnerminnerwait was born on Robbins Island in Tasmania in 1812, the son of Keeghernewboyheenner. He was also known as Peevay, Jack of Cape Grim and Tunninerpareway.

Maulboyheener was also known as Robert Smallboy, Jemmy, Timmy, Tinney Jimmy, Robert of Ben Lomond and Bob, and came from an inland Tasmanian tribe from the Ben Lomond highlands.

Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener were the first two men executed in Melbourne on 20th January 1842. They were indigenous freedom fighters who took up arms against the colonisers and paid the ultimate price for taking up arms to defend themselves against the invasion of their lands and the genocide of their people.

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.

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, Melbourne. Their bodies are buried under where the Queen Victoria Market is now situated.

Each year a memorial meeting is held on the site - Last Years Comemoration.
pdf 2012 Commemoration of the Freedom Fighters - A4 Poster pdf file