First Men Hanged Memorial

Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner
first men hanged in Melbourne

Call for memorial for first men hanged in Melbourne

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 wageda 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. Acrowd 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 ona 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.

The Age | 8-6-2012

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