Sydney Morning Herald apologises for failing ‘dismally’ on coverage of 1838 Myall Creek massacre

Nine Entertainment paper says it ‘essentially campaigned’ for 11 stockmen accused of killing at least 28 Aboriginal people to escape prosecution

The Sydney Morning Herald has apologised for failing “dismally” in its coverage of the Myall Creek massacre and two subsequent trials in the 19th century.

On 10 June 1838, with the Myall Creek Station manager away, a dozen stockmen led by John Henry Fleming rounded up and brutally killed at least 28 Wirrayaraay women, children and elderly people while their young men were away helping another settler.

“In several editorials published before, during and after two Sydney trials in late 1838 relating to the massacre, the Herald essentially campaigned for the 11 accused mass murderers to escape prosecution,” an editorial in Friday’s paper said. “It also opposed the death sentence eventually handed to seven of the men.”

“In one editorial published ahead of the trials and amid a public debate about legal protections for Aboriginal people, the Herald proclaimed: ‘The whole gang of black animals are not worth the money the colonists will have to pay for printing the silly documents on which we have already wasted too much time’.”

The SMH editor, Bevan Shields, says the attitude of the paper cannot be excused by the historical context as it was not necessarily shared by other publications at the time, which had “much more respectful” coverage.

The Herald, which began publication in 1831, even encouraged readers “to shoot and kill Aboriginal people if they ever felt threatened”, a move which “helped support the proposition colonists should be entitled to impunity for violence against Aboriginal people”.

The decision by the Nine Entertainment publication to apologise follows the Guardian’s recent series Cotton Capital, which saw the owner of the Guardian, the Scott Trust, apologise for the role the newspaper’s founders had in transatlantic slavery.

The Scott Trust said it expected to invest more than £10m (US$12.3m, A$18.4m), with millions dedicated specifically to descendant communities linked to the Guardian’s 19th-century founders.

The Herald also apologised in 2016 for the hurt and suffering caused by the publication of the names, addresses and professions of 53 people arrested during the 1978 Mardi Gras.

The Nine journalist Brooke Boney, a Gamilaroi woman, wrote an accompanying piece about being a descendant of the Myall Creek massacre.

“There’s a feeling we have moved on from the massacres,” the Today presenter said. “But take any of the comments on social media posts about the situation in Alice Springs, or Stan Grant, Tony Armstrong or any time I post anything. Many call for the same kind of thing we think we have moved on from.”

Boney compared comments in the Herald about “ferocious savages” who should be shot dead to a Facebook comment about Grant, the ABC journalist who stood down as Q+A host after racist abuse.

“Mate, if I see you in the street, and you call my f---in’ people scum, I am gonna beat the living f---ing shit out of you,” the comment said.


Amanda Meade

The GuardianTramp

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