The aboriginal massacre in Gloucester Tops

An account of the aboriginal massacre near Mount  McKenzie, now a recognised Aboriginal Place of Significance.

Published in the Gloucester Advocate, 22 March 1935, written by Wirrapit (“Lightning”). Text courtesy of Hunter Living Histories and original newspaper article  on Trove

McKenzie’s Cliffs: a tragedy of 1838.  

“About 8 miles up the Kerripit River from Rawden Vale one comes out what were known to an older generation as McKenzie’s Cliffs, in places 200 feet above the river and some two or three hundred yards from the top of these cliffs a beautiful and magnificent view meets the eye, seemingly almost underneath this the clear country of Teragie, while in the far distance one gets a glimpse of Upper Cobark and all around the rugged jumble of mountains.

Today looking on this quiet and peaceful scene it is hard to believe that where one stand was enacted one of those terrible tragedies that unfortunately too often happened in the early days when the white pioneers were taking up the land and ousting the primitive aboriginals from their hunting grounds.

The Rawden Bros merchants of Liverpool (England) and JT Jombay, after whom Rawden Vale (now wrongly spelt Rawdon) is called, took up, somewhere about 1834 and held under occupation license all the country now known as Teragie, Moppy, Cobakh, Rawdon Vale and Catteneal, where they depastured many thousands of sheep which on account of the blacks, etc., were all shepherded.

These sheep were driven to Berrico at shearing time. Mr McKenzie, a son-in-law of Mr John Rawden was the first manager and no doubt he had many difficulties to contend with, one of his chief troubles being caused by his employees, almost all of whom were assigned servants (convicts), many being hardened criminals.

These men were employed as shepherds and whenever they got a chance practised almost unbelievable cruelties on the blacks, but stealing the black women was the most serious in the eyes of the aborigines.

Epic battle

At last matters became so unbearable to the blacks that they decided upon revenge and one cold misty morning in August 1838 they rushed the hut, in which seven shepherds were living at ‘Wottenbakh,’ just above the present Rawdon Vale  Cobark crossing, on the Cobark side of the Barrington, and after a desperate fight killed six of the sheep herds. One escaped death there only to meet it a few hundred yards across the river, where he was caught by the pursuing foe.

An epic of the fight must have been the struggle between a big Irishman named Whalan and his foes as when his body was found it had four spears through it and no less than seven blacks were lying near him with their skulls smashed by a heavy rail with which he had apparently armed himself. On the bank of the Kerripit almost in front of the homestead at ‘Stobo’ lie the remains of these old-time shepherds.

Shocking punishment

Of course, the whites could not for their own safety allow such an event to pass without in some way punishing the blacks, but the way they did retaliate must appear to us moderns as shockingly cruel but unfortunately for themselves the blacks were looked upon by the early settlers as vermin fit only to be destroyed.

The settlers from the Williams River side came across to the head of the Gloucester River driving the blacks before them while the settlers on this side drove all the blacks up the river and at last cornered them on the small flat above McKenzie’s Cliff’s where they shot: men, women and children without mercy or consideration. Those who escaped the bullet were killed by falling over the cliffs and being smashed on the rocks below thus, was the whole tribe of blacks with one or two exceptions which inhabited this part of the district exterminated.

Mr. McKenzie was, some four months later, accidentally killed fell off his horse while crossing the Cobark River opposite the reserve above Cobark House and his remains rest on a grassy knoll close by. After Mr. McKenzie’s death Mr. Simon Lord, a well-known Sydney merchant (after whom Lord’s Creek is named) of the early Forties of last century, took over the management of the Rawden’s properties for a few years and until they were sold. Some time after around 1841 the original Hooke and Laurie families moving in after that date.