Herald apologises for coverage of Myall Creek massacre

By Duncan Murray
Updated June 10 2023 - 10:21am, first published 10:17am
The Herald offers an apology for its coverage of Myall Creek massacre as the referendum approaches. (April Fonti/AAP PHOTOS)
The Herald offers an apology for its coverage of Myall Creek massacre as the referendum approaches. (April Fonti/AAP PHOTOS)

The Sydney Morning Herald has apologised for historical coverage relating to the massacre of Indigenous people at Myall Creek, in which it campaigned for the perpetrators to walk free and referred to the dead as "black animals".

"The Herald has a long and proud history of telling the Australian story. But on Myall Creek, the truth is we failed dismally," the editorial stated.

The bodies of 28, mostly women and children were observed at the Myall Creek site, but the exact death toll is not known, according to the National Museum of Australia.

In response to the 1838 massacre, 11 convicts and settlers were tried and seven men were eventually hanged at the Sydney Gaol.

"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. It also opposed the death sentence eventually handed to seven of the men," the paper stated.

One such article from the time stated: "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."

Myall Creek was the only instance of British subjects being tried for a massacre, despite the untold violence and similar horrors that occurred as Europeans expanded in the Gwydir region of northeastern NSW in the 19th century.

According to the editorial, the majority view of the colony was probably against the prosecutions of the men, however other outlets at the time took a much more respectful position of the trial and victims.

The Herald's co-owner at the time, Alfred Ward Stephens, was also friends with a wealthy landowner who funded the defence of the 11 accused men.

"Historians believe the Herald's position was still something of an outlier. It cannot be dismissed merely as an 'of its time' reflection of the era," the editorial stated.

"As Australia prepares for a referendum on constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians later this year, the nation is thinking deeply about what reconciliation looks like in 2023.

"So too is the Herald. We agree truth is an essential force for reconciliation, and on the 185th anniversary of the Myall Creek massacre offer an apology for our coverage of the slaughter and two subsequent trials."

Australian Associated Press

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