Preamble to a discussion about invasion in 2020
Major Thomas Mitchell is widely acknowledged for his journeys of exploration and discovery of ‘new lands’ in inland Australia, albeit ones that had already been named, mapped and cultured by First Nations peoples for tens of thousands of years.
Critically interrogating Major Sir Thomas Mitchell’s achievement as inland Victoria’s preeminent colonial explorer including calling it and what followed an invasion is sort of like putting your favourite dog down or burning the family photos. Denying and destroying something inherited and passed down through generations is simply not done.
This account deliberately restricts itself to Mitchell’s 1836 expedition across Dja Dja Wurrung country. The Dja Wurrung Aboriginal Nation was one of around 250 separate and different Nations at contact. In outline it is located in central Victoria encompassing the southern catchments of the Loddon and Avoca Rivers.
For those unfamiliar with the area referred to in this narrative, Dja Dja Wurrung country is bounded in the south by the Great Dividing Range and extends all the way to the southern Mallee. It roughly encloses an expansive oval area bounded (clockwise) by present day Creswick, Lexton, Navarre, Donald, Charlton, Boort, Marong, Malmsbury and Bullarto. Larger former gold towns included within its footprint include Maryborough, Daylesford, Castlemaine, St Arnaud and Wedderburn.
So why is it important and why does it matter?
Truth telling is an important part of any process of reconciliation. During the era of colonial exploration there was huge public interest and uncritical admiration for explorers and their deeds. One only has to see the huge monument erected on the top of the hill above Castlemaine to the ill conceived and clumsily executed Burke and Wills expedition, to understand how much the public cared for explorers, even after abject failure and death.
It is salient to recall that all of the dozens of those who followed Mitchell’s expedition’s wagon wheel tracks into and across Dja Dja Wurrung country to Mitchell’s promised land, Australia Felix, had a copy of Mitchell’s itinerary with them. Indeed Hepburn, Gardner and Hawdon’s overlanding party were fully briefed on their route south towards Melbourne by Stapylton on the Murrumbidgee near Gundagai as Stapylton was heading home and north with the expedition’s wagons.
A century after Mitchell and those that followed in his footsteps there was a rush to erect new monuments and re enact their achievements and heroism. The monuments on the top of Mount Greenock above Talbot in 1936 and to Hepburn in Smeaton in 1938 are good examples. Australian Prime Minister Joseph Lyons spoke to the three thousand assembled in Smeaton for the centenary celebrations in 1838. He used words that made the invasion of Dja Dja Wurrung lands and Australia more generally sound like a benign, bloodless coup.
Captain Hepburn, who, with his flock of sheep, his cattle, and his horses, crossed from New South Wales to the fertile land round Smeaton, where no white man had been before. … Compared with most other countries, Australia was young in actual years, it was old in experience. It was something to be thankful for that our history had been written not in blood but in the pioneering achievements of our forefathers.
A song was composed about the Dreaming Hills of Smeaton to acknowledge those pioneers who transformed ‘the pristine wilderness’ where ‘joy and peace together reign’.
The uneasy part for me, as an older white male who lives in an inherited invaded landscape of southern Dja Dja Wurrung country just five kilometres down the road from Smeaton (recently adorned by a suitably wooden statue of John Hepburn that the birds have roosted above), is to go beyond the now standard and important recognition of First Nations ancestors and Elders past and present.
My point is that we need to interrogate and recognise what actually happened here, what is officially and inappropriately acknowledged and commemorated, and also what is not. The next steps aside, from evidence-based truth telling, public education and some strategic renaming in the landscape, include one or more belated Treaties and restitution with Australia’s First Nations people.
Monuments are almost always erected to and by the victors and directed to the universally male expedition leaders, and also those first men to come behind them and seize Aboriginal land, including John Hepburn. There are almost no monuments to Aboriginal people who played often unrecognised but heroic roles leading, guiding, supporting and mediating such expeditions, and certainly none to those who were killed bravely resisting and defending their lands, families and clans.
There are few monuments to those who were typically forcefully and brutally moved off Country, killed and vanquished. Thus the use of the gentler term ‘settlement’ and the convenient fiction that people did not live on the lands we inherited or simply faded away. In fact some miraculously and heroically survived. The recent move by Hepburn Shire to support Erica Higgin’s idea of a memorial avenue of trees honouring the tens of thousands of Aboriginal people who died in this way on Country is a welcome move in the right direction.
The gravesite of Yuranigh, another of Mitchell’s Aboriginal assistants in the countryside of his ancestors northwest of Orange I visited a few years ago is a notable exception to these generalities. It the only known site in Australia where Aboriginal and European burial practices coexist and one of the few where acknowledgement is respectfully commemorated. Yuranigh joined Mitchell’s fourth expedition in inland Queensland in 1845. The tombstone, placed with Mitchell’s support after the great man’s death in 1850 acknowledges Yuranigh’s ‘courage, honesty and fidelity’.
There are virtually no monuments to the Aboriginal peoples and identities whose lives and Country were taken in the typically violent and brutal process of exploration, conquest and seizure of their lands. My hope is that the few people who read this account will share my view that even after 184 years, it is important as part of Indigenous reconciliation to honestly document what happened and to acknowledge that descendants of the losers and wounded in the battle for Country in our community are still suffering, hurting and grieving and owed dignity, respect and understanding.
My account was penned on 29 April 2020, exactly 250 years since Captain James Cook planted the British flag on the shores of Botany Bay. The celebrations planned and funded by the Australian government in 2020 to commemorate Cook’s arrival and mapping of Eastern Australia have fortunately been dealt a serious blow by the COVID19 epidemic.
Unbeknown then to the people of the Dja Dja Wurrung Nation in central Victoria, 66 years before Major Mitchell’s 1836 triumphant tramps across their country, Captain James Cook had already declared the continent legally empty and had claimed it for the British.
These expensive and jingoistic national celebrations ignore the fact that Cook actually landed in Australia several years earlier in 1777, first on Bruny Island off Tasmania’s south east coast. By 1780 when the British flag was finally hoisted near present day Sydney to ward of the French colonial intentions there had been around 60 other European landings all around the Australian coastline.
As a precursor to the first physical invasion of their lands locally, the Dja Dja Wurrung people in central Victoria had experienced several waves of a deadly smallpox pandemic that the invaders had somehow introduced to the continent.
It was far deadlier than the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, and perhaps also arrived in one of their less well appointed overseas convict ‘cruise ships’. Smallpox was the first of many introduced deadly pandemics that decimated Australian First nations peoples. Smallpox alone is likely to have killed as many as one half of the Aboriginal people living on the Murray-Darling River system of southeastern Australia between 1789 and 1820.
Mitchell’s two transits through Dja Dja Wurrung Country in 1836
This account is based mainly around insights from original transcripts from Thomas Mitchell’s 1836 diary as well as those of Granville Stapylton, Mitchell’s second in command, published in 1986 in Stapylton with Major Mitchell’s Australia Felix Expedition 1836 edited by Alan Andrews. Mitchell’s huge exploring party plus wagons loaded with two huge boats destined for an elusive (and non-existent) inland sea lumbered twice through their country.
If one imagines Dja Dja Wurrung country to be a rough oval, Mitchell’s expedition made two roughly parallel transits of approximately 80km across the oval around 80km apart. These transits crossed the upper and middle parts of river catchments now known as the Avoca and Loddon.
Mitchell’s total entourage of 23 European men became the first of dozens of troupes of invading explorers, then ‘overstraiters’ (from Van Diemen’s Land via Corio and Melbourne) and ‘overlanders’ (from Sydney) to set foot on, transit and ‘take up’ (seize) Dja Dja Wurrung country during the next five years.
Mitchell’s first transit, essentially southwest across the Wimmera, began after they crossed the Loddon River south west of Pyramid Hill in early July 1836. They exited west of present day Paradise on their way to the southern coast via the Glenelg River to Portland. Their second transit in October 1836 went approximately northeast from Lexton to Sutton Grange in the central east.
During both transits a poorly known and tragic drama was playing out within Mitchell’s 1836 expedition. The drama does not make for easy or comfortable reading. Even though my narrative is restricted to sanitised evidence in the diaries of Mitchell and Stapylton as the two lead invaders, their own words paint a disturbing and self-incriminating picture.
Their second transit was on their journey back to Sydney. By then the expedition had actually split into two, with Mitchell’s lighter party heading home as fast as possible to break the news about the potential pastoral wealth of Australia Felix.
The rest of the party led by the second in charge, Granton Stapylton followed up with the wagons with an increasing distance between the parties, and also with his growing resentment and distrust of Mitchell and his motives. He actually called himself ‘Man Friday’ and rightly anticipated that all the credit would go to Tarzan, Mitchell.
The current narrative provides only brief contextual information from original expedition records about the country they travelled through. Instead ,it particularly focuses on the way two Aboriginal women (referred to in the original diaries as ‘gins’) and particularly one of their daughters, Balandella, were treated. Kitty was mainly referred to as ‘Pipers gin’, Piper being Mitchell’s invaluable Aboriginal guide.
came to the expedition as Piper’s wife. She joined the expedition at Lake Cargelligo after the lead Aboriginal man, Piper, temporarily left to ‘marry’ her. Kitty and Turandurey’s contribution to the expedition was huge, a fact finally acknowledged during the celebration of NAIDOC week in 2019, as below.
Kitty proved a wonderful guide, both on her own and also with Piper. She knew where to locate water and negotiated with the People they met on their way. It was she who she was tall and strong, but had a blind eye (opaque and white), likely from surviving smallpox. … Kitty and Turandurey showed Mitchell where Oxley’s earlier survey and exploration party reached the Lachlan River and pointed out that they rescued one of Oxley’s men who nearly drowned there. They also mentioned three early white men on horseback and their boats on the Murrumbidgee. This advice by Kitty and Turandurey reminded the white explorers how keenly ‘strangers’ were observed on country. It also asserted their knowledge and ownership of place. Both Kitty and Turandurey frequently went ahead to negotiate. They answered Mitchell’s questions, providing cultural explanations: for example, as to graves and birthplaces. Kitty became an important scout for gossip and intelligence, faithfully reporting back to Mitchell.
Turandurey was a Wiradjuri woman with a totally blind young daughter, Balandella, mainly referred to as the ‘Picaninny’. The records and this narrative confirm that both women were being shamefully treated before, during and after both transits.
The term ‘gin’, ‘Jin’ (or djin) retained in the original documents as it refers to Aboriginal women is now acknowledged as an offensive term pertaining to ‘having sex’.
‘Pickaninny’ is a word applied originally by people of the West Indies to their babies and more widely referring to small children. It is a pidgin word form, derived from the Portuguese pequenino and subsequently used in Canada and the US as a racial slur referring to a dark-skinned child of African descent. In Australia it tended to be used in colonial texts to refer to Aboriginal children.
A fuller account of the abduction and later separation and kidnapping of The widow and the child was published by Jack Brook in 1988. It helped me tease out some of the missing contextual detail. It is important to note that Brook was more forgiving of Mitchell’s explanation of what I regard as a shameful abduction and unconscionable child stealing in my own narrative.
The first transit, May 1836
‘Kitty’ had, by the time this narrative begins, as the expedition crossed the Loddon River north east of present day Wedderburn, become a wife to John Piper, the unpaid Aboriginal guide and mentor to Mitchell. Both women and Piper played invaluable roles safely guiding the party out and back.
All three are conspicuously missing from the officially listed party of white male expeditioners. Turandurey and her daughter, Balandella had been ‘picked up’ on the Lachlan River north east of Booligal around two months beforehand on 2 May as teased out in more detail below.
We have no record of what actually transpired from a Wiradjuri perspective. Only Mitchell and Stapylton record the circumstances in which Turandurey and her daughter had originally been abducted.
Stapylton records that while travelling down the then deep, wide but dry Lachlan River in present day western New South Wales they arrived at water, where they : … much alarmed and put to flight a small family of wild Blacks. A remarkable instance of courage and true affection was displayed on this occasion by a little girl, who while the others fled, hesitated to stay behind by the side of her sister who was totally blind’.
Mitchell’s diary on 2 May 1836 neatly flick-passes the responsibility for the abduction to an ‘old Aboriginal man: ’ … having found two ponds of water we encamped beside them. … A fire was burning near the water, and at it sat a black child about seven or eight years old, quite blind. All the other natives had fled save one poor little girl still younger, who, notwithstanding the appearance of such strange beings, as we must have seemed to her, and the terror of those who fled, nevertheless lingered about the bushes, and at length took her seat beside the blind boy … a dog so lean as scarcely to be able to stand, drew his feeble body close up beside the two children, as if desirous to defend them. They formed indeed a miserable group, exhibiting, nevertheless, instances of affection and fidelity, creditable both to the human and canine species. An old man came up to the fire afterwards, with other children. He told us the name of the water-holes between that place and the Murrumbidgee, but he could not be prevailed on to be our guide. Subsequently, however, a gin who was a widow, with the little girl above-mentioned, whose age might be about four years, was persuaded by him to accompany us’.
Three weeks later the mother and child (who Mitchell also referred to as ‘the widow’ were still accompanying the expedition. When Mitchell departed for the Darling River on 23 May he directed Stapylton, who was to stay at the depot camp, to ensure ‘the widow had rations and that every care should be taken of the child’. Furthermore, Turandurey was to be prevented from ‘going back’, for in Mitchell’s words, to move the child could prove ‘injurious’ to her.
Stapylton records that the child was soon after seriously injured when she became ‘entangled in the bullock team and was thrown down the draywheel passing over and fracturing the creature’s thigh in two places.’ Stapylton saw a ‘providential’ upside of the accident, writing that he sensed it would prevent:
… collusion between the mother and some wild tribes of which there was evident signs of commencement, with what views it would be difficult to say except to our disadvantage. The mother is now at all events now a feature and it shall be my province to keep off the Black Gentry.
The ‘Black Gentry’ perhaps refers to two young Aboriginal (Wiradjuri) men who also joined Mitchell’s party. Because both were called ‘Tommy’, to distinguish between them, Mitchell gave them chronometrical surnames: ‘Tommy Came- First’ and ‘Tommy Came-Last’.
Arrival on the Loddon River
There are only occasional brief mentions of what Stapylton calls ‘the two black gins and the picaninny’ until they absconded on the night they camped on the stream they called the ‘Yarrayne’, now known as the Loddon River.
Stapylton was actually pleased they had ‘boulted (sic) so much the better’, but noted that Mitchell ‘… seems vexed about it. Why I am utterly at a loss to conceive. They were utterly useless to us and moreover a severe tax upon the flour bag [their food reserves]’.
In the same diary entry, Stapylton waxes lyrical of the then unnamed Australia Felix. He writes that: ‘The country promises well. Distant Hills to the southward [towards Dunolly] and westward [towards Charlton] … and fine rising level land up to the base of them’.
Anticipating that a future survey of the southern Australian coast would provide ‘fine outlets to the ocean’, Stapylton prophetically sensed they had:
… discovered a paradise unequalled in New Holland, and for as much as I know superiar (sic) in point of extent and fertility of any in the world. Pyramid Hill will perpetuate the discovery it is a land mark on a vast plain that can never be mistaken and must always convey and association of ideas which will improve on the memory, the circumstance of this expedition and the name of its leader. His Man Friday will not share the same good luck.
Mitchell records that the party ‘… crossed a deep but narrow stream flowing between high grassy banks … the plains beyond it were five miles in breadth, and of the best description’. Later to be known as the Loddon River, then dubbed the Yarrayne by Mitchell, it was a name he somehow understood that the Aborigines associated with the river.
As he approached the Loddon Mitchell wrote about the ‘Black-butted gum and Casuarinae [that] extended back to the mountains and forests’. He also noted the reappearance of Xanthonia (= Danthonia: a Wallaby grass) and was particularly impressed by the appearance of Anthisteria (= Themeda, Kangaroo grass). As in much of his diary, he was more interested in the plants in the landscape than the people.
While the deliberately fire-managed native grasses were dancing alongside the Loddon, Mitchell and Stapylton’s minds were turning to Greek literature and legend to put their mark on what they saw and sought to name through Greek classical and colonial lenses.
The names he chose locally, most that are still used, commemorate a mix of Greek classical heroes (such as Macedon, Alexander, & Campaspe), Scottish places ( e.g. Grampians) and military heroes from his time serving in the war on the Iberian Peninsula in Europe (e.g. Beckwith & Greenock).
Mitchell hinted to Stapylton that he might appropriately call ‘… this beautiful little [Loddon] river Ilyssus‘. His choice was in reference to an ancient Greek narrative about Queen Dedo’s [=Dido’s] forming a new colony in Africa. Michell was well aware that as he was the first European to venture into these ‘new lands’ shortly to be colonised that had re-naming rights over the already named mountains and rivers.
Ilissos was Dido’s other name and also the name of a former stream in Athens. A fourth Century BC text refers to the Illisos as a ‘little stream delightfully clear and bright; I can fancy that there might be maidens playing near’.
Mitchell’s allusion to the Greek story of Dido refers to her flight from her father, King Pygmalion in Phoenician Tyre (today in Lebanon). Dido founded a new colony which became the city of Carthage in North Africa (today’s Tunis) around 825 BC. The back story goes that Dido’s party of exiles travelled via Cyprus and seized about eighty young women who were prostituting themselves on the shore in order to provide wives for the men in the party.
I’ve added this detail to try and illustrate how Mitchell justified the violence that was being perpetrated. Winners in war and colonisation tended to take it all, including the women . He knew the Dja Dja Wurrung people and their rich grassland would soon colonised for king and country. It was for him and his party to do what he perceived as necessary to create and mark a path for others to follow. Picking up and discarding Aboriginal guides along the way was seen as essential and de rigeur for many Australian explorers.
Back in the real world the exploring party continued their journey southward, moving well south of Turandurey’s home Country and camping on the Loddon Rivers north east of present day Wedderburn. The planned the next day to cross the river and move west into Dja Dja Wurrung country. Unsurprisingly, the mother and child figured it was time to made a break for home. Assisted by Kitty, they stealthily left camp in the middle of the night.
Mitchell and his party’s attempt to easily cross the Loddon River via a log bridge the next day were thwarted by a remarkable overnight rise in the Loddon River. Meantime Piper had been missing for a day and ‘brought back one of the Jins and the Picaninny having tracked them to our last encampment’.
Mitchell was relieved, as according to Stapylton, Mitchell sensed ‘they might have made the wild blacks acquainted with our camp arrangement and that at night an attack might be made of the most serious consequences to us’. Stapylton noted that:
These Jins took their measure [of escape] very cunningly having left in the middle of the night during a very severe frost aware … that it would prove almost impossible to track them. They are shockingly frost bitten however in the feet and the mother [Balandella] would not come up tonight. There she is alone without a fire in the bush, and her feet described as being in a most dreadful state I think she will die the poor devil. What then shall we do with the Picaninny? It would have been much wiser to let them go when they desired it and damn their collusion with the tribes. The other Jin (Kitty] returned this morning with her feet in a deplorable state. Thus we are saddled with two useless devils who must be carried on the drays.
The next day on 6 July Stapylton noted that at ‘9PM Jin and the child again joined us this is a fixture now. I suppose she must have crawled about 15 miles on her hands and knees’. Putting aside the offensive language, the lack of compassion evident in their actions leaves me gobsmacked.
By 8 July they were camped on the Avoca River just west of Logan. Mitchell was impressed by the fitness of the land (for’ taking up’) and foresaw that it would ‘eventually become part of a great empire’. The country he was crossing would by Spring 1836 on his way home, be named for its perceived fertility, a land he considered was blessed by fortune, Australia Felix.
The ‘gin’ (Turandurey) is next mentioned briefly, again in very derogatory terms by Stapylton on 17 July having passed west out of Dja Dja Wurrung country. Stapylton writes while crossing broken country near present day Callawadda, the ‘Jin capsized from the top of the dray not hurt but she truly is an unfortunate bitch. Picanniny held on well.’
During the following month the expedition headed south west including down the Glenelg River and along the coast to Portland. To Mitchell’s complete surprise the Hentys had arrived there as overstraiting pastoralists two years before and had already built houses. William Dutton had been living nearby, sealing with his Aboriginal wife for eight years since 1828.
Having resupplied, they started to head back towards Sydney, jettisoning the big boat near Mount Napier, increasing the mobility of the boat carriage and smaller boat across the swampy Western District volcanic plains.
The second homeward transit, October 1836
By 12 September 1836 whilst camping on the Wannon River towards the southern end of the Grampians, Stapylton writes that Mitchell as expedition leader had ‘resolved upon making a start home [towards Sydney] with pack horses and leaving me behind to bring up the expedition to the settlement’. By this stage the bullocks hauling the heavy wagons were starting to show the strain.
The revised plan was for Stapylton and the rest of the party to remain there ‘for one fortnight in order to give time for the bullocks to refresh then to proceed on his track’. Stapylton angrily noted he found Mitchell impenetrable in terms of his communication and guessed he might have been ‘meditating [him] mischief’.
Indeed Mitchell had decided to cruelly separate the mother and child and set off ahead with Turandurey’s daughter. Stapylton records Mitchell’s advice that ‘The Mother Jin stays with me [Stapylton] until I receive further directions respecting her’.
Mitchell writes of his arguably dubious rationalisation of the child’s abduction and separation a week later on 19 September.
When about to set out I observed that the widow ‘Turandurey’, who was to remain with Mr Stapylton’s party and the carts, was marked with white round the eyes (the natives’ fashion of mourning), and that the face of her child Ballandella was whitened also. This poor woman, who had cheerfully carried the child on her back, when we offered to carry both on the carts, and who was as careful and affectionate as any mother could be, had at length determined to entrust to me the care of this infant. I was gratified with such a proof of the mother’s confidence in us, but I should have been less willing to take charge of her child, had I not been aware of the wretched state of slavery to which native females are doomed. I felt additional interest in this poor child, from the circumstance of her having suffered so much by the accident, that befell her while with our party, and which had not prevented her from now preferring our mode of living so much, that I believe the mother at length despaired of being ever able to initiate her thoroughly in the mysteries of killing and eating snakes, lizards, rats and similar food. The widow had been long enough with us to be sensible, how much more her sex was respected by civilized men than savages, and, as I conceived, it was with such sentiments that she committed her child to my charge, under the immediate care, however, of Piper’s gin.
By the time Stapylton’s party including Turandurey re-entered Dja Dja Wurrung country near present day Lexton on 8 October, Mitchell’s advance party with her daughter Balandella in tow were approaching the Goulburn River north of Seymour. One can only guess at the likely heartbreak involved in this tragic separation as both mother and daughter mourned their separation. The brave explorer diaries are curiously both silent during the rest of the trip towards home.
The route home for both parties was something of a route march on a bearing of approximately 60 degrees magnetic. Their journey through the already densely populated, well watered and fertile volcanic country of the Dja Dja Wurrung in the upper Avoca and Loddon River catchments took them past Mount Greenock (near Talbot) into the Mammeloid Hills beyond Mount Beckworth and on to recross the Loddon River near present day Newstead.
Stapylton wrongly understood the Loddon to be a tributary of the Wimmera, but accurately described, then as now in the vicinity and downstream of Newstead, as:
A considerable stream … running between high rocky (grass) banks bare of timber forming a cavity for a river the size of the Murray. … The river frontage and the luxuriant flats on its banks and the splendid Downs to the South and Eastwards with the forest ground immediately adjoining would render in a most desirable spot for a grant [presumably for himself after the success of the expedition, which neither he nor Mitchell received].
Beyond Newstead the traverse towards present day Castlemaine took both parties over ‘a stoney barren range’ before crossing ‘a good stream running south [Campbells Creek] good forest hills and valleys’. Mitchell’s advance party found a way over the range through Expedition Pass past the southern end of Mount Alexander. They had time to take a southern detour beyond Dja Dja Wurrung country to climb and rename Mount Macedon, the ‘Mount Wentworth’ of Hume, though not marked as such on Hume’s map.
From Macedon’s summit Mitchell was again very surprised to see that the southern coast of the Port Phillip Colony was already being settled: there were white sails of ships at harbour on the north end of Port Phillip Bay. The embryonic settlement of ‘Batmania / Bearbrass’ that was renamed Melbourne a year later had again got under Mitchell’s radar.
Mitchell realised then that it was likely that overstraiters would advance north into his fertile icon, Australia Felix from the southern coast even without news of his discovery. It was therefore timely for him to head straight home on a track largely identified by Hume and Hovell in 1824.
The back end to this tragic abduction
The next time the mother or daughter are mentioned in Stapylton’s diary is on 12 November when back in (squatter) settled country beyond the Murrumbidgee. He notes that ‘Turandurey has grown enormously fat which should speak well of the care we have taken of her & to the best on my recollection no improprieties with her as a female have ever taken place. She was married the night before to King Joey and she proceeds … to the Lachlan. The picaninny is kidnapped away to a station ten miles distant’.
Though he actually uses the term ‘kidnapping’ Stapylton seeks to distance himself from any responsibility for Turandurey’s evident pregnancy, adding, ‘With this I have nothing to do or much to say nor will I let those who projected this measure and carried it into execution be responsible to themselves and members of the public’.
In Mitchell’s later memoirs he obscures the reality of the abduction and his later action of separation, child stealing and dealing. Mitchell does not actually state that Turandurey ran away. Instead he wrote that ‘the widow was inclined to go back’ for she was ‘far beyond her own country’. He continues with an explanation that confirms that the mother, Turandurey knew all along of Mitchell’s wicked intention to abduct her child.
I intended to put her on a more direct and safe way home after we should pass the heads of the Murrumbidgee on our return, I could not detain her longer than she wished …[She] seemed uneasy under an apprehension, that I wanted to deprive her of this child. I certainly had always been willing to take back with me to Sydney an aboriginal (sic) child, with the intention of ascertaining, what might be the effect of education upon one of that race. This little savage, who at first would prefer a snake or lizard to a piece of bread, had become so far civilised at length, as to prefer bread; and it began to cry bitterly on leaving us.
For Mitchell, this abominable act that was played out over six months was capped off by this dreadful, cruel and primitive social experiment. Mitchell records that he ‘took the little picaninny’ to Sydney and ‘introduced her to his home’.
Mitchell gushed that Balandella ‘was a welcome stranger to my children, among whom she remained, and seemed to adopt the habits of domestic life … con amore’, an Italian expression meaning ‘with love, tender enthusiasm or zeal’.
Nevertheless Mitchell soon tired of the experiment and palmed Balandella off to a ‘Dr Charles Nicholson’ when he and his family returned to England on 9 May 1837. There, Thomas Mitchell waited for the accolades to flow in and wrote and published his heroic opus about finding a new and happy land Australia Felix, ripe for the taking. There is no mention of her again by Mitchell.
Major Mitchell is seldom remembered for any of the above. Instead he is comprehensively lionised and commemorated by means of countless monuments in the Australian landscape along with several peaks and a high Plateau in the Grampians. A well known Australia cockatoo (Lophochroa leadbeateri) and a lesser known rodent, Mitchell’s Hopping Mouse (Notomys mitchellii, the latter currently ironically thteatened by habitat destruction associated with European settlement in Australia, also takes his name.
Angus McMillan also named the Mitchell River in Victoria in Mitchell’s honour in 1839. McMillan went on to lead many well-documented massacres of Kurnai people in Gippsland between 1840-1845. The former electorate of McMillan named in McMillan’s honour was therefore renamed ‘Monash’ in 2018. It is never too late to remove inappropriate names. The community consultation process seeking to remove the racist Creek name ‘Jim Crow’ is underway in 2020.
Balandella later ‘fell into service’ (= became a domestic slave) as a nurse to Nicholson family members, had a daughter to a labourer in 1846, and afterwards married an Aboriginal (Darkinjung, South Coast NSW) man, John Barber in the late 1840s. Some of her descendants are still living in the Hawkesbury area.
Ballendella is a tiny rural locality near Rochester in Victoria that likely takes its name from Ballandella. Her mother Turandurey is acknowledged by one street name in Balranald, NSW and a remote surveyed locality in the County of Lowan in the western Wimmera. John Piper was rewarded for his contribution with ‘certain material possessions’. Mitchell later got a Knighthood, while Piper got a brass plate inscribed ‘John Piper, Conqueror of the Interior’.
Stapylton is acknowledged in the landscape he surveyed with a Gold Coast suburb and several mountains (one near Brisbane and another in the Grampians). He was was fatally speared by Aborigines almost five years later on 31 May 1840 while surveying in the vicinity of the Border Loop on the present New South Wales Queensland border. Two of the perpetrators, who were effectively resisting the survey and acquisition of their lands, were hung in Brisbane in July 1841.
When anyone drives around northern and western Victoria in Dja Dja Wurrung country and sees the prominent stone Major Mitchell monuments with their brass arrows pointing to the way the Major went, it would be well to remember that Mitchell was also a self confessed Aboriginal child stealer. Mitchell was also officially sanctioned for his unnecessary dispersion (massacre) of Aborigines during this same expedition on the Murray.
State-sanctioned Aboriginal child stealing and domestic slavery continued in Australia for another 150 years until the 2008 National Apology to the many Stolen Generations. Few people in 2020 know that Kitty or John Piper, along with Turanduray and Balandella also passed through this country.
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