The healing power of acknowledgement

on 22 May 2015 

Yesterday was deeply significant in relation to a series of tragic events that occurred in wild and windswept country just west of Ravensthorpe township in south-western Australia.

For 130 years the reverberations of what came to be known as ‘the Ravensthorpe massacre’ have lingered in the big skies across Kukenarup, making it a place of great sadness, and standing as a silent barrier between the Nyungar and Wadjela peoples of the area. 

In 2004 Nyungar woman Roni Gray Forrest authored a report entitled ‘Kukenarup - Two Stories: A Report on Historical Accounts of a Massacre Site at Cocanarup Near Ravensthorpe WA.’, recording the various histories of the events.

In the decade since then, long discussions and an associated process of quiet reconciliation between many parties have allowed a collective including the Nyungar and Ngadju communities, the Ravensthorpe Historical Society, Department of Aboriginal Affairs, the Shire of Ravensthorpe, and Main Roads Western Australia, with sponsorship from LotteryWest and BHP Billiton, to eventually construct the memorial site that was opened yesterday.   

Visitors from as far afield as far north Queensland gathered together on the site yesterday in the spirit of reconciliation to acknowledge and reflect on the events as a part of our shared Australian history, to remember those who died and were wronged and the suffering that has continued for more than a century since, and to gather collective strength to travel together on the path that lies ahead.

So yesterday as smoke from the smoking ceremony drifted across the site, and a pair of the wedge-tailed eagles that are its guardians and the theme of the site development hovered high overhead, we listened. 

There were stories and the poems, we learnt of the reconciliation that has been under way these past 10 years, enjoyed the harmonies of local choristers, and applauded as Nyungar and Wadjela children from three local schools unveiled the commemorative plaque in the shelter that looks out across the lonely landscape that carries those powerful memories. 

It was a day to remember, in every sense.