Frontier conflict on the Overland Stock Route

I am planning to go on  a photocamp at  Wentworth in NSW  next week for the Mallee Routes project. I leave after  Anzac Day, on Friday 26th of April. Whilst there  I   plan to  explore along the lower  Darling River, which is  in dire straits due to the massive  increased water use upstream,  bad water management  and corruption. The result is that the Darling is no longer a healthy river system.

During this photocamp  I  also plan to scope  and  to start to make  some photos for the Our River Our Country project.  I have yet to  make any photos for the latter project, as it is still in the  embryonic stage of designing the project, inviting other photographers to participate,  and taking advice from gallery directors and curators about how best to respond to the Godson Collection. There is still a lot of preliminary work to do before we start applying for grants for a curator and  various residencies.

Nor-West Bend, River Murray

The photo above was made near the  Nor’west Bend at Morgan   on the western  side of the River Murray. The Nor’west Bend is  where, in October 1839,  the overlanders, who were  driving their cattle and sheep on the Overland Stock Route between Sydney and Adelaide   killed 11 Aboriginal people in retaliation to the local indigenous  (the Ngayawung) people) attacking the overlander’s party and stock and  killing  the overseer (Thomas Young). This is one of the early  massacres of aboriginal people in South Australia. The overland stock  route was a site of frontier conflict and aboriginal resistance. The South Australian colony was almost bankrupt and any threat to the overland route threatened the financial viability of the Colony. 

Whilst at the Mallee Routes Wentworth photocamp I plan to start  to photograph the landscape along  the colonial  Overland Stock Route with an 8×10 camera and black and white film. I will initially concentrate  on the landscape  of the  1841 massacre site at Rufus River near Lake Victoria. The Rufus River connects Lake Victoria and the Murray River and  the massacre of the Barkindji people  took  place in August 1841 where the Overlander’s trail crossed the Rufus between  Lake Victoria and the River Murray at  a  site known as ‘Langhorne Ferry’. This happened  when George Grey was Governor  of South Australia,   and an official enquiry into the “Rufus River Massacre” found no fault with the actions of the expedition whose task was the suppression of the “outrages” upon the part of overland parties such as attacking European stock and overlanders.

Rufus River Victoria

The Overland Stock Route  was established in 1838, and it  followed a much older Aboriginal pathway.  It  bought  enormous quantities of men, arms, goods and stock within what was a highly territorialised Aboriginal landscape.  This crystallised the tone of the  later hostile  encounters. As the layers of encounter built up along the route, attitudes towards Aboriginal people hardened and violence become ever more acutely anticipated and accepted.

The massacres along the Overland Stock Route have been historically  been framed by the colonial/imperial  narrative as  representing a triumph of civilisation over savagery. Thee massacres are presented as manly, civilised, nation-building activities. The identification of ‘the Aborigine’ was historically constructed in European thought and imagination as the primitive native and understood in terms of distance from the ‘civilised’ European male who stood at the top of a global human racial and cultural hierarchy. In this schema, ‘full-blood’ Aboriginal people of Australia were seen as archaic survivors from the dawn of man’s existence ‘Full-blood’ Aboriginal people were assumed to be a ‘dying race’ with the wandering savage…doomed to extinction by the progress of that type of humanity with which it was impossible to assimilate them.


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