Wildflowers frame horrific history

Image Sharyn Moodie 2020

Wildflowers dot the ground around the solid stone memorial, a delicate visual lacework.

The daisies are part of Western Australia’s famous annual display, each floral renewal marking one more year since several horrific events took place at this site.

And they cover the mounds of rock which are hard to make out among the boulder-strewn ground.

These are the Butterabby Graves, a site of murder and retributive execution 16km south of the mid-West Australian town of Mullewa.

Not too many kilometres away, swathes of canola and wheat fields patchwork the vast kilometres.

It was sheep which brought white men to the region in the 1850s and 60s, starting the deadly clashes which occurred over the entire nation as the original inhabitants protected their world against the settlers expanding theirs.

This land was part of the country occupied by the Wajarri people.

“Inevitably there were clashes between the cultures at the Wajarri tried to protect their women and the resources that sustained them and the settlers sought to expand their holdings,’’ says an information sign at the site.

When a shepherd, John Lewis, was speared at Kockatea Spring on 17 February 1864, the man responsible was sentenced to life imprisonment at Rottnest Gaol. The
Champion bay resident magistrate noted that a strong deterrent would be for death sentences to be carried out on the spot the murder was committed.

 “Pause awhile, reflect on what took place here and why, and pay your respects to all caught up in this tragic clash of cultures.”

sign at butterabby gravesite

The next year 1865 James Rudd and Thomas Bott began to develop an outstation at Butterabby, digging a well, clearing land and building a hut.

“On August 22 Bott was grubbing out a tree about 90 m away when he was attacked and speared. He died four weeks later in the hospital in Champion Bay (Geraldton). Three policemen were set out to find and arrest those responsible.”

Five Wajarri men were arrested – Wangayakoo, Yourmacarra, Garder, Charlacarra and Williacarra

Impressions of the men hanged at Butterabby are incorporated in a shelter shed at the site. Images Sharyn Moodie 2020

When the arresting party called at Butterabby a few days later, as they took the men to Perth for trial, they found Rudd’ s body laying just outside the hut.

He had died from a blow to the back of the head and was buried at the site that day.

A Wajarri man Mumbleby, his wife Belo and a 14-year-old girl Beeja Beeja were subsequently arrested, about 160 kilometres away, with flour and some of Rudd’s clothing in their possession. They said there had been a struggle over Rudd’s gun.

Mumbleby and Belo were charged with Rudd’s murder. Belo was acquitted, but Mumbleby was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The trial of Bott’s killers did not record their motivation – whether there had been provocations or whether they were simply acting against the invaders.

They all pleaded not guilty,  though they admitted to “spearing the white man’’. All were convicted and sentenced to death.

The resident magistate got to carry out his plan to use a hanging as a deterrent. The men were brought back to Butterabby.

At daylight on Saturday, January 28, 1865, the men were hanged from a tree that stood not far from where they were buried.

To make sure the message was received they forcibly brought in 12 more Wajarri to watch the hangings.

The Perth Gazette and West Australian Times had this to say about the forced horror.

“Although there were not many aborigines of the district present on the occasion, it seems probable that the late ceremony was witnessed by a sufficient number to communicate what took place to those who were away ; and the superstitions which the detailed account of such a scene would be likely to inspire into their minds, added to their natural dislike of death and the localities where the dead are deposited, will so far have the desired effect, as at all events to deter the natives from their murderous attacks for a time, if they do not go far to produce a decided change in the feelings of these barbarous and benighted beings.

The graves are more clearly discernable during the dryer times of the year. Image Sharyn Moodie 2020

The hand-carved words in the memorial read:

In these graves lie James Rudd speared here at Butterabby 23 Sept 1864.

Also Garder, Wangayakoo, Yourmacarra, Charlacarra, Williacarra, natives sentenced in Perth and hanged.

The stone memorial was erected in 1973 by a descendant of the family which bought the land 50 years after the murders and hangings.

Sources: Monument Australia, Butterabby Graves, viewed at https://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/conflict/indigenous/display/60850-butterabby-graves

City of Greater Geraldton, Butterabby Graves, viewed at http://inherit.stateheritage.wa.gov.au/Public/Inventory/PrintSingleRecord/8f49c495-8250-457e-aead-c3dcd12c6eff

The Perth Gazette and West Australian Times,  17 February 1865, p2

Near Mullewa, WA.

Published by Sharyn Moodie

Travelling around Australia for work, I've found so many amazing headstones. But what is more amazing is the stories behind some of these deaths, and the way newspapers of the day reported them.

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