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The Flying Foam massacre


It’s the 23rd of February, the day we commemorate the 1868 massacre of the Yaburara people of the Western Pilbara by a punitive expedition of white invaders.

Like so many other mass killings of indigenous Australians the Flying Foam Massacre commenced with the rape of an Aboriginal woman by a European man – a police officer –  and the humiliation and beating of her partner. Reprisals by some Aborigines against the perpetrators were met with collective punishment against all Aborigines in the district. In this case some 100 to 150 men, women and children were ridden down and slaughtered from horseback, leaving only six survivors – all male – and effectively destroying the Yaburara tribe.

Unlike so many other massacres, Australia’s white blindfold historians like Keith Windschuttle do not deny the Flying Foam Massacre took place. Perhaps because by recognising the massacre Australian courts were able to conclude that no surviving Aborigines exist today who can be said to have a continuous connection with the Burrup peninsula, so indigenous land rights are extinguished and all the land falls to Crown title.

Although mass killings of indigenous Australians have been out of fashion since the 1920s Australian police and prison officers still regularly take it upon themselves to rape and murder Aborigines. Not one has ever been imprisoned for such crimes. The only whites  prosecuted for the mass slaughter of Aborigines were the seven executed perpetrators of the Myall Creek Massacre, resulting in such a public outcry by infuriated Europeans it was never repeated and the invaders were allowed to continue to kill with impunity. The Sydney Morning Herald editorialised that “the whole gang of black animals are not worth the money the colonists will have to pay for printing the silly court documents on which we have already wasted too much time” – an attitude which persists in the Australian media to this day.

Today white and black Australians will come together to observe a minute’s silence in memory of the victims of the Flying Foam Massacre and to call upon authorities to end the ongoing genocide being perpetrated against the First People of this Land.


Media release

Embargoed for release until Sunday 23 February 2014

Pilbara Aboriginal people commemorate of one of Australia’s largest massacres

West Pilbara Aboriginal people are gathering this Sunday 23 February at King Bay, site of the world  famous Burrup rock art, to  commemorate one of Australia’s largest massacres – known as the Flying Foam Massacre.

The massacre, which which saw an estimated 60 Aboriginal children, women and old people murdered by Western Australian Police and colonists,  commenced at dawn on Monday 17 February 1868.

Over the following three months ,between 100 and 150 Yaburara men, women and children were murdered by gunshot.

The commemoration events are being led by senior Aboriginal traditional owner spokespersons  Mr Wilfred Hicks and Miss Audrey Cosmos, who are available for comment:

·    Mr Wilfred Hicks, Elder, West Ngarluma Wong-Goo-tt-oo People, 0417 923 705

·    Miss Audrey Cosmos, Spokesperson, Yaburara-Mardudhenara People, 0437 445 692

Mr Hicks said today:

“The Flying Foam Massacre began after a policeman raped a Yaburara woman, and then arrested the woman’s husband. Yaburara men freed the arrested man, and killed the policeman.  A few days later, police and colonists began the massacre that we care commemorating today.
It is important that people remember this massacre, and learn the history of this country. It’s also important that we protect the the sacred rock art here, that connects  us to our ancestors. “

Miss  Cosmos said today:

“On the 17th a horrific event took place out at King Bay on the Burrup. The Flying Foam Massacre will be remembered for decades as one of the biggest killing fields of men, women and children.
I think its very important that we the Aboriginal people never loose the memory. It’s a big part of our history and most importantly we need to remember in order to keep our culture alive.”

Port workers to observe minutes silence

Also at King Bay, Maritime Union of Australia members at the Mermaid Marine port will observe a minute’s silence.

Other contacts and events

·    Cultural heritage specialist Dr Ken Mulvaney will be at King Bay, and is available for interview, 0400 772 351

·    Melbourne-based rock art expert and historian Robert Bednarik, who is also Convener of the International Federation of Rock Art Organisations is also available for interview: 03 9523 0549

·    Flying Foam Massacre Remembrance Day events will also be held in Perth, Melbourne, Canberra and on the  NSW Central Coast. At each location, black and white Australians will gather to mark the occasion with a minute’s silence.

·    This commemoration is supported by the Stand Up for the Burrup campaign which is seeking World Heritage Listing for the Burrup Peninsula and Dampier Archipelago rock art precinct:

·    Stand Up for the Burrup media contact: Mark Lawrence 0432 618 296;

For more information regarding the events leading up to the Flying Foam Massacre and for information about the World Heritage Listing for the Burrup please see the attached one-page Backgrounder.



On Monday 17 February 1868, at King Bay on the Burrup Peninsula on WA’s Pilbara Coast, as many as 60 Yaburara men women and children were killed by police and colonists in a massacre that followed the spearing of a police officer, Constable Griffis.
Constable Griffis is reported to have raped a Yaburara woman, and then to have arrested and chained up her husband, Coolyerberri.  When Yaburara warriors came to free Coolyerberri, Griffis, a police aid ‘Peter’ and a pearler named Bream were speared to death.

What followed has been describer as ‘textbook planned genocide’, and as aimed at instilling fear into all the tribes of Australia’s North West.  Police and colonists continued attacking the Yaburara, so that by May 1868 a total of 100 to 150 men women and children were killed. Only 6 people – all men – are known to have survived.

The Flying Foam Massacre is sadly typical of Australian frontier history.  While Aboriginal people initially assisted the Europeans, hostilities arose when the colonists enclosed lands, impacted on Aboriginal people’s food and water supplies, and behaved brutally towards Aboriginal women and workers.  When Aboriginal people resisted, a campaign of punitive massacres followed.

In 2003, in the case of Daniels v Western Australia, the Federal Court of  Australia relied upon the Flying Foam Massacre and the genocide of the Yaburara people in deciding that no native title exists on the Burrup.


The Murujuga/Dampier Archipelago Rock Art Precinct, comprising 42 islands and islets 1550 km north of Perth on Pilbara Coast, contains the world’s largest concentration of rock art, an estimated 1-2 million engravings, stone arrangements and standing stones.

The spiritual and cultural legacy of the Yaburara and other Ngarda Ngarli (West Pilbara) Aboriginal peoples, the Burrup (‘Murujuga’ to local Aboriginal people) is often described as Australia’s greatest cultural monument.

Tens of thousands of the Dampier engravings are thought to be pre-Ice Age. They include depictions of the fat-tailed kangaroo, 3 metre macro fauna extinct for 40-45,000 years,  and of other extinct animals including the thylacine, extinct in the Pilbara for 3-3,500 years. Much of the art is sacred to Ngarda Ngarli peoples. It is described by Wong-goo-tt-oo elder Wilfred Hicks as ‘the Aboriginal Bible’.

Since 1965, an estimated 25% of the Burrup rock art has been destroyed for industrial development, including for the Port of Dampier, Hamersley Iron, Dampier Salt, and Woodside’s North West Shelf and Pluto LNG plants.

In July 2007, most of the Burrup Peninsula and all the 41 other islands and islets of the Dampier Archipelago were placed by former Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the National Heritage Register.  In January 2013, The Murujuga National Park was proclaimed, including only 44% of the Burrup and none of islands and islets.

Aboriginal elders and community leaders, archaeologists and organisations including the National Trust and Australian Conservation Foundation, and prominent Australians including WA Premier Colin Barnett and former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser have called for the Burrup to be nominated to UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

In May 2012, the Australian Heritage Council’s Final Report on the Dampier Archipelago confirmed that the rock art precinct meets UNESCO Outstanding Universal Values criteria for World Heritage Listing.

From → cops, hurts, racism

  1. Rexie permalink

    Cabrogal, you have portrayed horror as irony when you write “mass killings of indigenous Australians have been out of fashion”. As for rape, I wonder if it is matter of deriving pleasure or power, or both.


    • I worked with a quite a few rapists and victims between 1999 and 2003 and while pleasure seemed to have been a factor in some cases, power was a factor in almost all of them.

      Of course I was dealing with the issue retrospectively so maybe the stories had changed a lot by the time I heard them, but if I was going to concoct some sort of post hoc justification for that sort of act I would have done a lot better these guys.


    • The stories cops tell themselves about themselves are beyond satire, compassion or good taste.

      I notice that some media outlets have sanitised Griffis’ role by saying he arrested an Aborigine for stealing flour without mentioning the charge was trumped up or that he’d raped the man’s companion.


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