Multuggerah and the Battle of One Tree Hill

By JJ Rose

September 10, 2022


The story of the native warrior, Multuggerah, fills an important gap in Australian history.

If you look to the right as you drive west from Brisbane along Lockyer Way, just before the steep incline to Toowoomba, you will see a large structure standing out against the deep green of the bush. It’s in the distance, but it’s hard to miss. White vertical pillars like the legs of a giant insect, a spine across. This is the Multuggerah Viaduct. His presence is both deeply significant and ironic, as we shall see. But, as a structure designed to connect, it is entirely appropriate as it is a bridge over one of the deepest chasms in Australia’s historical narrative.

Noted Australian anthropologist WEH Stanner has argued that the border wars, fought between settlers and indigenous peoples until the 1930s, represented, in historical terms, “the great Australian silence”.

Multuggerah’s place in this hidden area of ​​Australia’s backstory is central.

According to author and historian Dr Ray Kerkhove from the University of Southern Queensland, Multuggerah faced what became perhaps the most significant defeat for the settlers during the Border War period.

“It was right there,” Ray said, pointing to a twin set of small mountains, each around the 550m mark and maybe a kilometer away. We stand on the balcony of the Picnic Point Cafe in Toowoomba, enjoying the vast view to the north and east, flat and plentiful, over Brisbane and the coast.

Ray spots a spur between the hills and tells me about the Battle of One Tree Hill.

In September 1843, an ox cart rumbled through the cool spring air, down the track between the hills, where it was ambushed by Multuggerah and a hundred men and women.

Multuggerah’s warriors blocked the heavily armed jackaroos (a local Jagerra/Yagerra word meaning ghost or stranger), drew fire, and fled to the side of One Tree Hill, or Meewah. From there they pelted the unfortunate settlers with rocks and stones and drove them back.

It feels like another mundane, if chaotic, moment in the annals of colonial history. But the significance of this battle is that it refutes, as Ray Kerkhove puts it, “the victimhood narrative.” indigenous peoples that dominates Australia’s post-colonial history.

According to Dr Kerkhove, this seemingly minor victory is set apart not only because the oxen were turned away, but also by the attempted retaliation. It was an indisputable military victory.

Ray says there is evidence that many settlers actually respected Multuggerah. A bush ballad and a poem, popular mediums of vernacular storytelling, were even written in honor of the battle.

William Wilkes’ poem of the incident (c. 1845), as something of a Boys Own skirmishes, admitted with rare frankness for the time;

“In short, it was as simple as the nose on your face”

That the whites would retire in disgrace.

The battle was actually part of a highly organized campaign, based on a coalition of indigenous groups and a guerrilla army numbering up to 1,200 men and women, over a wide area.

“It was a resistance movement that continued for decades,” says Ray.

And Multusgerah was the key to this success.

According to Uncle Wayne Fossey, who is an Elder-in-Residence at the University of Southern Queensland, it is important to understand the depths of Multuggerah’s genius, not only in its resistance to white colonization, but also in bringing local tribal groups for a common community. cause.

“He was able to unite people, which was quite difficult at the time. Given the ways of the blackfellas, crossing into someone else’s territory could get you killed.

He argues that struggles over which tribal group Multuggerah belonged to among local indigenous peoples continue today, and the efforts of generations of non-indigenous officials to suppress Multuggerah’s heritage only proves its importance to the two communities.

After his father “Old Moppy”, also a notable resistance warrior, was murdered by settlers in 1842, Multuggerah was able to muster at least seven neighboring clans to resist the waves of settlers arriving from the coast.

He understood that the supply lines to the coastal settlements around Moreton Bay were vital to European survival, and so he and his coalition decided to cut those lines.

They ambushed and attacked convoys of armed oxen carrying food and tools, and succeeded in isolating settlements in and around the Lockyer Valley so effectively that distant colonial authorities were alarmed.

The Battle of One Tree Hill was therefore an attempt to break through the blockade which was defeated.

Uncle Wayne Fossey said: “It was the first large-scale stand-up in Queensland.

This created a feeling among the settlers that “the blackfellas might rise (and that) we need to take this blackfella stuff more seriously”.

This modest passage in the bush near Toowoomba thus forms an important theater of the border war, where Multuggerah and his fellow leaders, showed an understanding of foreign European systems of property and settlement, found both how to escape their weapons advanced techniques, as well as how to use them when they could get their hands on them, and developed savvy guerrilla techniques designed to disrupt settlers at their most vulnerable point: supply lines.

Multuggerah and her allies successfully applied an innate curiosity in an alien, albeit necessary, culture that was conversely unmatched by the settlers.

According to Dr Kerkhove, “they used tactics (during settlement raids) to keep people in huts so they had time to take the sheep away, which could take days”.

“They built brush parks to guard them, picking up techniques from the whites. He’s definitely a hero. A tragic hero, someone who set out to do the impossible.

It was indeed impossible, as we know.

A group of native warriors near a river in the Darling Downs area. Image credit: John Oxley Library

Although the campaign of resistance continued after Multuggerah was shot and killed in 1846, numbers, technology and the perseverance of the settler prevailed.

But some kind of victory can still come.

Historian Mark Copland is a member of the Battle of Meewah Commemoration Committee. He led a campaign for greater recognition of the Multuggerah in the local community for almost a decade.

He took me to a disheveled spot overlooking Meewah, no more than a small clearing and a wooden picnic table, to show me a battered plate. The image on it has almost disappeared under weathered cracks in the paint. The words explaining Multuggerah’s efforts are erased by age.

Until recently, that was all there was to mean Multuggerah and his band were even there.

As part of his job, Copland visits schools to tell them about the resistance campaign and Multuggerah.

“The kids were amazed that nobody knew the story (of Multuggerah),” he says.

“They wrote to the Council and asked for this plaque.”

The modest efforts of Year 4 children at Middle Ridge Primary have led to more plaques – at least two and in better condition than the first – and now an annual commemorative event about the Battle of Meewah, which takes place every September 13 , has become a highlight on the local calendar.

Thanks to the efforts of Mark Copland and his committee, Multuggerah’s profile has steadily grown.

He remembers many who knew Multuggerah seeing the signs for Darren Lockyer Way leading to Toowoomba and thinking, “If we can get a road named after a footballer, then why not something after Multuggerah?”

They didn’t get a Multuggerah lane, but they and Multuggerah ended up with an overpass, which was opened in 2019.

Of course, there is the irony of marking the efforts of a resistance leader with the kind of infrastructure he would likely have fought against.

Uncle Wayne says, “We shouldn’t be driving over a Multuggerah overpass for anything.

But, he agrees, “it’s a bit of a compromise.”

Either way, such recognition of Multuggerah is valuable, if only because it recognizes the remarkable efforts of a brave and intelligent indigenous warrior, politician and defender of his people and builds, quite literally, a place lasting for him and his story, in our national narrative.

His efforts deserve nothing less.

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