Here in the Sunshine Coast, while producing the stories for Myall Creek and Warialda and Uralla, I come across the name Henry Dangar most every day. Henry Dangar the squatter, the surveyor, the society gentleman. The man who vouched for the guilty stockmen during the Myall Creek massacre but who clearly didn’t like his hut keeper, Anderson: Anderson who couldn’t ride a horse, who was there the day of the massacre and whose testimony brought the practice of killing blacks to the attention of the Australian public. Up and down the east Coast, today Dangar’s name is like council confetti; used for streets, lagoons, islands and waterfalls. When I walk the track at Myaall Creek, as I read the court transcripts for the massacre; I can almost feel his breath upon my shoulder.
In February this year, I took trip out to one of Dangar’s former homesteads with locals from Warialda, farmer David Conway, former school principle and researcher, Peter Hancock, and local heritage expert, Jeanette Wilson.
We drove out over a land long cleared. While many of the old squatter runs have fallen into disrepair or been sold on or carved up for soldier settlement blocks, Yallaroi still operates today. Today it stands, albeit a little sagging in places, in the middle of vast wheat fields. Build in the 1840s, Yallaroi is slowly being restored by its owners, Paul and Sue. The old homestead sits level on black soil country, has a large old cooking range in its kitchen and has survived countless droughts, flood and storms. In the old store smells abound. Smells my grandfather must have known, and smells strangely familiar to me. We are shown the old post office, the linking irons arrangement in the chain measurement and even Dangar’s branding iron. The land dry and cracked. The renovating task for Paul and Sue seemingly huge, the thirst of the land unquenchable as the water for their strip of green lawn pumped up from the artesian bores.
Amidst the endless stubble, Yallaroi is a marker of many things to many people; Australia’s glory days riding on the sheep’s back, pioneering days, our collective colonial history; what comes to mind to me are land grabs up the Liverpool Plains, this remote white domicile, the decimation of the Kamilaroi people, and the hardships of convict labour.
Near the abandoned tennis court, I walked out to the dam armed with my H4N recorder. I watched the farm dog stalk a wallaby and cloud burst far off in the west as I tried recording for atmos. I didn’t really get much other than flies and the odd galah. I was both impressed and a little underwhelmed with what I saw at Yallaroi. From soldier settlers in Uralla, the Government run at Warialda and the Myall Creek massacre, so many stories come back to these once-grand stations like Yallaroi and squatters like Danger.
Even today, I have a sense that the sound stories I am producing, that carry the voices, the songs and sounds from the region, are but the latest manifestations wrought from this tough land and Australia’s penal years and beyond? Secret faultlines that go far beneath the surface and tell another story. There must be, even today, still hundreds of places like Yallaroi, there would have been many squatters like Dangar; English upper class quick to take advantage of the rich pickings; the cattle prices, who had deep pockets and political willpower to determine their own laws in remote reaches of Australia. Dangar wasn’t the only one with land aplenty, guns at the ready and a free labour force to support his enterprise. Just the most salient at this point in the sound stories I am producing.