True story of an Aboriginal warrior and freedom fighter

Former newspaper editor Chilla Johnston tells the story of Aboriginal warrior and freedom fighter Multuggerah. This week the Heritage Advisory Committee suggested the Toowoomba bypass be named after him.

WHILE one does not wish to enter into the debate over the naming of the Toowoomba bypass I am writing to straighten out a few facts in regards to what the passing of 173 years has turned into folklore under the banner of the Battle of One-Tree Hill.

The first question to ask is was it really a battle or just a significant skirmish?

In his report Commissioner Dr Stephen Simpson, the officer in charge of the region, said: "On September 12, 1843, the Aborigines stopped three bullock drays on the high road to the Darling Downs and carried away a large amount of property having driven off 14 men sent to protect it and speared one of the bullocks.

"A party of gentlemen having proceeded to the rescue of the drays, the blacks took up a strong position on a rocky hill in the vicinity of the road and actually repulsed them, two of the party being injured by masses of rocks rolled down the hill.

"By an intelligent Aborigine, named Toby of the Limestone tribe, lately attached to my party, I am informed that the range blacks have formed a plan of intercepting all communication by the road to the Darling Downs - for this purpose, upon going over the range, I found they had actually attempted to barricade the road by cutting down trees and throwing them across the road at a point where it traverses a scrub and is not above seven feet wide - here they lie in ambush and a shower of spears is the first indication of their presence."

The 14 ticket-of-leave men who had been conscripted literally took their "ticket-of-leave" and fled to seek help back to Helidon Station and the Halfway House, where Commissioner Simpson and a number of squatters were holding a meeting.

A 19th century illustration of a settler vigilantes in Queensland.
A 19th century illustration of a settler vigilantes in Queensland. Contributed

The conscripts managed to attract the help of two men on horseback to deliver their message when about two miles from the ambush scene.

Some reports in years past claimed Commissioner Simpson and the squatters arrived at the scene of the ambush in two hours.

This would have been impossible as the Half Way House was on Lockyer Creek near where the Gatton Racecourse is now - a distance of about 30 kms to seek help and then 30 kms back (Bart's 12 in relay could not have done it.)

When Simpson, the squatters and the ticket-of-leave men arrived some Aborigines were "butchering" a bullock while others had taken off with the supplies.

They tried to attack the Aborigines by climbing up the face of Mt Davidson (Mt Hay now Sugarloaf) but had to retreat as the Aborigines rolled boulders down injuring two men.

The Jagera Aborigines retreated around the spur while others (Giabal) retreated up the range.

Some historians refer to it as the last great stand when really it was arguably the first significant show of resistance in the area to the white man taking over Aboriginal land.

That was the Battle of One-Tree Hill.

It lasted less than a day.

The casualty list gleaned from Commissioner Simpson's files, reads: dead, one bullock; injured, two white men who were hit by boulders.

There was no prolonged battle on Table Top. Multuggerah was not killed there.

He was to lead his tribe in "guerrilla-type" skirmishes for another three years.

There is also another question as to number of Aborigines which some historians say were involved at the one time.

The idea of an "army" of 1200 men in the one area brings the question of how were they fed, even eating off the land.

The Aborigines lived in small family groups, not large communities, dotted across the valley.

While there may have been hundreds prepared to fight for their land their guerrilla-style warfare would hardly suggest 1200 men in the one area at the same time.

Within days of the ambush, Lt Patrick Johnson, a 20-year career soldier led 12 men of the 99th Regiment on a three-week campaign against the Aborigines as they retreated to Rosewood Scrub, harassing and sniping at them at every opportunity as they tried to emerge from the scrubs to hunt, depriving them of food and rest until finally attacking their camp in Rosewood Scrub.

There were no stated deaths.

Despite the formation of the Hellidon Military Post (name later changed), the army post at Monkey Waterholes Creek which served to protect the squatters, their families, servants and possessions, Multuggerah continued his move to stop the encroachment of his lands.

Sheep were stolen in great numbers and drays were ambushed much to the chagrin of the settlers, who were left without supplies.

Few white men ventured forth without a pistol at their hip and a musket in their gun-bucket.

Dr Simpson took a census of Europeans residents on the Lockyer runs in 1844. They totalled just 71.

However, the period was costly in life and limb for the small number of settlers. Between 1841 and 1844, 16 whites were killed and nine injured on the runs. The Stock Return of 1844 showed that 19,000 sheep, 2447 cattle and 29 horses were being depastured on Lockyer Valley runs.

Multuggerah's death

By the middle of 1846 the population of the Jagera was now concentrated in Rosewood Scrub.

Black Campbell, as Multuggerah was now known to the white population, was among some 500 Aborigines living in Rosewood Scrub, close to the homestead.

For six weeks the large body of Aborigines harassed the men and the outstations at every opportunity, then on the afternoon of Saturday, August 29, 1846, they changed their focus.

They turned their attention to the main house, the Rosewood Scrub homestead (close to Glenore Grove).

Multuggerah and 20 of his men marched up to John Coutts and demanded "...big-fellow-white-money, four figs of tobacco for each of his companions, and some budgeree flour - baal rations flour..."

Coutts was fearful for his wife, Janet, and their children who were in the house at the time, but he firmly refused the demand, and stood his ground baring the 20 men from entering, demanding that the Aborigines leave his station.

Multuggerah's demands threatened to turn to violence.

Seemingly, just as the situation looked to be out of Coutts' control, three horsemen appeared along the Brisbane Road - totally changing the complexion of the confrontation.

As luck happened that afternoon, William Pitts, William Bonifant, with Bonifant's "boy", Wiggins were on their way back from Brisbane to their inn, The Halfway House.

Their timing could not have been better, possibly saving the white family from robbery and maybe a fate similar to John Uhr.

As the travellers rode in, Multuggerah made his retreat back to his camp in the scrub and planned his next move.

Pitts and Bonifant seeing the danger to Coutts - and to themselves if they rode on - decided on staying at Rosewood until it subsided.

No doubt they all spent a restless next few hours and night nursing their muskets and knowing that Multuggerah had far superior numbers and could overrun them at any time. They waited for the attack they knew must happen.

Then at first light on Sunday morning the Aborigines moved on Rosewood.

Just three or four volleys later, the fighting leader of the Lockyer Yuggera (Jagera) and two others went down. Multuggerah had led his final assault.

The Aborigines then retreated taking the three bodies with them back to their camp in the scrub.

The article in the Moreton Bay Courier goes on the say that Multuggerah and the two others to fall were the supposed murderers of the unfortunate John Uhr at Fairney Law near Fernvale on Christmas Day, 1845.

Seemingly in the years following Multuggerah's death resistance from the Aborigines quickly dissipated.

The sad irony of it all was that although the era of the sheep pastoralist lasted just 22 years or so (1862) it heralded the demise of a race that that had occupied the Lockyer for at least 22,000 years.

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