WARNING: Visitors should be aware that this website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The National Museum of Australia tells history through objects and personal stories. The objects which illustrate the Coniston Massacre include a spearthrower made by Kamalyarrpa Japanangka (whose killing of a settler triggered the massacre), examples of weaponry used by Aboriginal people and settlers in central Australia at the time of the massacre and ceremonial items from the commemoration held to mark the 75th anniversary of this tragic series of events.
Image Gallery Page Navigation
Page 1 of 1
Kamalyarrpa's spearthrower 1931, on loan from South Australian Museum. Photo: Lannon Harley.
In August 1928, Kamalyarrpa Japanangka (Bullfrog) killed Fred Brooks, the incident which sparked the Coniston Massacre. Kamalyarrpa fled soon after and managed to escape the massacre by hiding in a cave.
The circumstances of Bullfrog's involvement only became clear with the passing of time.
Three years later, anthropologists working in the area came across Kamalyarrpa. They photographed him and collected material culture from him and his wives, without knowing of their role in the massacre.
The spearthrower made for the anthropologists as a demonstration piece appears in the First Australians gallery and is on loan from the South Australian Museum.
Lee-Enfield short Mk III* (star).303 rifle
Lee-Enfield short Mk III* (star).303 rifle, 1920. National Museum of Australia. Photo: Lannon Harley.
Best known for its military history, a version of this type of rifle was carried ashore by Australian troops at Gallipoli in 1915. In 1928 the Lee-Enfield was to play a role in another violent encounter, this time on Australian soil.
The events which have become known as the Coniston Massacre were a reprisal for the murder of a white man, Fred Brooks, by a Warlpiri man on Coniston Station in central Australia in August 1928. The policeman who led the Coniston shootings, in which more than 60 Aboriginal people were shot, was Mounted Constable George Murray.
Constable Murray was a Gallipoli veteran, having enlisted with the 4th Light Horse in 1914.  Historians have likened his attacks on Aboriginal people to cavalry charges. The tactics used in the Coniston Massacre were said to have been similar to those of the Light Horse, with Murray leading the charge. The party would ride into Aboriginal encampments in a line, then dismount and shoot with rapid-fire rifles and pistols.
The Lee-Enfield .303 held a magazine of ten rounds and had a rapid fire rate. Against such an onslaught, Aboriginal spears and boomerangs stood little chance.
The Lee-Enfield .303 on display in the First Australians gallery is a Mk III* (star). It was manufactured in 1920 and has no military markings. It is typical of the model used by central Australian police in 1928.
Chert flakes collected from a quarry site in the Waputarli Ranges west of Coniston. On loan with permission of family of Jack Ross. Photo: Lannon Harley.
The quarry known as Kanti was a major source of stone knives used by Warlpiri people.
These chert flakes were collected in 1994 by Jack Jakamarra Ross, an eyewitness to the Coniston Massacre. Flakes of this type were mounted with resin and sometimes wood handles to produce a finished knife.
In 1977, Alec Jupurrurla who was living nearby at the time of the attack on Brooks, gave the following account of the murder:
'One boomerang he put right through here (indicating throat) and he cut him with stone knife.
He cuttem with stone knife.
(Peter and Jay Read, 1991 - see Resources page, Coniston Massacre)
Feathered head ornament used at the 75th anniversary of the Coniston Massacre, 2003. National Museum of Australia. Photo: Lannon Harley.
In August 2003, a commemoration was held at Yurrukuru (Brooks Soak) to mark the 75th anniversary of the Coniston Massacre. Traditional ceremonies were staged by women from the communities of Willowra and Yuendumu. A Christian service was held nearby and a rock concert was performed for an audience of several hundred people.
Ceremonial objects collected by the National Museum of Australia now form part of the Museum's collection. The objects collected were made by senior Warlpiri women, including this feathered head ornament made from chicken feathers and wool.