ABC: WA Police Union deletes tweet in NAIDOC Week lauding officer involved in Pinjarra massacre

Western Australia’s police union has come under fire for a social media post commemorating an officer who was involved in one of the state’s bloodiest massacres of Aboriginal people.

Key points:

  • Some 15-80 people are estimated to have died in the Pinjarra massacre
  • Theophalus Ellis was the only colonial in the party to die, after being speared
  • The tweet stated Ellis was “murdered” and pledged to remember him

The WA Police Union (WAPU) last night took to Twitter, writing: “Today we remember Captain Theophalus Ellis who was murdered in Pinjarra on this day in 1834.”

The tweet was published during NAIDOC Week.

According to the University of Newcastle’s database of colonial frontier massacres, Ellis died after being speared during the Pinjarra Massacre in 1834.

WA’s state heritage register records the massacre as being in response to a group of Noongar men spearing a white servant, who had joined them in searching for an escaped horse.

Three months after that killing, Captain James Stirling and John Septimus Roe joined Ellis to search for those responsible.

“An eyewitness account states that Ellis’s party initiated the attack against the retreating [Noongars],” the site’s history statement records.

“Ellis received [a] concussion from either a spear blow or a fall from his horse.”

The exact number of deaths associated with the massacre is not known but is estimated to sit somewhere between 15 and 30, although one account records it as 80.

Tweet deleted and apology issued

The WAPU deleted the tweet overnight and this morning published an apology for “any hurt caused”.

“Yesterday, a tweet was posted which after a number of requests we removed,” the apology read.

“The information contained in the tweet regarding the death of a police officer was taken from the official honour roll.”

The union also posted the same message on the same day in 2019.

Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said it was not a “good judgement” to tweet the message.

“If it was, they’d still have the tweet up,” he said.

Wording ‘completely wrong’: professor

Whadjuk Ballardong elder and Curtin University Emeritus Professor Simon Forrest said he was “pissed off” when he saw the tweet.

“The wording is completely wrong and inappropriate,” he said.

“I acknowledge Ellis was the first police officer to die while on duty, but he certainly wasn’t murdered.

“It was actually Stirling’s party that was doing all the planning and premeditation to attack the Noongars.

“The Aboriginal group were responding in self-defence to an attack on their camp.”

Mr Forrest said Australians wanted and needed to be taught more about the history of Aboriginal massacres.

He said a day to commemorate the mass killings could sit alongside occasions like Anzac Day and Remembrance Day.

“We commemorate three days in a calendar year of soldiers going off and fighting overseas,” he said.

“Where’s the remembrance for Aboriginal people who were doing exactly the same as them, fighting for their land and their way of life?”

On Monday, the WAPU also posted in honour of Constable William Goldwyer and Inspector Frederick Panter, who were supposedly killed by local Yawuru Karajarri people.

The University of Newcastle’s database records that their deaths sparked a “punitive expedition” that led to the deaths of as many as 20 people.

In 1994, a plaque was added to a monument to the men in Fremantle’s Esplanade Park to recognise “the other side of the story”.

On October 31, the union shared a post in memory of Constable William Richardson, who died in 1894 while transporting 16 Bunuba resistance fighters from the Kimberley to Rottnest Island.

All of the officers appear on both the WA Police Union and WA Police honour rolls, without noting the circumstances around their deaths.

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