Book Review: Demons at Dusk

After a visiting the Myall Creek Memorial on the road to Bingara, NSW and subsequent trips to the Inverell library, I stumbled across this book by Peter Stewart. I managed to buy it from an awesome second-hand book shop in Armidale and read it in a night.

“A deed for which we cannot find a parallel for cold blooded ferocity, even in the history of Cortez and the Mexicans or of Pizzaro and the Peruvians.” Sydney Monitor 19 November 1838.

Demons at Dusk: Massacre at Myall Creek by Peter Stewart. Foreward by Peter FitzSimons. Published by SID Harta in 2007.

I found Demons at Dusk to be a compelling historical novel dedicated to bringing the events of the Myall Creek Massacre, and how commonly these types of crimes occurred, to the attention of the wider Australian population.

Peter Stewart researched the book thoroughly and dedicated a section in the Author’s Note to the repeatedly asked question: ‘How much of it is true?’. We discover; nearly all of it. The author is very clear in distinguishing his use of primary documents such as court hearing transcripts and 19th century newspaper articles against the sections where he extended his literary licence.

Demons at Dusk is not an enjoyable book: but you are at once arrested as your heart reads about babies smashed against rocks, tribal elders hacked to death and women raped repeatedly, while your mind digests the very fact that is true. It happened. And the perpetrators are those little aussie battling folk-heroes we like to revere in our bush-poetry, music and national celebrations.

We also learn that on the night before the murderers were hung, when all the men eventually confessed to the massacre, they said that they thought they were only doing the bidding of their masters and did not know it was against the law to kill aboriginals.

And the reader is left to ponder that fact. That in 1838 slaughtering aboriginal people was so common place that white Australians had no concept that it was a) against the law AND b) wrong.

Human beings kill other human beings due to an ability to think for themselves.

Peter Stewart pledges 20% of the royalties from the sale of the book to the Myall Creek Memorial which was established in 2000. In a beautiful act of reconciliation, decedents of both victims and perpetrators joined hands and walked together to the massacre site,  where they officially opened a space to remember the victims and the hope of a more tolerant Australia.

In his foreword Peter FitzSimons exclaims:”every Australian should read this book … reading it helped me understand my own country.” Maybe you should too.

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