MARTIAL law has only once been declared in the history of NSW and it was right here in Bathurst.
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Amidst the Bathurst Wars, then NSW governor Thomas Brisbane declared martial law on August 14, 1824, and it was not repealed until December that year.
It was a deeply unsettling time for Bathurst, but the local community came together on Sunday to commemorate the declaration of martial law.
Originally scheduled to take place at Burbung Ngurrum (the ceremonial place at the Circle of Stones by the Wambool-Macquarie River), it was shifted to the Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre (BMEC) due to wet weather.
The commemoration was an opportunity for the community to reflect on what happened close to two centuries ago, with Wiradyuri elder Dinawan Dyirribang speaking to attendees.
"Martial law was declared by the British empire on the Wiradyuri people, basically all lands west of Mount York," he said.
"This affected Wiradyuri people's lifestyles because of the early movement of settlers coming across the mountains into Bathurst.
"That led to a lot of skirmishes and disputes about land because trees were being cut down that were culturally and spiritually important for our people. It also saw the clearing of landscape, of food sources of the Wiradyuri people that got their food from the land.
"The British, who thought they owned the land, declared martial law, which meant normal law is suspended and military law is in place until the military gets things under control.
"From the Wiradyuri perspective, this was a war. We were fighting back against people who killed Wiradyuri people.
"At the time, the British militias formed their own laws, of hunting down Wiradyuri people and killing them, even though they might not have had anything to do with white people."
Dinawan said it was basically "open season" on the Wiradyuri people, with martial law not lifted until December 11 that year.
Wiradyuri leader Windradyne would later appear as the head of his people at Parramatta on December 28, to attend the governor's annual feast. Windradyne wore the word 'peace' on his hat.
"For us in Bathurst, speaking about this starts the conversation of truth-telling," he said.
"You need to tell the truth about what happened because this is something that has been festering in Australia ever since colonisation.
"For 230-odd years, history has never been taught properly to our kids in our schools, so that's why people are only learning now what happened to Aboriginal people.
"We also need to hear the truth-telling from the white people because they need to get that off their chest. Like I've always said: 'We carry the scares of what happened but the white people carry the guilt'.
"This is the thing, we want to say to people: 'This isn't about blaming anyone today or those generations for what happened back then'. This is about us sorting out this mess. We now come together to call ourselves Australians and to walk together as Australians."
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