19. Lawlessness


Different Attitudes


Sharing has always been the basis of Aboriginal life, with expectations and rules of conduct for sharing fairly being part of Aboriginal Law. The European idea of trading for profit was not known to Aboriginal people, who began to move freely through the town. The Europeans had taken so much of their land and food supply, and now Aboriginal people of this area were invited in, and as a matter of right, they helped themselves to people’s food and dwellings.

Some Europeans started to resent sharing everything they had.  A European resident, George Thompson, wrote:

“If they were shy at the first settling in the colony, that is not the case now. For the people can scarcely keep them out of their houses in day time.”

Competition for resources to feed the new concentration of people, as well as the process of occupying the region with more people, meant expansion into more Aboriginal land. Trading of fish and tools soon degenerated to the trading of rum and women. Both European and Aboriginal people began to harden their attitude towards each other.

Later Governors, when expanding into other Aboriginal lands used posters
with pictures such as this extract used in Tasmania, to explain their law to Aboriginal people.


The terms of trade are changing


Phillip’s gamekeeper, John McEntire, a convict, was in charge of the trade in Sydney.

He had a bad reputation for crimes against Aboriginal people. Tench wrote that Bennelong had regarded McEntire with “dread and hatred”. He stated:

“From the aversion uniformly shewn by all natives to this unhappy man, he had long been suspected by us of having in his excursions shot and injured them…”

McEntire began to supply rum instead of tools. This, along with other crimes, resulted in his execution by Pemulwuy on 9th December, 1790.

McEntire was speared by Pemulwuy while hunting. It took more than a week for him to die and there were rumours of his deathbed confessions of horrible crimes he had committed against Aboriginal people. Arthur Phillip was angry about the spearing, and decided to make a severe example of the Bidjigal people.

“War” begins


The General Order issued on 13th December stated:

“…the Governor, …has ordered out a party to search for the man who wounded the convict (McEntire) … and to make a severe example of that tribe.”

Governor Phillip had a good reputation in dealing with Aboriginal people, but on this occasion he mustered fifty men to capture at least six people from among the Bidjigal, or to kill that number, bring back their heads and take two prisoners who would be executed in Sydney…

“in the most public and exemplary manner, in the presence of as many of their countrymen as can be collected…”

Though a few of Phillip’s officers disagreed, two expeditions were sent to capture Pemulwuy, but failed to find anyone.

This massive overreaction marked a new, ruthless policy against Aboriginal people who resisted the imposed British law. It showed the new limits of tolerance and justice and it marked the beginnings of a time of war.

 “Gradually, almost helplessly, the colony drifted towards a strange, undeclared Anglo-Australian war”

Extract from ‘Pemulwuy: The Rainbow Warrior’ by Eric Willmot




All our homes are overcrowded

First they hide,
now they’re all around

Uninvited they come right in here

Aint got enough for sharin’ around!


All the terms of trade are changin’

You must think that we are dumb!

It’s time you learned the way it’s done here

No more hatchets – we’ll give you rum!


McIntyre – my game-keeper

Killed in such a brutal way!

We must show these lawless people

Hunt them down to Botany Bay

Let not one man stand in your way

Bring back the heads of the seven you slay