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Message Stick – The Convincing Ground (2007)


This two-part documentary looks at the traditional, historic and contemporary stories associated with the massacre of up to 60 Aboriginal people by whalers at the Convincing Ground, near the coastal town of Portland, Victoria in the 1830s.

Curator’s notes

The Convincing Ground provides its audience with an opportunity to look at Australian colonial history from an Aboriginal perspective. Filmmaker Richard Frankland exposes a hidden side of Australian history and highlights his peoples’ maintenance of their oral traditions.

The Kilcarer clan have maintained an oral history record about the Convincing Ground massacre since it occurred. Walter Saunders, a member of the Kilcarer clan, talks about the customary practice of sharing whale meat with neighbouring clans in the 1830s. Saunders outlines the conflict.

After the establishment of whaling stations at Portland, the Kilcarer found a whale beached in Portland Bay. They began sharing the meat but whalers arrived on the scene and claimed ownership of the carcass. The Aboriginal people retaliated. The whalers withdrew, armed themselves and returned. A fight between the two groups, one armed with spears the other with guns, ended with the whalers killing all but two of the Aboriginal people. To mark this event as a deterrent, the settlers named the site the Convincing Ground.

Kilcarer elder Christina Saunders tells the chilling story of the Convincing Ground (clip one), describing it as:

a place of screaming and yelling and howling, that carries for miles. So it’s not just confined to one area in a quiet way, there was a running and a yelling and hiding … Just an absolute slaughter.

In 1992, local Aboriginal people sought formal recognition of the cultural significance of the site and heritage protection. When a developer purchased the Convincing Ground for a housing subdivision, Aboriginal peoples called on local, state and federal governments to intervene to protect the site.

The Convincing Ground Part 1 was first broadcast on ABC1 on 19 February 2007 at 6 pm, with Part 2 screening on 26 February 2007.