Grafton High Year 9 students (at right) Michael Luxton, Oskar Robertson, Keaton Roe and Jordan Loadsman and, below, the students doing some research on site at Coutts Crossing.
Grafton High Year 9 students (at right) Michael Luxton, Oskar Robertson, Keaton Roe and Jordan Loadsman and, below, the students doing some research on site at Coutts Crossing. Lesley Apps

School project to memorialise Aboriginal killings

A SCHOOL project undertaken by four students from Grafton High will continue to resonate well beyond its classroom deadline if the idea behind it comes to fruition.

Year 9 students and friends Jordan Loadsman, Michael Luxton, Keaton Roe and Oskar Robertson were wondering what they could do as part of their inquiry-based learning module of history studies.

Inspired by an article published in The Daily Examiner last year about an Indigenous massacre at Coutts Crossing, Oskar Robertson was moved by what he read.

"It really captured my attention, especially how nothing had been done about it all. I thought we definitely need to do something. There is literally no recognition for the crimes Thomas Coutts committed out there. When this school project came up I thought this is the chance to seize it," Oskar said.

 

The students doing some research on site at Coutts Crossing.
The students doing some research on site at Coutts Crossing.

The article by Indigenous columnist Janelle Brown revisited the history which saw 23 Aborigines poisoned by landowner Thomas Coutts, who faced trial but was cleared on a technicality because Indigenous people could not give evidence in court. Coutts later fled the area but the village was named after him.

"We initially thought about making our project about getting the name changed but we found out that had already been discussed when the article came out last year and there was strong opposition against it," Oskar said.

During the course of their research the boys have received a variety of responses.

"We found out half of the local residents didn't know anything about it or completely didn't think it happened at all," Keaton said.

"Having Jordan (who is Indigenous) as a friend and whose people were affected by it was a bonus," Michael said.

"My dad was pretty excited with what we were doing for our project," Jordan said.

Rather than revisit the name-change the students have opted for a simple memorial to remember the 23 Aboriginal people who were massacred.

"It feels like they have been forgotten," Oskar said. "Something needs to be done to remember the Gumbaynggirr people and tell other people the truth about what happened here."

The boys thought a foundation made from stones and a plaque might be a suitable dedication for the memorial park on the village's entrance.

"Firstly we need to talk to the Gumbaynggirr people, and the people of Coutts and Clarence Valley Council. We also needs the funds to do it. We might start a Go Fund Me Page," Michael said.

"We'll write to council with all the information we have gathered and maybe get a poll going through council seeing if people support the idea. There could be an option for funds too."

The boys have two terms to complete their project but even if there is no tangible outcome by the time they hand it in to their teacher, they will be continuing their campaign for a memorial in their own time.

"It's something we all care about," Keaton said.

When asked if they were worried about reigniting the debate from last year, the boys agreed it was worth it.

"If more people know the intricate facts about it we might be able to make change happen," Oskar said.

"Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. There are differences between people but we are all humans.

"Sometimes bringing up something is the best thing. You can push it down deep enough but it's always going to be there but if you get it out, it can be healed."