Tuesday, October 20, 2009

From the Archives: Cummeragunja - Part II

More on the Cummeragunja Walk-Off, from the Melbourne Argus, Saturday, March 11, 1939.

Man Convicted
ECHUCA, Friday. 
Intense interest was shown by a large crowd which assembled at the Moama Court today when John Thomas Patten, compositor, of Redfern, Sydney, was charged with having enticed and persuaded Aborigines to leave the Cummeragunga Mission Station, at Barmah (N.S.W.).
Patten, who pleaded not guilty, wasconvicted and discharged on enteringInto a recognisance to be of good behaviour for three months.
First-constable Arthur McAvoy, ofMoama, said that he visited Cummeragunga on February 3, and told Patten about inquiries being made into the manager's complaints that Aborigines had been pursuaded to leave the station. Patten replied, "They are being starved." Patten produced a letter signed, "Secretary, Aboriginal Protection board," authorising a visit to the reserve to address meetings.
When told that he had no authority to tell Aborigines that the reserve wouldbe made a compound, Patten replied that he had that morning telegraphed to the Premier and others that Aborigines were leaving because of victimisation and starvation.
Constable McAvoy described the arrestof Patten, and said that as the policecar departed Patten shouted, "Go to it,boys! Now Is your chance to leave thereserve. I will get all the publicity I want now!" The crowd was hostile, andtrouble might have occurred.
Arhur James McQuiggin, manager ofthe station, said that he was presentwith Constable McAvoy when Patten said that the Aborigines were being intimidated, victimised, and starved. Two families had left after the meeting.
Patten said that as President of theAborigines' Progressive Association, hehad never tried to induce residents ofCummeragunga to leave the reserve. Hebelieved that the people left because ofintimidation by the manager "who droveround with a rifle on his lorry and lookedat them in a hostile manner."
Mr. Hawkins said that he was satisfiedwith the police evidence, which evidencefor the defence had corroborated. Hebelieved that Patten frightened and incited people with the Inevitable consequences that they left. The Aboriginal problem was certainly very difficult, and he gave Patten credit for honestly trying to do his best for his own people although he had adopted a hopelessly wrong method.

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