Each month in our Sunday Tribal Gathering at Zac's we've been looking at one of the Beatitudes along with the piece of artwork commissioned. This month it was 'Blessed are the peacemakers' and the art is this Aboriginal painting - I don't know the name of the artist I'm afraid but I'll try and find out and add it later - that tells the story of what was possibly the first act of reconciliation between Aborigine and white settler in Australia.I precis-ed an article to tell the story here:
Our story is set in Australia in the nineteenth century. There was a short stretch of the Murrumbidgee River where it was possible to cross in safety and many white settlers used it to cross and continue their journeys across Australia. As it was a popular river crossing small businesses grew up around it. Sometimes the settlers would have to wait several days for the river to be low enough for them to cross so hotels, shops, houses and eventually a small town was built there.
The local Aborigines told them they should move and build on higher ground because they knew it was a floodplain and sooner or later a big flood would happen. The settlers ignored the warnings thinking the Aborigines just wanted them off the land so they could keep it for themselves.
In 1844 the river rose 3 feet and the inhabitants of the town had to hide in their lofts. In spite of this warning they still believed that they were safe from serious flooding.
By 1852 Gundagai had a white population of 250 people and a school, a bank and a police station. In June 1852 it rained for 3 weeks and the town was cut off when the floodplain was covered in water. The townspeople still refused offers from the local punt owner to take them to safety believing that because the rain had stopped they were safe – but then on Friday June 25th the water from a higher catchment area hit them and a torrent 6 and a half feet high tore through the town.
The punt owner tried to rescue people but was swept into a tree and all except one aboard were drowned. It was now obviously too dangerous to take a boat into the waters and people were being swept away from their rooftops.
Then a lone figure in a fragile bark canoe appeared. His name was Yarri. Again and again, he forced his way across the raging torrent. His canoe could only hold himself and one other but, one by one, he rescued flood victims and brought them to land. By Friday night the river was rapidly rising at the rate of over three feet (1 metre) an hour and as darkness closed in people were forced to cling the highest rooftops and chimneys or swim to the nearest treetops still above the water.
In the early hours of Saturday June 26, the river peaked at about twenty feet and had swollen to a width of one mile. Guided only by the cries for help and the moonlight, Yarri continued paddling through the ferocious waters trying to avoid the surging logs, debris and dead cattle.
On Saturday morning another brave aborigine called Jacky Jacky, joined the rescue bid, in a larger bark canoe which could hold more than one person. He was able to rescue several people at a time.
Yarri and Jacky Jacky continued to rescue those who were still clinging to life in treetops during the night and through the next day Sunday June 27. The epic rescue took three days and two nights of exhausting effort and by the end Yarri had rescued 49 people and Jacky Jacky another 20. The number of lives lost was estimated to be between 80 and 100.
Aboriginal painting is very symbolic and in this one the yellow leaves number 69, the total saved by Yarri and Jacky.