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Aboriginal Australians and the river : Edward Eyre and Aboriginal groups

Following his exploration of the country between Adelaide and Albany in Western Australia in 1840-41, Edward Eyre was appointed Resident Magistrate and Protector of the Aborigines on the River Murray.  His post was established at Moorundie, the fertile tract he had discovered in his exploration in 1839.  He had secured a Special Survey along the River, and was granted 1411 acres, in addition to sections elsewhere in the colony.  During the early settlement period in South Australia, Special Surveys enabled an individual or a group to pay the costs of a land survey in areas beyond where surveys had already been undertaken in the colony, and have first choice of the land surveyed.

Governor Grey, who made the appointment of Resident Magistrate and Protector of Aborigines, saw the need for some form of control over both Aboriginal and European people in the area, particularly in response to tensions and violence between the two groups during the era of the overlanders. Eyre would be responsible for maintaining peace in the area, and also for establishing peaceful relations with Aboriginal communities along the upper reaches of the Murray, including the Rufus and Darling Rivers.  This position, with all of its inherent difficulties and possible dangers, was considered a reward for Eyre's explorations to the far west.

Eyre quickly gained the confidence of the local Aboriginal inhabitants with his attitude of non-aggression. The government authorised the distribution of small quantities of provisions, and this coupled with Eyre's attitude to them, was significant in reducing the incidence of violence between overlanding parties and settlers and the area's traditional landowners.  Eyre made several trips up the Murray to establish and maintain his relationship with them, and his success can be judged by the words of his friend Charles Sturt who records in his Narrative of an expedition into Central Australia…during the years 1844, 5, and 6, together with a notice of the Province of South Australia in 1847, p. 281 'The manners and customs of the natives have been so well and so faithfully recorded by Mr. Eyre that I need not dwell on them here.'  FS Dutton, a future Premier of South Australia, also wrote commending Eyre's work with Aboriginal people, in his South Australia and its mines, 1846, p. 331-2.

Eyre retired from the post of Protector of Aborigines in 1844, and returned to England, where he published the account of his explorations in Australia and Manners and customs of the Aborigines of Australia. This is 360 pages of his experiences with Aboriginal Australians and documents the wrongs perpetrated against them by Europeans, as well as suggestions for improving their relations with them, and for their education. His is a sympathetic and well-documented account of the Aboriginal lifestyle. 

Further reading

Eyre, Edward John. Journals of expeditions of discovery into Central Australia, and overland from Adelaide to King George's Sound, in the years 1840-1: sent by the colonists of South Australia, with the sanction and support of the government: including an account of the manners and customs of the aborigines and the state of their relations with Europeans, Adelaide : Libraries Board of South Australia, 1964

Dutton, Geoffrey. The hero as murderer: the life of Edward John Eyre, Australian Explorer and Governor of Jamaica 1815-1901, Sydney : Collins ; Melbourne : Cheshire, 1967

Extracts from Journals of expeditions of discovery into
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Journals of expeditions of discovery into central Austr
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Report by E J Eyre, Feb 1843
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Report from E J Eyre, Feb 1842
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'The natives at Moorunde'
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