Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were two Palawa (indigenous Tasmanian) men who were executed for the killing of two whalers. They were executed at a time when frontier wars between Koorie (Aboriginal Australians from Victoria and New South Wales) and colonist populations were raging across the mainland and systematic genocide had been undertaken across Tasmania. They were born in Tasmania and brought to Melbourne in 1839 by George Augustus Robinson, the ‘Protector of Aborigines’. In 1842, they became the first people to be hanged in Melbourne after they were convicted for the murder of two whale-hunters in the Western Port area. Their execution was the biggest story of the day.
Their execution took place before the existence of Old Melbourne Gaol on Russell Street, which was being constructed at the time. Instead, they were publicly hanged on Franklin Street behind the City Baths, the site of this monument, which was dedicated in 2016.
The artists are Brook Andrew and Trent Walter, who explained the symbolism is their artist statement:
Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner’ is a permanent marker that is experimental and empowering. It begs contemporary viewers to embrace innovative processes of how to remember their tragic story through historical artistic representations of the ready-made object.
The permanent marker comprises six brightly coloured newspaper stands, a static solid bluestone swing, indigenous food and medicine plantings and a reproduction suburban Victorian style fence.
The brightly coloured newspaper stands represent colours of both the Aboriginal and Australian flags: red, white, blue yellow and black. Australian and Aboriginal law have often clashed and this story is one that represents this clash, hence the colours of the flags coming together. Newspapers in each stand acknowledge diverse early colonial and Aboriginal histories of Melbourne and Tasmania, heritage stories and the specific story of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener.
The static solid bluestone swing and tomb-like structure with the names Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner engraved on the side invites visitors to the site to sit, contemplate and reflect. The children’s swing seat becomes the tomb, laden with memory and history.
The pavement in bluestone and a woven wire gate reflect the nostalgic history of Melbourne. The bluestone path, a continuation from the Old Melbourne Gaol connects the two sites, signifying connection to a complex history involving crime and punishment in early Melbourne
The structure sits amongst indigenous medicine plants that are useful for regeneration and native to the landscape of Parperloihener clan (Cape Grim), Iarapuna (Bay of Fires), Woiworung and Boonwurrung of the Kulin Nation (Melbourne).
The viewer will learn not only about history and the significance of this story, but will also about the importance of Aboriginal medicines and land care, which relate directly to the care of the body and culture.
‘Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner’ creates an educational platform to ensure longevity of their story, and invites Melbourne locals and visitors to discover how this story informs our knowledge of Aboriginal history and contested histories of colonisation.