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First Peoples

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this resource may contain images or names of people who have since passed away.

Fact sheet

Fact Check: Was Lachlan Macquarie a mass murderer who ordered the genocide of Indigenous people?

Genocide First Peoples

Bronwyn Carlson, head of Indigenous Studies at Macquarie University, claimed Lachlan Macquarie, governor of NSW from 1810 to 1821, was a mass murderer who ordered the genocide of Indigenous people. But the issue is not cut and dried. In April 1816, Macquarie ordered soldiers under his command to kill or capture any Aboriginal people they encountered during a military operation. At least 14 people were brutally killed. By today's standards, his actions would, as a minimum, likely be regarded as a war crime involving a disproportionate response that led to a significant loss of life. And, depending on the definition, the incident might also be described as "mass murder". Whether or not the actions amount to genocide is a complex one. A legal definition of genocide did not exist until after World War II. It is questionable whether this can be applied retrospectively to Macquarie's actions. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that Macquarie set about deliberately to "destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group", as per the UN definition. It is, therefore, problematic to suggest that Macquarie was guilty of ordering genocide. However, it can be argued the impact of the wider conflict between Aboriginal people and Europeans combined with a range of other factors ' the loss of land and food sources, the spread of disease, the removal of children, and alcohol abuse, for example ' contributed to the large-scale loss of life and culture that resembled genocide.
Verdict: Not cut and dried

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