The Green Hills Native Police Station
Maffra’s connection with the Native Police Force 1845-1853
The third attempt to establish a Native Police Corps in
the Port Phillip District had initial success from 1842 under its founder Henry
Dana. It was quickly engaged in a variety of activities which
included forming a detachment of guards at Pentridge prison, pursuing bushrangers
and policing the grazing lands which were rapidly extending through the colony.
It was this policing of grazing lands which created the
connection between the Native Police Corps and what was eventually to become Maffra.
White settlers quickly followed McMillan into the
Gippsland plains and the inevitable clash of cultures created a growing "native
problem". Complaints poured in to Commissioner Tyers from Strathfieldsaye, Bushy
Park, Kilmany Park, Fulham, Tom’s Creek, Clyde Bank, Heyfield, Mewburn Park,
Merrimans Creek and Boisdale that stock was being speared and stockmen
endangered. Tyers, however, was in a bind. He had few police at his disposal and
these were needed for the protection of the settlers themselves rather than
their cattle. The best he could manage was to organise his first "expedition"
against the Gunnai/Kurnai in February, 1844, and to request Superintendent La
Trobe to establish an additional two police stations.
La Trobe undertook a tour of the Gippsland district in
February and March of 1845. Significantly he was accompanied by Henry Dana and
escorted throughout the region by settlers William Raymond, Angus McMillan and
Lachlan Macalister. La Trobe is said to have enjoyed the "uproarious Highland"
entertainment. By the end of the year a Native Police station had been
established at Green Hills (the eventual site of Maffra township) under the
control of Henry Dana' s younger brother, William.
The actual position
of the station and paddock is revealed in map 10 of Wilkinson's Gippsland River
Survey – "Junction of the Rivers Macalister & Thomson 1851". He clearly shows
the swamp and low hills which delineate the present town. By comparing this map
with a modern map of the same scale, it would appear that the barracks were
situated where the Rural Water Commission’s depot now stands and the shed beside
the horse paddock would be in the roadway in front of the Maffra Medical Clinic.
Although the paddock is not specifically named as being
for police use, common sense would suggest that this was the logical place to
keep the horses required by up to eighteen police. This contour map, on the same
scale as the one above, shows how suitable the site was, with a low range of
hills marking out the boundary of the paddock, a narrow entrance between hills
and river to the east and a swamp as a natural barrier to the west.
By 1849 Dana had at his disposal at the Green Hills
barracks one officer, one corporal and sixteen Native Police. To maintain the
widest possible control Dana split the contingent into groups, which would then
be instructed to meet at a specified trouble spot travelling by different
routes. In this way a reasonably constant presence was maintained, and it is
claimed that while the police remained in a district very few stock were killed.
In March 1847 the
police camp at Green Hills came under what was claimed to be a siege. Late the
previous year the Native Police had been part of what eventually turned out to
be the fruitless search for a white woman believed (almost certainly incorrectly) to
have been abducted by Aborigines after a ship wreck. Upon his return Dana and
most of the force undertook a tour of duty, leaving only six police at the camp.
Early one morning some two hundred Aborigines gathered in the adjacent bush but
seemed content to just watch. Sergeant McLelland decided that the situation was
sufficiently calm to allow him to take four police to the aid of Fred Taylor,
whose run at Deighton, near Lake Victoria, was said to be in danger.
Such, in fact, proved not to be the case and the troop
returned to Green Hills. A small group of Aborigines was driven off but several
days later over two hundred again gathered, this time adopting a far more
menacing posture. McLelland prepared his men for battle but before firing sent
his two white troopers to conduct a parley. It turned out that the whole episode
was an attempt to convince the police that the surrounding natives wished to
exchange the alleged abductors (who didn’t actually exist) for a reward of
blankets and food. It is to McLelland’s credit that he managed to persuade the
natives to depart peacefully when their ruse was uncovered.
The nature of police
work changed with the official discovery of gold in the colony. Many white
police (in common with a wide range of other workers) deserted and the Native
Police Force was called upon to exert control over the goldfields, a role which
was strongly resented by white diggers. Then a further blow fell upon the force.
During a search in foul weather for bushrangers in November 1852 Henry Dana
contracted pneumonia and died in Melbourne. No one seemed able to take his place
of command and several months later the Native Police Force was disbanded.
With the disbanding
of the Native Police one would imagine that the link with Maffra would have been
broken. Such, however, is not the case. In fact we are presented with something
of a mystery. C.P. Rafferty's survey map of the Parish of Maffra, 1861, shows an
area of some 640 acres set aside as a "Native Police Reserve". It is still
basically in the same place but somehow the reserve grew, at a time when its
stated occupants did not exist! The map is less exact than Wilkinson’s in that
the river is less clearly defined, and it does not show either the ferry or a
bridge. The roads defining the boundaries to the north and east however exactly
correspond on a modern map to George and Powerscourt Streets respectively.
One further point needs to be explained. When the late
Max Rowley was engaged in researching the site of the Newry township and
aboriginal reserve he contacted the Surveyor General’s Department regarding the
site of Maffra township. The reply he received indicated that the town was
surveyed by George Hastings in 1863 and that the first sales were made on 1st
June, 1864. Using the recently acquired microfiche copies of historical maps of
our district I was able to view the first town plan of Maffra. It was published
on 3rd January 1865. The odd thing though was that on it is a hand written
inscription which reads: "contract surveyor's plan: Hastings September 20th
Is there a discrepancy, or is it simply that
officialdom was a bit slower than private enterprise in registering formal
occupation of the site?
There is the matter,
too, of the town’s name. The 1861 map has dropped the name "Green Hills" from
the police reserve site and has used the name of Macalister’s stock yard, with
an extra ‘f’, as the name for the parish, viz. "Maffra". This would have made
sense at the time as there were no obvious centres of population to provide a
name and this yard was roughly in the middle of the parish being surveyed.
The extra letter has been the source of concern for
some, but surely it is only creating an Anglicised version of the word, which
was originally Portuguese. With one ‘f’ the pronunciation would require an ‘a’
sound as in the word "hay", which would make the name difficult to pronounce.
The same change in sound has occurred, by the way, with the "Avon" river, the
English pronunciation using a long ‘a’ sound as against the short hard ‘a’ (as
in "hat") we use locally. In this case though a spelling alteration was not
It is understandable that subsequently Hastings (or
whoever gave the instruction) would name the town after the parish; unless he
had lived in the area there is no real reason why he should have known about
"Green Hills", and there may have even been local objections to the name, given
that it had been associated with police (though that is mere speculation). The
name was however later applied to the local race course.
Major references used:
Victorian Aborigines 1835-1901:
Public Records Office, 1984
Broome: Aboriginal Victorians - a history since 1800. Allen & Unwin,
Pepper & De Araugo: The Kurnai of
Gippsland, Hyland House, 1985
Priestly: The Victorians – Making Their
Mark, Fairfax Syme & Weldon, 1980
Gippsland River Survey, 1851
Parish of Maffra survey, 1861
Township of Maffra survey, 1864/5
- Correspondence with Surveyor General's
Page modified 05/08/2015