When film director Brad Diebert first learned of the Myall Creek massacre and the historic trial that followed, he couldn’t stop thinking about it.
“He immediately as a director and a storyteller, felt it was a story that needed to be told,” producer Tania Marino said.
In 1838, 28 Aboriginal men, women and children were slaughtered by 11 colonists at Myall Creek Station. It was an incident all too common at the time, but it was the events that followed – when seven of the perpetrators were charged and hanged for their crimes – that made history.
The filmmakers shot their last scenes of feature-length film on the incident at Goondiwindi property Allanbank last month before they moved into pre-production.
The independent film has attracted several well established actors, including Travis McMahon (Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, I Love You Too), Marcus Graham (Underbelly, Mullholland Drive) and Roy Billing OAM (The Dish, Underbelly). Ms Marino said she believes this was due to the strength of the story.
Joining with screenwriter Paul Murphy, Mr Diebert was inspired by police magistrate Edward ‘Denny’ Day who, after reporting the crime to Governor George Gipps, tracked down and arrested all but one of the culprits.
“It’s about paying homage to him as a hero and his family,” Ms Marino said.
“He really did work through a lot of his own personal demons, and was relentless.”
Goondiwindi’s Kate Woods was thrilled to see Denny Day’s legacy live on. As his descendant, Ms Woods has grown up hearing of his firm commitment to justice, in the face of many who thought the men should not be punished.
“We always wondered why he wasn’t given any recognition,” Ms Woods said.
“He wasn’t going to give up. Even though the white people hated him out here, he didn’t care about any of that. He had a job to do and that was that.”
Ms Woods and son Peter saw their family’s stories come alive as they were cast as extras in the courtroom scene. She said it was an emotional and powerful moment to be part of.
As a musician, Peter will add his own creative energy to the piece. His song Relentless, inspired by Denny Day’s pursuit for justice, will be part of the score.
Although she described the film as having a “micro budget”, Ms Marino said she feels movie-goers will be impressed by the high production quality.
Ms Woods agreed.
“They were excellent. It was very exciting. You actually got to think you were in the court case, that’s how good they were,” she said.
Ms Marino said the film wasn’t about the violence of the massacre, but focused on healing the wounds of the past and the desire to “keep working together for more integration”. Executive producer Michael Marschall said wherever possible, the filmmakers had invited input from the descendants of the Wirrayaraay people.
The sorrow of the murders lives on in the community 180 years on, but Myall Creek has also become a place of healing, as each year descendants from both sides of the incident come together to remember the past and look to the future of reconciliation.
It was something Ms Woods came face to face with when she attended a commemorative service.
“This fellow, he came up to me and said said ‘I’m the great, great grandson of Fleming,’ she said. John Henry Fleming was believed to be the leader of the massacre, and the only perpetrator who escaped trial.
“He said to me ‘I’ve always admired (Denny Day). I don’t know why there hasn’t been a movie made about it,’” she recalled.
“It’s about reconciliation, which is what this day was.”
Ms Woods hopes Denny Day’s legacy comes through in the final film.
“I think if you can be one of the people that doesn’t go along with the crowd, that takes a lot of courage. In whatever situation. That’s what people should get out of that,” she said.
“You don’t have to follow what everyone else thinks.”