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Far-left female descendant of Victoria’s first British settlers calls for the destruction of monuments to her ancestors

Suzannah Henty James Henty

A direct descendant of Victoria’s first settlers has called for monuments to her family to be removed or destroyed.

Suzannah Henty, a far-left art history teacher and PhD student at the University of Melbourne whose research focuses on “anti-colonial and decolonial contemporary art”, appeared before the Yoorrook Justice Commission truth-telling inquiry on Thursday.

Ms Henty is a sixth-generation descendent of pioneer James Henty, whose brother Edward arrived in Portland in 1834 and was the Australian state’s first permanent settler.

She told the commission: “I want to acknowledge the invasion of my forefathers and the war that ensued was a crime that continues to inflict harm.”

The Eumeralla Wars between British settlers and local Aboriginal people after the arrival of the Hentys left an estimated 6,500 Indigenous combatants dead for the loss of only 80 settlers.

Ms Henty claimed to the commission that her ancestors were “involved in an organised ethnic cleansing of First Nations peoples” and that she was “never told”.

She said that monuments to her ancestors in Portland should be taken down, and moved to a park or museum for “fallen monuments” or be destroyed.

“Memorialising the Henty family is essential to colonisation,” she told the commission, which is a hearing into alleged injustices against Victoria’s Indigenous people.

“Removing these monuments is a start to repairing the injustice committed by settlers. Ultimately, I believe that Indigenous people should be responsible for what happens to the monuments.”

In 2020, the wake of deadly Black Lives Matter riots across the United States which caused widespread destruction and death, she wrote an opinion piece for The Guardian stating that BLM was a “transnational movement”, reflecting on her ancestry, and calling for reparations and the dismantling of “colonial systems”.

Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation chief executive Jill Gallagher, an Aboriginal woman, told the inquiry that Indigenous people needed to be given Crown land.

“We need places to heal and connect, safe places,” Ms Gallagher said.

“Owning land and having access to land, it really is that ongoing sustainable approach to self determination … at a local level.”

The Yoorrook  Justice Commission is the first formal “truth-telling” inquiry in Australian history, and has the same powers as a Royal Commission.

Set up to investigate alleged “systemic injustices” against Indigenous people, the commission can compel evidence, call witnesses, hold public hearings and make recommendations to government. Its final report in due in mid-2025.

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