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Freedom Fighters

by Les Thomas



'Freedom Fighters' tells the story of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, two Tasmanian Aboriginal men who took a stand for freedom in colonial Victoria. In 1842 they became the first people to be executed in the new colony. After a long campaign led by Joseph Toscano, the site of the execution is now marked near the entrance to Old Melbourne Gaol. Les Thomas, a Victorian Stolen Generations descendent, wrote the song to honor the freedom fighters and help bring the story to a broader audience.


Freedom Fighters by Les Thomas

Do you know the names of the first men hanged here in Melbourne town?
Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner would not bow before the crown
In January 1842, 5000 stood on Bowen Street
With a twisted sense of justice amid the dust and cheers and heat

Far from their ancestral home in what they called Van Diemen’s Land
They knew they would never have any hope if they didn’t take a stand
Tunnerminnerwait’s first memory was the slaughter of his kin
When the war of dispossession landed at Cape Grim

Maulboyheenner would have led his clan had he ever got the chance
And he saw all the bloody suffering of the settlers advance
While the red coats and the convicts tried to wipe us out with lead
They sent their Black Line across the Island saying no one would be spared

Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner
Your names will be remembered

The warriors went with Robinson on the Friendly Mission trail
Spreading word among the people to survive we must set sail
Now so many lie in unmarked graves on the Flinders Island shore
And we struggle to remember what was friendly anymore

Fifteen when with Robin to the Port Philip colony
Were they called him Chief Protector of Aborigines
And they helped with making contact where no white men had been
Five of them lost faith in “protection” ‘cause of the living hell they’d seen

The spirit of resistance could no longer be suppressed
Raiding stations across Western Port, as history will attest
With no harm to women or children, they waged a bold campaign
And they issued out an arsenal as they set fire to the grain

Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner
Your names will be remembered

At a gun fight in Cape Paterson the miner Watson’s son got hit
And they were surely out to kill them, because they never could permit
Any reclaiming of the land they stole from the native dispossessed
So they sent out every trooper, horse and tracker to put us to the nest

As they waited for the onslaught, they saw two figures in the dark
But they couldn’t tell they were whalers before the bullets made their mark
They had every reason to fear men like this with their memories of the recent past
When the hand that raped and pillaged was the hand that steered the mast

When the troops began their awful siege they fired off every round
By some miracle the five survived as they huddled on the ground
The three women were acquitted and the men condemned to die
And example must be set, said the judge, lest other rebels should try

And as they lay the fighters in the ground they hope their names would quickly fade
But lest we forget Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner and sacrifice they made
For they remind us there’s more to do if we’re ever to be free
May the spirit of resistance live on in you and me

Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner
Your names will be remembered


released January 20, 2017


all rights reserved



Les Thomas Melbourne, Australia

Les Thomas is a Melbourne singer-songwriter and storyteller, known for his compelling lyrics, catchy melodies and engaging live performances.

“Les Thomas makes me want to be a better person . . . he’s a bloody good singer-songwriter.”
— Timber and Steel

"It's people like Les Thomas that keep the origins of folk forefathers alive and true." — Lauren Duiker, The Orange Press
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