The Australian Frontier Wars

So, today, I want to talk to you about the Australian frontier wars. I wonder if you guys have heard about this in Australian history. And it’s been in the news a little bit recently, which is what made me think about talking about it.

So, as part of the colonisation process there were numerous small-scale conflicts between colonists and the indigenous population in Australia, both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Since the 1970s, though, researchers have been looking deeper and deeper into this conflict, which is now referred to as ’the Australian frontier wars’. In Queensland, the killing of Aboriginal people was largely perpetrated by civilian hunting parties and the Native Police, who were made up of armed groups of Aboriginal men who were recruited at gunpoint and led by colonialists to eliminate any Aboriginal resistance.

There’s evidence that massacres of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, which commenced with the arrival of British colonists in Australia, continued until as recently as the 1930s. Researchers at the University of Newcastle have begun mapping the massacres, and so far, they’ve discovered almost 500 locations where massacres took place in Australia during these times with a recorded 12,361 Aboriginal people and 204 colonists being killed. Those numbers don’t really seem very even, huh? Accurately estimating the total number of deaths during the Australian frontier wars, though, is very difficult in large part due to the lack of records and the fact that many massacres of Indigenous Australians weren’t documented and they were kept secret. A commonly quoted death toll of the frontier wars is about 20,000 Australian Aboriginals and 2,000 colonists. However, recent research has indicated that a minimum of 65,000 Aboriginal people may have been killed in Queensland alone. So, just in Queensland and further difficulties are added to estimating the true number of deaths due to whether or not the deaths of Aboriginal people, particularly in Tasmania, as well as the forcible removal of children from Aboriginal communities, constitutes genocide and should also be included or not.

Many place names in Australia mark places of frontier massacres, for example, Murdering Gully in Newcastle, and place names also revealed discriminations such as Mount Jim Crow in Rockhampton, Queensland, as well as racist policies like Brisbane’s Boundary Streets, which were used to indicate boundaries that Aboriginal people weren’t permitted to cross during certain hours of the day. As you would expect there is ongoing debate about changing the names of many of these places.

So, from the year 1810, Aboriginal people were forcibly moved on to mission stations that were run by churches and the state. Although, these places provided food and shelter for these people, the purpose was not altruistic, but was to instead “civilise” Aboriginal communities by instructing them in Western values.

Following this period of protectionist policies that aim to segregate and control Aboriginal populations, in 1937 the Commonwealth Government decided to start implementing assimilation policies. These policies were aimed at integrating aboriginals who were “not of full blood” into the white community in an effort to eliminate the “aboriginal problem”. As a result of these policies, there was an increase in the number of children who were forcibly removed from their families and homes and placed with white people either in institutions or foster homes. And these children would later become known as ‘The Stolen Generation’.

During this period, many Aboriginal people were victims of slavery by colonists along with Pacific islanders who were kidnapped from their homes, and between the years of 1860 and 1970, under the guise of protectionist policies, people, including children as young as 12, were forced to work on properties where they worked under horrific conditions for which the majority never received payment. In the Australian pearling industry, for example, Aboriginal people were purchased for about five pounds, with pregnant Aboriginal women “prized because their lungs were believed to have greater air capacity“. So, they were thought to be able to dive for pearls for longer.

Aboriginal prisoners in the Aboriginal only prison on Rottnest Island, many of whom were there on trumped up charges, were placed in chains and forced to work. In the in 1971, 373 Aboriginal men were found buried in unmarked graves on the island.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander resistance has always existed towards the arrival of colonists up to now. In 1938, over a hundred Aboriginal people protested one of the first Australia Day celebrations by gathering for an Aborigines conference in Sydney and marking the day as the day of ‘Protest and Mourning’.

In 1963, the Yolngu people of Yirrkala in Arnhem Land sent to bark petitions to the Australian Government to protest the granting of mining rights on their lands. The Yirrkala Bark petitions were traditional Aboriginal documents to be recognised under Commonwealth Law. On Australia Day in 1972, 34 years after the first day of Protest and Morning, indigenous activists set up an Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawn of Old Parliament House in Canberra to protest the state of aboriginal Australian land rights. The Tent Embassy was given heritage status in 1995, and this year it will celebrate its 47th anniversary making it the longest unanswered protest camp in the world.


A boundary – a line which marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.

A civilian hunting party – a group of ordinary people, as opposed to soldiers, who work together to hunt ST/SO.

A colonist – a settler in or inhabitant of a colony.

A conflict – a serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one.

A foster home – a residential institution providing care and guardianship for children whose parents are dead or unable to look after them.

A lawn – an area of short, regularly mown grass in the garden of a house or park.

A mission station – a place of missionary residence in or from which missionary activity in a given area is carried on.

A pearl – a hard, lustrous spherical mass, typically white or bluish-grey, formed within the shell of a pearl oyster or other bivalve mollusc and highly prized as a gem.

A petition – a formal written request, typically one signed by many people, appealing to authority in respect of a particular cause.

A protectionist policy – a principle of action used to protect a certain group against other groups.

A racist policy – a principle of action that favours one race of people over others.

Aboriginal – inhabiting or existing in a land from the earliest times or from before the arrival of colonists; indigenous.

Aboriginal resistance – the refusal to accept or comply with something by aboriginal people.

Air capacity – the amount of air that can fit inside ST.

Altruistic – showing a disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others; unselfish.

An activist – a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change.

An indigenous population – all the native inhabitants of a particular place.

An unmarked grave – the location where SO is buried with no cross or headstone.

Armed – equipped with or carrying a firearm or firearms.

Assimilation policies – a course or principle of action adopted or proposed by an organisation or individual in order to absorb or integrate people, ideas, or culture into a wider society or culture.

Bark – the tough protective outer sheath of the trunk, branches, and twigs of a tree or woody shrub.

Civilise SO – bring (a place or people) to a stage of social and cultural development considered to be more advanced.

Commence – start; begin.

Constitute ST – be (a part) of a whole; be or be equivalent to (something).

Discrimination – the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.

Documented – written down on paper or entered into a computer; recorded.

Due to ST – because of ST.

Eliminate ST – completely remove or get rid of (something).

Estimate – roughly calculate or judge the value, number, quantity, or extent of.

Full blood – to be 100% of a certain race.

Genocide – the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group.

Give heritage status (to ST) – declare a landmark or area which is selected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as having cultural, historical, scientific or other form of significance, and is legally protected by international treaties.

In large part – mostly.

Indicated – pointed out; shown.

Indigenous – originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native.

Kept secret – (of information) that is hidden from others.

Kidnap SO – abduct (someone) and hold them captive, typically to obtain a ransom.

Look deeper into ST – research ST further.

Mark ST – indicate the place of ST.

Mining rights – the legal authority of a company to build a mine SW.

Ongoing debate – discussions about ST that continues.

Permit ST – allow ST.

Perpetrate ST – carry out or commit (a harmful, illegal, or immoral action).

Placed in chains – restrained using chains, handcuffs, etc.

Prized – valued extremely highly.

Recruit SO at gunpoint – enlist (someone) in the armed forces forcibly by threatening them with a gun.

Reveal ST – make (previously unknown or secret information) known to others.

Segregate – set apart from the rest or from each other; isolate or divide.

Set ST up – establish ST.

Shelter – protection from the outside world.

Slavery – the state of being a person who is owned by SO else as property.

Small-scale conflicts – an armed struggle of limited size or extent.

Take place – occur; happen.

The Australian frontier wars – the violent conflicts between Indigenous Australians and white settlers during the British colonisation of Australia.

The colonisation process – a process by which a central system of power dominates the surrounding land and its components.

The forcible removal (of ST/SO) – the action of taking ST away using force/violence.

The granting of ST – the allowing or approval of ST to occur.

The lack of ST – the absence of ST.

The lungs – each of the pair of organs situated within the ribcage, consisting of elastic sacs with branching passages into which air is drawn, so that oxygen can pass into the blood and carbon dioxide be removed. Lungs are characteristic of vertebrates other than fish, though similar structures are present in some other animal groups.

The pearling industry – the industry that farms and harvests pearls from oysters.

The white community – the group of people who are of the Caucasian race.

Torres Strait islanders – the indigenous people of the Torres Strait Islands, part of Queensland, Australia.

Trumped up charges – untrue and made up charges in order to punish someone unfairly.

Unanswered – not answered or responded to.

Under the guise of ST – by saying or acting as if something is other than what it really is.

Up to now – until the present time.

Western values – principles or standards of behaviour; one’s judgement of what is important in life from Western countries, i.e. Australia, the UK, the US, France, etc.

Work under horrific conditions – work whilst experiencing incredibly bad surroundings, people, physical environment, etc.