Resources dealing with the Australian Frontier Wars

Here you will find a Reading List about books, websites and other resources dealing with the Australian Frontier Wars and First Nations as well as Related sites and organisations. Latest news may also be useful. There is also an Introduction ‘Discovering the Australian Wars’ from Professor Peter Stanley, below.

Note that this list does not include articles in academic or similar journals. Many of the books listed, however, have comprehensive bibliographies, including articles.

Our heroes are invisible, like our history. (Rodney Dillon, Palawa, The Australian Wars, episode 2, 2022)
I think that people want to believe that this didn’t happen. There’s too much evidence now. (Dr Valerie Cooms, Quandamooka, The Australian Wars, episode 3, 2022)

Discovering the Australian Wars

Peter Stanley

Conflict between Indigenous people and British colonists began within months of the arrival of the ‘First Fleet’ in 1788. It continued as settlement spread across the continent, intensifying and diminishing as Europeans extended into the country of dozens of Aboriginal peoples. 

By the early 20th century, with European settlement virtually complete, Indigenous societies had been gravely wounded, often destroyed. Australia’s settlers regarded Aborigines as a ‘dying race’, one that had been somehow ‘dispersed’ during contact with the colonists, who saw the dispersed people as an ‘inferior’ civilisation. 

By 1900, the continent’s Indigenous population had been reduced by about two-thirds, by violence, disease, and the consequences of the disruption and destruction of their traditional life on their Country.

At the time, colonists were well aware that violence accompanied settlement. Newspapers frankly reported and commented upon clashes between Aborigines defending their land and parties of settlers, soldiers, and later police. 

From the 1840s, especially after the prosecution and execution of the perpetrators of the Myall Creek massacre in 1838, settlers became more circumspect in referring to violence, but they still believed in and asserted their right to take over the country. Ample evidence remained in diaries, letters, memoirs, missionaries’ papers and official reports and investigations. 

By the late 19th century, Australians had seemingly chosen to forget or ignore that their colonies had been established by the violent dispossession of the continent’s original inhabitants, who survived as fringe-dwellers, not even counted in the new Commonwealth’s census.

This period of forgetting only ended after 1945. The Tasmanian journalist Clive Turnbull published Black War in 1948, virtually the first book on the subject. By the 1960s, with a change in the relationship between white and black Australians signalled by the 1967 referendum, younger scholars began to interrogate what the anthropologist William Stanner described as the ‘great Australian silence’. Historians, especially Noel Loos, Henry Reynolds, and Lyndall Ryan, wrote books which revealed for the first time the extent, scale and cost of violence on the expanding frontier. From about 1981, with the publication of Henry Reynolds’s The Other Side of the Frontier, research on frontier conflict became an expanding focus of Australian history.

Since then, hundreds of books, chapters and articles have appeared documenting the fact of conflict across Australia in more than a century after 1788. As well as drawing on historical evidence, these studies are increasingly based on Indigenous families and community memory, revealing how conflict justifies being considered as ‘Frontier War’.

Rachel Perkins’s 2022 documentary series, The Australian Wars, popularised regarding this conflict as the defining origin of Australia’s settlement and nationhood. 

Conflict on the Rufus, South Australia [1866]: Samuel Calvert, engraver, from a sketch by WA Cawthorne, State Library of Victoria: PCINF; IMP 27-07-66 P.308
Conflict on the Rufus, South Australia [1866]: Samuel Calvert, engraver, from a sketch by WA Cawthorne, State Library of Victoria: PCINF; IMP 27-07-66 P.308