Frontier Conflict in Australia

 Discuss about the Frontier Conflict in Australia.

It has become increasingly difficult to determine as to what would constitute a war. Though there might not be a formal declaration of war but that does not necessarily mean that there is no war which is going on.

There were a series of conflicts which formed the wars at the Australian frontier which was fought between the settlers from Europe and the Australian Indigenous people and it was spread across 146 years. It was several months after the First Fleet had landed in January 1788 that the first conflict took place and it was in 1934 that the last conflict ended. The estimate which is most common with respect to the casualties that occurred was about 2000 to 2500 of Europeans and minimum of 20,000 of the Australian Indigenous people. The recent scholarly reviews of the frontier war in the present state of Queensland show that the casualties of the Australian Indigenous people is much higher than that which has been estimated. Though there were various massacres and battles which occurred through various places in Australia, however, the bloodiest were the ones which occurred in Queensland, because of the fact that the population here of the Indigenous people was much larger pre contact.

The settlement of Europeans in Australia was not a process that was peaceful. It is for most of the Indigenous people described as an invasion on their land. As more and more land was claimed by the British to farm there were various battles that started between the group of Aboriginal people who wanted to defend their livelihood, their families and their country and the British colonizers. Guerrilla warfare tactics were used by the Indigenous warriors to fight without using any horses or guns. A dispute broke out in the year 1840 on the Melbourne outskirt between the Wurundjeri people and James Anderson a settler over a crop of potato that had been planted by him on the land the belonged to the Wurundjeri. There was a standoff between the two parties and it was to Yering Station that this tribe was moved to. The troopers captured an elder of this group Jaga Jaga. The troopers were lured away by the warriors of Wurudjeri and Jaga Jaga rescued. There was no harm which had been caused to the troopers.

The Chief Protector of the Aborigines George Augustus Robin during this decade in the District of Port Phillip established for the Aboriginal people who were living still on the traditional lands ‘Reserves’. An assistant protector William Thomas established for the first time at Narre Warren along the Dandenong Creeok which is thirty two kilometers away from Melbourne a Government Protectorate Station. An encouragement was given to the Aboriginal to settle at this place and in return of this they were given food rations and blankets. In 183 the station got shut down and the Native Police Corps later occupied it.

Aboriginal groups, live traditionally in defined separate areas and there had never been any requirement by to unite and wage a war against an enemy that was common. In 1841 however, near the Murray River on Adelaide’s way the Aboriginal people who were living united in order to be able to resist the occupation of their land. A party of sixty eight volunteers and troopers in May were sent out for recovering drays and sheep which was believed that the Aboriginal people had stolen. This expedition of the police however led to the ultimate death of around thirty five Aboriginals and it is termed as the Rufus River Massacre.

Two Aboriginal men, Maulboyheenner and Tunnerminnerwait from Tasmania on January 20th 1842, were the first two men who were executed due to the judicial findings that were made in Melbourne. It was alleged that they had murdered 2 whalers, however, there was very little evidence to prove the same, and since they were incapable of making an statement before the court or even defending themselves they were executed. This execution and prosecution was however, due to the resistance that was shown by them for the new settlement that was established from Dandenong to the Western Port and the districts of South Gippsland. A eight week campaign had been launched by them and for subduing this campaign it had taken three expeditions from the military. It was finally with the help of the Native Police that they were trapped and then captured. The execution was a public execution and there were approximately five thousand people who had come to watch it.  

There was bitter violence which was racial in nature was caused during the 1840, with the northern pastoral frontier of Queensland and New South Wales being occupied and the movement of the pastoralists further into the lands of the Aboriginals. The remaining forty Aboriginal settlement inhabitants at the Flinders Island in 1847 were shifted to the south of Hobart town to Oyster Cove and the settlement at the Island was brought to close.

The effects of infertility, loss in the grounds of hunting, diseases, loss of their pride, starvation and a despair that was general had an impact on the Indigenous people that was far more devastating than the war itself. There are various indications that the epidemics of small-pox may have caused an impact that was very heavy on few of the tribes of the Aboriginals. There was depopulation in sections that were large in what is now New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria which was at least up to 50% or even more.[1] There was also an impact from the diseases which were common such as flu, cold, tuberculosis, venereal diseases and measles which the Indigenous population was not aware of which in turn led to causing a significant reduction in the numbers and cohesion amongst the tribes thus causing a limitation in their adaption and their ability of being able to resist the dispossession and invasion.[2]

It was several months post the establishment on January 26th 1788, Sydney of the First Fleet that the violence between the Europeans and Indigenous Australians started. The suspicion towards the local British started by the Indigenous people when the clearing of land began and fish were being caught, further, there was an Indigenous man who was injured and killing of five convicts. In June when a group of Indigenous people about three hundred in number were sighted in the settlements outskirts.[3] The British during the 1790s and the early 19th century established settlements in small number along the coastline of Australia. Initially small portions of the land were being occupied by these settlements, and a little conflict existed between the Indigenous people and the settlers. When however, there was expansion of the settlements there was a break out of the conflicts and subsequently the food gathering activities of the Indigenous people were disrupted, and the settlement of the Europeans subsequently followed for the next 150 years in Australia.[4] Though there was a varied reaction by the Aboriginal inhabitants of Australia when the British arrived suddenly, when their presence led to over the resources a competition the Indigenous people became hostile inevitably.  The Indigenous populations were decimated by the diseases of the Europeans, and the destruction or occupation of the food resources and lands led to a bout of starvation.[5] Neither the Indigenous people nor the Europeans by and large approached in an organized sense the conflict. The encroachment on their land by white was not resisted by all the Aboriginal Australians, there were many who served on the other hand on the units of the mounted police and had an involvement in the attacks that were made on the other tribes.[6] Regardless there was an emergence of a frontier warfare pattern, with the resistance by the Indigenous people starting during the 18th century and continues well within the earlier half of the 20th century, thus the myth that this was a peaceful conflict held no basis. There was in turn a violent reaction by the settlers which led to massacres which were indiscriminate.[7]

There landmark conflict between the Indigenous Australian who were settled in Queensland Bulla and Burke and Willis in the year 1861 there is a differentiated opinion which exist whether the conflict was only one sided and perpetrated mainly on the Australian Indigenous people by the Europeans or not. There were about ten of thousands more of the Australian Indigenous people who died as compared to the Europeans. Some of the mass killing cases were military defeats and not massacres.[8] There was a variation in the tactics used by the Indigenous people, but the main basis of their attacks were the pre-existing fighting and hunting practices by using clubs, spears, clubs and such other weapons which were primitive. The Australian Indigenous people unlike those in North America and New Zealand were unable to meet the challenges that they faced with the Europeans, though some of the groups did acquire fire arms and used them however this was not a practice which was wide spread.[9] The Indigenous people in reality were never a military threat that was serious, regardless of the fact that the settlers were quite afraid of them.[10] When there were in certain occasion when the European were attacked by a large number of groups in a battle that was conventional, during which the superior numbers of the Indigenous people was used as an advantage. This method was at time effective, there were reports that they advanced in a formation which was crescent shape and attempted to surround and outflank their enemies, they would wait for the shots first volley then they would hurl them with spears till they were reloading their ammunitions. However, usually, such warfare that was open proved for the Australian Indigenous people to be more costly as compared to the cost for the Europeans.

The fights and conflicts between the Europeans and the Australian Indigenous was local as there was no formation of confederations by the Indigenous groups which could sustain the resistance. There was, as result of this, not a single war that was conventional but was rather a series of massacres and engagements that were violent throughout the continent. In Australia, Geoffrey Blainey, a historian had stated that during the period of colonization there were in thousand of places that were isolated there were spearing and shootings that were occasional. Worst than this was diseases such as measles, smallpox, influenza and such other common diseases (which have been already mentioned above) that swept through the camps of the Aboriginals from one to another. The Aborigines main conqueror was the diseases and the demoralization that followed with it.[11]

The crisis at the Calendon Bay in the year 1932 was one of the incidents that were last of the interactions with the Europeans with the Aboriginals that was violent, which started with the Japanese poachers being speared for the molestation of women of Yolngu tribe which was then followed by the policeman being killed.[12] The unfolding of the crisis the opinion of the nation swung towards the favor of the involved Indigenous people and it was in the case of Tuckiar v. the King[13]  in appeal on behalf of the Australian Indigenous people was launched by Dhakiyyar Wirrpanda in the Australian High Court.

In Canberra the Australian War Memorial however, does not commemorate the frontier wars. It is argued by the Memorial that the frontier fighting by the Australians was not within the purview of their charter as the Australian military forces were not involved in it. The Returned Services League of Australia supports this position.[14] However, there are various historian including Gordon Briscoe, Geoffrey Blainey, John Connor, John Coates, Michael McKernan, Peter Stanley and Ken Inglis. They are of the opinion that this frontier fighting that the memorial should commemorate the fighting since there was involvement in this fight of a large number of Australian Indigenous people as well as the paramilitary units of Australia.[15]


Barker, Bryce. “Massacre, Frontier Conflict And Australian Archaeology”. Australian Archaeology 64, no. 1 (2007): 9-14.

Bottoms, Timothy. Conspiracy Of Silence: Queensland’s Frontier Killing Times. 4th ed. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2013.

Broome, Richard. “Frontier History Revisited—Colonial Queensland And The ‘History War’”.Australian Historical Studies 44, no. 2 (2013): 301-302.

Clark, Christopher M. The Encyclopaedia Of Australia’s Battles. Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, 2010.

Coates, John. An Atlas Of Australia’s Wars. Melbourne. Oxford University Press, 2006.

Dennis, Peter. The Oxford Companion To Australian Military History. South Melbourne, Vic.: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Foster, S. G and Bain Attwood. Frontier Conflict. Canberra: National Museum of Australia, 2003.

Horner, D. M, David Stevens, E. M Andrews, Joan Beaumont, Jeffrey Grey, Alan Stephens, John Coates, and Vijaya Joshi. The Australian Centenary History Of Defence. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Ireland, Alexander. The Geography And History Of Oceania Abridged, Or, A Concise Account Of Australasia, Malaysia, Polynesia, And Antarctica. Hobart: W. Fletcher, printer, 1863.

Markus, Andrew. “:Genocide And Settler Society: Frontier Violence And Stolen Indigenous Children In Australian History. (Studies On War And Genocide, Number 6.)”. AM HIST REV 110, no. 4 (2005): 1153-1154.

Ørsted-Jensen, Robert. Frontier History Revisited. [Cooparoo, Qld.]: Lux Mundi Publishing, 2011.

Rafuse, E. S. “Book Review: The First Way Of War: American War Making On The Frontier”. War in History 13, no. 4 (2006): 528-529.

Reynolds, Henry. Forgotten War, n.d.

Tuckiar V. The King 52 CLR 335 (1934).

Van Wagenen, Michael. Remembering The Forgotten War. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012.

Watt, Peter. The Silent Frontier. Sydney: Pan Macmillan Australia, 2006. provides homework help from K-12 and beyond. Our homework writing services cover a vast range of subjects and can help students with their essays, projects, book reports and more. We have more than 3000 highly qualified homework writing helpers on our team to make sure students get only the best.

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