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Search Skwirk

For the first two years the relationship between the colonists and the Indigenous people was not marred by the violence that was to come. The next period of interaction between the white settlers and Aboriginal people was one that has been seen in terms of a 'frontier war'. Although many history books have claimed that the settlement of Australia was an orderly, peaceful affair, where Aboriginal people are mentioned only in passing, this is very far from the truth. The next 150 years were characterised by violent massacres and bloodshed.

When the settlers began to move out from the original settlement in Sydney Cove, they came into more contact with the Aboriginal people. They began to take over more and moreof theirland and food sources, justifying their actions by saying that Aboriginal people were nomads who could move on and would be just as happy somewhere else. They completely ignored the deep spiritual connections the Aboriginal people had with the land, never mind the fact that driving them off it was denying them access to their traditional food and water sources. The Indigenous people may have been nomadic, but they travelled around one large area, letting the land rest and replenish before coming back to it again at a later date. The settlers did not understand this type of land management and did not respect it.
Aboriginal people had always lived with the land, now the settlers began to clear the vegetation, meaning that food sources were destroyed. The settlers also began putting up fences and preventing Aboriginal people from entering areas where they could find food. The introduction of grazing animals on to the land also helped to strip the land of vegetation and drove out smaller animals that had been a food source for the Indigenous people. Aboriginal people were being dispossessed of their land. Both the settlers and Aboriginal people felt they were fighting for their survival and so the war that erupted between them was desperate and brutal -there were massacres committed on both sides, but the white settlers had the superior firepower and in later times, as more and more Aboriginal people died from disease, the greater numbers. See image 1
Although much of the conflict between the Indigenous people and the settlers consisted of tit-for-tat attacks and ambushes, a number of bigger battles did occur over the first century of settlement. The British like to refer to these incidents as 'dispersing of natives' or 'the murder of peaceful settlers', they never admitted that an actual state of war existed. This version of events was handed down over many years and existed until very recently in many history books.
One of the most famous Indigenous fighters was a man name Pemulwhy, a leader of the Darug people who lived in the Hawkesbury Region. When the British army was sent to the Hawkesbury to stopIndigenous resistance to the settlers there, Pemulwhy led a guerrilla warfare type campaign against them. He led a band of men who used ambushes and 'hit and run' tactics to attack settlers on their farms and the soldiers in the bush. The troops had been given orders to hunt down and kill, not just the fighters, but any Aboriginal people they found -including women and children. By May 1795 the colony's troops and the Darug people were involved in open warfare along the banks of the Hawkesbury River. This state of affairs lasted for over 20 years and only came to an end with the complete destruction of the Darug people. Pemulwhy was killed in 1802, but his son, Tedbury, continued the fight until he was killed in 1810. See image 2
As the colonists moved out across the continent, the frontier war moved with them. Everywhere they went the settlers encountered the Indigenous people of that area. Everywhere they went, they dispossessed the Indigenous people of their lands and then had to fight to keep them. As in New South Wales, troops in Western Australia were also guilty of many massacres of the Aboriginal population. One such massacre is the so-called Battle of Pinjarra. In 1834 in Pinjarra, 80km south of Perth, government troops rounded up and murdered a large group of the local Pinjarup people. No one knows how many were killed, but it could have been up to 80 people. They had been murdered, not in response to an attack by them, but to provide a 'lesson' for other Aboriginal people in the area.
In Tasmania the first governors tried to stop violence against the Indigenous people, but that did not happen and war broke out on the east coast. By 1828, Aboriginal people had been ordered out of all the settlements on the Island, and by 1830 the governor ordered a cordon to be erected on the east coast to herd Aboriginal people into one area so they could be destroyed. Most of them escaped the cordon, but by 1832 only 302 Indigenous Tasmanians had survived the massacres and were living on Flinders Island in a church mission.
The Myall Creek Massacre of 1838 differs from all the others massacres in that people were arrested and tried for taking part in it. In all the previous attacks on Aboriginal people, not one white person had suffered the legal consequences for murder, but not many did after it either. More than 30 women, children and elderly men were tied together, shot, stabbed and their bodies were burned by twelve white stockmen on Myall Creek Station in northern New South Wales. Only one small boy from the group was saved by another stockman who refused to take part. The massacre was only one in a spate of these attacks in the area. The men who committed the massacre never expected to be punished; no one else ever had been. This time, however, seven of them were found guilty of the murder of an Indigenous child and were hanged. The hanging did not stop those intent on murdering Indigenous people -it only meant that they made sure not to leave any witnesses behind. See image 3
Sometimes the Indigenous resistance did work and the settlers abandoned their farms and moved on, but in the majority of instances the settlers just found new ways of eliminating the threat posed by the Aboriginal people. Instead of going out and fighting them, the settlers began poisoning their water sources, or giving them poisoned food.
Another way the settlers came up with to 'disperse the natives' was by setting up the 'Native Police Forces'. This force was made up of only Indigenous men who were trained by the colonists' troops. The settlers used one group of Aboriginal people to hunt down and kill other groups of Aboriginal people. They used tribal rivalries to their advantage and were able to wash their hands of any bloodshed.
Disease and dispossession were the main causes of Indigenous deaths in the first century after colonisation, but the frontier war and its brutal massacres continued in some areas of Australia until the 1920s. The last major incidence of white settlers attacking and murdering a large group of Indigenous people occurred in Coniston, near Alice Springs in 1928, when 21 Aboriginal people were killed by policemen. The Coniston Massacre caused outrage in the cities and after this, the killing of Aboriginal people was no longer seen to be justified in any circumstance.
By the 1870s all the fertile areas of Australia that had been the home of the Aboriginal peoples for thousands of years had been taken by the settlers. Most of the Aboriginal population had been driven off traditional lands and into government and church reserves where they were expected to die out.

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1. Where did the last major massacre of the Frontier War take place in 1928?




Alice Springs


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