Society : Australian Frontier War

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The Australian Frontier War involves the conflict that happened between the Aboriginal people and the Europeans (the British) between 1788 and 1930s through acts of resistance, battles, and open massacres. During this colonial violence, many historians have asserted that there is an estimate of about 20000 indigenous succumbed and about 2000 to 2500 British were killed. The University of Newcastle’s historian, professor Lindall Ryan came up with a map entailing the details of this war. Following years of meticulous research, there is an online map constructed, and it marked the massacres of the Aboriginal people throughout the Australian colonial frontier. Over 150 locations have been recorded through the east coast whereby these violent attacks towards the Aborigines took place when the first British fleet arrived. Therefore, Professor Ryan together with other historians agrees to this map as the most comprehensive map detailing the Frontier War.

According to Professor Ryan, it was hard to locate the sources which would be in tandem with the oral history regarding the war because most of these killings conducted by the British were never meant to be discovered. Sites in areas such as Victoria, Tasmania, and other sites across Queensland as well as South Wales have been recorded. The records from these states are corresponding various accounts of the war, and the sources came from court records, settler records and diaries, and newspaper reports. Based on the facts, Tasmania was the first location where the massacre took place, and the war was referred to as the Black War. Based on the death rates in this state, it is estimated the period of this massacre was seven to eight years before other settlers migrated towards the mainland in the north.

Based on the history of indigenous historians, in the beginning; the aborigines would welcome the newcomers with generosity and hospitality. However, with time passing, it was clear that the European settlers were there to stay and this led to the aborigines being dispossessed their property, more so land, water sources, and access to traditional foods. Additionally, the Europeans subjected them to sexual abuse as well as slavery. Consequently, this led to change in attitude and conflict between the two cultures was inevitable.

The Maria Massacre

From all the graves around Coorong area, the victims of the Maria massacre was the most notorious, yet they are the least remembered. The Maria was a 136-ton brig of wood, and it was built in 1823 on the way to Hobart Town from Adelaide. In late 1840, it went ashore on Margaret Brook reef but the passengers, as well as the crew, managed to launch the brig and they managed to arrive at the shore safely. The Milmenrura who were the local tribe befriended the crew, and they agreed to take them along the coast towards the east at Encounter Bay, which was the nearest settlement. When the ship reached the territorial boundary, the aborigines could not go past there, and this prompted the brig survivors argued they had to be taken until Adelaide. However, after the protests, the Needles Tribe took over to escort the British crew. Later, difficulties started to emerge when the crew started to entice the aborigine women for sexual favors, but they did not know the traditional obligations and responsibilities surrounding these behaviors. A letter from 26 December 1840, the aborigines of the district agreed that they will kill every European they met. Consequently, this triggered a massacre.

News in the form of rumors reached Encounter Bay Whaling Station concerning the shipwreck, a group of five sailors, three local aborigines, and a police officer traveled to the location and the identified many aborigines dressed in the clothes of their fellow citizens as well as eight disjointed bodies on the shores. This was located about 40km south of Murray Mouth. This news reached Adelaide on 25 July 1840 bringing a major dismay. At this moment, Maria was overdue back at Hobart Town. Subsequently, a disciplinary expedition, which was aimed to impose fear to the native. Additionally, the main aim of this expedition was to punish the suspects through hanging of the ringleaders who fueled the killing of the crewmembers.

In the event of these, three aborigines were killed, and an unknown number of the locals were wounded while they were trying to run away. More people were court martialed, two more aborigines were hanged on the spot, and their bodies were left to rot on the tree gibbets that were constructed on the graves of the first killed victims. The third guilty man coped to escape being hanged by swimming the Coorong Reach after escaping from the captors. More bodies were found squeezed in wombat holes. Over the next months, bodies were found and buried albeit there were no permanent graves, so their locations were lost. The main sites for these killings and burials were called the Fosters Bight or the Yards, which was located opposite Meningie.

Additionally, three other districts locations were discovered whereby these murders happened, and it indicated that the party broke up. Based on the earlier accounts, it seemed that the passengers made their way alongside the land of Coorong to the lakes whereas the sailors went inland. Therefore, the bodies that were found could not be determined to be those of the crew and it cannot be ascertained that they could have been lost in the bush.

Coniston Massacre

The aborigines we furious because their source of water was being destroyed by cattle, erected fences, and the British who took their women as servants or wives. All these activities by the British violated their customs and traditions. Consequently, the aborigines’ behavior angered the new nomads because they were competing with their cattle for water. This tension went up to August 1928 where about 100 local aborigines were killed as well as hundreds of Anmatyerr, Kaytetye, and Warlpiri people who were displaced. These killings led to the Coniston Massacre. This massacre occurred from mid-August until early October of 1928, and it entailed killings in two periods. The first period happened in August, and the other one happened in September all through October.

According to the massacre, the first killing occurred at Yurrkuru, and it involved the killing of Fredrick Brooks on 7 August 1928. On Coniston Station, he had camped a traditional Warlpiri soakage and right there, about 20 Warlpiri people were gathered. He then has an affair with one of the women, and this compelled the husband to kill him. Brooks' body was cut using a stone axe, and it was later buried in a rabbit warren. However, his leg was remaining outside and after a day, Alex Wilson, an aborigine horse tracker, and trailer, discovered it. Afterward, he went to Coniston Station to report the incident. Constable George Murray who was in that area of Coniston Station as well as Pine Hill to investigate the cattle killings led the retaliation team. They set out on 16 August to catch the killer. Murray then went back to Alice Springs after the report of the death so that he could convene reinforcement but he was asked by Cawood to manage the case by himself.

Based on the reports by Murray, five people died on the first day of the raid, and many other aborigines were caught in the cross fire that ensured. When Murray was returning to Coniston Station on 30 August, the tally of those who succumbed was 17. Contrary, the Warlpiri's estimate was ranging between 60 to 70 people killed in the course of the patrol and investigation. The killer of Brooks, however, managed to evade Murray and his team and Murray had captured three suspects, Arkirkra, Woolingar, and Padygar. Padygar and Arkirkra were taken to Alice Springs to face trial while Woolinger succumbed to the injuries he during his capturing.

The second part of the retaliation started after an attack on the second settler, Nugget Morton, and he was well known for his tendency to exploit aborigine women. A group of Aborigine men attacked him at Boomerang Waterhole, but he managed to fight them off by killing one of his attackers. He later went to seek help by sending a letter to Alice Springs Police, and this led to the arrival of Constable Murray towards the end of September. Until early October, Murray put up a team together and resumed with the killings around Hanson and Lander Rivers. The affected locals had an estimate of about 100 people killed during this second attack. On the other hand, Murray arrived back at the station on 18 October where he wrote few lines on his report regarding the two raids, but he did not mention the number of people killed as a result. The repercussion of these killings compelled the traditional landowners to move away because they were scared to move back. Until today, the aborigines who lived in these areas have never received the justice deserved.

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Society : Australian Frontier War. (2019, Oct 10). Retrieved November 28, 2023 , from

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