Colonial frontier massacre is a largely under researched topic in Australia. Most studies of massacre relate to particular incidents, such as Risdon Cove in Tasmania (1804) which remains highly contested even today or at Myall Creek (1838) where all but one of the twelve perpetrators were arrested and brought to trial and seven of them were convicted and hanged.1 Such incidents are considered as unique and overshadow other incidents that are simply lost from sight.
Australia wide studies of frontier massacre such as Bruce Elder’s Blood on the Wattle, those by Timothy Bottoms for Queensland, Patrick Collins for the Maranoa, Tony Roberts for the Gulf Country and Geoffrey Blomfield for the Three Rivers region in New South Wales, have certainly made the case for its widespread incidence but none of them offers a definition of frontier massacre or seriously considers its characteristics.2 A similar oversight prevails in the various massacres lists that are available online.3
A colonial frontier massacre arises from the indiscriminate killing of six or more undefended people. Why six? The massacre of six undefended Aboriginal people from a hearth group of twenty people is known as a ‘fractal massacre’.4 The sudden loss of more than thirty per cent of a group leaves the survivors vulnerable to further attack, a greatly diminished ability to hunt food, to reproduce and carry out their ceremonial obligations. In turn they become vulnerable to exotic disease.
The following guidelines have been established for deciding whether a massacre event is to be included in this site. There were many other acts of violence on the colonial frontier during this period but they are not included in the scope of this research.
- 6 or more people died.
- While those killed would have made every effort to flee, hide or defend themselves they were relatively defenceless against the assualt (such as being on foot and unarmed, while the attackers were on horseback with guns).
- There is a reasonable amount of information available to indicate the massacre took place. This evidence may include but is not limited to court proceedings, newspapers or oral accounts.
- The event occurred on the Australian continent between 1788 and 1872.
1. Data collection: Interrogate the evidence of colonial frontier massacre in each of the four colonies in in Eastern Australia to 1872.
- Colonial Newspapers
- Archival sources: reports from magistrates; leaders of military and police parties; native police reports
- British Parliamentary Papers
- Select Committees Reports
- settler correspondence and diaries
- missionary correspondence and reports
- reports from Protectors of Aborigines
- settler memoirs
- Aboriginal accounts, oral and visual
- Local histories
2. Establish a template for each site.
- Geographical co-ordinates to identify the physical location and name of each massacre site
- Aboriginal nation/clan
- Number killed
- Names and number of assassins/perpetrators
- Reason for the massacre
- How the massacre took place
- Time of day
- Weapons used
- Star system to assess the reliability of sources:
* Reliable source but more corroboration welcome
** 2 sources but further corroborating evidence welcome.
*** High quality corroborating evidence drawn from disparate sources.
3. Check data
4. Load data on to digital map.
- Tardif, P. 2003: John Bowen’s Hobart The Beginnings of European Settlement in Tasmania, Tasmanian Historical Research Association, Hobart; Refshauge, W.F. 2016: The Killing at Risdon Cove, Australian Scholarly Publishing, North Melbourne; Milliss, R. 1992; Waterloo Creek The Australia Day Massacre of 1838, George Gipps and the British conquest of New South Wales, McPhee Gribble, Ringwood Vic.; Tedeschi, M. 2016: Murder at Myall Creek, Simon & Schuster, Sydney.
- Elder, B. 2003: Blood on the Wattle Massacres and Maltreatment of Aboriginal Australians since 1788, 3rd edition, New Holland Publishers, Sydney; Bottoms, T. 2013: Conspiracy of Silence Queensland’s Frontier Killing Times, Allen & Unwin, Sydney; Collins, P. 2002: Goodbye Bussamarai The Mandandanji Land War, Southern Queensland 1842-1852, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Qld.; Roberts, T. 2005: Frontier Justice A History of the Gulf Country to 1900, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Qld.; Blomfield, G. 1986: Baal Belbora the End of the Dreaming, Alternative Publishing Co-operative Ltd., Sydney.
- For online lists of massacres see www.myallcreek.org; www.australianfrontierconflicts.com.au; www.cv.vic.gov.au/stories/aboriginal-culture/indigenous-stories-about-war-and-invasion/massacre-sites/; thestringer.com.au/the-killing- times-2214#. For a published list, see The Sydney Friends of Myall Creek and the Friends of Myall Creek Memorial 2017: An unfinished and incomplete compilation of Frontier Conflicts, Wars and Massacres in Australia 1770-1940s, Sydney Friends of Myall Creek, Sydney.
- For fractal massacre see Mann, B.A. 2013: ‘Fractal massacres in the Old Northwest: the example of the Miamis’, Journal of Genocide Research, Vol.15, No.2, June 2013, p.172.