A different Mode of War - Aboriginal 'guerilla tactics' in defining the 'Black War' of south-eastern Queensland 1843-1855

This includes extensive research on the subject and is well worth reading right through - however for people with limited time or for those who do not wish to read it in one sitting, we suggest you use the 'CONTENTS' links for references or for navigation to specific sections.
A different mode of war? Aboriginal 'guerilla tactics' in defining the 'Black War' of south-eastern Queensland 1843-1855

The "South-east Queensland Black War" of 1843 to 1855 manifested various elements of historicity: a 'declaration', a pattern of escalation, evidence of an effective offensive, and some mode of cessation. However - on account of the nature of Aboriginal society - it featured much more overlap than similar conflicts abroad. What is intriguing is the considerable evidence for inter-tribal cooperation within this war, the level to which it impacted on civilian life and the sheer number of Indigenous victories in the early phase of this engagement (i.e. the routing would-be settlers from runs). The latter has yet to be fully reconstructed, documented and mapped - let alone properly commemorated. - an extract from Conclusions

A paper presented at 2014 AHA Conference, University of Queensland, Brisbane

Ray Kerkhove, PhD


A Different Mode of War

A discussion with Dr Ray Kerkhove, who has undertaken extensive research into First Nations warfare in Queensland in the 19th century.

Ray speaks with Phillip Adams
(ABC RN 'Late Night Live' 11 March 2015)

Frontier violence is now an accepted chapter of Australian history. Indigenous resistance underlies this story, yet it has barely been examined as a military phenomenon (Connor 2004). In contrast to North America, Australia has virtually no named Indigenous wars. Our understanding of the strategies Indigenous groups employed, and their overall objectives, remains vague.

Building on a statement in Nehemiah Bartley's Australian Pioneers and Reminiscences (1896), the author argues that an alliance of several Indigenous groups declared war in south-east Queensland. Kerkhove finds that this was a definable conflict (1843-1855), complete with a record of victories, coordination, leadership and planning.

Indigenous wars are usually compared with guerrilla/ terrorist engagements, yet the Australian situation has presented features which are not easily placed within existing paradigms. Using definitions of guerilla and terrorist warfare (e.g. Eckley 2001, Kilcullen 2009), the author examines key features of the "Black War" of 1843-1855 and other resistance engagements around Australia. He concludes that Australian "resistance" conflict followed its own distinctive pattern - achieving coordinated response through inter-tribal gatherings and sophisticated signaling; relying heavily on economic sabotage and targeted payback killings; and guided by self-depreciating "loner-leaders" much more wily and reticent than their equivalents in other parts of the world.

Kerkhove also argues that contrary to the claims of military historians such as Dennis (1995), there is ample evidence for tactical innovation. He notes a move away from pitched battles to ambush affrays; the development of full-time 'guerilla bands'; and use of new materials such as iron and glass.

A. "But was it Warfare?"

Defining and Identifying Resistance Wars in Australia

During the 1950s - well before 'Bill' Stanner's Boyer Lecture (1968) roused an avalanche of historians into filling up the gaps in Aboriginal history - Arthur Laurie (c.1889-1970) - a trade unionist and amateur historian - penned notes and articles concerning "the Black War of Resistance in Queensland." This probably makes Laurie, as Peter Sutton alleges, "the first historical writer to espouse the strong version of the resistance model of Aboriginal contact history."1

Arthur Laurie's proposal of a "Black War" of resistance, which he viewed as becoming "systematic" over the 1840s-1850s,2 drew part of its evidence from the final - indeed, posthumous, work of Nehemiah Bartley (1830-1894) - a merchant, traveler and writer. Bartley's final work was a set of observations about contemporary Australia and its history entitled Australian Pioneers and Reminiscences (1896).

Nehemiah Bartley lived in Brisbane from the 1850s until his death. His chapter on Queensland was therefore based on what he himself had experienced and heard. In this, he relates that:

Many a pretty bush station, where ladies in muslin and silks now dwell, and walk and ride as they please, has its humble mound neatly fenced, where sleeps the stockman or shepherd untimely slain by boomerang, spear or tomahawk, between '43 and '55.3

This implies that both Bartley and his audience were familiar with a local frontier conflict that persisted from 1843 to 1855. Laurie's interest in statements of this sort drew little attention at the time, but in the decades of scholarship that followed Stanner's lecture, all manner of heroes, battles, massacres and even genocide has been added to the developing theme of Aboriginal "wars of resistance."

Despite this, half of Forgotten War (2013) - the most recent work of the champion of frontier violence (Henry Reynolds) - concerns two problematic questions: "But was it warfare?" and "What kind of warfare?"

The issue, as military historian John Connor has repeatedly highlighted, is that resistance history has rarely been analyzed from a military perspective, despite some remarkable forays by David Broome (1988) and Jeffrey Grey (1990).4 Connor notes that even the British government seemed disinclined to accept that "war" was being fought in Australia. 1838 saw the last major deployment of a military regiment on this continent against Aboriginal groups (for Waterloo Creek under Major Nunn). Thereafter, the "Aboriginal problem" was left largely up to police and vigilante settlers, who became a somewhat paramilitary force.5 This forms a stark contrast with the dozens of firmly 'historicized' American Indian wars such as Prince Phillip's War (1675-8) and The Great Sioux War (1876-7) - most of them involving military forces. North America has for centuries recognized firmly defined Indigenous conflicts; Australia so far has none except the Tasmanian Black War. Even the existence of this is questioned by some.

This seems partly due to the academic habit over the past few decades (rightly criticized by Windshuttle) of including too broad a variety of incidents under the 'guerrilla resistance' umbrella. "First contact" murders - even according to Indigenous accounts - were born of mutual misunderstanding rather than any systematic agenda.6 At other times, frontier conflicts, by the admission of both parties, were actually personal grudges and crimes of individuals, and do not seem to have had a life beyond these tensions.7 On still other occasions, we seem to be dealing with the vague vengeance or avarice of specific leaders and small groups - as when the Tasmanians complained that "...they and their forefathers had been cruelly abused, that their country had been taken away from them,"8 or when Musquito explained his actions as a 'parting of ways' incited by white people's lack of generosity: "white fellow he never give, mob make a rush, stock-keeper shoot plenty.... Dat de way me no come all same your house."9

For these reasons, it may now be time to locate examples of warfare that was more openly declared against settlers - especially incidents that involved more than a a small group of raiders. In the following we will consider the possibility of identifying south-east Queensland's 'Black War' of 1843-1855 as a historic entity.

B. The case for a "South-east Queensland Black War" (1843 to 1855)


1. An unofficial conflict with a historic beginning and end?

Nehemiah Bartley (as was typical of his mode of writing) does not even bother to explain why he chose 1843 and 1855 as the dates for the beginning and end of Indigenous-Colonial conflict in south-east Queensland, but we can guess (because he was an avid reader) that his decision was influenced by a long article in The Empire (Sydney) of 1854 titled: "The Rising of 1842-4." This piece described the "simultaneous aggressive movement of the Aborigines throughout the entire colony, and along its boundaries." It viewed this as a benchmark in "the history of the country" up to that point - the start of "warfare.... universal, implacable, and incessant."10

1843 - Jagera people, led by Multuggerah, block supply routes to the Darling Downs. This leads to a violent confrontation in the Lockyer Valley between squatters and Aborigines known as the Battle of One Tree Hill where the squatters are defeated. This sketch depicts an attack by squatters on an Aboriginal camp, in retaliation for the Battle at One Tree Hill in 1843.

(Pencil Sketch by Thomas Domville-Taylor, from the Patty Ffoulkes Scrapbook, 1840-1844)
Image and caption included by Sovereign Union - Not part of Dr Kerkhove's paper

Whether or not this was the source of Bartley's perspective, 1843 was not a random choice. As early as 1869 when a history of the colony was written for Pugh's Almanac, 1843 was remembered as the local date "when the blacks were now beginning to be very troublesome."11 McConnel, who lived in the middle of the action, tells us that between September 1842 and early 1843, 300 to 500 Mary River warriors crossed Conondale Ranges to attack Balfour's station in direct reprisal for the Kilcoy massacre.12 He also describes a fierce attack on Helidon station in 1843 that killed some shepherds.13 In the same area, on 12 September 1843, the famous 'Battle of One Tree Hill' near Toowoomba occurred - one of the few named battles of this conflict, when Aboriginals routed settlers, and kept them at bay for months. It was also on the 3rd of January 1843 that the Aboriginal warrior Yilbung Jenny challenged Rode to battle. In fact, between February and September 1843, all stations along the Upper Brisbane and Stanley Rivers were attacked, and many abandoned. As that area was one of the first forays of free settlement, this was a major setback.

At the other end of south-east Queensland, even more dramatically, Aboriginal raids in 1843 saw the complete abandonment of Wide Bay and the Mary Valley. Significantly, that area remained deserted for 4 years.14 This included the runs of Girkham, Gigoomgam, Owanyilla and Tiaro - some abandoned two or three times.15 Soon after the attacks, the explorer Leichhardt passed through one part - the empty Eales Station. He was stunned at the loss of such good grazing land, but was quite aware of the cause, and the role of an alliance: "(four) shepherds... killed by the united tribes ... Now there is open warfare" 16(italics mine).

The 'end date' of 1855 was equally an obvious choice in terms of Indigenous conflict in south-east Queensland. First and foremost, this was when (on 5th January) Dundalli, one of the most recognized leaders of Aboriginal "depredations" around Brisbane, was publicly executed under very heavy armed guard at today's GPO. This "created a sensation in Brisbane." 17 Fear of insurrection was high, as Captain Wickham's personal assistant recalled:

That morning the blackfellow Dundalli was hanged... I was ordered to get out of the city, as the blacks might be hostile. I was going up Eagle Street when the drop (the gallows) fell, and the yells of the blacks in the bushes where our railway now runs could be heard distinctly.18

The hanging is referred to in countless reminiscences, and in fact was one of the main events of Knight's 1892 chronology of the history of early Queensland.19 It was attended by many people from both Brisbane town and outlying districts.20 Even Rockhampton's Mayor chose to reminisce in the 1930s about its importance:

.... readers (may)... wonder what significance was attached to the hanging of an aborigine that it should be referred to after a lapse of 75 years. When I was a child I often heard people talking about Dundalli .... Tom Connolly.... was an eye-witness and he told us that crowds hooted the officials. A regiment of soldiers was on guard to prevent a rescue.21

It seems that this particular execution was viewed by colonists as the tide turning in their struggle, as it was a very dramatic (and touch-and-go) demonstration of settler might at a time when the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations were roughly equal in number.

1855 was also the year that a section of the Native Police Corps finally arrived in Brisbane, eventually (two years later) forming a base at Sandgate. Their 1855 arrival resulted in almost all the "town blacks" fleeing the vicinity for a while.22 This presumably ended the "daily" harassment Brisbane's citizens felt they faced. Thus in the eyes of many, 1855 brought some sort of closure to a very drawn-out fight.

However, the picture is not that simple. South-east Queensland's frontier hostilities neither began in 1843 nor ended entirely in 1855. In fact, there were incidents from the very beginning of settlement, and it would be more accurate to say that the very worst conflict occurred during the years between 1855 and 1869. The Hornet Bank, Cullin-la-ringo Bingera and Paddy's Island massacres tolled amongst the very largest massacres - black or white - Australia ever experienced (two cases of a dozen to a score of whites killed; scores to many hundreds of Aboriginals killed). Violent Native Police "patrols" were conducted around all south-east Queensland, and in a couple of exceptional incidents, even the Native Police were directly attacked:

.... when they were making their onslaught, (they) cried out in English "kill the white fellows" and (addressing the Lient.) "you bloody coward!"' ....a trooper immediately fell dead, pierced by numerous spears.... 2 other troopers (were) wounded.... Lt Williams and (his) Corp resisted with determination....23

It was not unusual for Australian Indigenous resistance to worsen as it progressed. In Tasmania, conflict escalated from roughly 2 attacks per year to 222 per year by 1830.24 Even so, generally the conflict moved out of south-east Queensland and towards Central Queensland after 1855.

(The Argus (Melbourne, Vic) Wed 12 Jun 1895 - Source: NLA TROVE)
Image and caption included by Sovereign Union - Not part of Dr Kerkhove's paper
2. An inter-tribal declaration of war?

What is most surprising about this "1843-1855" conflict is that - like conventional war - it seems to have involved a declaration of war on the part of a number of Indigenous groups. Settlers' awareness of this declaration came through two runaway convicts: David Bracewell ("Wandi") and James Davis ("Duramboi"). They had lived for years amongst the tribes just north of Brisbane when Andrew Petrie picked them up during his exploratory trip in Wide Bay.

The runaways' return aroused a lot of interest in Brisbane. Tom Petrie (Andrew's son) recalled how "squatters all ran down to the river bank" - being very excited at the sight of the returning boat. That same night of the landing, the crowds "got 'Duramboi' and 'Wandi' to.... tell them about the blacks."25 Russell (who was an eyewitness, being part of the Petrie expedition) remembers this 'telling" as involving disturbing news. The two conveyed that Aboriginal groups all over the region had decided to take vengeance on settlers for poisonings in and around Kilcoy. Davis (who in later years was much more reticent) graphically dramatized the threat to his audience:

Davis at this point took up the talking and went through all the scene of the (poisoning) deaths... (and) the fearsome wrath..... It was all acted over again with a reality that thrilled us. .... (He said there) came a cry for vengeance (from the blacks) ... (that) a great corroboree was held. ... I could not if I would, and would not if I could, make an attempt to recreate the maniacal frenzy.26

The settlers had been expecting something like this at least since July 1841, when Aboriginal crowds made "declarations of revenge" over the public hanging of Merridio and Neugaril at Brisbane's Windmill,27 but now, because Davis had just come from a mixed (inter-tribal) group of about 1,000 angry Aboriginals - a larger population than Brisbane itself at that time28 - and because this declaration had been made at the latest Bunya Festival (December 1841 - March 1842), which drew tribes from as far away as today's Dubbo, Grafton and Bundaberg, there was genuine concern. Squatters began to write letters to England of their fears that "the tribes (will) get solid behind the Kilcoy fiasco."29

It is significant that Bracewell's and Davis' accounts were almost immediately written up and sent as an enclosure in May 1842 with the official report on Aboriginal affairs by Dr Stephen Simpson (in his role as Commissioner for Lands) to the New South Wales Governor, Sir George Gipps. In this report, Simpson quoted Bracewell as saying:

... there was a great meeting of native tribes, 14 or 15 in number, in the vicinity of the great Bunya Scrub.... These tribes vowed vengeance and said they had already had some but were not yet satisfied. The blacks at the Toor (gathering ring) were much infuriated.30

In the report, Simpson emphasized that Bracewell's statement was "fully confirmed" by Davis's account.

Although Simpson's main concern seemed to be to verify the Kilcoy poisoning, the gravity of the situation could not have escaped him. When Petrie's party picked up the runaways they were (to their surprise) very unwelcome, though they had been through the district before (March 1839).31 Davis warned the group that they would all be certainly killed if they stayed. Though Davis managed to dissuade his Aboriginal companions from immediately conducting this destruction (he pretended Petrie's boat crew were the spearhead of an immensely powerful navy), the explorers deemed it safer to move offshore - sleeping (fully armed) in their boat, and hurrying off at the first crack of dawn.32

Moreover, we need to remember that the German missionaries, who had just then travelled to the bunya lands in the hope of establishing a base there, made a report at exactly the same time: the Aborigines were "in a very excited state on account of the (Kilcoy) poisoning."33 Reverend Schmidt said they told him they would henceforth "revenge themselves on the whites, whenever they happen to meet them".34 This was similarly transmitted to the Governor, in this case through their letter to John Dunmore Lang.

Thus by June of 1842, the Governor had two letters concerning the imminence of war. Gipps procrastinated on what to do. He seems to have decided to simply wait and see what eventuated. This was doubtless because he had only two months earlier declared the northern region a 'Bunya Reserve' for exclusive Aboriginal use - an act which effectively sanctioned the thousands who now wished to exterminate the settlement. Conversely, Gipps was also trying to encourage settlers to move into nearby regions. He had only in February opened the entire district to land sales. Perhaps to remind himself, Gipps nevertheless marked the threatening passages of the letters in red.35

We can be fairly certain that this 'inter-tribal declaration' was not a concocted story, not only because it comes from two separate sources but because it was also - in a roundabout manner - voiced by Aboriginal figures from a variety of groups at this time. Consider the following statement of Dalaipi in Petrie's account. Dalaipi was locally one of the most important elders in the region, custodian of the Pine Rivers bora and most probably one of the Bora Councillors instrumental in sending out kooringal ('executionor warriors') such as Dundalli and Yilbung to inflict their "depredations" on whites. He bluntly told Tom Petrie:

... This (our killing of whites) is nothing ... What a number were poisoned at Kilcoy! ... They (the whites) stole our ground where we used to get food, and when we got hungry and took a bit of flour or killed a bullock to eat, they shot us or poisoned us! Why did the white man not stop in his own country, and not come here to hunt us about like a lot of kangaroo? If they had kept to their own land, we would not have killed them (emphasis mine).36

Trespass of hunting grounds was indeed the usual reason for a declaration of war in traditional Aboriginal society, and settlers had done a great deal of trespassing, but why would an Aboriginal leader based on the Pine Rivers be so concerned about an occurrence in another group's territory (at Kilcoy)? Obviously vengeance for the Kilcoy massacre loomed large in Indigenous conscience at this time much as it was also highly controversial for the white community.37

It would seem that not only were Aboriginal groups colluding on this endeavor, but they were forewarning their white friends, in widely separated places. Thomas Archer at Nurum Nurum outstation (towards Woodford) at this time received a note "from a sable (Aboriginal) messenger, telling me that two of Mackenzie's men had been murdered by blacks within a few miles of my camp... (and) warning me that I had better be on my guard as they might possibly serve me the same if they caught me napping." 38 Meanwhile but around the same time in Kangaroo Point (nearly 100 kilometers to the south), John 'Tinker' Campbell tells us in the booklet he wrote, that he received a messenger sent by Multuggerah, a leader around the Gatton/Toowoomba area, who informed him: "the blacks were rising" and to warned him not to travel to the west: "Baal (= don't) you go, Mr Campbell!"39

The concept of a united front seems to have endured for some years. Constance Petrie tells us that even a decade later, "old men" visiting her father would discuss Kilcoy with him and re-enact the deaths. 40 Similarly, a year after the initial "declaration" Ludwig Leichhardt travelled to Baroon (the heart of the coastal bunya gathering) and witnessed "several powerful main figures ...among the warriors at Burun (Baroon)" all painted red (the body-paint for war). These warriors, he noticed, "found fault" with "those who join the whites."41 During the corroboree pantomime Liechhardt attended, a warrior sang a war song wherein:

....he reproaches those who no longer come to hunt kangaroos, and to catch possums, and who don't take part in the battles ... His accused answers: 'I do not live in the dwelling of the whites, the whites are angry with me. I have no pipe, no tobacco, no hatchet. I live in the bush.'42

This somewhat mocking performance suggests that the more militant elements within the groups were still shaming those who had been seduced by the novelties of Western civilization, and were no doubt recruiting them to their perspective.

Frontier Wars
Fig. 3: Australian Aborigines — War.
[Calvert Collection, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.]
Image and caption included by Sovereign Union - Not part of Dr Kerkhove's paper
3. An effective offensive?

If Aboriginal resistance was truly resistance and not a genocidal slaughter, then there needs to be some evidence that Indigenous forces posed a threat worth considering, and one that had inflicted enough injury on its opponent that it could incite a measured response.

The number of white casualties in this 1843-1855 "black war" period was hardly huge - estimated around 174 and reaching a total of 230 by 1861 (when the conflict escalated but was moving further north).43 This would nevertheless have been quite significant for the tiny settler population of this time. In fact, this translates as a death rate of roughly one in ten (as the white population rose from roughly 1000 to 2000 over this period). Moreover, the exactly 'personalized' (targeted) killings of shepherds, travelers and others; the sacking of huts, drays and stores; the continual destruction of vast quantities of stock and crops - hundreds to thousands of head at a time - must have been both spectacular and severely taxing.

Chas Melton, who lived through this period, describes "outrages of weekly - indeed almost daily- occurrence." 44 These were mostly cases of Indigenous robbery and harassment:

... residents were often alarmed by half a dozen stalwart blacks coming to their doors and demanding flour, tea, sugar, tobacco, and rum. ... (They) frequently swooped down on the huts of the settlers and carried off all they could lay their hands on, sometimes killing those who offered any resistance. ....Captain Wickham, the Government Resident, was often requisitioned for police protection, but owing to the scarcity of men was unable to afford much relief.45

A quick scan of contemporary newspapers reveals the abundance of engagements. Of course, their accuracy may in some cases be disputed, but their frequency over a large stretch of territory can hardly be denied. When even a few of these are mapped against the local geography (see Figure 1) it is obvious that significant gains were made by Indigenous parties, especially at the beginning of the conflict.

Basically, the alliance of tribes decided that the most effective attack would be to ruin the squatters' economic base in its entirety- destroying all flocks and herds. This was apparently common knowledge to the settlers. For instance, in 1844, at the height of the conflict, the correspondent from Moreton Bay informed The Sydney Morning Herald that:

From their manners, and the partial conversation they have had with the white inhabitants, they seem determined to annihilate if possible the whole of the stock in the district (italics mine)46

The testimony of squatters themselves demonstrates that this measure - right up to the 1860s - did indeed continuously frustrate their attempts at settling the land. To give just a few examples amongst numerous incidents, the first owner of Maroon (1840s) was "chased off by the blacks."47 In 1847, John Stevens on the Condamine River found "the natives surrounded the hut and... ordered him and his men to leave the station" - which he did. Then they drove off all his cattle.48 In 1848, Mr Blyth and Mr Chauvel after only four days on Fitzroy Downs were "obliged to abandon it - the blacks having driven off four hundred sheep, killed one of their men and speared (another)."49 Between 1854 and 1858, it seems Thomas Dowse and others made three unsuccessful attempts to set up huts at Sandgate, but were repelled each time and forced to flee.50 John Ross around 1860 tried to settle Cockatoo Creek but likewise found "the Dawson blacks were too bad and he had to retrace his steps towards the Burnett."


Obviously Indigenous tactics sufficed to drive settlers away from areas for months to years at a stretch, and dissuaded newcomers from venturing near.

Figure 1
Fig. 1 Reconstructing the 1843 - 1855 War


4. A lived reality?

As this 'war' was never officially announced, we need to establish whether the tone of daily life indicates 'a people at war.' The prevailing architecture certainly suggests a society on the defensive. Brisbane in 1842 was already a garrison town - built around a Military Barracks flanked by a guard house, cell block, and officers' quarters.52 Meanwhile, on Ipswich's plateau there were sentry boxes to keep watch over cattle and crops.53

Round timber (log) tops and bottoms were the preferred materials in Imbil in these years, and we learn that this was to ensure impenetrable walls, usually with "a lot of big auger holes... to shoot through if the blacks made a raid."54 Likewise in nearby Kin Kin, the first settler said he:

....built it (our hut) very strongly, and loop-holed the doubly-thick slabs, so that, should occasion require it, we might be enabled to shut ourselves up in it as in a citadel, and defend it against their attacks.55

It seems on the outskirts of Brisbane buildings were all of this style. In 1851, before describing his own 'incident' with Aboriginals near Ipswich, a squatter informs us that all huts on "the frontiers" are "usually made" in this heavily fortified manner, with "port holes" instead of windows.56 Melton calls them "hinged wooden shutters" and tells us they "fitted over a frame somewhat like the hatch of a ship" whilst "the walls ... were pierced with augur holes."57 Doors were similarly "barricaded ... for the purpose of resisting the assaults of the natives."58

When, after a few attempts (repelled by Aboriginal hostility), a house was finally built in Sandgate, it was on a hill and lined with gun slots. Its owner slept with his gun and shot at any Aboriginal who came too close.59 Likewise Bald Hills' first homes were raised "in sight of each other for fear of blacks molesting the settlers, who kept clear of the dense scrub .... for the same reason.60 These Bald Hills houses similarly sported "apertures for directing fire against the blacks." 61 Even closer to Brisbane, the stately Newstead House (Breakfast Creek) that was Captain Wickham's residence had its subterranean area ("hidden room") excavated into the ground "just in case there was trouble with the blacks."62

The atmosphere of these days is best summed up by renowned Queensland author Rosa Campbell Praed. She grew up not far from the infamous Hornet Bank massacre during the 1850s. Praed's "earliest memory" was fear and conflict: her horror at seeing "a black face" peering between the half-closed shutters of her parents' hut; her memory of being completely alone with her mother, as "father" went out hunting for "the black murderer of an out-shepherd;" and her relief when her father arrived back just in time to capture the second prowler.63 Campbell Praed remembered a world when:

... the women practiced at targets with firearms, and the men would ride home with a sinking feeling in their hearts, fearing for their wives and children. Often I heard father describe how each evening coming in from the run, he used in cold fear to mount the hill overlooking the humpy, and draw free breath when he saw it lying quiet and unharmed.64

Similarly, James Cash of what became Albany Creek, remembered how, as a boy at this time, he nightly lay awake in terror listening to corroborees some distance from the family homestead, as his family knew the groups here were on the warpath against settlers.65 As men were absent for days in the dangerous scrubs, we are told that "their womenfolk fought the demon of fear day after day with a heroism that can scarcely be understood by those who have not experienced its agony."66

In other words, fear of Indigenous attack was a palpable reality during the 1840s and 1850s in south-east Queensland. Brisbane citizens repeatedly requested the continuation of a military guard to deal with the "known hostility of the aborigines to the presence of the white man upon their hunting grounds." 67

Perhaps Brisbane did not always feel in the thick of war, except during repeated robberies or the execution of Indigenous leaders, but at those times, the entire town feared for its safety. One pioneer recalled that during the 1850s whenever he returned late at night he made a point of staying at Jerry Scanlan's hotel (before Brisbane) "as the blacks were often bad."68 Similarly, Mrs Melton recalled that on account of Aboriginal hostility in those days, "few ventured into suburban areas after nightfall."69 Her husband concurred that the "principal topic of conversation" amongst Brisbane's citizens had become "the depredations of the blacks."70 Such angst may account for the decades being known as the "hungry Forties" and "the fighting Fifties" amongst the locals.71 Thomas Dowse was remembered as a "Fifties fighter" - apparently on account of his vigilante efforts in Sandgate. Another pioneer dubbed himself a Fifties "Battler." 72

Bulla confict - Queensland
Image: Bulla Queensland 1861 conflict Settlers under attack from Aboriginal tribe. It is also stated in 'Wikipedia' that this image is 'fighting between Burke and Wills' supply party and Indigenous Australians at Bulla, Queensland in 1861'

(Watercolour by W.O Hodgkinson - National Library of Australia)
Image and caption included by Sovereign Union - Not part of Dr Kerkhove's paper

5. A 'still remembered' event?

Wars are often considered wars because they are remembered as such. Today 1855 is honoured by many Aboriginals in Brisbane, as it has been for some decades, marking the hanging of Dundalli on January 5th. There are also occasional reminders of the 1840s-1850s conflict here and there - a sign concerning the Battle of One Tree Hill at Toowoomba; some streets, tracks and houses named after persons such as Dalaipi and Dundalli. Otherwise, the notion of protracted resistance conflict in south-east Queensland does not occupy the public imagination.

However, during the 19th Century as we have seen, the view was rather different. The key events feature prominently in J.J. Knight's In the Early Days (1895) and Henry Russell's The Genesis of Queensland (1888).73

Although the 1843-1855 Black War otherwise disappeared from public consciousness until Arthur Laurie resurrected it in the 1950s, conflict historian Malcolm Prentis placed the whole period (which he puts a bit earlier - 1838 to 1848) as the zenith of the "black war on the frontier."74 Likewise, military historian Peter Denis concluded that the "war in Queensland" definitely started in Brisbane and nearby districts "around 1840, continuing to about 1860." He likewise views it as moving into central Queensland in the 1850s and 1860s.75 Equally, Ray Evans' study of Moreton Bay's frontier history over this period plotted the escalation of violence especially after 1841/1842.76 All this is quite significant, in that none of these three writers seem to have known of Bartley's dates, yet came to similar conclusions concerning a spike in frontier conflict at this time.


C. The 1843-1855 Black War as a Guerrilla/ Terrorist Conflict

Thus we seem to be dealing with a historically definable conflict of some sort, whether or not the dates are exactly as Bartley states. The next task is to consider the second question Henry Reynolds raised: "but what kind of war?"

Eckley Wilton defined guerilla warfare as low-intensity, irregular, disruptive, small-scale engagements which utilize natural hideaways and blur the division between civilian and combatant.77 This obviously has some resemblance to what is continually observed in Indigenous-Colonial violence. For this reason, the tag of "guerrilla warfare" is frequently applied to frontier conflict.

However, military historians such as Jeffrey Grey struggle to honestly place Indigenous resistance within the terminology of "war".78 Grey could find "no resemblance" between Indigenous efforts and post-1945 guerrilla warfare. He contrasted the pitiful numbers of whites killed in Indigenous affrays (usually less than 5 per engagement) compared to the 18,000 involved in the Maori wars and the 1,843 armed settlers the Maori warriors routed in one incident alone (of which 22 were killed). 79

Keith Windshuttle expanded this perspective - alleging Aboriginal resistance was neither conventional nor guerilla warfare.80 He could find no evidence of broader "military, political or patriotic objectives" within Indigenous aggressions81 - no hint of organization, intelligence, command strategy, or declarations of war. He concluded that "resistance" activity was usually a crime wave of "revenge and plunder" led by "detribalized" Aboriginals who victimized isolated, defenseless civilians.82 In his view, the robberies and assaults of Aboriginal criminals had been blindly accepted as forms of resistance.83

Of course, Windshuttle represents a hotly disputed stance, yet even on the other side of the 'History Wars', Henry Reynolds had to confess that compared to the United States, New Zealand or South Africa, Australia seems devoid of dramatic military confrontations. At best, Reynolds paints a continent immersed in a "state of petty warfare."84 Likewise, Jonathan Richards' detailed analysis of our paramilitary equivalent of the US Cavalry - the Native Police corps - only further highlighted the nebulous secrecy of its operations. Richards noted an almost negligible death toll on the part of the troopers and officers, suggesting conflicts were massacres rather than battles.85

Given such conclusions, the very idea that we need to better define Indigenous resistance 'wars' might seem absurd. However, we have little other option. Unless we adopt Evans and Thorpe's or Timothy Bottoms' concept that the conflicts were largely genocide,86 or Windshuttle's view that all Indigenous reaction was a 'crime wave,' we must use the terminology of 'warfare.'

However, perhaps the problem is our presumption that Australian frontier violence should necessarily fit the mould of guerilla conflicts overseas. In the following, we will analyze the nature of the 1843-1855 war by comparing it with the style of tactics observed in other parts of Colonial Australia, to arrive at an "Australian" definition of Indigenous guerilla warfare.

1. Charismatic leadership? The case for wily loner-leaders ('cheeky fella rogues')

Eckley Wilton tells us that charismatic leadership is essential to founding and maintaining guerilla movements,87 yet its presence within Australian resistance wars has been doubted for decades. Although various figures have been put forth as "resistance leaders" (Pemulwoy, Musquito, Saturday /Windaryne, Wayler, Jack of Cape Grim, Dundalli etc), the absence of evidence for them making declarations, schemes and heroic 'last stands' (bar a few exceptions) 88 has encouraged writers such as Keith Windschuttle and Stephen Sheaffe to negate the entire notion and interpret these individuals as nothing more than murderers and thieves, devoid of broader objectives.89

Even writers more sympathetic to the idea of guerilla leadership such as Denis Foley and Naomi Parry have felt uncomfortable placing these figures firmly within a 'resistance' framework. They either find them too complex for such a narrow definition, or find the whole notion of a singular instead of plural leadership a misfit given how Aboriginal society traditionally operates.90

This hesitancy is perhaps unwarranted, as according to their own contemporaries these figures were charismatic enough to arouse broad support - not only amongst their own often disparate people but occasionally across tribal boundaries.91 For instance, Gideon Lang in 1865 noticed that Bussamarai (Eaglehawk/ Old Billy) of south-west Queensland "had sufficient influence and ability to convince five entire tribes to combine and attempt the expulsion of the whites from the country."92

Within south-east Queensland, Bracewell names a host of figures as being involved in the war at different stages - Commander, Cowander (Make-i-light) and Diamond; later Zrombugongo, Pamby-Pamby, Twarr, Wungoe Wungoe and Buckabolu.93 More importantly, they inspired followers.

One of the later leaders of the 1843-1855 conflict, Dundalli, was someone whom even the white community agreed "the blacks....had been in the habit of looking up to."94 He was also, they said, someone the local Aboriginals viewed as "their great man."95 Aboriginal supporters spent three months "prowling about Brisbane and its neighbourhood" demonstrating their hostility when Dundalli was imprisoned and brought to trial.96 White writers conceded that Dundalli, along with Make-i-light (=Cowander) and Billy Barlow "had become kind of heroes" 97 to their people. Aboriginal groups openly declared their desire to rally behind them, making statements such as: "Cowander will kill more white men. Let us follow him!"98 In other words, some sort of charismatic leadership was operating here, albeit different from that of other parts of the world.

Part of the problem with these figures is that they were at times as ruthless to their own people as they were to whites.99 This is actually typical of guerilla and terrorist leadership, which is often controlling, dictatorial and brutal, in order to maintain military objectives. Sometimes this extends to intimidating locals and evicting and exterminating non-conformist elements.100 American Indian war chiefs including Sitting Bull have certainly been accused of displaying such traits.

However, there are other problems. Denis Foley has pointed out that these leaders manifest behavior "uncharacteristic" of Indigenous society in terms of their traditional social/ kin obligations. On this basis he suggests that the entire role of "resistance leader" was a new development in Indigenous society, born of the conflicts.101

Certainly all over Australia, these figures behaved in an unusual fashion for Indigenous society - not only in the sheer scope of their authority but in their desire to "pass on" the mantle of resistance to other figures - sometimes in a hereditary fashion: Musquito training Tom Birch (Kickerterpoller);102 Dundalli investing in Billy Barlow; 'Old' Moppy giving his authority to his sons (Young Moppy and Multuggerah); Pemulwoy bestowing leadership on his son Tedbury.

Even though this explains some of the anomalies, we are still left with figures that do not neatly fit the "war chief" or "insurgent" mould we find in North America or more recently in the Middle East. Perhaps the explanation for this is that Australian 'guerilla leadership' was of a rather different type.

In Australian Indigenous mythology, the most celebrated leaders - particularly in conflict stories - were not law-abiders but law-breakers.103 Repeatedly, the main subject is the "cheeky fellow." It is always the "clever man" who is hailed, and he is hailed because he is "cunning...a rogue."104 This suggests that Aboriginal people may not have expected their leaders to make bold 'last stands' but rather to be clever enough to outsmart the white man and live to fight another day.

More importantly, as one settler noted, the Indigenous understanding of the "arts of war" was "sleuth, silence and (when required) treachery."105 Thus their leaders - unlike their North American equivalents - had no interest in speaking openly or truthfully to their prosecutors, even during their trials. Truth was divulged only to the select few.

There is also evidence that many "resistance" leaders - like "clever men" - viewed themselves as possessing supernatural powers. Pemulwoy thought he was invincible to bullets, which he tried to deflect with his hands. In south-east Queensland, Multuggerah was remembered as a prophet:

Multuggerah.... told him (Campbell) the flood of 1841 would soon come back, and then not return until the piccaninnies of that time were old men. It came back in 1845, and the date of its second return is 1893! 106

Medicine men and medicine women had great status in traditional society, often across tribal divisions. They were held in awe because they seemed to have powers, but also because they dared to venture into sacred waterholes, travel at night, camp alone and behave somewhat beyond the Law. It would seem that resistance leaders were equally expected to be secretive, self-reliant loners.

With this in mind, it does not seem a coincidence that Dundalli's name meant "wonga pigeon." As Indigenous writer Alex Bond explains:

... 'pigeon' was the name of various Indigenous resistance leaders - for instance, 'Pigeon' of the Kimberleys, who was also known as Jundamara. The reason for this is the nature of the wonga pigeon. It is one of the largest Australian pigeons - a solitary, bold, very persistent bird. It is nomadic - it walks everywhere. It hides in the undergrowth but will fight boldly to protect its nest. There is an Illawara story of a wonga pigeon bleeding to death as it seeks its mate across countless waratahs.107

Like a wonga pigeon, Dundalli operated alone quite often, walked very far and hid in dense bushland. Bond adds that - again like a wonga pigeon - Dundalli was a 'man on a mission:' "dahn meaning 'man' and dali emphatic, direct, quick or urgent - someone who was on their way to accomplish something."108

Another difference from guerrilla leaders in other parts of the world was that Indigenous society did not permit leaders to place themselves at the head of their group. This may explain why they blurred into the background to a greater extent than their equivalents elsewhere. For example, Multuggerah - who led so much of the Upper Brisbane/ Darling Downs resistance - was at one point given a breastplate naming him "King of the Upper Brisbane Tribe". He was proud of this object, but when his group had its meaning translated, they became furious about the implications and ordered Baker (a convict living with them) to return the offensive item to settlement on pain of death. 109

If Aboriginal resistance leaders were modeling their behavior on self-motivated, wily, secretive, self-depreciating loners, their vulnerability becomes understandable. It is interesting that despite the high regard in which they were held, they were often betrayed by their own people - and Dundalli was no exception.110 Operating sometimes beyond the bounds of tribal law, and dependant for support on their ability to perform ever-more daring solitary acts, resistance leaders walked a tightrope between becoming outlaws in their own society and placing themselves in mortal danger. It seems that many eventually did succumb.

A 19th century illustration of a settler vigilantes in Queensland.
(Image: Illustrated Christian Weekly 24 Dec 1880)
Image and caption included by Sovereign Union - Not part of Dr Kerkhove's paper

2. Coordination - through what means?

As early as 1975, Malcolm Prentis expressed his frustration that Indigenous resistance in Australia did not appear to have been deliberately organized except at a local level.111 As we have seen, this has been used to argue that Indigenous resistance could not even be considered guerilla warfare. By 1995, Peter Dennis and others were arguing that the egalitarian, non-cohesive nature of Indigenous society prevented the development of inter-tribal alliances to a level that would permit complex military strategy.112

Many so-called "resistance" conflicts were certainly personal, local disputes. The motivation of other cases remains "unknowable"113 - often due to reticence on both sides. This lack of information continues to cloud our capacity to interpret these conflicts. The circumstances of the American Indian Wars are much better known, with the result that military strategy can be reconstructed with considerable ease. For instance, one of the Sioux Wars began with a couple of Indian youths killing settlers to show their bravery to each other. The rest of the tribe was then divided as to whether to turn the youths in to American authorities or rally behind them, but meanwhile the US Cavalry conducted a punitive attack, and thus war developed.114 Many Indigenous-Colonial conflicts in Australia may have originated in this fashion, but we simply lack sufficient detail - particularly from Indigenous parties - to decide.

Nevertheless, we know that small-scale societies (e.g. Californian Indians) generally attack in separate but simultaneous forays that are pre-planned by a number of groups.115 Aboriginal-Indigenous engagements seem to operate similarly, suggesting a similar strategy at work, with similar coordination.

In the case of the SE Qld 1843-1855 war, correspondents reported in 1852 that several stations along the river in the Burnett district were "attacked at three different points simultaneously."116 At Miriam Vale (in the same area), contemporaries describe "a meeting of different tribes" deciding to attack the head station.117 Many other instances abound: on the Logan River and at Lockyer Creek, portions of "various powerful tribes" were witnessed assembling "according to a pre-concerted plan" and then committed a raft of "outrages" such as destroying an entire maize crop in one night, hunting cattle and bailing up travellers.118

The incidents just listed above, which relied on local gatherings to fine-tune their strategies, probably drew their overarching objective from decisions made at the Bunya festival gathering, presumably reviewed or reiterated annually or tri-annually at the next Bunya gatherings (exactly as settlers claimed).119 Large-scale gatherings such as for the Bunya festival were said to germinate more coordinated inter-tribal resistance,120 as the Moreton Bay Courier expressed in 1858:

.... this gathering of the coast tribes (precedes) the approach of some devilment ... towards the habitations of the pale faces. The plan of their operations, after having assembled in masses as at present, is to swarm off in various directions, with the sole purpose of revenging for imaginary injuries.121

This is supported by evidence given in 1861 by James Davis before the Select Committee into the Native Police. Davis, as noted, lived for many years with the "alliance" that conducted the 1843-1855 war. When asked the purpose of inter-tribal gatherings, he answered that apart from serving the various customs they subscribed to, the gatherings were called to "hatch mischief against whites." 122

In other words, those most familiar with inter-tribal gatherings had no doubts that military strategies were devised through these gatherings, and could involve anything from two to twenty tribes depending on the level of coordination required. Indeed, it seems that settlers were so accustomed to region-wide collaborations that they feared broader unity erupting,123 and this suspicion sometimes put whole towns up in arms. As already mentioned, during the 'uprising' of 1842-1844, even friendly groups were turning against settlers and unheard of groups were assisting hostile ones. It was felt that the entire east coast of Australia was being organised against the settlers:

... so simultaneous, indeed, and so general (that)... a belief would be encouraged that the onslaught.... was the result of a perfect organization... From Wide Bay to Port Phillip, the organization seemed to extend, and scarcely a day elapsed without tidings reaching the city (Sydney) of some remote station being driven in, some flock driven away or speared, some shepherd or hut keeper being wounded or killed. 124

We already referred to "14 to 15" tribes who attended the 1842 bunya festival declaring their combined aggression. We have a fair idea which groups these were because Petrie, Schmidt and Davis all give us a listing of "bunya attendees" around this time, numbering roughly 14-15: the groups from Logan district; Moreton Bay Islands; Burnett River; Wide Bay district; Bundaberg; Mt Perry; Gympie; Bribie; Fraser Island; Gayndah; Mt Brisbane (= Mt Cootah & D'Aguilar Ranges); Kilcoy/ Esk and Brisbane/ Enoggera. Davis tells us that at least 9 or 10 of these (those most affected by the Kilcoy massacre) subscribed to the coordinated effort,125 and we know that the first offensive was spearheaded by Kilcoy/ Esk and Sunshine Coast peoples, as McConnel (as mentioned before) names these groups as the parties involved, and notes they lost the most people in the poisonings. Henceforth, most aggression seems to have been carried out along the upper Brisbane/ Stanley Rivers, around the Burnett/ Wide Bay, and around the Pine/Caboolture region.

From larger to smaller gatherings, military strategy seems to have been relayed through a system of messengers (William Clark calls them "post men") who walked or ran even through enemy territories if they needed to, their white body paint and cockatoo feather headdress ensuring they were granted immunity.126

Walker, the first Commandant of the Queensland Native Police, also found - from what his troopers explained - that a variety of signals were coopted into the attacks. For instance, during regular raids on crops or stock, raiders (who could number 100 or more) had sentinels on guard who used a system of prearranged signals.127 These were evidently the same silent hand-signals used in tracking game and stalking an enemy.128 There was also a system of tree marking involving series of marks or chops, 129 and most of all, smoke signalling.

Smoke signalling was definitely used in resistance activities. When John Campbell and his party fought off a raiding party whilst climbing the hills to the Darling Downs, they knew a second attack was being arranged at the steep pinch in front of them as "all this time we could hear their signals passing alongside the Sugar Loaf Mountain to the Red Hill, some two miles ahead of us."130 As he 'heard' signals travelling such a distance between hills, we must assume Campbell was referring to the crackle of fires sending smoke signals to groups ahead.

Certainly smoke was regularly used to summon groups over vast distances - for instance, to the bunya festival.131 Smoke signals were used to relay to other bands the movement of groups of whites (e.g. explorers),132 and to warn of impending attack. When police launched a punitive patrol around the Pine Rivers and Sandgate areas in 1857, the camps are reported to have smoke-signalled "up and down the coast", with the results that the police encountered empty encampments on arrival.133 As camps were often located near a high point or hill, within sight of another high point which itself lay behind another camp, a virtual relay of signals could be rapidly sent.

To vary such signals, fires in old hollow trees funnelled smoke into single, double and triple trunks. Otherwise, bark from saplings was moulded into tubular shapes for specific messages, the "improvised chimney stack" being placed over a smoky fire on a hill, and the construction extended as required (for different messages) by placing additional lengths of bark cones within each other. This bark funnel was then secured perpendicularly against some high tree with boogaroo cord.134 This resulted in "compressed smoke, shooting up to a great altitude in spiral columns" which, even if issued from distant ranges, was "visible for long distances." 135

Walker told William Clark that smoke signalling was the main "code" parties used during travel to "communicate with their detached mobs" and to decide "the locality of meeting places."136 By this means, groups from even hundreds of kilometres away would turn up "almost simultaneously" at assigned spots.137 This may explain how many hundreds of warriors could be amassed at fairly short notice to attack outstations.

Intelligence from 'insiders' and the associated blurring of distinctions between civilians and combatants is a means by which modern guerilla groups communicate.138 Reynolds discovered that this was similarly true in Colonial Australia: settlers' accounts speak of their homes being watched constantly;139 and of children and women gathering information for the warriors.140 Certainly in south-east Queensland at Gracemere, Aboriginal parties took advantage of their boss's absence to sack the homestead141, whilst other "insiders" - an Aboriginal youth and women who had been living with the workers - are known to have been instrumental in the attack on Patrick McEnroe's property at Surat.142

Decoys and diversions extended this tactic. Multuggerah is known to have sent old women out to drive off part of a herd in one place so that he could attack in another spot whilst the settlers were occupied.143 Bussumarai had women flirt with armed settlers to distract them and assist an attack.144 Likewise, a young Aboriginal worker near Ipswich - friendly with settlers - was used to entice a shepherd out where he could be speared.145 Even more ingeniously, the headman of a group near Fitzroy kept a squatter chatting and smoking over dinner whilst his raiders - some distance away - drove off 400 sheep, speared the shepherds and pursued the remnant another 70 miles.146

3. From pitched battle to ambush warfare

Another reason some scholars deny the existence of "proper" guerrilla warfare in Australia's frontier conflicts has been the apparent lack of evidence for a dramatic shift in tactics. Aboriginal society, we are told, was simply too static - bound to its "highly ritual" interpretation of war. 147 Indigenous hit-and-run attacks are paraded as evidence of this, even though this same element (surprise attacks) is elsewhere considered a key characteristic of guerilla warfare.

However, ambush activities during the decades of invasion may signify a radical departure from traditional warfare. Except for small-scale revenge or execution raids, war in Indigenous Australia was almost always an extremely formal arrangement wherein one group issued a challenge and the other side accepted and then met the opponent at a pre-determined spot, where a pitched battle (more a series of tournaments) was conducted between neat lines of scores or hundreds of combatants, all within very strict sets of rules - see Table 1.148 Virtually all the many pullen-pullen ("fights") explorers and settlers witnessed around south-east Queensland were of this sort.

  1. Contestant groups move entire camp to ridges surrounding open plain - women move camp first
  2. Set up camp according to direction of home country (N S E W) with youths (kippas) separate again
  3. All men paint selves up and decorate selves with feather down
  4. Women dance & sing on battle field - wave yam sticks with branches of bushes tied to
  5. War whoop from camp (top of hill)
  6. Warriors file into field in companies (tribal groups) in line - sets of twos, singing war song:
    1. led by "great men" war champions (6 in pairs)
    2. followed by youths in middle
    3. seasoned warriors behind (6 in pairs)
  7. Women plant yam sticks in ground as troops enter, and await warriors' arrival
  8. Youths open battle - for 20 minutes - toss weapons from distance (nb this 'proving self in battle' is their first duty after bora initiation)
  9. Seasoned warriors move in - toss spears/ boomerangs/ waddies from distance - for 1 hour, old men direct from behind,- thin shields deflect
  10. Try chase opponents off and away from field towards ridges or beyond
  11. Once someone is wounded, friends shout "tor!" - appearance of 'first blood' ends the battle
  12. All sides retreat and break - squat down 100 yards apart, treat wounds
  13. When rested, two warriors from one side rush at opponents' side, brandish spears etc and threaten (challenge)
  14. Two from other side respond
  15. Group of four or five each side duel (hand-to-hand)
  16. Long fight (up to 5 hours): turrwan (big man - best champion) accepts single-handed combat at close quarters with opponent's turwan (usually avenging death of relative, blamed on opposing side) - duel with thick shield and waddy (and carry stone knife in teeth)
  17. Once one drops weapons, or shield is split, start knife duel - stab or gash thighs or back (not allowed to stab chest- offenders killed)
  18. Onlookers eventually separate turrwans
  19. Various small duels (including women's yamstick fights) of other major champions & aggrieved parties
  20. All retire back to camp, go hunting etc for evening meal
  21. Repeat steps 1-20, for over a week
  22. All depart for home country, usually on good (cooperative) terms

In fact, despite the assumption that Indigenous engagements with whites were furtive 'hit-and-run' encounters, early sources across Australia repeatedly describe pitched battles. In 1841 towards the Murray River (The Islands NSW and Rufus River by Lake Victoria) there was a series of confrontations involving some 200 to 400 warriors who stood their ground - in neat files - against groups of 11 to 68 armed whites (some of them former police). The warriors sometimes forced the whites to retreat and flee their drays, almost surrounding them with a crescent-shaped front. 149

This was not simply a Murray River tactic. Confrontations with "massed warriors"150 and pitched battles between these warriors and whites seemed the more common mode of frontier violence, especially in the first years of conflict. For example, at Coomba (near the Bunya Mountains) warriors stood for four hours against a barrage of guns and hurled boulders upon a group of squatters.151 On the Upper Burnett, 500 warriors "marched on the head station" and "with loud voices" demanded that the overseer's wife be turned over to them, and then ransacked the station (the owner wisely disposed of this holding).152

Even when surprised by settlers whilst stealing sheep or cattle, 153 or whilst peacefully camped, most sources describe warriors as lining up and "giving fight" rather than fleeing.154 Davis (Duramboi) related that in his personal experience, south-east Queensland warriors were obliged by custom to stand their ground when violently attacked, regardless of the context.155 As one witness expressed it "the blacks of those days were not curs, and would stand up and face the white man's gun."156 Leichhardt likewise noted: "the black with his weapons is no coward. Calmly he meets his enemies."157

In this sense, the confrontations with Native Police and vigilantes, which were doubtless massacres given the obvious technological advantage whites enjoyed,158 may need to be re-considered as defensive battles. Despite the odds, it seems that the victims stood their ground as best they could.

When ambush-style guerrilla fighting started to dominate inter-racial interactions, it obviously evolved out of revenge or execution raids,159 yet perhaps its prevalence was born of necessity rather than a choice. Bartley noted that due to the impact of gunfire, the "dash in the open" gave way to a "crafty ambush behind some huge rock or tree."160 Even when ambush-style attacks became the norm, raiding parties still often utilized the 'shock effect' of assembling and rushing stations and huts with hundreds of painted warriors (see Table 2).

Table 2: Some Indigenous Military Strategies during 'Resistance Wars
  1. One or two 'forward scouts" make "friendly" visit for surveillance of situation, and to lure any residents away from their armaments
  2. Masses of warriors jump out from hiding - either from along creek bank, behind ridge or behind trees (show of force -scores to hundreds of warriors involved)
  3. Harass residents into fleeing or otherwise club/spear residents
  4. If residents retreat to buildings, lay siege by removing roofing/ firing roofing/ spearing through holes/ blocking gun slots/ bending or breaking muzzles
  5. Remove/ drive off horses (means of escape)
  6. Sack buildings of all contents
  7. Take all herd, flock and stored goods


  1. Create a distraction for stockmen/ station owner/ shepherds to keep them away
  2. Take over flock/ herd
  3. Funnel herd/ flock in pre-planned direction:
    1. a. into mountains or dense scrub (if harassing settler into leaving)
    2. past rows of hidden warriors (if killing on-the-spot)
    3. into difficult-to-follow terrain (if moving entire herd/ flock to "bush pens")


  1. Initial challenge: present large masses of menacing warriors (at a safe distance) and call out threats
  2. Continually follow travelers for long distances, closely monitoring their actions and relaying ahead to other bands (via smoke signal, runners etc)
  3. Wait till part of travelling party is sufficiently removed from rest, or when their armed members are away from rest of travelers
  4. At a pinch or other site presenting enough cover, surprise the vulnerable/ isolated portion
  5. Advance upon group with bodies of warriors chanting war songs (file out from cover and stand ground)
  6. Simultaneously hurl spears, boomerangs etc. at the group
  7. Sack dray/ supplies
  8. Follow rest of party, from a safe distance
  9. Mock and harass
  10. When a manageable portion of remaining travelers come to a suitably vulnerable position, attack this portion with another large mass of warriors - advancing out and standing ground
  11. Repeat as often as required

DEFENDING A CAMP (during surprise raids by Native Police or vigilantes)

  1. Send out alert (call to arms) when enemy spotted
  2. Men form a line (barrier) and hurl spears and other projectiles
  3. Women and children run for cover (disperse widely into bush)
  4. Where possible, engage attackers individually (one-on-one, hand-to-hand combat)

4. Full-time 'guerilla bands'?

There is evidence that not only warfare but lifestyle changed enormously on account of the resistance wars. In fact, the increasing instability of life on the frontier may have engendered full-time "guerrilla bands." As groups increasingly quit traditional lifestyle in order to survive, they developed some rather interesting traits. Consider, for example, this 1886 exhibit in Brisbane of an "uncivilized blacks' camp":

.... The weapon or article of European manufacture is the tomahawk of iron, doubtless plundered.... Other signs of the dawn of civilization are bullock-bones about the camp. .... In accordance with another practice, the gunyahs are so situated that an enemy cannot approach from any quarter without being seen by the occupants of at least two gunyahs. ... (There are) cattle spears, to be dropped on beasts from boughs of trees over-hanging their tracks, and the lighter spears for other purposes....(italics mine)161

Indigenous groups were evidently entering a militarized world and perhaps became guerilla bands by default. The shift in some places (e.g. Tasmania) towards travelling and attacking at night was something unheard of in traditional times.162 Elsewhere, the large-scale abandonment of open camps for safer, secluded locations;163 the heavy reliance on "strongholds" in "broken and unfrequented country," 164 the strategic use of creeks and swamps to bog would-be pursuers;165 the posting of lookouts on perpetual sentry duty and the stockpiling of weapons at or near camps166 - all these elements add up to a radically modified world.

Victorian Aboriginals became so dependent on their rocky hill hideouts that squatters dubbed them "Children of the Rocks.167 In south-east Queensland, five or six areas - most notably the Bunya lands (densely-forested hills of the Blackall Ranges and Bunya Mountains), Bribie Island and Fraser Island - were repeatedly described by Colonists as "strongholds" from which offensives were launched.168

Note that it was the continual complaint of the squatters that the 'wild' Aboriginals who were guilty of "depredations" had changed their diet entirely to mutton and beef, and were becoming professional plunderers. Worse, they were:

... convert(ing) some of the more savage and isolated tribes into bands of savage plunderers, who will place their reliance for the means of subsistence entirely on the lawless forays which they are enabled to make from their fastnesses upon the property of the settlers.169

Considering the horrific price Aboriginal groups paid for slaying even a single bull or sheep, the decision to subsist entirely off herds and flocks was an act of obvious defiance. When entire tribes took this dangerous step and decided to live off, and even store, plundered flour, grain and stock,170 they unwittingly became units quite similar to terrorist cells and guerrilla bands - 'robin hood' type bands that survive in hideouts, stock up on goods and weapons, and regularly plunder the enemy.

Perhaps the most intriguing element in this change is the appearance in so many places - Tasmania, Wide Bay, the Darling Downs, Western Victoria,171 Walgett,172 New England - of "bush pens." Aboriginal raiding parties built these near their camps. For example, Sergeant Freer located three such yards in one spot alone (Towel Creek off the Macleay River) "most ingeniously constructed." 173 Clearly the aim of these pens was to provide on-going supplies of meat, as evidenced by discarded carcasses and bones in the vicinity, but why were entire flocks (sometimes in thousands) stolen and driven to these pens? Were the evolving "guerrilla bands" trying to wrest the pastoral industry out of white hands?

Quite possibly they were. In 1848, Aboriginal informants advised a Darling Downs squatter that their overall "plan" was to kill all whites posted at the head stations, sack their stores, "waylay" shepherds minding flocks, and take over all their sheep.174 Likewise, near Boulia, grazier Alexander Kennedy discovered through this corroboree song (which one of his workers translated for him), that the local tribe aimed to take over the powerful magic (cattle rearing) that had changed their world:

Our hunting grounds are ravished
Our water is taken by the cattle,
But bullock is good,
Kill and we shall have beef forever!
Kill the white man,
Kill the white man ...
We are many and can conquer the white man's magic.175

5. Exploiting the Power of 'Payback'

Libby Connors surmises that many resistance killings - at least around south-east Queensland - were a form of legal payback, very exactly targeting persons who had committed crimes against tribal law.176 This might again be used to paint Indigenous resistance as a static continuation of traditional practices, yet Henry Reynolds suggests payback was being co-opted into provoking, terrorizing and exhausting settlers into quitting their runs.177 Guerilla warfare typically relies on exhaustion and provocation - a 'war of attrition' that protracts conflict to the point of expending the enemy's willpower, or creates such anxiety that the enemy quits an area. Hence the application of 'payback' to the new situation of European invasion could constitute a significant adaptation.

In Indigenous society, an infringement on tribal law saw the offender or an assigned representative face off a volley of spears and boomerangs. Otherwise, revenge parties or assigned executioners were sent out to exact legal punishment through a surprise attack. As even natural deaths were attributed to the hostility of foes, attacks of this sort sometimes seemed unwarranted, which may explain 'unprovoked' attacks some settlers suffered.

The sleuth, dogged determination and apparent treachery of payback attacks could work very well as a form of resistance, in that it conveyed that no settler was ever safe from Indigenous justice. Payback highlighted the importance of reciprocity- the fact that no slight would be forgotten or left unavenged.

In this regard, it is worth noting that Indigenous groups themselves often stated that they were engaged in revenge attacks through their actions against whites178 and Colonial authorities recognised their killings as such.179 Pemulwoy, the Sydney "resistance" leader, is often now considered a caradhy, a man whose position in the Bidjigal tribe empowered him to dispense justice.180 Similarly, Indigenous writers such as Dale Kerwin and Alex Bond insist that Dundalli was a kooringal - an 'executioner' sent out by bora councilors to dispense justice.181 This has also been the conclusion of Dundalli's main biographer, Libby Connors,182 and it may explain why so many 'resistance leaders' seem lone figures only vaguely backed up by their people (although typically hundreds were indirectly involved in these attacks).

'Sturt's party threatened by blacks at the junction of the Murray and Darling, 1830'
(National Library of Australia picture nla.pic-an9025855-1)
Image and caption included by Sovereign Union - Not part of Dr Kerkhove's paper

6. Inflicting unending sabotage

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Australia's frontier conflict is its relative lack of violence on the part of Indigenous raiders, compared to Indigenous/ Colonial wars elsewhere. In fact, the whole history of frontier conflict in Australia reads more like the cattle raids of Irish epics. The chief aim seemed not to burn down villages or slaughter thousands but to economically ruin or 'starve out' one's opponent. Repeatedly, this was enacted by removing or destroying immense quantities of their cattle, sheep, corn and similar goods, and disrupting all other means by which they operated. Certainly much of this produce was eaten or stored, but the sheer scale of the destruction indicates it was mostly conducted to frustrate attempts at settlement - removing the means by which settlement sustained itself.

Economic sabotage might seem far removed from a guerilla agenda, but (as the Irish allusion suggests) this kind of harassment and similar "white war" (boycott) is one of the oldest forms of guerilla warfare.183 As this practice had "no precedent" in traditional Aboriginal warfare (which always allows opponents breaks for food gathering and hunting), John Connor - the Senior Historian for the Australian War Memorial - identified it as an innovation born of the invasion.184 It was probably also - as Henry Reynolds alleges - the most effective resistance strategy Aboriginal people ever used.185 All over the continent, it allowed Aboriginals to drive out settlers and re-occupy their lands.

Sabotage is a powerful weapon. Early Moreton Bay settlement was nearly starved to extinction in 1827 through repeated destruction of its maize fields, resulting in Captain Logan posting sentries day and night.186 Well into the 1840s crops of the fledgling Brisbane colony and the neighbouring free settlement (Nundah) were so heavily attacked that residents feared they would not survive.187 In Sydney, few if any out-farms escaped attack - Aboriginal groups stripped and burnt all plots and food stocks they could.188 Sydney groups even used the threat of attack as a negotiating tool with officials, to demand the return of specific territory.189

Many variations were made around this theme: killing only the best of any stock; destroying all storehouses; scattering, hamstringing (wounding) and terrifying flocks and herds to reduce their usefulness;190 burning good pasture, removing all house-contents (which compelled the destitute owners to leave),191 and ill-treating and plundering timber-getters until they abandoned their tree-felling work.192 As the toll of this onslaught consumed many acres of crops and regularly destroyed or dispersed flocks and herds of 300 - 2000 head each, it inflicted huge economic losses on would-be settlers, forcing many to abandon their runs.

Disrupting lines of communication, transport and supply was a related form of sabotage, and we know it was often deliberate because Aboriginal raiders (for instance, Multuggerah's group between Gatton and Toowoomba) openly stated that their mission was to intercept all communication and supply. In this particular case, the high road to the Downs was effectively cut by diverting drays off the road with saplings, preventing them reversing with logs, and thereafter frightening off the dray teams.193 Similarly, when Jackey Jackey, another fighter, took refuge in the Bunya lands, he sent a message out of his intention to halt white movement towards what is now Enoggera and Newmarket (Three Mile Scrub): "he said he would come down to the Three-mile Scrub and kill white fellow - that he would kill any white fellow that goes that road" (italics mine). 194

Bullock drays, perhaps on account of the "life blood" of produce and supplies they carried, were frequently attacked - for instance, at Mt Edwards,195 on the Northern Rivers,196 near Brisbane197 and on the Gwydir River.198 One of the most successful resistance actions in Australian history involved the halting of dray-traffic at Winding Swamp.199 To add further "bedlam" some raiders set large packs of dogs onto the drays and horses.200

Elsewhere, transport was disrupted by frightening travellers off important pathways, creek crossings201 or mountain passes (e.g.Cunningham's Gap).202 Perhaps the best example in the case of the 1843-1855 conflict is Logan Road in Brisbane where it passed between Mount Gravatt, Mt Thomspon and other hills. As this area held springs and caves and a host of camps, German settlers virtually "ran the gauntlet" to travel up and down the road. There were a number of spearings in the area, and the Germans developed sideboards for their wagons to protect themselves from flying spears.203

A related tactic was to scare off, intercept and kill mail men (e.g. the Stradbroke mailman to Brisbane, and another between Nanango and Gayndah in 1851)204 or simply take their mail.205 Aboriginals knew the strategic value of controlling mail as they were often called upon to deliver notes and letters, and suffered the consequence of the contents.
Apart from halting supplies and reinforcements, such disruption served to increase the isolation and vulnerability of settlers:

(We were) so alone and isolated... the interior silence and black darkness so suddenly engulfed us ... (and) further out, all across the plain ... as far as we could see... were lights from the fireplaces of the blacks.206

7. Psychological warfare: mocking, harassment and humiliation

As the above suggests, another feature of frontier conflict that has puzzled observers was the amount of harassment and mocking behavior Aboriginal displayed. Again, this might not seem a specific tactic, but in fact terrorism often operates at a psychological level. It employs shock tactics: unexpected, unpredictable, sometimes brutal actions that will help create an atmosphere of universal anxiety and fear.207 This is done to provoke the enemy.208 Although violence is one form of such mayhem, continual harassment, bullying, threats, humiliation or shows of force can be used with equal effect. The goal either way is a loss of face - lowering enemy morale.

A common complaint during the 1843-1855 conflict in south-east Queensland was that it was becoming impossible to entice people into working or residing along the frontier from "the Downs to the Bay" on account of the anxieties and on-going small-scale harassments people were regularly subjected to.209 This highlights the effectiveness of such measures.

Aboriginal parties would simply make a show of force - appearing in great numbers - particularly stretched along hills and ridges210 - to threaten and intimidate whites - sometimes doggedly following and harassing them for hundreds of kilometers.211 Other times they proved eerily invisible, keeping just one step ahead of their pursuers (a common complaint of the Native Police Corps), or daily harassed and threatened womenfolk as soon as the men left for work.212 Such "shows of force" and surprise appearances terrorized travelers and explorers. Even at homesteads, for example, Zillman's property near Brisbane, Aboriginal parties sometimes made a "mysterious demonstration" of numbers.213

Another common 'psychological ploy' was to boldly enter - sometimes in hundreds - any home, garden or hut they passed - sometimes in broad daylight, in front of white occupants, taking whatever they wished, and threatening violence and death to any who resisted.214 This act seemed aimed at showing "who was in charge" as during this 1856 example from Breakfast Creek:

...five or six of them entered the premises of a person residing there, and helped themselves to the garden stuff most liberally and unceremoniously, telling the woman left in charge that they knew "whitefellow had gone away," and defying her to make them leave the premise. Another woman was ordering several of them off, when a blackfellow spat in her face and used some grossly insulting language.215

The full context in this particular case was that Aboriginal groups were daily chased across the 'town limits' of Breakfast Creek by police and for decades on, considered these 'boundaries' a battle line across which any white attempting to settle was considered fair game.216

The tactic of continual robbery and insult was regularly employed around the Northern Rivers,217 Burnett,218 and Brisbane regions.219 Occasionally, it involved uprooting building stumps and desecrating (stamping and dancing on) household graves.220 Other times it consisted of denigrating taunts, as when a group was shot at near Oxley Creek but simply laughed and shouted: 'Shoot, shoot and then where you white fellow go?'221

Indeed, Grace Karsken detected that a great deal of Indigenous interaction with whites at this time was conducted as parody and mocking.222 This raised the spirits of the assailants and humiliated the enemy. Such mocking included wearing clothes in an inappropriate manner; engaging in actions that magnified the weaknesses of whites; and successfully fooling settlers with gammon (nonsense tales, lies).

A great deal of court "evidence" given to white authorities from Indigenous sources seems to have consisted of such gammon, which may explain the many confusing and dishonest statements . Thus the effort of scholars to try to unravel Indigenous motivation or strategy from these statements in the witness box, let alone from other scant verbal interchanges with whites, may well prove futile.

Humour and mocking often manifested in the actions of resistance leaders. The organizer of the 'Bathurst War' - Windaryne - walked undetected some 120 miles to Parramatta to surprise the Governor by attending his annual feast. Windaryne cleverly had the word "peace" stuck in his hat, and went around smilingly shaking hands. This unexpected visit ensured his safety but also demonstrated to the Governor his genius for infiltrating the settled regions (after a short-lived peace, Windaryne's parties continued their aggressions, as the settlers did not give up their forays).223 Another example is Yilbung, a Brisbane-region leader. Immediately after being flogged, Yilbung cheerfully visited his tormentors, and (unbeknown to them) stole a valuable tobacco box virtually from under their noses. He then gave this away to a gardener for a bag of sweet potatoes.224

8. The shock of the new: circumventing alien technologies

Finally we need to assess the role of technology in guerilla tactics. It has been suggested that Aboriginal resistance made such limited use of Western weaponry because it was basically a static culture bound to its traditions, or because it viewed firearms as "cowardly." 225

Certainly guns, steel and horses were completely unfamiliar to Aboriginal Australians. They presented a serious challenge. Australia, unlike other Colonial forums, never permitted the trade or sale of firearms into Indigenous hands, and their use was even forbidden or restricted amongst "friendly" Aboriginals workers. Thus very few reached the hands of warriors.

As well, the Australian invasion was a blitzkrieg compared to the rest of the globe - most of it conducted in just 40 years of free settlement (1840-1880) instead of the 350 years over which North America and Africa were slowly invaded. This meant that guns and horses could never become deeply entrenched into local Indigenous cultures in the manner they did on the American Plains or in Africa.

Aboriginal groups consequently had little option except to remove or disable these alien technologies. This is exactly what we find they did. There are many accounts of Aboriginal war parties breaking, hiding, stealing and dampening guns and ammunition.226 In some cases they would plug up the portholes from which shooting was conducted,227 or even rush up to the muzzles protruding from fortified huts, seize hold of the barrels and attempt to bend or break them.228

Horses were similarly maimed, killed or driven into the bush.229 John Campbell recalled that during the Darling Downs invasion, the killing of a horse "would be counted by them as a great victory. The tail being taken as a trophy would be whisked in the first white man's face they met."230 Trapped in his hut by assembled warriors, one man near Surat found his Indigenous foes taking all the horses - evidently to prevent his escape. When help arrived, he hastened to secure the remaining one.231

Firearms and horses that were used against whites - for instance, in Victoria, Wide Bay and Tasmania - were used by the occasional individual, usually persons who had spent enough time around settlers to master their firing (e.g. Tunnerminnerwait, Wayler and Musquito).232 As the raiders themselves admitted, limited access to ammunition further impeded the usefulness of their 'catch'.233 Thus although Jack Napoleon of Cape Grim stole and stockpiled firearms and Wayler boasted that she had taught her people to "kill plenty of white people" using muskets, few whites died from their bullets.234

Apart from removing the whites' weapons, raiding parties worked to circumvent them. Some rushed the bullets en masse, knowing that chaos and mass of numbers would limit shooters' capacity to target individuals. Another method was to attack only in thick jungle or high grass, allowing maximum cover or enabling some to sneak up on armed settlers. Others threw themselves to the ground or immediately slid behind large rocks or trees whenever guns were fired.235

A similar tactic was to capitalize on weaknesses in the new weapons. As Reynolds noted, muskets (especially early varieties) were often inaccurate and slow, so raiding parties rushed the shooters between re-loadings,236 knowing that the velocity of their spear-throwing (and warriors deliberately carried several when confronting guns) could excel gunfire.237 Other groups kept themselves just slightly out of firing range (e.g. during the Rufus River battles), or timed attacks during long wet seasons when they knew ammunition and guns would be damp and difficult to work. By taunting and teasing settlers to expend all their gunpowder, it was similarly possible to strike in earnest only after ammunition had been exhausted. For example, for four hours an attack was kept up at Wabro Station (New England) until ammunition ran short.238 Longer sieges of even a week are reported.

What clearly demonstrates the real problem regarding firearms was simply limited access is that other new elements - iron and glass - had a quite different story. These materials could be obtained even as discarded rubbish if not directly traded, so they spread rapidly into local toolkits and weaponry.239 When drays or storehouses were sacked, iron tools, nails, tomahawks, shears knives and metal scraps were removed in large quantities, and traded to the furthest regions of the continent.240 All camps within the vicinity of homesteads and towns seemed to have rapidly replaced stone with iron and glass, modifying these fragments to better suit their intended use. Club heads were fitted with spikes of nails, horseshoes were beaten into spearheads, spears were fitted with points made from broken shears or shards of glass - and these were used against settlers.241 Certainly in hand-to-hand fights in south-east Queensland, William Clark noted knives of shell had once been used, but after settlement, they "abandoned (these) for blades of sheath knives, or broken shear blades."242
Also, traditional devices were applied in new ways to meet the requirements of frontier conflict. Lyndall Ryan noted that firesticks were adapted to be tossed through the air onto white combatants, or onto roofs243 - a practice also popular in south-east Queensland. 244 Huge fires were deliberately lit to burn out settlers or to destroy good pasture.245 In southern Queensland, deliberate bushfires halted the progress of explorers and settlers. For example, when Ross tried to reach the Darling Downs around 1860, Aboriginals set fire to the surrounding fields, forcing him to drive his flocks into the scrub.246

('Dispersing' in the Rainforest, in Black Police - A Story of Modern Australia by AJ Vogan 1889)
Image and caption included by Sovereign Union - Not part of Dr Kerkhove's paper



The precise nature of Australian Indigenous resistance will doubtless require dedicated analysis for decades to come. This particular study found a sound case for the existence of a region-wide (over 200 kms) historically-identifiable "war" of resistance in south-eastern Queensland. Reading this as a "guerrilla / terrorist engagement" appears to be correct, and assists in understanding its nature, even though the chronicling of this conflict remains in its infancy.

The "South-east Queensland Black War" of 1843 to 1855 manifested various elements of historicity: a 'declaration', a pattern of escalation, evidence of an effective offensive, and some mode of cessation. However - on account of the nature of Aboriginal society - it featured much more overlap than similar conflicts abroad. What is intriguing is the considerable evidence for inter-tribal cooperation within this war, the level to which it impacted on civilian life and the sheer number of Indigenous victories in the early phase of this engagement (i.e. the routing would-be settlers from runs). The latter has yet to be fully reconstructed, documented and mapped - let alone properly commemorated.

Lack of historical chronicling for resistance wars such as that of south-east Queensland may relate to the limited attention given to better defining resistance tactics. The survey of tactics conducted here found that Indigenous resistance in Australia took a rather different road to that of similar contests overseas. This may explain why it has been often misunderstood and under-rated to date.

For instance, it did not entail massive casualties for the white population. It utilized a mode of leadership and coordination rather different from that of North American 'war chiefs' - more secretive, cunning and reticent. Apparently this only evolved with the onset of invasion. Aboriginal groups also lacked the level of access to guns and horses that American Indian groups enjoyed, and after 1838 they mostly faced off against armed civilians (supported by police) rather than army regiments.

Particularly within south-east Queensland, Indigenous resistance seems to have primarily manifested as a 'psychological war' - harassment, targeted payback killings and large-scale (but highly successful) economic sabotage. However, contrary to popular assumption, many engagements were pitched battles. Moreover, the transition to more furtive guerrilla-style ambush attacks continued to involve "massed lines of warriors" as per traditional warfare. It also appears that the decades-long academic interest in "massacres" obscured the fact that even when attacked at their camps, Aboriginal warriors generally stood their ground and 'gave fight' (a defensive battle).

Leichhardt found that in Indigenous battles, people were "rarely killed but often wounded." He also witnessed that "extermination battles are completely lacking."247 Ironically, this "low-violence" strategy (especially when compared with reprisals conducted by white vigilantes and Native Police corps) resulted in Indigenous military achievement being severely under-rated. For instance, the vast and relentless raids on stock, stores and crops drove back settlement for months to years in some places. However, being largely bloodless, it is rarely celebrated today, even in Indigenous circles. A fuller investigation of such "Indigenous victories" will doubtless prove a fruitful endeavour.


Australian Aboriginal domestic scene depicting traditional recreation, including one child kicking the "ball", with the object and caption being to "never let the ball hit the ground". William Blandowski's Australien in 142 Photographischen Abbildungen, 1857

(Haddon Library, Faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge)
Image and caption included by Sovereign Union - Not part of Dr Kerkhove's paper

Paper published with the permission of the Author