KERRY GOULSTON. Why not commemorate the Frontier Wars in the Australian War Memorial?

As an Australian schoolchild I learnt the history of England, including a long list of English Kings, but nothing at all about the Frontier Wars here in Australia or indeed the history of our Indigenous, the oldest people on the planet. 

So I learnt a great deal from reading the Griffith Review 60 (2018), ‘First Things First’.   The Griffith Review 60 consists of 33 essays written by a range of influential Australians – Indigenous leaders, Indigenous and non-Indigenous academics, leading journalists, playwrights, poets and historians.

Editors Julianne Schultz and Sandra Phillips originally named this edition ‘Renewed Promise’ but after the Uluru Statement from the Heart was dismissed by the Australian Prime Minister, the special edition was renamed ‘First Things First ‘. Following a plan endorsed by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, the Uluru Statement involved 1,200 Participants from 600,000 Indigenous people nationally. The First Nation Regional Dialogues were held at thirteen sites throughout the country.  Each dialogue took place over three days and the final meeting was held at Uluru during May 23-26, 2017.

The history of Indigenous people in Australia goes back for over 60,000 years. White immigrants have been in Australia for only 230 years.  The consequences of this European invasion have been cataclysmic for Indigenous Australians. Professor Lyndall Ryan of the University of Newcastle has produced a confronting and comprehensive map of over 250 massacres of Indigenous People during the Australian Frontier Wars. (See ‘Massacres on Australia’s colonial frontier climb to 250’ in this blog, 27/7/2018). It is estimated that by 1930, 65,000 Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were killed in Queensland alone. The most impoverished and imprisoned in our nation are the First Peoples. To this day, Australia is the only Commonwealth country that has never signed a Treaty with its Indigenous people.

The Uluru Statement calls for the establishment of a Makarrata Commission to enable the building of relationships between the First Nations and the Australian Federal and State Governments.  (See https://www.referendumcouncil.org.au/sites/default/files/2017-05/Uluru_Statement_From_The_Heart_0.PDF). Makarrrata symbolises the ‘coming together after a struggle’.  The Commission would be similar to previous initiatives in Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. To mark the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on 9 August, the seven biggest Aboriginal organisations in NSW marched to the NSW Parliament calling for a Makarrata (https://www.theguardian.com/australianews/gallery/2018/aug/09/marching-together-worlds-indigenous-peoples-day-in-sydney-in-pictures).

The Uluru Statement called for a Referendum and a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution. Despite polls showing 61% of Australians agreed to a Referendum, the Prime Minister dismissed it.

At the 2018 Anzac Day March in Canberra, some courageous young Indigenous people who were not Veterans marched while older War Veterans applauded.  This was a reminder of the 2011 Anzac Day March in Canberra when Michael Anderson, founder of the Canberra tent embassy, led Indigenous people carrying signs saying ‘Lest we forget the Frontier Wars’. I wrote to Brendan Nelson, Director of the Australian War Memorial, asking why the Memorial has done nothing to commemorate the Frontier Wars. He replied ‘the War Memorial’s charter and mission is defined by the 1980 Australian War Memorial Act’ and referred specifically to  ‘overseas wars’.

Brendan Nelson’s term as Director finishes in 2019. Before he leaves perhaps he could persuade the prime Minister to revise the Australian War Memorial Act to recognise the Frontier Wars.

The Australian historian, Henry Reynolds , argues in his book ‘Forgotten War ‘ (2013)  that there can be no complete reconciliation without acknowledging the wars fought on our own soil, that is Australia’s war between the settlers and the original inhabitants. In the spirit of Reconciliation, I am sure the majority of Australians would support recognition of the Frontier Wars in the Australian War Memorial.

Kerry Goulston is a retired Gastroenterologist and medical academic – and a concerned citizen.

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2 Responses to KERRY GOULSTON. Why not commemorate the Frontier Wars in the Australian War Memorial?

  1. Jim KABLE says:

    Makes perfect sense to me and to many others Kerry – and Bruce, too. But you have to understand that B. Nelson is first and foremost a political creature of the right. Lots about Gallipoli, France/Flanders/South-East Asia – Singapore/Thai-Burma/Japan and Korea and Viet-nam etc – and more lately Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria. It makes no sense that the Frontier Wars are not front and centre at the War Memorial in our national capital – except for the clever ideological spin on the legislation which makes for the absence of the fight-back during the entire colonial era of Australia’s First Nations peoples!

  2. Bruce Cameron says:

    Kerry,
    The AWM is currently calling for public input as regards a planned major development. One of the topics in my submission was the following:

    “Australian service personnel died on Australian soil while defending their country against the Japanese in 1942. Indigenous Australians died when resisting British troops and others wanting to colonise their land.  What is the difference?

    The sacrifice of those killed in Darwin and Sydney is commemorated in the AWM; the sacrifice of indigenous Australians is not.  But both were trying to protect their families and deny the right of the invader to take their land.

    The Charter of the AWM refers to commemorating ‘formed units’.  So WWII service personnel killed while defending their country can be recognised, but others cannot.  It has to be acknowledged that the place of the AWM is commemorate Australian service personnel on active duty, so the spirits of civilians who died in Darwin and Sydney cannot be guarded by the AWM; but what of indigenous warriors?  They were not part of ‘formed units’ as the term is applied today, however, they were in every other sense … soldiers protecting their families, land and possessions against an invader.

    As a former serviceman, I cannot begin to imagine the bravery of indigenous warriors opposing the ‘might’ of 18/19th Century military forces.  But they did!  They stood firm and resisted attacks.  To my thinking, these ‘soldiers’ are just as much (if not more so) entitled to have their spirits guarded by the AWM, as is the case with service personnel from the Colonial Wars, Federation, and onwards.

    I dream of the day in which I could stand on the steps of the AWM on Anzac Day, alongside an indigenous Australian … both of us, paying respects to our forebears.  (The AWM Charter can be amended to allow for this by a simple stroke of the pen by the responsible Minister … if there is a will to do so!)

    For those who are tasked with setting the course of the AWM’s future, please give consideration to embracing not only indigenous Australians who have served in ‘formed units’ since Federation, but also those who previously defended our country with all the bravery and sacrifice that we acknowledge in their successors.  The example set by the actions of these ‘warriors’ in defending their lands, is something that all Australians can be proud of (the AWM has a role in making this known).  It’s to be hoped that such selfless defensive efforts will never be required again.

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