The Wars we would rather forget. John Menadue

Apr 22, 2013

Aboriginal Wars

The Australian War Memorial records as follows:

“When it became apparent that the settlers and their livestock had come to stay, competition for access to the land developed and friction between the two ways of life became inevitable. As the settlers’ behaviour became unacceptable to the indigenous population, individuals were killed over specific grievances. These killings were then met with reprisals from the settlers, often on a scale out of all proportion to the original incident. … It is estimated that some 2,500 European settlers and police died in this conflict. For the aboriginal inhabitants the cost was far higher: about 20,000 are believed to have been killed in the wars of the frontier, while many thousands more perished from disease and often unintended consequences of settlement. Aboriginal Australians were unable to restrain – though in places they did delay – the tide of European settlement; although resistance in one form or another never ceased, the conflict ended in their dispossession.” (

Where are the memorials to this tragic war?

Maori Wars

The State Library of South Australia records these wars as follows:

“Between 1845 and 1872 just over 2,500 Australian volunteers saw service in New Zealand. The majority of these volunteers came from the colonies of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.

The cause of all conflict between whites and the Maori people was land. … British forces were sent from Auckland to defeat and capture Maori Chief Hone Heke but the Maori chief and his warriors were skilled in the art of war, but it took [many steps including] a local militia and troops rushed in from Australia … to conclude the first Maori war.

By 1860, the grab for land again sparked conflict between whites and the Maoris, this time in the Waitara River area. … Again, the Australian colonies were asked for urgent assistance. The colonies rallied and sent troops. The colony of Victoria even sent its entire navy which comprised the steam corvette HMVS Victoria. New South Wales also sent gun ships to support the troops.

Only later war broke out again, this time in the Waikato area. And again Australian troops came to the aid of local British forces.

Soon after the Waikato war, the New Zealand Government decided to form a more permanent force and actually recruited troops from among the Australian colonies. They were offered land in exchange for service in the armed forces. Some 3,600 Australians took up the offer. They were formed into the Waikato regiments.” (  The Australian War Memorial has a similar account of Australian participation in the Maori Wars)

Some may claim that all this occurred before Australia was federated and we were still colonies. I do not think that this can obscure the fact of Australian participation in the Maori wars. The first association between Australian and New Zealand forces was not at Gallipoli in 1915. It was in the Maori wars 70 years earlier.

John Menadue



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