‘Memories and massacres‘, Pearls and Irritations, 10 July 2017
For over 30 years, Henry Reynolds has been writing about massacres of Indigenous Australians. The culmination of his research was the well-received book Forgotten War in 2013. This brief article comments on the interactive massacre map recently published by Lyndall Ryan of the University of Newcastle. (This map and other relevant material, including Honest History’s David Stephens on Pearls and Irritations, republished on Crikey.)
Broadly speaking the new scholarship [by Ryan, Reynolds, and others mentioned in David Stephens’ article], in most cases pursued independently, draws us towards a new consensus. The Australian frontier was a violent place. Conflict erupted around the fringes of settlement from the last years of the C18th until second and even the third decade of the C20th. The pioneer ethnographers Fison and Howitt observed in 1880 that the advance of settlement had been marked by “a line of blood”. It was a reality that was hidden away and then forgotten during the first half of the C20th. Generations of Australians brought up with a sunny, anodyne version of the national story were shocked when historians returned to truths that had been self- evident to their ancestors. Their hostility to the revisionist history was fully predictable.
Reynolds considers whether the frontier conflict amounted to war.
[It] was inescapably about the ownership and control of property on a continental scale. It was also about whose law and whose sovereignty would prevail. The battles may have been more like skirmishes but they were essentially political and they were cumulatively about the ownership and control of one of the world’s great land masses. It was therefore a war of global importance. It was war about Australia fought in Australia. It was arguably the most important war in our history.