McQueen, Humphrey: Pioneering writing on Frontier Wars

McQueen, Humphrey

‘The real battle for Australia: pioneering writing on the Frontier Wars (Parts I-III)’, Honest History, 2 September 2014

Introduction by David Stephens

With the co-operation of the author, we have collected here three pieces of writing by historian Humphrey McQueen. They are significant not just for their content but also because they were early efforts at uncovering a part of our history that had largely been buried – and, to an extent, still is.

The three pieces of writing are as follows:

The final line of the third article is even more relevant during the centenary of Anzac than it was when first written in 1981: ‘Whites today urge blacks to forget. Blacks can’t and won’t. Reynolds reflects upon the lie of the nation of Anzacs, the country of “lest we forget”, telling Aborigines to do just that.’


Leonile war club, Robert Brough Smyth, The Aborigines of Victoria (1878) (Wikimedia Commons/public domain)

This part of Australia’s history is now better known than it was 30 or 40 years ago, thanks to the work of Reynolds, Nicholas Clements, Raymond Evans and Robert Ørsted-Jensen, Lyndall Ryan and others. Most recently, the University of Technology, Sydney, held a conference Gallipoli to Coniston: remembering frontiers.

On the other hand, there are the cautious views being promulgated under the official NAIDOC banner – essentially balancing recognition of the Frontier Wars with promotion of Australian Defence Force initiatives to recruit more Indigenous service people – and the (welcome) research into the history of Indigenous uniformed service, prioritised over research into warriors in the Frontier Wars. Honest History resources on these issues can be found here.

From the respectful point-of-view of this non-Indigenous observer, there is great potential for Indigenous Australians to move towards a robust remembrance of strong Indigenous figures from Australia’s history. There is far more to Indigenous history than the preservation and presentation of non-threatening cultural traditions, just as there is far more to non-Indigenous history than tales of blokes in khaki doing heroic things in the service of the Empire or to cement an alliance.

If honesty is to be fully served, the history of white-on-black domestic conflicts, described by Henry Reynolds as arguably our most important war, needs to be confronted and presented. This is what McQueen did decades ago. Others, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, need to continue to do so.

Humphrey McQueen’s 1973 research drew on the indexed catalogue of the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), then in Mort Street, Braddon, A.C.T. Correspondence relating to the three items here is in the National Library of Australia (NLA MS 4809). Other articles by McQueen and other Marxian writers on a range of subjects.


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