The Wire: Australian War Memorial set to provide greater recognition of the Frontier Wars

The Wire

Australian War Memorial set to provide greater recognition of the Frontier Wars‘, The Wire, 20 January 2023 updated

Update 24 February 2023: Important article by Bronwyn Carlson and Terri Farrelly in The Conversation: ‘Friday essay: “killed by Natives”. The stories – and violent reprisals – behind some of Australia’s settler memorials’. Indicative of the growing interest in the Frontier Wars, and particularly the extent to which they involved resistance as well as massacres – a theme in both Kim Beazley’s recent remarks (see below) and Rachel Perkins, The Australian Wars.

Some commemorations across this continent, despite their original intentions, inadvertently testify to the fact that Aboriginal peoples did, in fact, “fight back” and that colonisation was, in fact, violent. These commemorations typically consist of graves, memorial monuments and even place names, and they are dedicated to white settlers who were “killed by Natives”.

These commemorations serve to uphold the pioneer legend that honours the brave settler and the characteristic representation of the “Natives” as being savage and vengeful, and their attacks unmotivated and unpredictable.

Typically, the events are decontextualised; there is no account of what led up to an incident, what actions by the settlers prompted the attacks made by Aboriginal peoples on them.

There is also usually no account of the retaliatory attacks that followed, where settlers sought retribution through the indiscriminate brutal massacre of Aboriginal peoples that went unpunished and largely undocumented.


An interview (undated) by producer Samuel Clarke with Australian War Memorial Council Chair, Kim Beazley. The Wire collates material broadcast on a number of public radio stations. Audio only; no transcript. Our notes below in lieu. We will review if transcript becomes available.

The interview needs to be taken in conjunction with Laura Tingle’s 20 December interview with Mr Beazley (no transcript). It suggests the Chair’s views have developed a little over a month or so, though we were left with a question also.

Previous posts on Frontier Wars at the Memorial are best found by going to our home page and then clicking on items under the sub-heading ‘Frontier Wars retreat at the War Memorial’. More posts about the War Memorial extensions.

Notable points from The Wire interview (compared with Tingle interview)

Recognition of Frontier Wars at the Memorial is an important part of Truth-telling. The story needs to be told for the sake of completeness in our view of conflict in Australian history. Has been ‘forgetfulness’. (Told Tingle that forgetfulness has been particularly a 20th century thing.)

Frontier Wars involved resistance (as well as massacres). People fighting for their land. Deculturalisation.

Lord Bathurst, Colonial and War Secretary in UK, in 1826 (quoted writing to Governor Darwin) left no doubt about how this was war. (Told Tingle there was great awareness in Australia during the 19th century that this was war.)

Recognition of Frontier Wars is not just a matter for the Memorial but they need to be recognised elsewhere, too, particularly in places where conflict occurred. Refers to University of Newcastle work on massacres. (Similar remarks to Tingle: Memorial cannot do it all.)

Indigenous Australians need to lead the way in recognition; this is part of ‘Sorry Business’.

Recognition at the Memorial will be ‘substantial’. Uses the word ‘commemoration’. Frontier Wars will be ‘an important part’ of the National Collection. (Told Tingle that the Frontier Wars ‘should be in it’ – the Memorial). Mentioned art acquisitions since 1986.)

There is a link between the Memorial’s recognition of Indigenous service in uniform and recognition of the Frontier Wars. Frontier Wars will be ‘an aspect of’ that recognition’.

Goes back to why the Memorial was set up – to commemorate service in overseas wars. (Was stronger on this with Tingle: war is a big part of our national story though not all of the story. The Memorial helps with our ‘self-strengthening’ in times of crisis – like now.)

The $550m expansion is about recognition of recent service. (Told Tingle there was ‘a constant requirement to expand’ as we get into new wars and peace-keeping. There is ‘more than ample justification’ to get bigger. And it’s not a theme park, but ‘arguably the most sacred space we have in Australia’ – apart from those places important to Indigenous Australians.)

Referred by the interviewer to $550m as the cost of the total development, of which Frontier Wars would be just one to two per cent, he thought the proportion ‘might be more than that (it depends how you measure it’). (He avoided this point in talking to Tingle. Fell back on ‘very substantial’. See our calculation in the Extracts below on the proportions of both space and spending going to Frontier Wars.)

He felt the total amount ($550m) was fair enough compared with spending on other cultural institutions and sport.

He was vague on relative attention going to Frontier Wars and to other pre-1914 conflicts. (Note the Memorial management’s insistence that the Frontier Wars would be covered as part of pre-1914 conflicts gallery: see Extracts below. Told Tingle that Frontier Wars would be an important part of the pre-1914 gallery.)

Question and Honest History’s comment

The development of the Memorial’s recognition will be overseen by the Memorial’s existing Indigenous Advisory Group but there will be another mechanism also (‘subsuming that’) with Indigenous people providing advice.

This seems to be new; the existing Committee’s membership may be appropriate to the Memorial’s recognition of Indigenous service in uniform but is, in our view, inadequate for obtaining a broader view of the Frontier Wars. Broader representation from Indigenous Australians, particularly Indigenous Australian historians, would certainly be appropriate.

David Stephens

David Stephens is Editor of the Honest History website and convener of Heritage Guardians, a community campaign against the $548m extensions to the War Memorial.

23 January 2023

Extracts from our earlier post analysing Memorial Director Anderson’s and Executive Director Development Program Hitches’ remarks at Senate Estimates, 8 November 2022

Director Anderson measures the space – but there’s not much of it

If I can just restate, and also if I can put this into perspective, the precolonial galleries, as they are called – and they will now be called the [pre-]1914 galleries—are about 408 square metres of space. That’s what we’re talking about. In those 408 square metres of space we’ll also discuss the Boer Wars, the Boxer Rebellion, Sudan, and the New Zealand wars. (Director Anderson at page 35 of the Proof Hansard)

To get a bit more ‘perspective’, the Memorial’s documentation on the big build (para 5.1) showed 24 744 square metres of ‘new space’; so that 408 metres is less than two per cent of the total new space. Less than two per cent. Even if we make the comparison against the 6877 square metres of new space designated as ‘gallery’, that 408 comes in at just six per cent of new gallery space. Six per cent. And the Frontier Wars will be sharing that space with four other military events.

(Update 8 December 2022: The Memorial’s progress report of October 2022 discloses that new space is now measured at 17 783 square metres and new gallery space at 7488 square metres. So we can revise the above calculations to three per cent of total new space or 5.4 per cent of new gallery space. But see Very Important Update below.

(Very Important Update 17 March 2023: The War Memorial has provided information to Honest History which (1) admitted that the ‘new space’ figure the Memorial had reported to the Public Works Committee in October 2022 was in error by 6009 square metres (2) confirmed that the space set aside for the Frontier Wars and those other conflicts was still 408 square metres – just 25 square metres or 6 per cent more than it was in the pre-redevelopment Memorial – and (3) noted that the 408 square metres is not regarded as ‘new space’ but is to be in a refurbished part of the existing Main Building at the Memorial.

All of that means that the HH 3 per cent calculation above does not apply, although it is clear that 408 square metres is still small compared with the total size of the redevelopment. HH notes that the original post here – and others – had been on the HH website for weeks before the Memorial provided these clarifications – and that was only because HH asked the Memorial for the reasons behind the changes in ‘new space’ figures between the Final Preliminary Documentation in September 2020 and the report to the PWC in October 2022.

See the linked post for the details. The linked post includes an important comment from former War Memorial officer, Richard Llewellyn, which questions even the Memorial’s revised figures. The Memorial did not reply to Mr Llewellyn’s points. HH)

Executive Director Hitches tots up the money – and there’s not much of that either

Senator THORPE: Of the $550 million that’s been allocated, how much of that will be for frontier wars?

Mr Hitches: I can say that the amount of money is about $80 million worth of gallery funding and that’s broken into several portions and several galleries. I will have to take on notice exactly what it is for the pre-1914 gallery, but it is in the order of somewhere between $5 million and $10 million in that area for everything that’s in the pre-1914 gallery. (Executive Director Hitches at page 36 of the Proof Hansard)

So, that’s somewhere between one-sixteenth and one-eighth of the money earmarked for gallery content. That certainly sounds ‘modest’ – and remember that includes not just the Frontier Wars but also the Boer Wars, the Boxer Rebellion, the Sudan, and the New Zealand Wars. ‘Modest’ indeed.

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