Professor Bruce Pascoe (author of Dark Emu) is a believer of the idea that there was a violent dispossession of Aboriginal peoples during the settlement of Australia, leading to their removal from their tribal lands, or their outright killing by the settlers. (See Professor Pascoe’s book, Convincing Ground as well as numerous interviews and lectures).
One of the main academic sources of this version of our colonial and Aboriginal history is Professor Henry Reynolds. Reynolds has been the main proponent of the ‘Frontier War’ theory.
This theory contends that Australia had a very violent frontier history, resulting in a very high number of Aboriginal deaths due to indiscriminate shootings and massacres.
Indeed, Reynolds goes further and says we need to face up to this very violent past and hold certain people to account and we today need to take responsibility for their supposed actions,
“We really have to look at and take responsibility for those who were responsible for the settlement, if you like, the conquest of north Australia after 1850; and in particular, after the Australian colonies became self-governing. So that the responsibility for Queensland and the Northern Territory belongs to those colonial politicians who represented democratically elected parliament…say…Samuel Griffiths [was particularly] responsible for the conquest of north Australia because Queensland had a much larger population [of Aborigines] and the settlement there was particularly violent.
It was the most violent place in Australia and Samuel Griffiths, unlike many of the frontiersman who probably thought it was quite legal to shoot Aborigines, to shoot the blacks, Griffiths was a great jurist; and he was of course, the founding chief justice of the High Court of Australia…and yet as a colonial politician in the 1870s and the 1880s, he was directly responsible for massive killing out in the frontiers. And we just have to come to terms with that.’
– Henry Reynolds interview with Philip Adams on Late Night Live. 9th Feb 2021 here from 12:00.
Now, as ‘we’ understand it, Professor Reynolds has only relied upon the written records – the archives of colonial newspapers, journals, memoirs, photographs and government and anthropological reports – to come to his conclusions regarding a supposed ‘Frontier War’, with its high level of violence and killings.
Perhaps he has also examined museum artifacts, visited actual, alleged massacre sites and spoken to Aboriginal people to learn of their oral-histories regarding massacres.
But it seems to us, that if the ‘Frontier Wars’ were so bloody, where are the remains of the ‘thousands’ of bodies?
Where are the bone fragments and skulls showing gunshot wounds and sabre cuts? Where are the copies of police records, medical records, newspaper reports and settler journal entries describing wounded Aborigines and their treatment?
Where is some corroborating physical evidence?
If there is no archaeological evidence to support Bruce Pascoe’s and Henry Reynolds’ claims for the ‘Frontier Wars,’ maybe they didn’t really happen?
Or maybe the conclusions of historian Keith Windschuttle are correct,
‘…the British colonization of Australia was the least violent of all of Europe’s encounters with the New World. It did not meet any organised resistance. Conflict was sporadic rather than systematic. The notion of ‘frontier war’ is fictional. The claim that the colonists committed genocide is unsupported by the historical evidence.’
So, Where is the Archaeological Evidence For Aboriginal Massacre Sites?
While researching this article we came across an academic paper that addressed this very issue.
The paper’s Abstract and Conclusion only confirms what many normal, mainstream Australians, like us here at Dark Emu Exposed, are very concerned about.
Namely, are our historians, archaeologists and anthropologists of today acting in good faith with regard to ‘truth-telling’?
Are they really producing objective, accurate and truthful accounts of our country and our history?
Or are they acting in ‘bad-faith’ by being very selective, or even manipulating the facts, when they publish their narratives that Australia’s history was one of a violent ‘Frontier War’ in which very many thousands of Aboriginal people were supposedly massacred?
The paper is by, Litster, M., and Wallis, L., Looking for the proverbial needle? – The archaeology of Australian colonial frontier massacres (Archaeol. Oceania 46 (2011) 105–117). The Abstract and Conclusion are as follows [with our emphasis]:
The Abstract : ‘Amongst other issues, the ‘History Wars’ raise the question as to whether or not sites of conflict on the Australian colonial frontier will be preserved in the archaeological record. We explore this question through a consideration of what the expected nature of any such evidence might be, based on general and specific historical accounts and an understanding of site formation processes. Although limited success has been achieved to date in locating definitive evidence for such sites in Australia, we conclude that there are some specific situations where archaeology could usefully be applied to give rise to a more multi-dimensional understanding of the past’.
Conclusion : ‘…building a case for the identification of a massacre site will be challenging and require multiple lines of evidence so as to be convincing. The general paucity of published information hinders attempts to systematically review archaeological investigations of massacre sites to date. And although…such studies are too risky to attempt as they ‘could ultimately fail, because even if evidence is found, it is unlikely to be of the kind that will be unequivocal’, we argue it is important to make explicit the complexities of such approaches to avoid their subsequent misuse by ‘deniers’.
By critically examining available historical accounts in combination with a consideration of taphonomic process, we can better understand what physical evidence is likely to be incorporated into the archaeological record and therefore minimise the risk that revisionists will make uninformed use of such studies…
It should be remembered that because of the factors we have outlined in this paper, massacre events are unlikely to be found through random chance, and archaeological evidence alone is unlikely to provide a line of evidence sufficiently robust to silence critics who doubt the ubiquitous nature of such violence.
We underline the importance in presenting a case adopting multiple lines of evidentiary support – a hierarchy of documentary sources, oral histories, material cultural evidence and skeletal remains themselves that may allow for a massacre location to be determined at a ‘possible’, ‘probable’ or ‘highly likely’ level.
Providing a detailed understanding of why evidence of a forensically acceptable level is unlikely to be preserved archaeologically may persuade some critics to accept a lower threshold for evidence of a massacre than would be required in a contemporary legal setting.
Of course there will be many instances where the archaeological evidence may be lacking entirely, though given an understanding of site formation processes as we have outlined in this paper, any such absences of evidence cannot be taken as support for proving a massacre did not occur.’’
– See full paper here
The tone of this Conclusion suggests to us that the authors are advising researchers to present as much documentary, oral history and cultural (whatever that is?) ‘evidence’ as possible to ‘puff-up’ their case because the real, hard, archaeological evidence is probably non-existent.
This sounds like alien UFO research – there is no end of documentary, oral, cultural (fuzzy film footage) ‘evidence’ available.
But we still haven’t been shown an actual UFO, principally because we would suggest….there are no UFO’s – their existence is just made-up.
Presumably also, we here at Dark Emu Exposed would be regarded, as the paper describes, as ‘deniers’, merely for asking the question, ‘Ok, so you claim that there were 20,000 Aboriginal Australians killed or massacred in the Frontier Wars. Is there any physical evidence, such as the victim’s skulls and bones with sabre cut markings, or bullet holes?’
Are we not even entitled to be labelled as ‘skeptics’ rather than be branded outright ‘denier’s’?
We here at Dark Emu Exposed actually have an open mind and agree that there is a considerable amount in the historical record to show that killings and some massacres of Aboriginal people did occur.
However, without a convincing amount of confirmatory physical and archaeological proof, we are still very ‘skeptical’ that the so-called ‘Frontier Wars’ were anything other than sporadic, uncoordinated clashes.
There has not, as yet, been made available enough evidence to say that there was actually a ‘Frontier War’.
What Evidence Do We Have So Far in Support of the Frontier War Theory?
- The Historical Aboriginal Massacre Records
Professor Lyndall Ryan, of The University of Newcastle, has published a Colonial Frontier Massacre Map.
This covers her definition of ‘massacres’ in Australia from 1788 to 1930 and is designed to provide a national picture of the extent of Aboriginal and settler violence.
So, for our purposes, we find the ‘slicker’ exact copy that has been reproduced by The Guardian here to be more convenient to use.
The Guardian tells us that,
‘The massacre map now details about 250 massacres that meet strict criteria of standards of proof (Note 1),covering every state except Western Australia. The estimated death toll from those incidents is about 6,200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and fewer than 100 colonists, with an average of 25 Indigenous people killed in every massacre. The map of the massacres of Indigenous people reveals an untold history of Australia, painted in blood. The lead researcher, Prof Lyndall Ryan, said that she believed the updated map only listed about half of the massacres that took place on the Australian frontier, and that the real figure was closer to 500.’
The Guardian Headlines :
- Forced to build their own pyres: dozens more Aboriginal massacres revealed in Killing Times research.
- The Pinjarra massacre: it’s time to speak the truth of this terrible slaughter – Though it’s portrayed by some as a battle, the overwhelming evidence can leave no doubt as to the nature of these extrajudicial killings.
- Blood, brains and foul murder: evidence of Australia’s massacres is in its newspapers The frontier massacres were very public murders – known about, sometimes complained about – but the killings went on.
So the historians have been very busy detailing the recorded instances of large-scale killings of Aboriginal people and a sympathetic media is keen to promote the narrative of the very violent ‘Frontier War.’
Based on the Professor Ryan’s data showing 6,200 Aboriginal deaths (Note 2)and her comments that she thinks she has collated only about half the massacres that occurred, then her potential total massacre death toll is say, 2 x 6,200 = 12,400.
To this figure needs to be added all the Aborignal, non-massacre killings, that is, when the incident’s death toll was less than six.
Let’s guess this to be say, 8,000 Aboriginal people killed, which then brings the total death toll to around 20,000, which is about what historian Henry Reynolds is claiming.
Note 1: Our initial work so far on Professor Ryan’s and The Guardian’s Map has located a number of errors and we would suggest that some entries fail to pass the so-called ‘strict criteria of standards of proof.’
We have a blog-post on this topic in progress and will post in the future. We are also wary of any work the Professor Ryan does that involves the handling of numbers after she told Helen Dalley in an interview on Nine’s Sunday program in 2003, “Historians are always making up figures.”
Note 2: Professor Ryan’s argument is that her documented Aboriginal death toll of 6,200 (so far) is evidence that a state of ‘Frontier Warfare’ existed between the ‘opponents’ – the Aborigines and the settlers.
However, if she wants us to accept this, then wouldn’t it be justified to claim that ‘Warfare’ was endemic in Aboriginal society anyway given that a crude tally of the recorded inter-tribal killings for the 120 years between 1803 and 1923 comes to 3433 by our calculations? (See here).
And that is just the tally of inter-tribal deaths that were recorded where settlers were living amongst Aboriginal peoples.
For the rest of Aboriginal Australia, far ahead of the frontier and away from the settlers and their note-pads, the inter-tribal death toll might have been truly horrific.
So maybe Aboriginal ‘Non-Frontier Warfare’ was about as deadly as colonial ‘Frontier Warfare.’
Perhaps for Aboriginal people there was not much of a change at all in the annual death tolls pre- or post-colonisation – the only change being the skin colour of their opponents.
Indeed, by a perverse fluke, Reynolds’ death toll of 20,000 in northern Australia is say, 10% of the total Aboriginal population in the north.
This accords well with the actual observations of anthropologists such as Lloyd Warner, and estimates by historian Geoffrey Blainey, on the death tolls of inter-tribal warfare in pre-contact Aboriginal societies [references to come in a future blog-post-Ed.].
This article first appeard at Dark Emu Exposed.