Some Known Frontier Conflicts in the Northern Territory

Encounter with the Natives at “the Officer”, Musgrave Range, [Central Australia, September [?] 1873. The ‘Musgrave Ranges’ straddle the boundary of today’s South Australia and the Northern Territory, extending into Western Australia]. Image from Ernest Giles, Australia Twice Traversed: The Romance of Exploration, 1880 [?], published by The University of Adelaide as an ebook, 14 December 2014


The Northern Territory of Australia was officially part of colonial New South Wales from 1825 to 1863 and was briefly called the Colony of North Australia from February to December 1846. The Northern Territory was officially part of the colony of South Australia from 1863 to 1 January 1911 when it separated from South Australia. ‘Central Australia’ is the region in the southern part of the Northern Territory.

The list below includes locations of conflicts that took place geographically in the area that we know today as the Northern Territory, although, apart from the incident at Attack Creek in 1860, up to 1 January 1911 the locations were officially in the Northern Territory of the colony of South Australia, except for places that were officially located in the colony of Queensland from 12 April 1862, like Annandale Station, the vicinity of which was the site of a massacre of Aboriginal people in 1879. Additional locations and summaries of conflicts is being added to this list as new information is found.

Some of the main sources for information about conflicts that happened in the Northern Territory are included in such hard copy and online publications as:

The Black War in Arnhem Land: Missionaries and the Yolgnu 1908–1940, Mickey Dewar, The Australian National University, North Australia Research Unit, reprinted in 1995, available at: https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/bitstream/1885/49270/1/TheblackWarinArnhemLand2.pdf

Coniston Massacre, National Museum of Australia at: http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/first_australians/resistance/coniston_massacre, accessed on 29 August 2016

Frontier Justice: A History of the Gulf Country to 1900, Tony Roberts, University of Queensland Press, 2005

In the Name of the Law: William Willshire and the Policing of the Australian Frontier, Amanda Nettelbeck and Robert Foster, Wakefield Press, Kent Town, South Australia, 2007

Mataranka and the Daly, Two Studies in the History of Settlement in the Northern Territory, Jane Gleeson and Michaela Richards, Australian National University, North Australia Research Unit Monograph, Darwin, 1985, available at: https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/bitstream/1885/49390/3/MatarankaandtheDaly,TwoStudiesintheHistoryofSettle2.pdf

‘Northern and Western Australia’ in The Australian Frontier Wars 1788–1838, John Connor, University of New South Wales Press, 2002, pp. 68–83

Remembering the Coniston Massacre, Teresa McCarthy, Northern Territory Library Anmatyerr community history project, 2008 at: http://www.territorystories.nt.gov.au/bitstream/handle/10070/213508/Remembering_the_Coniston_Massacre.pdf?sequence=1

A Wild History: Life and Death on the Victoria River Frontier, Darrell Lewis, Monash University Publishing, 2012

Yijarni: True Stories from Gurindji Country, Erika Charola and Felicity Meakins eds, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra, 2016

For more references see the Bibliography, Books and Journal Articles.

Map: To see a map of conflicts that happened in the Northern Territory, please follow this link. All coordinates are approximate. Summaries of what happened at each place are being added gradually to the Northern Territory map as time permits.

Many thanks to readers who email information about colonial frontier conflict sites. Locations will be added to the list below as new information is found and time permits. If you know of incidents that occurred, are not included in the list below and wish to contact the author of this website, please use the form on the Contact page.

WARNING: Some of the placenames listed below are offensive and may be upsetting to some readers. Derived from geographical names registers, historic and modern-day maps and other primary and secondary sources, these placenames reflect the attitudes, racism and activities of those people who gave these places English names during the frontier period.

DateLocation
25 June 1860Attack Creek (Goaranalki), Stuart Highway, 74 kms north of Tennant Creek, NT
Warramunga warriors attacked John McDouall Stuart and party. No known deaths or injuries but party forced to leave.
1872Coast Track (now called the Savannah Way), Gulf Country, NT
Multiple killings of Aboriginal people
1872Newcastle Waters area, NT
1873North of Pine Creek, NT
1874Skull Creek, 50 kms south of Barrow Creek, NT
30 June 1875Roper Bar, near Roper River, NT, Charles Johnston killed by Aboriginal people.
7 August 1875Roper Bar, near Roper River, NT, Abram Daer killed by Aboriginal people
1875Roper River (Mole Hill to mouth), NT, punitive expeditions after Charles Johnston's murder
c. 1875Irpmankara massacre, NT
2 December 1877Coast Track (now called Savannah Way), near Nicholson River, NT, murder of William Batten
1877Coast Track (now called the Savannah Way), near Nicholson River, NT
Punitive expeditions after William Batten's murder
1877Corella Downs and vicinity, NT, Aboriginal people killed in a punitive expedition after murder of Fred Jeffries and his Aboriginal assistant
1877Valley of Springs Station near Cox River, NT, Aboriginal people killed after Bird murder
1878Douglas River, north-west of Pine Creek, NT
13 December 1878Near Limmen Bight River, NT, murder of William Travers by Aboriginal people
1878Coast Track (now called the Savannah Way) near Limmen Bight River, NT, Aboriginal people killed in punitive expedition after Travers murder
1878Near Daley River, NT
20 May 1880Coast Track (now called the Savannah Way), Limmen Bight River, NT, murder of John Barry
2 June 1881Coast Track (now called the Savannah Way), Rosie Creek, NT, Patrick McNamara killed by Aboriginal people
1880sCalvert Hills, NT
1880sWollogorang Station (at the Pocket), NT, Aboriginal men, women and children shot in reprisal for spearing cattle.
c. 1880sMcPherson Creek (at Kawurrungkuma), NT, old Aboriginal rainmakers among people shot. Reason(s) for shootings not recorded.
c. 1880sWearyan River, near Manangoora, NT, Aboriginal people killed while gathered for a funeral ceremony. Reason for killings not reported.
c. 1880sSeven Emus Creek, near Manguwarruna, NT, Aboriginal people shot. Reason(s) for shootings not recorded.
c. 1880sCalvert Downs (at Waningirrinyi Waterhole), NT, Aboriginal people killed. Reasons for killings not recorded. Bones of dead recovered and placed in a cave.
c. 1880sCalvert Downs (at Mawurra Cave), NT, Aboriginal people killed. Reasons for killings not recorded.
c. 1880sCalvert Downs (at Gabugabuna), NT, Aboriginal people shot. Reasons for killings not recorded.
1880s–90sFlorida Station, Arnhem Land, NT
1880s–90sHodgson Downs, NT
c. 1882Coast Track (now called Savannah Way) at Calvert River, NT, Aboriginal people killed after an attack on Dick Moore's camp.
1882Elsey Station, near Strangways River, NT, Aboriginal people killed in punitive expedition after Campbell murder.
1882Elsey Station, near Elsey Creek, NT, Aboriginal people killed in encounter with Frank Hann's party.
1882Jinparrak (Old Wave Hill Station), NT, Sam Croker shot an Aboriginal man in the back for trying to take a bucket and some billies.
16 June 1882Elsey Station, NT, murder of Duncan Campbell by Aboriginal people.
1883Coast Track (now called the Savannah Way) at Skeleton Creek, NT, Aboriginal people killed in punitive expedition after Charley Willis's horses speared.
1883Massacre Hill, NT
September 1883Frasers Creek, NT, murder of John Fraser and unnamed Aboriginal assistant
Coast Track (now called Savannah Way) at Frasers Creek, NT, Aboriginal people killed in punitive expedition after killing of Fraser and his assistant.
1883/84Warluck (Seale Gorge), NT, Gurindji people massacred by British pastoralists.
1883–1910Victoria River Downs, NT, massacres of Aboriginal people
1884Burrundie, NT, 200 kms south of Darwin, NT, Woolgonga tragedy
1884Daly River, NT
1884McKinlay River, NT
1884Skeleton Creek, NT
August 1884Angkwerl (Anna’s Reservoir), Aileron Station, NT
September 1884Daly River, NT, 'Coppermine massacre'
1885Alexandria Station, NT, Benigan and Donovan killed by Aboriginal people
1885Elsey Station, NT
5 March 1885Alexandria Station, NT, John Ross killed by Aboriginal people
August 1885Near Limmen Bight River, NT, James McCoy killed by Aboriginal people
1886Dunganminnie Spring, NT
1886Limmen Bight River Cave, NT
1886Malakoff Creek, McArthur River station, NT
August 1886Near Yulbarra, Vanderlin Island, NT, Alfred Toms killed by Aboriginal people
18 October 1886Broadmere outstation, NT, Edward Lenehan killed by Aboriginal people
c. 1886Vanderlin Island and vicinity, NT, Aboriginal men shot by men from the Smuggler
1887Corella Downs Station, NT, Frederick Jeffries killed by Aboriginal people
1887McArthur River, at Amelia Spring NT, Aboriginal people killed. No reason rcorded.
c. March 1887Valley of Springs Station, NT, man named Bird killed by Aboriginal people
April 1888Coast Track (now called the Savannah Way), 8 kms east of the Calvert River, NT, unnamed German man killed by Aboriginal people
12 May 1888McArthur River, NT, Francis Marrin killed by Aboriginal people
31 December 1888Corella Downs Station, NT
c. January 1889Brunette Downs Station, NT, fight between Robert Hamilton and an unnamed Aboriginal man
1889Jampawurru (Red Lily Spring or Mud Spring), NT (Gurindji Country)--Gordon Buchanan, Ferguson and Barry and an Aboriginal tracker named George, encounter seven or eight Aboriginal men. In the ensuing battle the Aboriginal men are killed.
1890sCoanjula Creek, near the upper Nicholson River, NT
1890sEast Baines River, NT
1890s?Ganjarinjarri, upper Robinson River, NT
23 February 1891Tempe Downs Station, Finke River, NT
1892Auvergne Station, NT, Croker murdered by Charlie Flanagan
1892Corella Downs Station (at Corella Creek), NT
30 January 1892Cresswell Downs Station, NT, murders of Clark and Deloitte at Bowgan Waterhole outstation.
1892Corella Downs Station (at Corella Creek), NT, Aboriginal people killed in punitive expedition, led by Constable Smith, after murders of Clark and Deloitte
1892Cresswell Downs Station (at Puzzle Creek south), NT, Aboriginal people killed in punitive expedition, led by Constable Smith, after murders of Clark and Deloitte.
October 1892Willeroo Station, NT
1892?Cresswell Downs Station (at Kiana Rockhole), NT, another possible punitive expedition, led by Constable Smith after murders of Clark and Deloitte
September 1893Rosewood, NT
June 1894Black Gin Creek, NT
8 September 1894Cliffdale Creek, NT, John Clarke killed by Aboriginal people
10 December 1894Bowgan Waterhole outstation, Cresswell Downs Station, NT, Thomas Perry killed by Aboriginal people
Between 1894 and 1904Bradshaw Station, NT
1896Ranges west of Lawn Hill, NT, Aboriginal people killed in punitive expedition after two colonists killed.
1896–97Cresswell Downs, NT
1896–97Irringa on Creswell Creek, NT
1896–97Minyarrga on Cresswell Creek, NT
1896–97Radjiji, upper Nicholson River, NT
1896–97Woodawalla on Cresswell Creek, NT
January 1897Jasper Gorge, Victoria River, NT
1897Wollogorang (at Baladuna Waterhole), NT
1899Wave Hill, NT
c. 1900Mouth of Calvert River, NT
1903Hodgson Downs (at Bailey Creek), NT
1905Victoria River, NT, Bradshaw massacre
1905Near Wadeye (Port Keats), NT, reprisal
March 1910Victoria River Downs, NT, WJJ (Brigalow Bill) Ward killed by Walkirr.
c. 1910 Gaargarn (Gan Gan) inland from Blue Mud Bay, Yolngu country, Arnhem Land, NT
Between 1913 and 1918Pewuly (Bow Hils Police Station), NT, massacre of Gurindji people
1915–16Elsey Station, NT
1918Auvergne Station, NT, murder of Alexander McDonald
Before 1920Near Ngima (Neave River Junction), NT (Gurindji Country)
c. 1924Tartarr (Blackfellows Knob), NT (Gurindji Country), massacre of Gurindji people
14 August–18 October 1928Coniston Station and vicinity, NT -- the 'Coniston Massacre' was actually a series of conflicts between colonists and Aboriginal people that took place over a wide area of Central Australia on and around Coniston Station and nearby stations in 1928. Among the known locations of killings that occurred are: Jarrarlyku (Curlew Waterhole), Kunajarrayi (Dingo Waterhole), Tomahawk Waterhole, Janangpa (Boomerang Waterhole), Warlawurrukurlangu, Warranyirrtipa, Patilirri (Tipinba), Kurlurlu, Circle Well, Thimplengkwe (Baxter's Well), Yungarnti, Warlukurlangu, Liirlpari (Whitestone), Kakutu (Cockatoo Creek), Ngarningiri, Yurrkuru (Brooks Soak), Mawu, and west of Yuendemu. (Individual entries where dates are known appear below).
22 Aug 1928ustKakutu (Cockatoo Creek), north-east of Yuendemu, NT (Coniston Massacre killing site)
23–30 August 1928West of Yuendemu, NT (Coniston Massacre killing site)
27 August 1928Janangpa (Boomerang Waterhole), Yarlalinji (Lander River), Broadmeadows Station, NT (Coniston Massacre killing site)
16 September 1928Napperby Station, NT
24 September 1928Tomahawk Waterhole, Yarlalinji (Lander River), NT (Coniston Massacre killing site)
24 September 1928Dingo Hole, Hanson River, Broadmeadows Station, NT
25 September 1928Circle Well, Hanson River, NT (Coniston Massacre killing site)
26 September 1928Tippinha or Tipinba (Patirlirr or Patilirri Creek), 24 kms west of Broadmeadows Station, NT (Coniston Massacre killing site)
26 September 1928 Dingo Hole, Hanson River, NT
26 September 1928 Wajinpulungk, NT
c. 15 December 1928 Hatches Creek, NTAfter an exchange of words, Harry Henty attempts to shoot Wilaberta Jack at his hut. While trying to protect his wife, Lizzie, Wilaberta Jack shoots Henty dead. Wilaberta Jack is arrested and tried for murder. On 31 July 1929, the Supreme Court of Central Australia, sitting in Darwin, acquits Wilaberta Jack, giving a verdict of 'Justifiable homicide'. This verdict was unusual, as In earlier times Aboriginal men tried for murdering colonists often went to the gallows, whether they were guilty or not. Wilaberta's trial was reported in the Northern Standard, on Friday 2 August 1929, p. 5. This incident is the inspiration for award-winning director, Warwick Thornton's film, Sweet Country, scheduled for national release in Australia on 25 January 2018.
1928Cockatoo Spring, NT
1928Six Mile Soak, NT
17 September 1932western side of Caledon Bay, Arnhem Land, NTYolgnu people kill five Japanese trepang fishermen, Tanaka, Kimishima, Shibasaki, Inamori and Higasaki, to stop the Japanese taking trepang out of Caledon Bay and to stop them committing other offences against Aboriginal and European law. The killings may also have been in retaliation for a fight at Port Bradshaw earlier in 1932. In that encounter Japanese trepangers had fought with, and shot at, Aboriginal people. Before the killings, Kimishima had admitted to shooting at Aboriginal people seeking work on his boat. Aboriginal people also reported to missionaries and government authorities that the Japanese had kidnapped and sexually attacked Aboriginal women, assaulted and whipped Yolgnu who worked for them as divers. One Yolgnu man had trepang thrown at him, another had been dumped headfirst into trepang offal. A council of Yolgnu decided that the only way to protect their families and their trepang was to frighten the Japanese by killing some of them in accordance with Aboriginal law.
June 1933Woodah Island, NT
November 1933Blue Mud Bay area, Arnhem Land, NT
1934Darwin, NT: Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda from Arnhem Land possibly murdered after release from gaol.
7 April 1937McArthur River Gorge, NT
19 May 1937Anningie Station, 50 kms north of Ti-Tree, NT
January 1941Mount Cavenagh Station, south of Kulgera, NT, Lullilicki killed by station overseer, Herbert Kitto.
Dates UnknownBauhinia Downs, NT
Cooningheera Waterhole, NT
Cuppa Waterhole, NT
Dangeri Waterhole, NT
Donor's Hill Massacre, NT
Granada, NT
Hodgson Downs (at Angus Spring), NT
Hodgson Downs (at Buffalo Hole), NT
Hodgson Downs (at Indi Indi Spring), NT
Hodgson Downs (at Mason Gorge), NT
Hodgson Downs (at Sandy Lagoon), NT
Horse Springs, NT (Gurindji Country)*
Janpa, NT (Gurindji Country)*
Jikirrijja (Campbell Springs), NT (Gurindji Country)*
Jurlakkula (Nero Yard), NT (Gurindji Country)*, colonists killed Gurindji. They speared and killed a kartiya (white man).
Jutamiliny (Swan Yard), NT (Gurindji Country)*
Kalidawarra Waterhole, NT
Kumanturru (Coomanderoo), NT (Gurindji Country)*
Kurturtu, NT (Gurindji Country)*, Jack Beasley massacred Gurindji people performing a Juju ceremony. He had also stolen a Gurindji man's wife, afterwards shooting her when she ran away.
Malapa (Old Limbunya Homestead), NT (Gurindji Country)*, Harry Reid murdered Jangari because he beat him (Reid) up after Reid, Jack Cusack and Jack Carpenter had shot Jangala, burning his remains.
Massacre Inlet, Gulf Country, NT
Massacre Waterfall, Gulf Country, NT
Monkira, NT
Ngangi, NT (Gurindji Country)*
Ngurriya (Midnight), NT (Gurindji Country)*
Piyirriri (Farquharson Gap), NT (Gurindji Country)*
Seale Yard, NT (Gurindji Country)*
Thunderpurty Waterhole, NT
Waniyi (near Number 2 Bore), NT (Gurindji Country)*, kartiya ambushed and killed Aboriginal people in this area more than once.
Wirrilu (Blackfella Creek), NT (Gurindji Country)*
Wulupu (Hooker Creek), NT*, Gurindji survived shootings
Yurruj (Burtawurta), NT (Gurindji Country)*, Gurindji and Mudburra people shot in massacres. In one retaliation Gurindji men attacked a kartiya camp while the men were asleep, spearing a number, then burning their remains.

*From Gurindji historians as told in Erika Charola and Felicity Meakins eds, Yijarni: True Stories from Gurindji Country, AIATSIS, 2016.
Exact dates not known but massacres and conflicts occurred in Gurindji Country in the Killing Times, from c. 1882/83, when British colonists invaded Gurindji lands for pastoral pursuits, until some time in the 1920s.

© Jane Morrison 2015–2018. Compiled from the sources mentioned above and from the Bibliography. No responsibility taken for errors in primary or secondary sources.