Australian Frontier Wars March

 
 

Aboriginal people call Sturt’s Desert Pea (Swainsona formosa), Meekyluka or Yooragoodadoo–Flowers of Blood. In 2018 the red and black flowers were used symbolically as flowers of remembrance on banners in the Anzac Day Frontier Wars March and in a wreath that marchers laid on the Stone of Remembrance (See photo below). Photo: Jane Morrison

 


Background

The Australian Frontier Wars March is held in Australia’s national capital, Canberra, every Anzac Day on 25 April. Marchers assemble at the foot of Anzac Parade leading to the Australian War Memorial (AWM). Participants commemorate those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who gave their lives defending their homelands from the incursions of British and other colonists from 1788, when the First Fleet arrived in what we now call Sydney. Although not permitted to join Anzac Day veterans commemorating the fallen of overseas wars in which Australians have participated, Frontier Wars marchers hope that one day the AWM and Australians generally will accept colonial frontier conflicts as befitting official recognition as part of Australia’s war history.

Marchers are not alone in this belief. For some years, as far back as 1998 or earlier, First People, academics, journalists and others have been calling for the Australian War Memorial to recognise colonial frontier conflicts. Some of the more recent calls, in the lead up to Anzac Day 2018, came from people like John Menadue, on 10 April 2018 on his ‘Pearls and Irritations’ website: 

HENRY REYNOLDS. Brendan Nelson and the War Memorial – what about the Frontier Wars?

On 19 April, Rachel Hocking and John Paul Janke, co-hosts of NITV’s The Point, explored the history of the frontier wars. Watch the videos at: https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/article/2018/04/18/nitvs-point-explores-history-australias-frontier-wars   


Frontier Wars March, Anzac Day 2018

Frontier Wars Marchers laid wreathes on the Stone of Remembrance, Australian War Memorial, Canberra on Anzac Day, 25 April 2018. The wreathes commemorate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who gave their lives in the defence of their Country during the colonial frontier period from 1788 to the 1940s. The wreathes on top of the Stone of Remembrance, laid by representatives of the Prime Minister of Australia and the New Zealand High Commissioner, incorporate red and black Flanders Poppies, the flower that became an internationally recognised symbol of remembrance for the Allied fallen in World War I. Photo: Jane Morrison

Read Ghillar Michael Anderson’s media statement on the 2018 march: ‘Veterans’ Acceptance of the Frontier Wars March–A Turning Point’ on the News page of this website and at: https://nationalunitygovernment.org/content/veterans-acceptance-frontier-wars-march-turning-point

Anderson, last surviving founder, on 25 January 1972, of the Aboriginal Embassy on the lawns opposite the former Old Parliament House (now the Museum of Australian Democracy), issued an invitation to join the eighth Frontier Wars March on 25 April 2018. Details on this website under ‘News‘ at: https://australianfrontierconflicts.com.au/reminder-frontier-wars-march-anzac-parade-canberra-anzac-day-25-april-2018/

NITV’s coverage of Anzac Day 2018 and the national Frontier Wars March is at: https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/nitv-news/article/2018/04/25/anzac-day-marked-frontier-wars-protest-and-black-diggers-march

Aboriginal Embassy Camp
In the lead up to Anzac Day 2018, a storytelling camp and other activities about the frontier wars was held at the Aboriginal Embassy, King George Terrace, Parkes, Canberra, starting on Thursday 19 April. See ‘News’ on this website at: https://australianfrontierconflicts.com.au/aboriginal-tent-embassy-camp-shines-light-on-frontier-wars/


Frontier Wars March, Anzac Day 2017

Frontier Wars March, Canberra, 25 April 2017 Photo: Jane Morrison

Videos of 2017 Frontier Wars Marches
Eleanor Gilbert’s video of the 2017 Frontier Wars March can be viewed at: https://vimeo.com/215867268

Videos of 2011–2016 Frontier Wars Marches
The Frontier Wars March began in 2011 at the instigation of Ghillar Michael Anderson. Independent filmmaker, Eleanor Gilbert of Enlightning Productions, has recorded the frontier wars marches over the years they have been held. You can view her video of the marches to 2016, Moving Truth, at: https://vimeo.com/214091130

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Diggers March 2017
In 2017, for the first time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans were permitted to march together at the National Anzac Day Ceremony in Australia’s capital, Canberra. Eleanor Gilbert’s video of the Diggers March 2017 can be viewed by clicking on the arrow in image below.


Recognising First Nations Peoples’ War Service and Defence of Homelands on Colonial Frontiers

While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are now recognised for their war service in overseas conflicts, the Australian War Memorial does not officially recognise First Nations peoples’ defence of their homelands in the colonial period. The AWM’s official position is that the Frontier Wars should be recognised, but that their history is better covered by other institutions like the National Museum of Australia (NMA). (See Other Museum Coverage of Conflicts on the Australian Frontier below)

For Country for Nation Exhibition, Australian War Memorial
The theme of the Australian War Memorial’s For Country, for Nation exhibition, now touring, (details at: https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/for-country-for-nation), held in Canberra from 23 September 2016 to 13 September 2017, is ‘Defending country–Indigenous Service’.

Wartime article
As part of its Indigenous service theme, the AWM’s official magazine, Wartime, ran an article, ‘The Fighting Gunditjmara’, by Lachlan Grant, in the Spring 2016 issue. In the story, Grant refers to the conflicts that arose between Europeans and Aboriginal people in the Portland area of Victoria in the 1830s. He quotes Gunditjmara man and Australia’s first Aboriginal Army officer, the late Captain Reg Saunders:

I would have fought the war my forefathers fought [on Aboriginal Country in Victoria] because I think we were right. We were fighting for survival and that has always been a justification for war. (Wartime, Spring Issue, 2016, pp. 18–24)

In the For Country For Nation exhibition in Canberra, the AWM included two paintings of massacres that took place in Western Australia: Queenie McKenzie’s Horso Creek killings and Rover Thomas’s Ruby Plains Massacre 1. The intention of these works, and others like them, are Aboriginal historical records of events that occurred and have been handed down through the oral tradition, but not necessarily recorded in government archives. Queenie McKenzie’s painting depicts an 1880s incident in which colonists shot a group of Gija people for driving away bullocks. To hide the evidence of the murders, the Gija people’s bodies were burnt. The mother of a boy who survived the massacre found him hiding in the carcass of a bullock. Rover Thomas’s painting is one of a series he created to record ‘the killing times’ in the East Kimberleys, Western Australia from the 1880s to the 1920s.

Other Museum Coverage of Conflicts on the Australian Frontier:

National Museum of Australia
You can take a virtual tour of the NMA’s Resistance exhibit at: https://www.nma.gov.au/education/resources/multimedia/interactives/resistance_virtual_tourThe NMA has a Resistance page under its First Australians section at: https://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/first_australians/resistance and a Resistance reference list at: https://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/first_australians/resistance/resources

Melbourne Museum
A multimedia project about Aboriginal massacres in Victoria opened in early November 2017 as part of the permanent First Peoples exhibition at the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre, Melbourne Museum https://museumsvictoria.com.au/bunjilaka/ 

Read, or hear, more about the multimedia exhibition, Black Day, Sun Rises, Blood Runs, below:

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, with the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, is presenting a free exhibition, The National Picture: The art of Tasmania’s Black War, from 12 May to 29 July 2018. The exhibition brings together the work of colonial artists from the declaration of martial law in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1828, until the death in 1851 of the colonial artist, Benjamin Duterrau, who created a  number of works around the theme of George Augustus Robinson’s disastrous ‘Friendly Mission’ to Tasmanian Aboriginal people. The exhibition also includes more modern works, dating from the 1920s, that reference and respond to the complex issues deriving from Tasmania’s colonial past. For more information view a video of Co-Curator, Greg Lehman, discussing the exhibition at: https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/colony-australia-1770-1861/ 

National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
From 15 March until 15 July 2018, the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne is hosting two parallel exhibitions, Colony: Australia 1770–1861 and Colony: Frontier Wars. The exhibitions, on show at the gallery’s Federation Square venue, explore Australia’s complex colonial past and the art that was created in response to life during this period. For more information see: https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/colony-australia-1770-1861/