The Australian Frontier Wars March began on Anzac Day, 25 April 2011, at the instigation of Ghillar Michael Anderson, head of state of the Eualyhi Nation and last surviving founder of the Aboriginal Embassy in Australia’s national capital, Canberra.
Every Anzac Day since 2011, marchers have assembled at the foot of Anzac Parade leading to the Australian War Memorial (AWM). Participants have commemorated 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 Peoples, academics, journalists and others have been calling for the Australian War Memorial to recognise colonial frontier conflicts as part of Australia’s military history. Historian Henry Reynolds, in his book, Truth-Telling: History, sovereignty and the Uluru Statement, published in February 2021, explains why the Australian War Memorial must acknowledge the frontier wars, why Australia should change the date of its national day, and why treaties with First Nations are so important.
Tenth Anniversary of the Frontier Wars March, Anzac Day, Canberra, Australia’s National Capital, 25 April 2021
A small group of valiant marchers made their way up Anzac Parade, Canberra, where, after the very restricted National Anzac Day Ceremony, they were allowed to lay a wreath commemorating those who gave their lives in the defence of Country.
||First Nations people and supporters continue to call for the Australian War Memorial to recognise the Frontier Wars that have taken place on Australia’s killing fields since 1788. Led by Head of State of Euahlayi Peoples Republic and Convenor of the Sovereign Union, Ghillar Michael Anderson,
marchers wait to be allowed to enter Anzac Parade and walk up to the Stone of Remembrance to lay a wreath commemorating those who gave their lives defending Country.
Photos: Jane Morrison 25 April 2021
Owing to the Coronavrus outbreak, annual Anzac Day ceremonies did not take place around Australia other than a private ceremony held at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. This private ceremony, not open to the public, was broadcast from 5.30 am on 25 April 2020.
Among some of the more recent calls for the Australian War Memorial to recognise the frontier wars in Australia’s military history, was the following article from Rebecca Vassarotti, on Anzac Day 2019:
||Wreath, commemorating First Peoples who gave their lives in the Australian Frontier Wars, laid on the Stone of Remembrance, Australian War Memorial,
Canberra, Australia, 25 April 2019, Photo: Jane Morrison
||On 25 April 2018, the red and black flowers of Sturt’s Desert Pea 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
John Menadue, a former head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, on 10 April 2018 wrote on his ‘Pearls and Irritations’ website:
Rachel Hocking and John Paul Janke, co-hosts of NITV’s ‘The Point’, explored the history of the frontier wars on 19 April 2018. Watch the videos at: https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/article/2018/04/18/nitvs-point-explores-history-australias-frontier-wars
||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
Veterans’ acceptance of Frontier Wars March: Anzac Day turning point
For Ghillar Michael Anderson veterans’ acceptance of the Frontier Wars March in 2018 was a major turning point in the quest to have frontier conflicts included in Australia’s military history at the Australian War Memorial. Read Mr 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/
National Indigenous Television (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
A storytelling camp and other activities about the frontier wars has been held on a number of occasions at the Aboriginal Embassy, King George Terrace, Parkes, Canberra, in the lead-up to Anzac Day. See ‘News’ on the 2018 event on this website at: https://australianfrontierconflicts.com.au/aboriginal-tent-embassy-camp-shines-light-on-frontier-wars/
||Frontier Wars March, Canberra, 25 April 2017, Photo: Jane Morrison
Videos Frontier Wars and Diggers’ Marches 2011–2017
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:
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 Gallery and Museum Coverage of Conflicts on the Australian Frontier below). Marylou Pooley’s article of 17 December 2013, ‘Will the Australian War Memorial tell the story of colonial conflicts?’ is still on the AWM’s website: https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/blog/response-question-about-frontier-conflicts
For Country for Nation Exhibition, Australian War Memorial
The theme of the Australian War Memorial’s For Country, for Nation exhibition (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’ in Australia’s Army, Navy and Airforce.
Touring of the exhibition has been postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak: https://aboutregional.com.au/when-will-we-recognise-australias-frontier-wars-as-part-of-our-war-history/
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. This article is available on academia.edu at:
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)
Paintings of massacres included in exhibition
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 Gallery and Museum Coverage of Conflicts on the Australian Frontier
Note to Readers: Coronavirus outbreak: All major galleries and museums throughout Australia are closed until further notice or advised otherwise. Online exploration of information about the following exhibitions or events is shown below.
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, with the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, presented 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 Museum of Australia (NMA)
You can take a virtual tour of the NMA’s Resistance exhibit at: https://www.nma.gov.au/education/resources/multimedia/interactives/resistance_virtual_tour The 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
New South Wales
New England Regional Art Museum, Armidale
NERAM’s exhibition Myall Creek and Beyond was to tour New South Wales and Queensland before the coronavirus crisis. Read Nicholas Fuller’s story about the proposed tour in the Armidale Express of 28 January 2020 at: https://www.armidaleexpress.com.au/story/6602931/nerams-powerful-myall-creek-exhibition-will-tour-nsw-and-queensland/
Museum of Brisbane
22 August 2020 (subject to advice on public health and safety): A workshop on ‘The Frontier Wars: Exploring Resistance Figures and events with historian Dr Libby Connors’, Details at: https://www.museumofbrisbane.com.au/the-frontier-wars/
Tasmania Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart
Ningina tunapri: Watch this video about the Tasmanian Aboriginal people, what happened to them in the colonial period, and their continuing culture: https://www.tmag.tas.gov.au/whats_on/exhibitions/permanent/ningina_tunapri
Julie Gough: Tense Past, 7 June to 3 November 2019. ‘This major exhibition by significant Tasmanian Aboriginal artist Julie Gough interrogates colonial history and the impact of colonisation on Tasmania’s first people—then and now. As well as including some key artworks from Gough’s 25 years of practice, including sculpture, sound and video installations, Julie has created new site-specific artworks that engage with artefacts from major collections from across the country.’ Although the TMAG and the exhibition are is closed, you can learn about the artist’s work in this video: https://www.tmag.tas.gov.au/whats_on/exhibitions/current_upcoming/info/julie_gough_tense_past
Our Land: parrawa, parrawa! Go away! ‘This exhibition tells the story of Aboriginal people and colonists following the invasion of lutruwita, now called Tasmania, focusing on the Black War. Go on an immersive journey through this dark period of history, with objects, contemporary historical accounts and specially commissioned films all helping to bring the story to life.’: https://www.tmag.tas.gov.au/whats_on/exhibitions/permanent/our_land_parrawa,_parrawa!_go_away!
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:
- Claire Slattery, The World Today, ABC, 9 November 2017, posted at 5.09 pm https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-09/white-washed-stories-of-frontier-massacres-told-in-exhibition/9134816
- Black Day, Sun Rises, Blood Runs, exhibition, Arts Review, 16 November 2017 at: https://artsreview.com.au/black-day-sun-rises-blood-runs/
- Larissa Behrendt, Black Day, Sun Rises, Blood Runs, on Speaking Out, ABC Radio, 26 November 2017 https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/speakingout/genevieve-grieves/9195958
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Note: The National Gallery of Victoria is closed at least until 13 April 2020 because of the coronavirus outbreak.
From 15 March until 15 July 2018, the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne hosted two parallel exhibitions, Colony: Australia 1770–1861 and Colony: Frontier Wars. The exhibitions 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/
Undercurrent, shown during Melbourne Design Week from 14–24 March 2019. The solo exhibition, by Bangerang artist Peta Clancy, ran from 9 March to 28 April 2019. The exhibition featured ‘a series of photographic works created in collaboration with the Dja Dja Wurrung community. The works reveal hidden massacre sites that have since been drowned due to subsequent colonial occupation of the land and disruption to the natural waterways. Through a process of cutting into and tearing the photographs Clancy references the emotional, cultural and physical scars left in the landscape by Frontier Violence. The installation depicts layers of time and place to explore history and memory, uncovering the layers of colonial erasure. This series was created during a 12-month artist residency with the Koorie Heritage Trust funded by the Australian government’s Indigenous Languages and Arts Program’.