After criminalisation and dispersal
Harold Finch-Hatton, like others, documented what he saw on his several-year stay in Australia. His stay was in northern Queensland, and he reported on the types of hunting available for the sportsman in Australia: “Away up north an occasional raid after the wild Blacks enlivens the monotony of life.” Every settler farm had a couple of “black boys” working stockmen but “they are not much use after they get about 20 years old. They generally get sent away and sooner or later die of drink.” (Finch-Hatton, Advance Australia!)
He wrote about the deliberate mass poisoning of Aboriginal people at Long Lagoon and on the practice of policing. “When the blacks are troublesome, it is generally considered sufficient punishment to go out and shoot one or two.” He reported that the Government resident was waging endless wars against the local tribal groups. And the widely-used native policeman “knows perfectly well that unless he manages to shoot down a decent number of (blacks) before they can escape his services will soon be dispensed with.
“Whether the blacks deserve any mercy at the hands of the pioneering squatters is an open question, but that they get none is certain. They are a doomed race and they will be completely wiped out of the land.”
Corroborating that prevailing attitude, in The Fatal Impact historian Alan Moorehead reported that in the mid-1800s: “Along the Murray River, which divides NSW from Victoria a series of pitched battles was going on between the settlers and the tribes, and it was nothing unusual for the whites to organise a day’s sport in the bush — a kangaroo or a man, it did not matter much what you bagged.” (Moorehead, The Fatal Impact, p170)
Moorehead tells us about the settler thinking in the case of the Tasmanians, who by the 1830s, with sheep farms dividing up the islands, had hardly anywhere to escape to. The same thinking came to apply on the mainland in the following decades. The Tasmanian Aborigines were deliberately hunted and exterminated by some 13,000 white settlers and convicts — “All of them eager for land and none of them disposed to let the blacks stand in their way.”
While the invaders of Tasmania accomplished well-documented annihilation of local people and culture by 1880, the full extent of Aboriginal massacres elsewhere are only now coming to light with one contemporary ‘mapping’ of massacre sites, counting more than 150 so far. (The Guardian, massacre map frontier wars.)
In the NSW Gwydir-region Myall Creek massacre of 1838, a vigilante settler group set out to “hunt some blacks” after a period of skirmishes and a longer history of total land dispossession. The vigilantes succeeded in chaining together, killing and burning the bodies of 28 Kwaimbal mainly women and children, resident at Myall Creek station. The men were away but there was a white witness. Returning, the station overseer reported the killers. At a subsequent trial that ended in hanging, (seen as a major win for justice since most white settlers brought to trial for killing first Australians were acquitted by their peers) the defence was that “they did not know it was illegal to kill Aborigines, as it was so common on the frontier”. (Flood, The Original Australians, p110.)
Another example of the conspiracy of death and silence was reported from Gippsland in 1846, by which time the south-eastern part of the country had been extensively subdivided for its grass lands and pasture possibilities. A young squatter (Henry Meyrick) wrote this to his English relatives.
“The blacks are very quiet now poor wretches. No wild beast of the forest was ever hunted down with such unsparing perseverance as they are…these things are kept very secret as the penalty would certainly be hanging…For myself, if I caught a black actually killing my sheep, I would shoot him with as little remorse as I would a wild dog, but no consideration would induce me to ride into a camp and fire on them indiscriminately, as is the custom whenever smoke is seen.” (Flood, p105.)
To which Josephine Flood, the anthropologist in whose 2006 book this quote appeared remarks: “Meyrick’s estimate (of 450 First Australians killed in the 1830s and ‘40s in Gippsland Victoria) has much weight as he admitted to the same base attitudes in himself and was privy to the secrets of other squatters.”
Queensland has been accused of the worst mainland record of massacres of Indigenous people — the same people who impressed Cook and Banks 70 years earlier, when they were fixing the Endeavour at present-day Cooktown and took copious notes. Those described the native peoples’ willingness to be friendly and their harmony with their environment. (Moorehead, p110 ff; Clarke, A Short History p15.)
The colonial killings in Queensland used native police from 1849–1900. A recent history describes the methods. As in Tasmania cross country drives and dragnets were employed; besides bullets they used strychnine and arsenic or drowning and drove people off cliffs. They ‘brained’ babies against trees. Author Timothy Bottoms in 2013 claimed 50,000 people were killed in those 50 years between the native police and the landholders. Coded language covered the killings for example: “No arrests made” and “dispersal” usually meant death. Cook and Banks and others described a sparse indigenous population. So 50,000 is a huge number in context. This did not count the deaths from disease that carried away many more people. (Bottoms, Conspiracy of Silence.)
If not an outright death sentence, enslavement and indentured work on the pastoral stations or in the west on pearling boats were also considered useful improvements to the previous state of tribal life.
The killing culture continued as pastoralism moved to the Top End and the Kimberley well into the 20th century. Some who chronicled the history of dispossession have said that invasion of the Kimberley for pastoralism was even more lawless and merciless than on the earlier eastern frontier (Flood, p109) Conflict followed by some collective punishment massacres continued there into the 1920s. (The Guardian, A very tragic history…)
Bottoms T, Conspiracy of Silence, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 2013.
Clark M, A Short History of Australia, Penguin, 1963.
Dombrowski K, The white hand of capitalism and the end of indigenism as we know it, The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 2010.
Finch-Hatton, H, Advance Australia! Allen & Co, Pall Mall (UK), 1885.
Flood J, 2006, The Original Australians: Story of the Aboriginal People, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 2006.
Moorehead A, The Fatal Impact, Penguin, London (UK), 1966.
Mulvaney D J and Kamminga J, Prehistory of Australia, Allen and Unwin, 1999.
Pearson N, Up from the Mission: Selected Writings, Black Inc, 2011.