Australia’s colonial violence unearthed

An 1861 painting of the Wills Tragedy, a pivotal moment in the Queensland frontier wars. Picture: State Library of Queensland/Wikimedia Commons


Enjoying playing cards across the fireplace, 1878. Archaeologists have unearthed artefacts from Native Mounted Police camps in Queensland.Supply:Getty Photos

IN 19TH century Queensland, the Native Mounted Police have been accountable for “dispersing” (a euphemism for systematic killing) Aboriginal folks.

This government-funded paramilitary drive operated from 1849 (previous to Queensland’s separation from New South Wales) till 1904. It grew to have an expansive attain all through the state, with camps established in strategic areas alongside the ever-expanding frontier, first within the southeast after which west and north. Whereas staffed with non-Indigenous senior officers, the majority of the drive was made up of Aboriginal males and, generally, boys.

We have now been exploring the distant Queensland outback for traces of the bottom camps of the Native Mounted Police. There have been practically 200 such camps. To date we have now visited greater than 45 of them.

Our archaeological work is revealing the day-to-day livelihoods that underpinned the chilling work of those police. This is a crucial a part of reckoning with Australia’s colonial violence, given the difficulties in figuring out bodily proof of massacres within the archaeological report, regardless of recent efforts to map massacre sites from oral and written sources.

Reasonably than sustaining order among the many European inhabitants, the position of the Native Mounted Police’s was to guard squatters, miners and settlers on the frontier, by no matter means needed. Their well-documented technique of “safety” was to mount patrols and kill Aboriginal individuals who have been attempting to guard their land, lives and family members. There have been actually tons of of such occasions.

‘Native Troopers Dispersing A Camp’, Australia, 1886. An aboriginal man being chased away from his camp during the colonisation of Australia. Picture: The Print Collector/Getty Images

‘Native Troopers Dispersing A Camp’, Australia, 1886. An aboriginal man being chased away from his camp throughout the colonisation of Australia. Image: The Print Collector/Getty PhotosSupply:Getty Photos

On February 10, 1861, as an illustration, a detachment led by Sub-Inspector Rudolph Morisset shot at the least 4, probably extra, Aboriginal males on Manumbar Station (about 160km northwest of Brisbane). This was in reprisal for Aboriginal folks killing cattle on the run. We find out about these explicit deaths as a result of John Mortimer, one of many station house owners, complained within the native press concerning the police’s behaviour. He additionally gave proof to an 1861 inquiry into the actions of the Native Mounted Police.

Round Christmas 1878 in the meantime, on the banks of a waterhole close to Boulia, some Aboriginal folks killed a number of Europeans taking care of inventory. The reprisal massacres of Aboriginal males, ladies and kids that adopted — with one, probably two, survivors — are recognized from a written account, and from numerous oral accounts documented within the months and years after. The Burke River Native Mounted Police, stationed simply exterior Boulia, commanded by Sub-Inspector Ernest Eglinton, and assisted by at the least one outstanding pastoralist, Alexander Kennedy, have been accountable for the Aboriginal murders.

Ammunition found at a mounted police camp at Eyre Creek. Picture: Lynley Wallis

Ammunition discovered at a mounted police camp at Eyre Creek. Image: Lynley WallisSupply:Provided


Much like the forts constructed on the plains of North America throughout the “Indian” Wars, or the places of work of the Third Reich in Nazi Germany, Native Mounted Police camps shaped the drive’s administrative spine. All through the drive’s 50-year historical past, greater than 450 non-Indigenous officers lived on these bases, together with at the least 700 Aboriginal males.

Like different bureaucratic methods, their very home ordinariness — offering insights into what the police ate, drank and the way they lived — belies the battle that occurred past their boundaries.

Many camps have been short-lived, generally being occupied for just a few months. In such instances their bodily imprint is restricted. In different conditions — significantly the place the terrain was rugged and better inhabitants densities meant Aboriginal folks have been in a position to mount simpler campaigns of resistance — camps have been occupied for longer intervals, generally a number of many years. These left a clearer impression on the panorama.

Even so, what’s left shouldn’t be what you would possibly usually affiliate with a frontier conflict. There aren’t any battlefields, within the conventional sense of the phrase, to be seen. No victims with bullet wounds, no mass graves, and no massive fortified buildings. As an alternative, the Native Mounted Police camps are abnormal, banal even, revealing the detritus of on a regular basis life: stone fireplaces, segments of put up and rail fences, sections of pathways, clearings and the occasional garbage dump strewn with damaged bottles.

Maybe extra telling are the big numbers of bullets and spent cartridges from government-issue Snider rifles. These have been hardly ever owned by non-public residents however have been issued to the Native Mounted Police for many years.

At every of the Burke River, Cluney and Boralga camps we have now catalogued greater than 100 bullets and cartridges, an sudden state of affairs given that almost all killings of Aboriginal folks by the Native Mounted Police occurred exterior the confines of the camps. Maybe the abundance of those objects within the camps is the results of common goal observe by troopers, or perhaps the results of having to hunt kangaroos on the native waterhole to complement their meagre rations. Navy-style buttons from uniforms — with ornate monograms, generally together with a royal cipher and crown — function a bleak reminder that the violence related to the Native Mounted Police was endorsed by the state.

An 1861 painting of the Wills Tragedy, a pivotal moment in the Queensland frontier wars. Picture: State Library of Queensland/Wikimedia Commons

An 1861 portray of the Wills Tragedy, a pivotal second within the Queensland frontier wars. Image: State Library of Queensland/Wikimedia CommonsSupply:Provided


Burke River close to Boulia in southwest Queensland — the bottom for Sub Inspector Eglinton and his detachment — was described in 1882 by a customer.

“Probably the most respectable trying native police camp I’ve seen in Queensland, there appears to be a spot for the whole lot and the whole lot as a substitute,” they mentioned.

This camp sits beside a waterhole that’s related to Dreaming tales — an Aboriginal stone association and the 1000’s of flaked stone artefacts alongside the sting of the watercourse are testomony to it being an essential dwelling and ceremonial place. The institution of a police camp on the location was more likely to have been seen by native Aboriginal folks as each inappropriate and insulting — however after all their views weren’t a priority.

There are two stone buildings, seemingly constructed to deal with gear, weapons, ammunition and dry foodstuffs, and probably the officer’s quarters. Additional away once more is a sequence of small mounds — so slight that until you realize what to search for you wouldn’t even see them. These mounds are a treasure trove of discarded garbage. The fish hooks, flaked glass artefacts and animal stays we have now recovered from them point out they’re seemingly the stays of the troopers’ huts. They serve to remind us that, regardless of the job they have been employed to hold out, they too have been simply males attempting to outlive.

Websites of colonial violence are tough to find precisely. As such, there’s ongoing debate about its scale and nature. Aboriginal folks have at all times referred to those occasions as a conflict. Such statements are sometimes dismissed by critics as unreliable. But 19th century European authors additionally described the frontier killings as a conflict. The archaeology of Native Mounted Police camps is the closest materials indication we have now of the dimensions of suppression of Aboriginal folks by the 19th century.

Whereas a few of these camps are recognised on Queensland’s Aboriginal heritage listing, none may be discovered on the broader State Heritage Register — regardless of 200 websites that check with the common Queensland Police Power in some method. We imagine this could change to offer extra formal recognition to the darkish previous of the State’s foundations.

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