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Colonial Frontier Massacres: Before and After

  • The University of Melbourne, Australia


A talk about the Colonial Frontier Massacres map and website project, drawing to a conclusion and future research on Historical Frontier Violence looking at the drivers and intergenerational impacts.
Colonial Frontier Massacres: Before and After 1
Colonial Frontier Massacres: Before and After
AIATSIS Summit 2022 on Kabi Kabi country
Bill Pascoe, 2022
2:30 3:00 Wednesday, 1 June
This talk was presented in Kabi Kabi country in the middle of a story, with Coolum to the north,
Ninderry to the west, Mudjimba to the east and Maroochy to the south. The Maroochy River is the
ever-flowing tears of love and sorrow of a young woman for her fallen warrior.
NOTE: These are notes for talking so may not be exactly what was said on the day. Some points may
be repeated from other talks.
Acknowledgement of Country
I’d like to acknowledge Kabi Kabi elders past, present and emerging, and in of all parts of Australia.
Im here from the University of Melbourne in Wurundjeri Woi Worrung country of the Kulin Nation, I
did most of the work on this in Awabakal and Worimi country at the University of Newcastle. I
mostly grew up in Jagera country and used to always come to Maroochydore across the river on
holidays, as did my father when he was a boy. I’m white but I’d like to acknowledge my great, great
grandmother who we don’t really know anything about but our best guess is she might have been
either Kabi Kabi or Turrbul. So it means a lot to me to be here talking about colonial frontier
massacres and intergenerational impact in Kabi Kabi country.
I’m not going to dwell on any details or show any pictures, but I am going to talk about some bad
things, so if anyone wants to leave now or at any time that’s fine. I will be talking about massacres.
Colonial Frontier Massacres: Before and After 2
Colonial Frontier Massacres Map and Website
The Colonial Frontier Massacres map project began 8 years ago in 2014 with an ARC Grant (ID:
DP140100399) for 3 years and has been led by professor Lyndall Ryan at the University of Newcastle.
The team has included historians in various parts of the state and digital humanities software
The people involved did not expect the scale of the project to be so large both in terms of the
amount of massacres to be researched, and the amount of effort required to research and produce a
database and digital map, so it has progressed in stages. Stage one focused on the Eastern states
and later stages covered the whole country from colonisation up to 1930.
Consultation included sessions conducted through Wollotuka, meeting with AIATSIS, conferences,
community visits, and personal contacts and the project employed a Wiradjuri software developer
and Dharug-Kamilaroi research assistant.
My involvement is as a digital humanities software developer. That means I may not be able to
answer some specific questions about the history. What I do though is not just technical but involves
figuring out how to translate often vague and sketchy historical information into structured data and
considering the right way to represent it on the web ethically and in a complex, sensitive and
sometimes aggressively politicised context.
There were probably more massacres than are included on the website but only those for which
some evidence could be found are included. This includes evidence from Aboriginal or Torres Strait
Islander accounts that has been published. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people already know
about these events. One of the purposes of the website is to provide a convincing argument, that is
difficult to question and attack, and to educate non-Indigenous people about a truth that must be
acknowledged. As such its part of the truth telling process of reconciliation.
Its a research resource where people can easily find information and see the newspaper articles and
other documents if they are on line, so they can see the historical evidence for themselves.
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Although the details are sometimes obscure, like exactly where it occurred, or precisely how many
people were involved, there can be little doubt that the incidents presented on the map happened.
We also provide a rating of how much evidence is available.
Stage 4 brings the project to a conclusion. In previous versions, the work was still in progress with
historians knowing there were more sites to be added to the map. With stage 4 we now have a
comprehensive collection of all the massacres that the historians currently can find evidence for.
There may be more in future, and its likely more details will be learned about each site as a result of
future research, but as far as we know, at the present time, this is all that there is to go on the map.
After every release with the media coverage there is always extra feedback, so we are still making
some small adjustments before declaring the project finished. When we do well create an archive of
the data that can be more easily used by others in further research. For the moment information can
be accessed and cited from the website.
The Introduction section of the website provides important context and background. Some of the
main findings of stage 4 are on the new Statistics page.
Out of 414 frontier massacres on the map 401 were of Aboriginal people, 12 of Colonists, and 1 of
Our conservative estimate is that more than 10,000 people were killed in these massacres.
One of the new findings in stage 4 is that agents of the state, such as police, soldiers or government
officials were involved in about half of the massacres. More than half involved civilian settlers. Many
involved both.
One of the most important things about the map is that it tells a story. It tells a story with a single
glance. With the timeline it tells a story of colonial expansion and Indigenous resistance, and when
and where massacres were especially intense.
If we are concerned about indigenous people being represented as victims instead of warriors, we
have to remember these massacres occurred because of resistance. It was not only the actions of
settlers fighting for resources to exploit. This was also part of British military strategy, as described in
Colonel CE Calwell’s manual ‘Small Wars’.
When you click on an individual site, you can get details, a summary narrative, and where possible,
the newspaper articles or other sources, to get a better understanding of the story of each site.
When thinking about the problem of research objectifying Indigenous people, we can ask how can
we ‘subjectify’ instead? How can we make this a more ethical relationship among people and with
places? How can we make statistics more than just numbers, and humanise them? The details and
narrative give more context so that you can more easily imagine and think about the people
One thing I’ve learned from traditional culture is the ways in which the country can tell a story, and
once you know that story, how you can read it in those places, and that those places come to be
profoundly meaningful in this way and so too does our place within them. Where once there was
just a hill, now there is a story we might see every day that explains how and why we are here and
what we should do future.
This map helps make these events real for people and helps them relate to what happened as they
look at places near them or where they grew up.
Colonial Frontier Massacres: Before and After 4
The map has had extensive media coverage overseas and in Australia. People have viewed this
website almost 1.5 million times. Roughly speaking, if everyone who saw it told 5 friends and they
told 5 friends, then everyone in Australia would know. More people than this have seen the
Guardian’s version of this map, and news articles about it. Its fair to say that the map has changed
Australian culture, contributing to making the extent of massacres common knowledge when before
it was not.
We have always invited comments, feedback and corrections through the form on the website. We
thank everyone who has contributed by providing us with extra information and corrections.
Massacres are part of a much bigger story. This research will inform future researchers. One sign of
good research is that it makes people want to know more, to ask more questions. Why did these
events take place? What was the lead up? Who were they and why did they do it? Was it part of a
regional war? What was the resistance like? Where was it worst? What happened to survivors? Are
there memorials? Is it genocide? What can we do now? So what is next?
Historical frontier violence: drivers, legacy and the role of truth-telling
As there has never before been a comprehensive, dataset of Colonial Frontier Massacres it hasn't
been possible to do quantitative studies of their impact, as an important part of Historical Frontier
A new grant has been awarded to researchers led by Julie Moschion and Cain Polidano at the
Melbourne Institute, University of Melbourne.
The aim is to look at what happened before and after massacres. The drivers of massacres, and the
intergenerational impact today. I’ll give an overview of the plans for this next 3 years of research.
This will involve both qualitative research where we work closely with community, in particular
Tasmania, Moree and Daly River, and quantitative research to measure drivers and intergenerational
impacts on a national scale, showing relationships between places where violence and massacres
were more intense and present day outcomes.
More specifically, this project will look at:
Estimating the size of pre-colonial Indigenous populations
Drivers of community exposure to frontier violence
Impacts of community exposure to frontier violence on Indigenous people today
Persistence of toxic culture associated with massacres in non-Indigenous populations today
Case studies of Indigenous communities: the frontier legacy and the benefits of truth-telling
Differences in these across Australia
In a 2018 survey, only around 50% believed that past events and policies are the cause of
Indigenous disadvantage (Reconciliation Australia, 2018).
For this reason the project aims to:
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- Provide a convincing demonstration, with undeniable evidence, of the long term
connections between historical violence and the present situation, particularly to educate
non-Indigenous people.
- Contribute to the healing process and Makarrata.
The drivers of massacres are usually described as being:
competition for resources
settler attitudes
government policy
We’ll be collecting and organising data on all these and on pre-contact Indigenous populations for a
better understanding of the situation leading up to and the causes of frontier violence.
Combined with information on population and other factors such as climate and resources, by
comparing to the present day, this can be used to show:
Different histories in different places
What kind of different outcomes arise from different histories
To what degree violence has impacted different places
Massacres are part of a continuing history of colonisation that continues in various forms such as
stolen children, industrial scale prisons, and destruction of heritage sites.
The history is connected with the present, and the local community and individual scale is connected
with the national scale respectively qualitative is connected to qualitative research.
From Local Stories to Measurement to National Stories
Typically, researchers look at 3 things to assess impact and well being health, education and
economic factors such as employment and income. We will look at these, but will also reconsider
European and Indigenous value judgements in how they are interpreted, and what else should be
measured that isn’t.
Through qualitative research we can better understand situations for specific people and
communities. It can show what works and what doesn't according to the people that it effects. It can
show us what the important factors are in success and failure, or good or bad outcomes. This can tell
us what we should be measuring.
We can then scale it up to demonstrate those relationships across the continent and take into
account differences across the continent.
This information can then be used towards:
- telling the truth in ways that can't be denied for reconciliation and reckoning. The numbers
tell a story.
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- looking at this at the national scale to expand things that work
- avoiding mistakes of the past
- evaluating how much of what kind of resources are needed where
This is part of a continuing history. It’s not all in the past. Judy Atkinson is one of the researchers on
this project. Her research shows that intergenerational trauma, rather than fading with time, can
feed back on itself and get worse.
Part of the healing process is story telling. Judy notes that understanding the story behind why we
are as we are, the violent history, and being able to articulate it helps with the healing process. It
helps for individuals to understand the past and put into words the reasons why.
By showing things are as they are only because of certain things that happened, and that could have
happened differently, it’s easier to see that things could be different. With history we can
understand why we are as we are, and so imagine how we could be different, and make better
informed decisions that reclaim our future individually and collectively.
I’m here to listen so I’d like to answer questions, and am happy to answer them in the breaks also.
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