Remember the Frontier Wars (1788-1934)

Historical Amnesia  

ANZAC Day is a commemoration of all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations”.  However, only recognising wars and conflicts since World War 1, it effectively erases the history of conflict between First Nations peoples and colonial settlers from 1788 – 1934. The conflicts and struggles for freedom during this time are known as The Frontier Wars.

These wars involved the courage, sacrifice and strength of hundreds of thousands of First Nations freedom fighters to protect their land, people and culture from the violence and brutality of the colonial invaders. The Frontier Wars have shaped the nation we now call Australia far more significantly than the nation’s involvement in wars abroad ever have. Erasure of the resistance to the genocidal reality of the massacres, enslavement, displacement and diseases brought to the land by the European forces, that is so strongly embedded in ANZAC Day, contributes to a nation-wide historical amnesia. This historical amnesia not only prevents us from commemorating all wars and conflicts affecting the people living in this land, but also prevents us from seeing the ongoing reality of genocide across this land today.


The Death Tolls

Debates have continued over the years regarding the death tolls from the Frontier Wars. The most recent historical research suggests:


EUROPEAN DEATH TOLL: Total 2, 000 – 5, 000


Acts of War in Queensland

Around 150 First Nations peoples were killed by poison hidden in colonial “gifts” of flour laced with strychnine in Kilcoy and Whiteside. This poison produces some of the most dramatic and painful symptoms of any known toxic reaction. In humans the presentation includes severe muscle spasms starting with the head and neck and extending to the whole body. These convulsions lead to symptoms including nausea, vomiting, rapid deep breathing, weakness, hyperthermia, confusion, muscle breakdown and kidney failure, which is then followed by an altered state of consciousness similar to that following an epileptic seizure. Death comes either from asphyxiation when the neural pathways that control breathing become paralysed, or exhaustion from the convulsions, within 2-3 hours after exposure.



Hornet Bank – 1857

300-500 First Nations peoples massacred by police and European squatters in central Queensland.

Skull Hole Massacre

Around 200 First Nations peoples massacred

There were many more massacres across the land throughout this period, many of which are indicated in the map below.

frontier wars 4

Warriors of the frontier wars


Resisted British occupation in the Sydney area, uniting and leading people from the Eora, Dharug and Tharawal nations in raids.

Pemulwuy was shot and killed by a British sailor in 1802. His head was preserved in spirits and sent to Sir Joseph Banks in England.



Led a guerrilla war against police and European settlers for thfrontier wars 6 jandamarra
ree years in Western Australia. Jandamarra was admired with awe by both First Nations peoples and European police for his skills in escaping.


In 1897 he was shot and killed by an Aboriginal tracker, Micki. White troopers cut off his head and it was preserved and sent to a firearms company in England as an example of their firearms’ effectiveness.



Involved in many acts of resistance and retaliation to attacks on Noongar people and theft of land by colonial settlers.

Yagan was killed in 1833 by two European brothers, one of whom was speared to death by Noongar people who witnessed the murder. The settlers cut off Yagan’s head and skinned his back to obtain his tribal markings as a trophy.




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