Catholics In Coalition for Justice and Peace

Blog Post

Petition to recognise the frontier wars

Posted 28 Jan 2016 03:00AM

We draw your attention to this petition to recognise Australia's frontier wars, a part of our nation's history that is yet to be properly acknowledged.

The Australian Frontier Wars were fought from 1788 to the 1920s between Indigenous Australians and an invading coalition of white settlers, militia, police, and colonial soldiers. Respected Australian historian Henry Reynolds has estimated in total the conflict claimed 20,000 to 30,000 Aboriginal lives and the lives of between 2,000 and 2,500 Europeans. This was undoubtedly a defining conflict in the history of this country.

However, despite the undeniable significance of the Frontier wars to our shared history, there is, bafflingly, currently no mention of them at all in the National War Memorial in Canberra.

This is not only historically dishonest, it constitutes a grave injustice to all those, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who lost their lives in these battles and deserve to be remembered. It denies all Australians alive today as well as future generations the opportunity for an important conversation about our past, present and future.

According to the Memorial's website, its mission is "to commemorate the sacrifice of those Australians who have died in war".

In order to fulfil that mission, the AWM should both honour and educate. That is, it should illustrate and acknowledge the experiences of the men and women who have served; and it should tell us clearly and honestly why we have gone to war, and what that has meant for our nation.

The stubborn refusal of the Australian Memorial to recognise the most important conflict ever fought on Australian soil is nothing less than a national disgrace. 

According to the Australian War Memorial Act (1980), the AWM's purpose is to recognise "active service in war or warlike operations by members of the Defence Force". The act then defines "Defence Force" as "any naval or military force raised in Australia before the establishment of the Commonwealth".

That definition allows the AWM to commemorate the wars of choice fought by white "Australians" in the Sudan, South Africa, and China before Federation, but excludes the war of necessity fought by Indigenous "Australians" for Australia itself between 1788 and the 1920s.

In other words, pre-Federation white volunteers who chose to fight overseas for the British crown and its commercial and colonial interests have been legally defined as "Australians", while pre-Federation Indigenous warriors who fought invaders for their homeland, their families, and their way of life, have been officially defined out of our war commemoration history.

Recognition of conflicts between Indigenous and settler populations is not without precedents. For example there are over 60 memorials commemorating the Maori Wars across New Zealand.

Telling the truth both to ourselves and to the world is vital to the reconciliation process. It is vital to the creation of a more honest and inclusive Australian national identity. We must be honest about our past if we are to create a better future. With your support we can send a powerful message to the AWM and their Director, Dr Brendan Nelson that we are ready to recognize this chapter of our history with an official memorial at the National War memorial.

Yes I will sign the petition