The Philo Cafe, a discussion group here in Byron, considered the Frontier Wars this month, the fights between the invaders and the aborigines that took place in the early days of white settlement. The historian Robert Ørsted-Jenson told us that as many as 65,000 aborigines may have been killed in the nineteenth century.
This is a part of our history that most Australians don’t like to think about, in sharp contrast to the Anzac war which is now being celebrated so widely.
We wondered how the Frontier fighters, who were mostly ordinary people like you or me, could have done it. They no doubt had high ideals, like the progress of what they considered to be civilisation. They may even have felt, in those early days of Darwinian theory, that the aborigines were somehow degenerate, an inferior breed of humans, perhaps even cannibals, that needed to be wiped out.
We’ve learned to shudder at what they did, but how do they compare to the Anzacs? The Anzacs had their high motives too, like nationalism and the British Empire. They too felt the enemy was degenerate, calling the Germans ‘Huns’ and ‘Boches’. They were on a mission to take over territory from their enemies, as the Peace of Versailles showed.
In fact the Anzacs, like everyone who fought in World War I, were misguided. They went off to kill for no conceivable worthy motive. This is true of everyone involved, British, French, Germans, and Turks. It was shameful, immoral, and came out badly for everyone involved.
The only difference was that, in the Frontier wars, the aborigines died in much larger numbers than the whites they fought, mainly because they lacked equivalent firepower. In World War 1, the sides were evenly matched.
The Frontier Wars took place much further back in our history, and we have learned to be ashamed of them. I hope that by the time the 200th anniversary of the Anzacs rolls around, we will regard them too as misguided murderers.
Charles MacFarland, Ewingsdale