“The local press spoke with the unrelenting language of a war front. ‘We have seized their country by the right of might and by the right of might of whites will continue to possess it’, promised the Moreton Bay Courier in 1847. Aboriginal retribution, conducted ‘in the mere wantonness of patriotism’, it reasoned, simply forced white settlers, in the spirit of ‘conquest’ and ‘self-protection’, to ‘rise en masse and take the law into their own hands.’ Colonists needed to be more ‘cruel and cunning’ than their Indigenous foes, it counselled in 1848: ‘With a gun in your hand keep them at bay… Shoot… (them) though the head if you can’. The ruling presumptions of this undeclared land war – escalatory and indiscriminate, pre-emptive and retaliatory – could not have been spelt out any more clearly. For the most part it was a markedly asymmetrical struggle, with the whites having the advantage of increasing numbers, superior economic support, and an improving military technology. Yet Aboriginal resistance was fierce and determined and, waged with enhanced environmental knowledge and bigger initial populations, was sometimes capable of driving white settlement out and back.”
In Mackay by 1870, “half the local Aboriginal population of four large ‘tribes’ had either succumbed to illness or been shot down… (…) It was a similar tale all over the colony. A settler at Laidley on the Downs wrote in 1876 that the local ‘tribes’ had dwindled from many hundreds to two or three individuals, adding: ‘the work of extermination is virtually an accomplished fact… They have been shot and poisoned wholesale, not by black troopers but by white settlers. And now the same work is going on elsewhere and there is no general outcry against it.’ (…) Frontier newspapers were replete with advice like that offered in the Cooktown Courier of July 1874 to northern settlers to ‘shoot every blackfellow they found’ in spite of ‘the pseudo-philanthropists’ in the south. Lyrics to a tune in a Queensland camp-fire songbook (sung to the melody of ‘Happy are we darkies so Gay’) ran:
‘I’ve been out exploring in search of a run
With my packhorse, and pistol, my compass and gun.
We feasted delicious, ha, ha, hah.
And shot black-fellows vicious, ha, ha, hah.”
~ Raymond Evans, A History of Queensland
We need to talk properly about the war. We need to negotiate treaties and start to make peace. Let the past rest at last. Let people mourn and grieve. Stop murdering Aboriginal men in prisons and watch houses. C’mon Australia.