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Acknowledging the Frontier Wars on Anzac Day

By Paul Smith

On Anzac Day the word ‘Remember’ is on everyone’s lips. But what Is it to remember – to re-member?

On re-membering.

Studies of memory show that a remembered experience has hundreds if not thousands of parts.

When I remember an experience, it is constructed anew from the ground up, each time with a slightly different set of parts and in a slightly different order. Every memory I have is not only about a thing or event in the past but also about the way I choose to re-member in the present.

Every experience I remember is re-membered.

The way I remember is mostly shaped by what is going on around me at the time.

Context shapes the way I re-member.

Though I am rarely deliberate in the way I choose to remember, I can deliberate. I can shape, change and choose the context in which I re-member.

The Anzac Day ceremony is about deliberating on who and how we choose to remember.

We gather on Aanzac Day to remember all Australians who died fighting for their country. There were Australians who died for no other reason than that they were here.

From 1788 to 1928, 140 years of Frontier Wars made all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, the people we are today.

The first war fought on Australian soil was Pemulwuy’s war, 1790 – 1802, a guerilla campaign waged by Aboriginal Australians, led by the great warrior Pemulwuy, against British colonists in Botany Bay, Liverpool, Parramatta and the Hawkesbury River.

Other warriors in other parts of Australia led similar campaigns. Musquito in Port Jackson and later in Hobart; Windradyne, central-western New South Wales; Yagan Western Australia; Tunnerminnerwait, Cape Grim Tasmania; Dundalli Moreton Bay; Jandamarra Tunnel Creek, Western Australia. There were many, many more.

They were Australians who died fighting for this country.

After five generations of forgetting and one generation of denial we cannot say with any credibility: We remember them. Rather, our responsibility, for the foreseeable future, is not to claim, falsely, to remember those first Australian Patriots, but to UNFORGET them.

We unforget them Lest we harbour false memories of who we have been as a people, while honouring those who fell serving the nation we are still becoming.

Australian Veterans are committed to reconciliation with former enemies. Strong bonds have been made with Turkish, Japanese and Vietnamese people in particular.

We are constantly being welcomed in friendship by former enemies to their country.

Recently I was welcomed to the country of the Arakwal people of the Bundjalung nation. This was an offer of friendship that non-indigenous Australians can fully appreciate when we acknowledge that the first Australians’ 140-year struggle to defend their land was the first war that made us the people we are today – Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians alike.

Reconciliation with former enemies will not be complete until the nation acknowledges the first Australian Patriots – the indigenous people who fell defending their homeland against British colonisation.

What might come of recognising the first Australian Patriots? There is Myth, much older than the Bible or the Epics of Homer, which may help us answer that question. The Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh is, in part, about friendship – a friendship wrought of conflict. The two rivals fought each other to a standstill and then “became fast friends” – companions. While they fought each other, each cared nothing for the humanity of the other. When each failed to subdue the other they recognised each other as equals. The only possible relationship between equals is friendship.

Or is it? Here are two scenarios:

Two people fight, each intending to end the life of the other. They fail. They stop fighting and become friends. Together they do what neither could do alone.


… two people fight, one intending to end the life of the other; the other intending nothing but to preserve his own life. The one fails. By definition the other has succeeded. But the one refuses to acknowledge that there had been a fight and goes about his business as though the other is not there. Instead of friendship there is mutual suspicion.

Which is it? Can it be otherwise?

Why do non-Indigenous Australians still not acknowledge that Aborigines fought to defend their land? Why are those who fell defending their land not acknowledged as the first Australian patriots? Is it because the way the settlers fought was not honourable and far from glorious and therefore not worthy of being remembered? What would happen if we did acknowledge the first Australian patriots? Would it change the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians? Would suspicion give way to friendship and a truly equal partnership? Would this make a treaty achievable?

Does the veteran community hold the key to an honourable settlement to settlement? If ever there was a situation in Australian society where equality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians becomes the norm it is in the military. How hard can it be for non-indigenous military and ex-service personnel to extend to those who died defending their homelands the same respect they have for the former Turkish, Japanese and Vietnamese enemy?

As an eminent Australian said, half a century ago…



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  1. New England Cocky

    This article accurately illustrates why Voice is necessary for the continuing evolution of Australian society.
    The COALition is clinging to legal fictions to facilitate government sponsored genocide of the Aborigines and ideas of racial superiority that cannot be substantiated by recent COALition misgovernments, generally described as the least competent collection of misfits ever to stain the Australian Parliamentary record.
    I have no familial link with the 1914-1918 European War that ”inspired” the industrial slaughter of a generation of fine Australian men to protect a lying English High Command from being exposed as totally incompetent, and considerable research of the subject confirms that the sooner Australia becomes a Republic having an Australian borne Head of State, the better.
    Similarly, Australian sovereignty has been sold out by Scummo & the COALition in the USUKA sub fiasco.

  2. Roswell

    This article accurately illustrates why Voice is necessary for the continuing evolution of Australian society. The COALition is clinging to colonial ideas of racial superiority that cannot be substantiated by recent COALition misgovernments generally described as the least competent collection of misfits ever to stain the Australian Parliamentary record.

    Brilliantly said, NEC.

  3. leefe

    They’ve been fighting for their land, their country, their home, for over two centuries and, in a way, they’re winning – because they’re still here, still fighting, still refusing to just go away and quietly die.

    It’s time we acknowledged that. It is even more time we conceded that a fight was started that would never produce outright victors, only losers, unless we can all find a way to come together, to combine the best of what each has to offer, and fiind a new way to travel into the future.

    Yeah, I have a dream …
    Will it ever be more than just a dream?

  4. Roswell

    Btw, Paul, you put forward a very strong case.

  5. Canguro

    Australia is absent of tsunamis, volcanos, earthquakes but prone to cyclones, droughts, floods and fires. These recurrent events shaped the Australian experience since time immemorial, for thousands of years prior to the colonisation by the British in the 18th century given the extraordinary depth of time that the indigenous Aboriginals have inhabited the land, and they continue to do so to this day.

    But the qualitative nature of those impositions of significance changed inexorably, and not necessarily for the better, following colonisation and the imposition of a western Judaeo-Christian culture across the land.

    Events, behaviour, thought and language, these inescapable elements everywhere shape landscape and culture and attitude.

    Travel this country today and you will find in almost every town a memorial to the fallen soldiers of the First World War. At that time, the country’s population was less than 5 million, of which nearly 420,000 men enlisted, more than 60,000 were killed, and around 156,000 men were maimed and wounded, gassed, taken prisoner, or maddened.

    It was as though a pall of death, the blackest of shrouds, had been stretched across the fabric of the land, ensnaring all, ensuring that the suffering would be maximised, as if Nature herself was speaking, saying ‘See, you humans, this is what happens when you take your eye off the ball, when you don’t pay attention, when you don’t listen, when you behave as if you know’.

    How many countless thousands of grieving mothers, fathers, spouses, siblings and indeed children wondered for what, just explain for what damned purpose it was necessary to send nearly half a million men into war for the resultant costs?

    Less than 25 years later, nearly a million Australians signed up for what was carelessly referred to as ‘duty’ in the Second World War: nearly 30,000 were killed, 23,000 wounded, and 30,000 captured as prisoners of war.

    In the space of a bit over thirty years, political decisions in this country resulted in the deaths of close to 100,000, around 180,000 wounded, along with many thousands of POW’s, many of whom died in captivity. These were appalling outcomes for a nascent so-called civilized society.

    All of those men, and most of their immediate families, are now gone, mere memories, and not even first-hand. Recreated, imagined, without direct reference.

    It’s a similar story with the indigenous people, the original inhabitants, the land-holders so casually and cruelly usurped by the colonisers, victims of the Eurocentric pathology so aptly captured by the Swedish author Sven Lindqvist in his 1992 book entitled Exterminate all the Brutes, where he argues most cogently of the centuries-old sense of entitlement of white-skinned people that those of darker hues were inferior; black, brown, dusky, olive – all undeserving savages and to practice genocide against them a noble cause.

    Cruelty and inhumanity beyond comprehension, utterly confounding that the so-called civilized were in reality the actual brutes, a Freudian inversion to cap all such projections of the unenlightened psyche.

    I’m utterly opposed to the annual charade of Anzac Day; it clearly fails the test of acting as a sombre reminder that wars bring nothing but sorrow, pain, suffering, madness, guilt, shame; there is nothing heroic, nothing to be proud of, nothing to cheer for, and each time tensions rise across the planet the default response is to send yet another crop of young people off to be either slaughtered or psychologically maimed for eternity. As are our indigenous brothers and sisters, whose trauma continues and has yet to see its end.

  6. andy56

    sorry people, i just cant get into the”anzac” spirit. Those wars were fort over king and country. I am against the canberra war museum expansion. Its just over the top. Go to saigon’s museum if you want a true taste of remembrance. As a child of migrants, i fully remember the shit my parents copped. Sure i am an aussie, but “my country” is still pretty backwards. Took my wife to the airport for a holiday to thailand. 9pm at night, thai air was the only flight with lots of thai, indians and causasians preparing themselves in the queues. Guess what comes over the intercom? Chinese and english. Fuck me, migrants have been here from year dot. Can there be a more couldnt care less attitude? Anzac is about as relevant to most migrants as don bradman. The more i read of don bradman, the more i detest him as a man. You want to not forget the legacy, yet your willing to send our soldiers to wars we have no business being involved in. I also think that the best way to support taiwan is to help them build a deterent, not the saber rattling we will engage in by parking our subs in the sth china seas. Funny how subs are no good around our country because the waters are too shallow. All in the name of AUKUS. To top it off, we have our own war that just isnt represented in the canberra war museum. we sure forgot them in a hurry.

  7. wam

    All wars should never have been started but are lost to all. The septics are special at losing: the bay of pigs was an instant loss, The Vietnamese had 35 years with france then 20 years with septics(including 10 years with us till labor withdrew our troops). Afghanistan 9 years russia, 20 years septics(including 13 year with us). Thousands killed for no gain.
    Sadly, anyone who beats america suffers economically from spite.
    I cite the special evil of the american soldiers: wounded knee. bud jaho, no gun ri, my lai, Abu Graib, Kandahar.
    ps Andy56 The deaths in WW1 merely reflected the deathrate of Australian children. My dad was a rat and I remember him every day but I took my children and they take their children on April 25 to remember the men and women who died, some, of war injuries, many years after 56, and we place a poppy on the African memorial for old Cyril. The former Australian war Memorial CEO and current council chair, nota bene appointed 22 april last year, is the man whom I consider the most arrogant and inappropriate politician I have ever met.

  8. Paul Smith

    NEC – I couldn’t agree more.
    Ieefe – Nothing is created that isn’t first a dream.
    Roswell – Thank you for your kind words.
    Canguro, andy56 and wam – I am grateful for your poetic responses.

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