Aboriginal ‘resistance war’ tactics – ‘The Black War’ of southern Queensland

Main Article Content

Raymond Constant Kerkhove


Frontier violence is now an accepted chapter of Australian history.  Indigenous resistance is central to this story, yet little examined as a military phenomenon (Connor 2004).  Indigenous military tactics and objectives are more often assumed than analysed.

Building on Laurie’s and Cilento’s contentions (1959) that an alliance of Aboriginal groups staged a ‘Black War’ across southern Queensland between the 1840s and 1860s, the author seeks evidence for a historically definable conflict during this period, complete with a declaration, coordination, leadership, planning and a broader objective: usurping the pastoral industry.  

As the Australian situation continues to present elements which have proved difficult to reconcile with existing paradigms for military history, this study applies definitions from guerilla and terrorist conflict (e.g. Eckley 2001, Kilcullen 2009) to explain key features of the southern Queensland “Black War.”

The author concludes that Indigenous resistance, to judge from southern Queensland, followed its own distinctive pattern.  It achieved coordinated response through inter-tribal gatherings and sophisticated signaling.  It relied on economic sabotage, targeted payback killings and harassment.  It was guided by reticent “loner-leaders.” Contrary to the claims of military historians such as Dennis (1995), the author finds evidence for tactical innovation.  He notes a move away from pitched battles to ambush affrays; the development of full-time ‘guerilla bands’; and use of new materials.

Article Details

Articles (refereed)
Author Biography

Raymond Constant Kerkhove, University of Queensland (Alumnus)

Ray Kerkhove is a consultant historian specialising in the Indigenous history and material culture of southern Queensland. Ray is currently the Chair of Q-Earth Inc and the Secretary of the Brisbane Southside History Network. He works closely with Indigenous groups and families,  Councils, historical societies, cultural heritage organisations,and faith groups.  Ray recently completed cultural research for workshops to revive local basketry and netting; information panels for a travelling exhibition on "Gubbi Gubbi Canoes," and a book - "Greater Brisbane's Aboriginal Camp sites - a Historical Guide."  Ray is currently engaged in scripting and mapping Indigenous cultural information and sites within Australia's capital cities (Immersive Heritage 3-D heritage reconstructions); researching and compiling Darling Downs Indigenous history for Turnstone Archaeology; administering BHSN (Brisbane Southside History Network); and conducting Significance Assessments of diverse religious archives on the Sunshine Coast.


A = The Australian
BC = Brisbane Courier
BFP&MJ = Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal
BFP&MJ = Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal
C = The Courier (Brisbane)
Cap = Capricornian (Rockhampton)
CC = Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston)
CM = Courier Mail
CQH = Central Queensland Herald
CQH = Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton)
CQH = Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton)
CT = Coburg Leader
CT = Colonial Times (Hobart)
CT = Colonial Times (Hobart)
E = Empire (Sydney)
FJ = Freeman’s Journal (Sydney)
GAA = Geelong Advertiser & Intelligencer
MB = Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton)
MBC = Moreton Bay Courier
MM&HRGA = Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser
NT = Northern Times
NT = Northern Times (Newcastle)
NWC = North Western Courier
Q = The Queenslander
QH = Queensland Herald (Rockhampton)
QT = Queensland Times (Ipswich)
RRHNDA = Richmond River Herald & Northern Districts Advertiser
RRHNDA = Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser
SM = Sunday Mail (Brisbane)
SMH = Sydney Morning Herald
WCGACWD = Western Champion & General Advertiser for the Central-Western Districts (Barcaldine)

Bartley, N., 1892, ‘Blackfellow Criminals,’ The Queenslander (Brisbane), Saturday 11 June 1892 p. 1130
_________, 1896, Australian Pioneers & Reminiscences, Brisbane: Gordon & Gotch
Behnke, S., 2010?, The Savage Kaldadoons, http://www.gattonmurders.com/thekalkadoons.pdf, accessed30/6/2014

Berndt, RM & C H Berndt, 1989, The Speaking Land: Mythology and Story in Aboriginal Australia Ringwood: Penguin

Blomfield, G., 1986, Baal Bellbora: The End of the Dancing Chippendale: APCOL

Bond, A., 2009, The Statesman, The Warrior and the Songman Nambour: Alex Bond

Bottoms, T., 2013, Conspiracy of Silence: Queensland’s Frontier Killing Times London: Allen & Unwin

Campbell, J., 1936, The Early Settlement of Queensland, Brisbane: Bibliographic Society of Queensland
Campbell-Praed, R, 1902, My Australian Girlhood : Sketches and impressions of bush life, Fisher Unwin, London

Cassidy, Lieutenant Colonel Robert M. Winning the War of the Flea Lessons from Guerrilla Warfare, Military Review Sept-Oct 2004, 41-46

Cilento R., & Clem Lack, 1959, Triumph in the Tropics- An Historical Sketch of Queensland Brisbane, Smith & Patterson
Clark, W., 1912, Explorer Walker – Organiser and First Commandant of the Native Police, The Brisbane Courier 28 December 1912 p 10
Collins, P., 2002, Goodbye Bussamarai: The Manandanji Land War, Southern Queensland 1842-1852 St Lucia: Uni of Qld
Connor J., 2002, The Australian Frontier Wars 1788-1838 Sydney: UNSW
Darragh T A & Roderick J Fensham (eds), 2013, The Leichhardt diaries Early Travels in Australia during 1842-1844, Memoirs of the Queensland Museum Culture Vol 7 (1) Brisbane
Dennis, P., Heffrey Grey, Ewan Morris, Robin Prior, John Connor, 1995 ‘Aboriginal Armed Resistance to White Invasion’, The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History Melbourne: Oxford Uni
Dutton, G., 1985 The Squatters, Ringwood: Viking O'Neal

Eckley W., ‘Guerrilla Warfare,’ 2001, John Powell, ed., Magill’s Guide to Military History Vol 2 Salem: Corunna-Janissaries Salem, 636-9

Evans, R., 2002, ‘Against the Grain: Colonialism and the Demise of the Bunya Gatherings, 1839-1939,’ Queensland Review No.9:2, Nov 2002, 47-64.

Evans, R & Bill Thorpe, 2001, ‘Indigenocide and the Massacre of Aboriginal History,’ Overland 1993: 21-39.
Foley, D., 2007, ‘Leadership: the Quandary of Aboriginal Societies in Crisis 1780-1830, and 1966,’ in Ian Macfarlan, & Mark Hannah, Transgressions: critical Australian Indigenous Histories, Canberra: ANU Aboriginal History Monograph No.1

Grey, J.,A, 1999,‘The Military and the Frontier, 1788-1901,’ in Jeffery Grey, A Military History of Australia New York: Cambridge University

Grill, J.P.H., 2001, ‘Military intelligence,’ Ed John Powell, Magill’s Guide to Military History Vol 2 Corunna-Janissaries Salem Pasadena 2001 info 742-6

Guthrie M., 1927, "By the Pleasant Watercourses." The Brisbane Courier 19 March 1927 p 23

Harrison, R., 2002, Australia's Iron Age: Aboriginal post-contact metal artefacts from Old Lamboo Station, Southeast Kimberley, Western Australia, Australasian Historical Archaeology Vol. 20, pp. 67-76

Hoff, J., 2010, Rev Ed., Bandjalung Jugun: Bandjalung Country Lismore: Richmond River Historical Society

Hunt, J. 1933, A Wayside Cemetery – Where Pioneers Sleep, The North Western Courier 4 September 1933 p 14

Jones, E., 1989, The Story of the Falling Star Canberra: Aboriginal Studies
Jones , P., 2007 Ochre and rust: artefacts and encounters on Australian frontiers Kent Town: Wakefield

Karskens G., 2011, Red coat, blue jacket, black skin: Aboriginal men and clothing in early New South Wales, Aboriginal History Vol 35 (ANU)

Kerkhove, R., comp, 2012, The Great Bunya Gathering – Early Accounts Maleny: Pemako/ Ray Kerkhove
Kerwin, D., 2010, Aboriginal heroes: epidsodes in the colonial landscape, Queensland Historical Atlas http://www.qhatlas.com.au/content/aboriginal-heroes-episodes-colonial-landscape
Kilcullen, D., 2009, The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One Oxford: Oxford University Press

Knight, J J , In the Early Days – XI. The Birth and Growth of Brisbane and Environs. Bold Speculators, The Queenslander 27 February 1892 p 402

________, In the Early Days, The Brisbane Courier 10 November 1892 p 2
Kohen, J. L., 2005, 'Pemulwuy (1750–1802)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pemulwuy-13147/text23797, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 14 June 2014
Kolberg, n/d Early Brisbane History Vol. 1, Zillmere Library (Local Studies) mss

Lack, C., 1938, ‘When Black Men Routed the Whites: A Pitched Battle of the Early Days, and something about ‘Tinker’Campbell’s Adventures’, The Courier Mail, 16 April 1938, 7.

Langevad, G., 1982,. (ed.),‘Some Original Views around Kilcoy, Queensland Ethnohistory Transcripts Bk 1:The Aboriginal Perspective Vol1:1, p. 5

Lergessner J. G, 2007, Death Pudding: The Kilcoy Massacre Kippa Ring: James Lergessner

Laurie, A., 1959, 'The Black War in Queensland, ' Royal Historical Society of Qld Journal Vol.1: No.1, September 1959, 157f

________, 1959, The Black War in Queensland mss, Fryer Library, Brisbane,

Lowe, D., 1994, Forgotten Rebels: Black Australians who Fought Back Sydney: ICS & Associates

McConnel, A J ‘On Blacks’ MSS 89/206, Fryer Library

____________, 1932, Some Old Stations No 2 Brisbane Courier, 30 Jan 1932 p 19

McNab, C, 2010, The Native America Warrior 1500-1890 (Warriors of the World series) London: Amber

McKinnon, F., 1933, Early Pioneers of the Wide Bay and Burnett, Read at a meeting of the Historical Society of Queensland, on June 27, 1933, 90-97

Nut Quad The Contemplation of Contrasts, The Brisbane Courier 8 July 1911, p 13

Parry, N., ‘Hanging no good for blackfellow: Looking into the life of Musquito, 2007, in Ian Macfarlan, & Mark Hannah, eds, Transgressions: critical Australian Indigenous Histories, ANU Aboriginal History Monograph No.16, 153-174

Petrie, CC., 1904, Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences of Early Queensland Brisbane: Watson, Ferguson & Co

Prentis, M., 1975, A Study in Black and White: The Aborigines in Australian History Sydney: Metheun Australia

Reynolds, H., 1982 The Other Side of the Frontier Melbourne: Penguin
__________ 2013, Forgotten War Sydney: New South

Richards, J., 2008, The Secret War: A True History of Queensland’s Native Police, St Lucia: University of Queensland Press

Roberts, J., 1981, Massacres to Mining: The Colonisation of Australia Dove

Russell, H., 1888, The Genesis of Queensland, Sydney: Turner & Henderson

Ryan, L., 1981, The Aboriginal Tasmanians St Lucia: Uni of Qld

Schmidt, K.W E, 1842, Report of an Expedition to the Bunya Mountains in Search of a Suitable Site for a Mission Station, Acc 3522/71 in Box 7072, JOL.

Sheaffe, S.,, 2005, Dundalli – resistance fighter or murder, Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland Vol.19:3, August 2005, 680-700

Smith, K.V., 2010, Mari Nawi – Aboriginal Odysseys Rosenberg Dural
Steele, J.G. 1975.Brisbane Town in Convict Days 1824-1842, Brisbane, University of Queensland Press

Summer, H J 100 Years Of History In Newstead House Quadrilles—and A Snake In Vice-Regal Bed, The Courier-Mail 14 December 1946 p 2;

Sutton, P., 2008 Stories about feeling: Dutch-Australian Contact in Cape York Penninsula, 1606-1756, in Peter Veth, Peter Sutton & Margo Neale, Strangers on the Shore: Early Coastal Contacts in Australia Canberra; National Museum of Australia

Wales, M., 2000, ‘Shepherds on the Stanley,’ in Fisher R. & Jennifer Harrison, 2000, Brisbane: Squatters, Settlers and Surveyors Brisbane History Group Papers No 16, Brisbane

Wilton, E., 2001, ‘Guerrilla Warfare,’ in John Powell, Magill’s Guide to Military History Vol 2 Corunna-Janissaries Salem Pasadena 2001, 637

Windschuttle, K.,, 2004, Guerrilla Warrior and Resistance Fighter? The Career of Musquito Labour History No. 87 (Nov., 2004), pp. 221-235