Boe Spearim talks about the history of the Frontier Wars, and the ongoing impact of colonisation on Gomeroi Country, as part of Chain Reaction #146: Strong Blak Resistance. Read the article, or listen to the podcast.
Native troopers dispersing a camp - Frank Mahoney
Tell us about yourself and your mob.
Yama, Mirim Kumari Kuma Marwari.
I’m Boe Spearim, a Gamilaraay, Kooma and Murrawarri man. I’m a radio host and warrior. Born in Western Sydney but grew up in the Southside of Brisbane out of War of the Aboriginal Resistance as well as Treaty Before Voice, and the Embassy in Musgrave Park, and put together the Frontier Wars podcast.
One of the biggest resets in public consciousness is of the myth that blakfullas just let colonisation take over. Tell us about how black resistance began.
The resistance began as early as 1770. Lieutenant James Cook was sailing with the Endeavour to nd the Great Southern Land. He is seen in history as an amazing navigator, however he stumbled upon land that was already occupied by various different Indigenous Peoples. To a lot of Indigenous people around the world, he’s just seen as another coloniser.
It came to a head in 1770 in Sydney for the Gweagal people of the Dharawal nation in a place now known as Botany Bay. Cook and his men got off the ship and rowed to the shore. At the beachfront of what is now known as Botany Bay, there was a con ict in which Cook and his men red on the blakfullas, who in retaliation used their choice of weapons like the boomerang and spear. In that skirmish Cook and his men ended up taking a bunch of what would now be identi ed as artefacts - they were clearly weapons like shields, boomerangs and spears. I don’t know what was going through the minds of the mob after this – whether they thought Cook and his men would come back or not. But, we do know that eight years after this incident everything changed for the worst – the invasion and violent occupation of the British. After the invasion of the First Fleet in 1788, it took them 50 years before they “discovered” my country, Gamilaraay country. In the 1820s and 1830s they started to come through Western Sydney then on into Wiradjuri country through places like Bathurst, where well known Aboriginal warrior and resistance leader Windradyne and other Wiradjuri fought battles. From there the Europeans went over the plateau country and headed towards Gamilaraay, my Country. I am missing a few key things within that – but I just wanted to explain how fast and how far they got to.
They moved through our Countries under military protection. If cattle owners were moving to different stations they were escorted by the Native Mounted Police. Especially when they were going further from the colony, like up to my Country, they were hiring stockman and squatters and arming them with guns - teaching them how to corral, how to track, how to maim, how to murder and massacre, and then how to cover that up.
A lot of the white soldiers who fought in the Frontier Wars had fought in other wars across the globe. Some of the white soldiers had fought in other wars. These were very experienced, very dangerous people, and their idea of warfare was totally different to the idea of warfare of us mob.
Richmond Hill was one of the rst massacres, down in Sydney on Dharug Country. One of first big battles on the continent happened between Dharug mob and the Mounted Police, or British military. You also had Governors sanctioning massacres, like Governor Macquarie. At that time, [the Colony] weren’t getting enough traction further outside of the Sydney colony because of how stauch the mob was. So Macquarie assigned his special military force, the NSW Corps, to nd particular Aboriginal people, kill them, and bring the women and children back as prisoners of war. I nd it interesting, because what we have seen played out today, especially in the 1990s, is this thinking that whitefellas shouldn’t have a guilty conscience because blakfullas gave them the land, or they laid down and died, or were aimlessly wandering. But what we know is they did bring Aboriginal men, women and children back to Sydney as prisoners of war. You only do that if you are engaging in a war.
We still get this constant line that there never was a war.
We still get this constant line that there never was a war. What we do know is there were hundreds of massacres and if not hundreds of battles that happened in different parts of this country. Aboriginal people engaged within that con ict space. Today, Aboriginal people are constantly faced with a high visibility when it comes to incarceration, and the brutalization of our bodies, our land, our children. If you ask any Aboriginal person who can articulate it, they might say the war has not ended.
What sort of tactics were being used to resist invasion in those Frontier War times?
There was always the question of how to remove these Europeans from our land. In the early days, re was the best form to remove whitefellas. The last resort would be, we’ll burn everything on your property. Our mob are master re-keepers. There’s a story of how mob would use re to corral whitefellas into crocodile-infested waters - especially whitefellas that were harming people. We also used the land, the terrain, to defeat whitefellas. There’s the story of Multuggerah using Meewah (Tabletop Mountain) just off Toowoomba, to roll big boulders down. And using knowledge of rough scrubby Country to evade men on horses. As time went by, there were mob who would use guns as well.
It was never a fair war. I guess war isn’t fair. Especially when your opposition has a form of warfare that is so alien, and has no regulation or Law to what they’re doing. You see the times where European’s would massacre mob by catching them off guard, like when they were going through the process of Ceremony.
Tell us a bit more about the Native Mounted Police, and why they were so brutal?
The Native Mounted Police existed in Queensland from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. It was a very brutal organisation - it had one purpose; to protect the land from resistance from Indigenous peoples. They existed in all corners of Queensland, always moving.
The Native Mounted Police used blakfullas to hunt other blakfullas. They took mob from different parts of the continent, so they wouldn’t know the people they were hunting. Some of the mob [in the Mounted Police] were survivors of massacres themselves, and brought up by whitefellas. Sometimes they were coerced. Maybe children were in boarding schools, or their wives were captives. There were people that ran away as well, maybe ashamed of what they did.
It got to a point when, here in Queensland, people were shocked by how gruesome this force was. The Government decided to change them from native mounted police to trackers. That kept going right up until the 1920s, the 1930s – the high intensity tracking, and massacres were still being carried out and organised.
The Colony also used criminalization to stop Aboriginal resistance, right?
Our mob were part of the convict penal system, because of our resistance to invasion. We were forced to build most of these prisons, like Rottnest Island. Other Indigenous men, in particular from Aotearoa to South Africa to other British colonies, were sentenced to a life here in Australia because of their role in ghting against invasion in their own lands.
As early as the 1850s there were investigations into Aboriginal people dying in the penal system. These prisons were the breeding ground for infections and sickness. Mob would die within weeks.
Then you have Dundalli. When he was hung, there were reporters and people who came all the way from Sydney to see. He was publicly executed because they wanted to show blakfullas: “you want to be a resistance like Dundalli, this is what’s going to happen - you’re going to be hung brutally”. Up to this day, we still see the high representation of our mob who are incarcerated.
We’ve always been part of the carceral system in the colony, that has been shown as a way to pacify our people. At the end of the day, if we don’t resist and continue to occupy, and re-speak our languages, and ceremonies, and be seen within this colony, then they get a continent for free.
At the end of the day, if we don’t resist and continue to occupy, and re-speak our languages, and ceremonies, and be seen within this colony, then they get a continent for free.
How did the resistance change form over time?
After this sort of Frontier period, mob’s still resisting but in a sort of new form and fashion, depending on where you are and where you were stationed, your occupation. From having cotton strikes in Wee-Waa, to in the Pilbara, hundreds of Aboriginal men and their families walked off multiple cattle stations to the Wave Hill walk-off, and then we see the activism coming out of the cities, the formation of political Aboriginal organisations advocating against the Protection Board, advocating for more rights, advocating for freehold land to be given back to blakfullas. Depending on where you were and your influence, Aboriginal People were Resisting.
Dhakiarr’s case got picked up by communists. That’s sort of one of the first formalised collaborations between Aboriginal people and the Communist Party. They even organised a strike in the Pilbara to fall on May Day. They calculated it months in advance – one of the blakfullas who could travel between stations passed on the dates to different stations.
We were also witnessing and being educated on what was happening outside Australia. We had the blakfullas who worked on the docks, and when other People of Colour came to the cities on ships, they would kick back and have chill times together. This is where the relationship between the Aboriginal movement and the Marcus Garvey movement found a crossroads. We had staunch Aboriginal leaders and political leaders that were Garveyites here in Australia, which supported the notion of black liberation globally, and understood what Garvey was saying.
This goes through all the way down the line up until now – we see this cross-cultural gathering and meeting of different Indigenous and People of Colour and oppressed people, from all over the world. From the PLO, to the IRA, to the Native American movements, to the Black Power movement, the Maori movement, the Paci c Island movement, the West Papua movement - learning from each other. The Freedom Rides - that’s a prime example of seeing what is happening in other parts of the world and adapting that to us.
Boe Spearim and Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance - Invasion Day
Of course, resistance is ongoing today. Can you speak a bit to what’s happening on your Country right now, with the Santos fracking development?
So Santos have been given the go ahead to drill almost 1000 gas wells on Gomeroi Country in the Pilliga, above the Great Artesian Basin, which is one of the biggest underground water aquifers in the Southern Hemisphere.
That’s just the first stage. We’ve been through a process where the Native Title body has said no, after a restructure of the Native Title representatives. We had to get rid of a bunch [of representatives], because they were having meetings and not being accountable to the people who voted them in.
Then after we said no, Santos took the Native Title body through the (Native Title) Tribunal. A bunch of us went to that, and after a couple of hearings, the judge gave findings in support of Santos, and there may have been a counter (action) to that as well.
I know mob have been going along to Country, and doing cultural heritage assessments, which will halt any kind of construction. I know there’s been a staunch union presence and support for Gomeroi mob against Santos.
That’s not going to stop the decision. But hopefully having a huge presence and numbers can add to some sort of threatening presence that changes their mind and decision for wanting to destroy Country.
Hopefully having a huge presence and numbers can add to some sort of threatening presence that changes their mind and decision for wanting to destroy Country.
What do you need environmental groups to do in supporting your resistance?
Be aware of what’s happening, and support Gomeroi people with their decisions, whether it’s occupying Country, or donating to Gomeroi people, to continue being on Country, to inform mob on Country that this is what’s happening if there’s another vote, we need your support.
There’s been a couple of groups that have given a bunch of cash to us, so we can go on Country, and literally go door to door and get the support of Gomeroi fellas. Especially for our cultural heritage, you actually need to go back on Country and talk to a whole bunch of people. That takes resources to do. So we’ve had a couple of trips back home, which is amazing. We probably need a supported campaign, rather than individual campaigners.
But the downfall for me, when it comes to greenie groups, is many come from a paternalistic point of view, thinking blakfullas can’t do this. There’s a lot of white people who get jobs in environmental movements to protect black fellas, where they may know next to nothing about the Country and the people. I’d love to see more blakfullas employed by these groups - outside of SEED, or mob-run groups.
I think this is where the lines change in regards to the responsibility of blackfullas and greenies when fighting for country. Greenies, their responsibility isn’t to the majority of people within those communities affected by a whole gamut of issues, from racism, to incarceration, to police brutality. These are the hats that we wear when we leave our houses, anywhere in this country. When we’re occupying and advocating we talk from these places, because we know that at any moment our family members could be affected by these exact things. So this is why our movement and struggle goes beyond a movement that is shaped just to ght against the extractive industry. We ght on many different fronts. We might not be an organisation or a well oiled machine, but we get the job done, and we defend our communities and our Country and our people. And often it goes unrecognised.
I’ve worked with many solid, deadly whitefellas - but they’ll never understand what we go through as blakfullas; this is our life, and the lives of the people who came before us, that fought from 1770. Our mob are tired of this.
Do you think the Voice could have any utility for Aboriginal resistance?
One thing that it has done is spurred a lot of our mob on to fight against the push of assimilation. There’s a lot of mob out here now advocating against [the Voice], which is deadly. There’s a whole lot of groups that are calling for Treaty, or reparations, and have been doing that for over 40 years. They’re sick and tired of Government approved or appointed positions that don’t do much to harness true self-determination and justice, and freedom for our people.
The ones who do advocate for them, you hardly hear them.
The Voice won’t really have the power to advocate. Based on the whim of the Prime Minister of the day, people could be sacked and changed to a bunch of people who see eye-to-eye with the Government, who will toe the line. This is what it is. We’ve had advisory bodies for decades, and no-one listened to them. Every year there’s a Closing the Gap report released, and it seems we’re getting further and further away from that - it seems they’re not listening.
The process has been unfair to a lot of progressive mob, where they’ve gone to the point of not allowing certain parts of our community, like respected activists and elders, access to these meetings. Which they’ve come out and said publicly as well.
So, there’s a whole lot of contradictions in what they’ve said and done that should be red flags for everybody.
Is there any mechanism in which it can provide protection for Country?
No, definitely not. The Albanese Government is very supportive of all these new gas projects that are happening. I asked Megan Davis, “is the advisory body in support of what the PM has said, or do they oppose the Narrabri gas project?” And they really couldn’t answer that. Then again, we’ve got to ask ourselves, has any Government given us true and meaningful change? Anything we have, we’ve fought for. Sadly, that continues to happen to this day. We’ll continue to fight for and die for, until we have adequate justice and freedom.
If you think about your vision for the future of Country, what does that look like to you?
Healing on Country, healing with Country. Stopping the destruction of Country – from mining, to minimising the damage of farming. Give that land back. Occupying Country, not just for the sake of living on it, but practising language and culture, and all these other things.
Ceremony, and re-lighting that re for Country, and for ourselves. That’s a part of that healing. Having the freedom to visit Country, while it’s there. And if it’s not there, having the tools and cultural understanding to bring it back – to carve those trees out with coolamons and canoes, and other things we need to live and breathe with Country.
Final words you’d like to leave us with?
At the end of the day, if we don’t resist and continue to occupy, and re-speak our languages, and ceremonies, and be seen within this colony, then they get a continent for free. First, their intent was to kill us off and breed us out with eugenics and the stolen generation. Then, their intent was to put us “out of sight, out of mind” on the reserves, on the missions. But they failed on all those fronts.
We’ve seen many strong blakfullas - male, female, queer and trans that are on the frontline defending our communities, whether that be against uranium, against deaths in custody, the destruction of country, to the protection of our young. Mob on all fronts, resisting, fighting, and making noise.
And just, Vote No.
And just, Vote No
Support and learn more:
Frontier Wars Podcast by Boe Spearim Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance (WAR)
Black People’s Union – linktr.ee/blackpeoplesunion
“Gamil Means No” – @GamilaraayNextGeneration
To hear the extended interview with Boe as a podcast, go to foe.org.au/cr146.