'The Australian Wars' shatters the 'great silence'

October 16, 2022
Rachel Perkins
Filmmaker Rachel Perkins. Photo: documentaryaustralia.com.au

Rachel Perkins' new three-part series,The Australian Wars, screened recently on SBS and NITV and is available to view on SBS On Demand. It is a powerful history of Australia's colonial wars against the continent's Aboriginal people.

Perkins recounts key events in the Frontier Wars between Europeans and Aboriginal people that included major battles, acts of resistance and open massacres. They lasted from 1788 until as late as 1934 and resulted in more deaths than all the other wars that Australia has been involved in.

These stories are told through re-enactment, oral history, on-site remembering ceremonies, visits to archives and explanations from historians such as Professors Marcia Langton and Henry Reynolds.

The production and cinematography gives the topic its due gravitas and epic scale. The personal stories and pain still present in survivors has an emotional power too that leaves its mark on the viewer.

It's a worthy companion piece to Perkins' previous award-winning 2008 series, First Australians.

At a time of a national conversation about Truth, Treaty and Voice, this series deserves a much more prominent place in prime time ABC TV without commercial interruption.

Towards the end of the series, Reynolds argues that the Frontier Wars were Australia's most important wars because they were "fought in Australia, they were about Australia and they determined the ownership, sovereignty and control of a whole continent".

Perkins questions why such important history is given only the most cursory mention at the Australian War Memorial. She puts the question to the Memorial's Director Matt Anderson, but the response is unsatisfactory.

There is a clear need for a stand-alone national Frontier War Museum to be built to educate Australian citizens.

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