Historical Frontier Violence

This is a multi-disciplinary project that brings together researchers from history, economics, geography, business leadership, psychology and digital humanities. The project involves a combination of quantitative analysis and qualitative field work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Quantitative analysis

The quantitative work involves:

  • estimating the size and distribution of Indigenous populations pre-settlement,
  • evaluating the historical drivers of frontier violence,
  • quantifying the impacts of frontier violence on Indigenous and non-Indigenous current-day communities.

A key output of the project will be the Frontier Wars Dataset (FWD), which is a national community-level dataset. The level of detail will be defined by contemporary measures of geographic area used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Analysis is conducted at ABS SA2 level, a measure of settler communities, to capture their choices about where to locate towns and associated economic activities, which led to conflict with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. FWD will contain data on historical massacres, pre-settlement Indigenous population estimates, contemporary community outcomes and other historical data.

The historical data will include factors that may have contributed to community exposure to violence, such as the value of land acquisition (soil fertility, rainfall distributions, water courses and topography), characteristics of settler communities (sex ratios, religion and ethnicity), and historical policies (Native Mounted Police camps, soldier settlement).

Contemporary community outcomes will relate to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Outcomes for Indigenous Australians will cover a range of health, social, education and economic measures that will shed light on the channels through which trauma is transmitted across generations — for example, mental health and child development measures that may reflect epigenetic impacts of exposure to violence and bullying that may reflect the impacts from a persistent toxic non-Indigenous culture. Outcomes for non-Indigenous Australians will include outcomes that characterise the local culture towards Indigenous communities, including measures of discrimination, trust and bullying.

Qualitative field work

The qualitative work is led by Indigenous scholars Professor Judy Atkinson, who has an Order of Australia for her life’s work in treating the effects of intergenerational trauma and Associate Professor Michelle Evans who brings expertise in leadership, Indigenous qualitative research and arts-based methods to the project.

The fieldwork will be conducted with three communities that have been exposed to historical violence, which appear to have different outcomes today. This will shed light on factors that can protect against/perpetuate the effects of intergenerational trauma. Working with community leaders, elders, young people and stakeholders, Professor Atkinson and Associate Professor Evans will work to unpack the intersectional complex history of three places where historical massacres occurred. With a present focus on the experience of Aboriginal people in those communities, the project aims to explore layers of evidence and truth telling in an effort to collectively examine the impact of intergenerational trauma and Indigenous leadership strategies implemented in these places. This lays the groundwork for sharing of community stories and a vision for the future.

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