Frontier wars

The frontier wars were a series of violent conflicts between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While conflicts and skirmishes continued between European land holders and Traditional Owners, the military instrument of the Queensland Government was the Native Police.

The Native Police was a body of Aboriginal troopers that operated under the command of white officers on the Queensland frontier from 1849 to the 1920s. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men were often forcefully recruited from communities—already diminished due to colonisation—that were normally a great distance from the region in which they were to work. They were offered low pay, along with rations, firearms, a uniform and a horse. Many deserted.

Although we will never know exactly how many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were killed during the frontier wars, estimates range from thousands to tens of thousands. Regardless of the number, many First Nations peoples were killed on the land that became known as Queensland.


Queensland State Archives (QSA) holds records that were created or received by Queensland Government departments (sometimes called agencies). The records do not usually express the views of Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander peoples.

As the Native Police were a government-directed force, many records relating to their activities and operations are held at QSA. Records relating to individual violence—perpetrated by pastoralists, squatters, miners and Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander peoples—can be found in Courts and Prison series. See below for more information.

QSA does not hold personal or private records such as diaries, journals or private correspondence, nor do we hold newspapers, military records or birth, death or marriage certificates.

Finding records

Records relating to frontier violence exist throughout the archival collection, but mostly reside in records created by agencies involved in establishing the Colony of Queensland, and from 1901, the State of Queensland.

Listed below are the main government departments or agencies that have records referring to frontier violence in Queensland. To see the records of these agencies, click on the “Browse created records” button at the bottom of the agency page.

Note that most of these records have not been digitised. If digitised records are not available, you can visit us in person to view the original records in person, or request copies of records.

The main source of Native Police records in each agency reflects that agency’s part in the constitution and operations of colonial law and government.

The Executive Council files demonstrate the evolution of government policy, and the machinery of control over all branches of the colonial authorities. For instance, the Executive Council approved appointments, dismissals, promotions, retirements, and reductions in rank. Records of the large number of Native Police issues that came before the Executive Council are worth special attention. They tell us which matters were senior appointments, scandals, and dismissals.

The decisions made by the executive arm of the Queensland Government were relayed to the operational forces via the Colonial Secretary’s Office and the Commissioner of Police. General orders, memos and staff files are found in the Commissioner’s records.

After separation from New South Wales in 1859, the administration of Aboriginal affairs was transferred to the Queensland Government. The Colonial Secretary’s Office (and from 1896 the Home Secretary’s Office) was the main department for this task. The correspondence records of the Colonial Secretary’s Office consist of letters and reports covering a wide range of topics including reports from the Native Police, letters relating to ‘outrages’ committed by traditional owners, and requests for Native Police protection.

The Colonial Secretary’s Office, which functioned as the government’s main co-ordinator of important letters, petitions, and executive decisions, forwarded paperwork on to other agencies, including the Attorney General and the Justice Department. Justice Department records include dozens of coronial inquests into sudden and violent deaths of Aboriginal people at the hands of the Native Police, along with associated correspondence and court records.

Other sources

  • The Secret War, by Jonathan Richards
  • Police of the Pastoral Frontier, by LE Skinner
  • Exterminate with Pride, by Bruce Breslin
  • Invasion and Resistance, by Noel Loos
  • Frontier Lands & Pioneer Legends, by Pamela Lukin Watson
  • The Way We Civilise: black and white, the native police, by Carl Feilberg
  • The Other Side of the Frontier, by Henry Reynolds
  • Forgotten War, by Henry Reynolds
  • Truth-telling, by Henry Reynolds
  • This Is What Happened, edited by Luise Hercus and Peter Sutton
  • The Australian Frontier Wars 1788-1838, by John Connor

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Protocols for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content

QSA supports the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols for Libraries, Archives and Information Services.