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Frontier: Stories from White Australia’s Forgotten War (1996)


A documentary about the first contact between the Indigenous people of Australia and white colonists.

Curator’s notes

Frontier is a documentary that combines stills and moving images with voice-over reading from historical texts to tell the story of the war that erupted between the colonists and the Indigenous peoples upon first contact – a war that, some would argue, continues into the present. The colonists believed that they were claiming land that was unoccupied, and the documentary tells us that the resulting war was the consequence of their shock on finding the land already inhabited.

The power of Frontier is that it tells us the different strategies employed by the colonists to deal with the Indigenous presence. The first point of contact resulted in physical warfare, but in the wake of the humanitarian movement of the late 19th century, physical warfare was replaced with a different kind of war to remove the Indigenous population. The eugenic movement that developed during the 1930s was a way of supporting Darwin’s theory of evolution, a theory that positioned the Indigenous peoples as the inferior race. The social policies that resulted from the eugenics movements were twofold: the full-blood Aborigine would be separated from white society, and the half-caste would be assimilated.

Frontier illuminates the Indigenous response to the colonists as well as the Indigenous systems of management already in place that were disrupted by the colonial presence. This documentary provides both the colonial voice as well as the Indigenous response. It is interesting to note how the Indigenous people are depicted in the colonial drawings: large mouths and jutting foreheads, for example, reference both the animal kingdom as well as the stone age. Frontier does its best to discuss the clash of cultures and belief systems that were inherent to the wars between colonists and Indigenous peoples but it is the visual storytelling element of this documentary that most reveals what it seeks to unpack.

Frontier: Stories from White Australia’s Forgotten War was broadcast on the ABC in three one-hour episodes in 1997. This is the single episode International Version that was later broadcast on the BBC in the UK.