‘Profoundly important’ Newcastle partnership remembers Australia’s dark history

For too long, Australia's colonial history has gone largely ignored and whitewashed. The Killing Times project hopes to change that.

By U2B Staff 

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The Killing Times, a digital project resulting from a partnership between the University of Newcastle’s Colonial Frontier Massacre Map research team and The Guardian Australia has won the NSW Premier’s History Award.

The web project documents the history of Australia’s frontier wars through the development of an interactive digital map of the sites of colonial frontier massacres. Users are able to filter by date range, perpetrator group, or death count, painting a bleak picture of Australia’s darkest historical moments.

The project was done in collaboration with researchers from the University of Newcastle’s colonial massacres research team, who helped journalists identify at least 270 frontier massacres over a 140-year span, the vast majority of which were carried out against the country’s aboriginal population.

Australia history
Aboriginal performers guide the Indigenous and Torres Straight Islander war veteran march on ANZAC Day in Sydney’s Redfern on April 25, 2008. Source: AFP Photo/Anoek De Groot

Judges for the NSW Premier’s History Award saw the importance and value of the project and hoped the public would engage further with this uncomfortable past.

“The Killing Times makes a profoundly important contribution to history and public debate in Australia,” the judges’ comments said upon award.

“It harnesses the capacity of interactive technology to open up the contested political space of the ‘history wars’ and shows the power of technology to sweep aside national myths to reveal a violent and quotidian world of fatal clashes between Indigenous Australians and settlers.


“By pairing contemporary sources with cutting edge technology, the creators of The Killing Times have produced a resource that challenges, provokes and demands more from Australians.”

For too long, Australia’s colonial history has gone largely ignored and whitewashed with many prominent political figures refusing to face the brutal reality of what happened. But public opinion is starting to shift, with Australia’s now wanting to be aware of the dark times in their past.

According to Reconciliation Australia’s 2019 barometer of attitudes to Indigenous peoples, 80 percent of people consider truth-telling important and almost 70 percent of Australians accept that Aboriginal people were subject to gross abuses of their human rights, including mass killings, incarceration and forced removal from their land.

Australia history
The ancient Aboriginal rock carving known as ‘Climbing Man’ (C), believed to be thousands of years old and which shows a man climbing a tree possibly to hunt a possum, is shown in this photo taken on the Burrup Peninsula in the north of Western Australia on June 17, 2008. Source: AFP Photo / Greg Wood

The Killing Times aims to help in that journey of acceptance and discovery. Its interactive map details massacres in every state and territory, and the work isn’t over yet. Research is still ongoing with faculty regularly uncovering unknown atrocities. It does not count all the sites of conflict, or clashes over land and resources, in which lives were lost in the colonisation of Australia.

Guardian Australia’s Indigenous affairs editor, Lorena Allam, who led the project said after the awards that, “This prize highlights the role of the media in telling the truth about our nation’s history.”