Why weren't we taught? Exploring frontier conflict through the lens of Anzac

Matthew Bailey*, Sean Brawley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


This article examines public understandings of two key strands of Australian history that sit at opposite ends of a spectrum of remembrance: frontier conflict and Anzac. The former, W. E. H. Stanner argued in 1968, was subsumed in a vacuum of silence, lost to popular consciousness in a wilful act of forgetting. Despite a wealth of subsequent scholarship documenting the violence and dispossession that characterised European colonisation, considerable gaps in public awareness about these foundational events remain. Anzac, in contrast, has become a defining narrative of Australian history for large segments of the general population and the political class. Recent scholarship suggests that this prominence has served to mask other, important histories of the continent, including frontier conflict. In this article, we argue that this is neither a necessary nor essential binary, and further, that one can inform the other. The written reflections of 320 tertiary students enrolled in a course about Australian military history provide insights into the ways that frontier conflict is popularly understood and how the fascination with Anzac can be leveraged to raise awareness of the violent historical dimensions of colonisation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-33
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Australian Studies
Issue number1
Early online date20 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Anzac
  • frontier wars
  • Indigenous history
  • public history
  • teaching history


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