Forgotten War by Henry Reynolds

There is a violence in Australia’s history that few are prepared to acknowledge, argues Henry Reynolds, for the country that venerates the Anzac also fails to recognise the Aboriginal Australians who perished fighting for their traditional homelands.

In Forgotten War, Reynolds discusses the numerous conflicts that took place on the continent between the 1790s and 1920s. Conservative estimates suggest that approximately 30 000 people died on the Australian frontier – 90% of whom were Indigenous. From the systematic annihilation of the Tasmanian Aborigines under Governor George Arthur to the customary killing of ‘native pests’ by pastoral frontiersmen, Reynolds argues that Australia is a nation founded on violent and bloody warfare, and that these events – and the people involved in them – should no longer remain officially ignored.

Considered by many to be the current leading historian on ‘the great Australian silence’, Reynolds has written Forgotten War with a remarkably straightforward and erudite pen. Unlike Manning Clark’s History of Australia or Robert Hughes’s The Fatal Shore, Forgotten War does not depend on the lyrical, hyperbolic language sometimes used by Australian histories to evoke the brutality of the past. Reynolds has remained scrutinisingly close to the sources he cites, and in doing so, he has produced a book that is accessible for the expert and the novice alike.

Forgotten War is Henry Reynolds’ latest attempt to elevate the place of Aboriginal Australians in the national consciousness. An intelligent, challenging and informative work, it has the potential to contribute a great deal to Australia’s understanding of itself. It is a broad and meticulously researched overview of colonial Australia’s treatment of Indigenous Australia, and worthy of our most scrupulous attention.

Steve Bidwell-Brown is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.