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Great southern discomfort

  • 20 December 2022
Directed and produced by Arrernte and Kalkadoon nations filmmaker Rachel Perkins, The Australian Wars is a three-part TV series on SBS looking at The Australian Wars, or the Frontier Wars, an extenuated series of battles stretching out over the brutish (that is to say, British) settlement of these shores for more than 100 years.

Throughout the three-part series, Perkins travels across Australia interviewing historians and descendants from both sides of the unacknowledged war, which, for decades has been a focus of historian Henry Reynolds, to whom this documentary owes a great deal.

This series is unashamedly partisan and as such, may fail to engage anyone not already on side. But its viewers are reminded that it advocates for the awareness of historically-verified atrocities and massacres about which Australia knows too little.

The Australian Wars serves as a sort of rebuttal to the dominant narrative of Australian history that saw white settlers move across the continent unimpeded by any acts of resistance or warfare by native populations. Rather, Perkins argues, the first 150 years were peppered with conflict; of tit-for-tat murders of blacks and whites in the name of Empire and progress, resistance and revenge. Swiftly and conclusively, Perkins counters the lingering myth of Aboriginal populations that didn’t fight back. And this counter-narrative matters because how a nation moves forward depends on how a nation remembers.

This compelling documentary engages the pain underlying the experience of living Australians, who to this day have not been able to come to grips with the cruelty and intellectual dishonesty with which their forbears were dispossessed.

And while it comes a considerable time after the ‘Black Armband’ history wars of the 1990s that saw the former PM John Howard refuse to apologise for the Stolen Generations, it is still highly relevant. Especially considering the same conservative member of Parliament who refused to attend the afore-mentioned apology by then-PM Kevin Rudd in 2008 is now the leader of the federal opposition. (To be fair, Dutton has subsequently made a statement that this was a mistake.)

Throughout, Perkins makes the case that the term ‘settlement’ is a fiction; that Great Britain dumped her convicts onto the territory of many sovereign nations in a muddled, disorganised, and largely obscured invasion.


'Viewers unfamiliar with this production would be advised to expect an emotional weight, which hopefully can translate into cathartic responses and a willingness to address historic events which have too often been left unaddressed in