Frontier: episode guide

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

“…They Must Always Consider Us As Enemies”

Wed, March 05, 1987 (8.30pm)

Part One: 1770-1835

Soldier/Administrator David Collins sailed to Sydney with the first fleet expecting a few natives on the sea coast who would run away. The British were confident they could win over the remaining Aborigines with 'amity and kindness' but as violence escalated Collins became the first official to acknowledge that Blacks and Whites were locked in a grim struggle for the land. When Collins was sent to Tasmania to set up a second settlement Tasmania too became embroiled in a "Black War". The fighting ended only after a verbal treaty acknowledged some Aboriginal rights in the land. Yet the government broke its promises and Aborigines were rewarded with exile.

In 1787 Colonel David Collins, an official of the crown and a rather reluctant colonist, sailed with the first fleet to Australia. He confessed to his diary that what lay ahead was "doubtful and uncertain". Yet he and his colleagues felt reassured by reports from Captain Cook's voyage. Cook's message was that a few timid natives lived exclusively on Australia's sea coast and they would most likely run away.

Australia's long land conflict was born out of this miscalculation. In due course Europeans found Aboriginal tribes in every part of the continent. By the most conservative estimates three quarters of a million people continued an occupation which had lasted more than 40,000 years.

From the outset, convicts working on the outskirts of the Sydney settlement were killed by blacks. Initially Governor Arthur Phillip kept to his instructions to act with "amity and kindness".

Yet in 1790 his patience ran out. He ordered the Bidegaal tribe of Botany Bay to be punished.

"I am resolved" he told aides "to execute prisoners in the most public and exemplary manner in the presence of as many of their countrymen as can be collected."

His first punitive mission was a farce. British soldiers weren't trained for the Australian bush. A squad of marines got stuck in a bog, returning bedraggled and empty handed. Yet a precedent had been set. From this moment black resistance would be countered with force. When David Collins had been a decade in the colony he wrote prophetically: "It was to be regretted that any necessity existed for adopting these sanguinary punishments. While they entertained the idea of our having dispossessed them of their residences, they must always consider us as enemies."

Colonel Collins was later sent as Lieutenant Governor to Australia's second colony - Tasmania. He believed he could make a fresh start, that Aborigines could be given protection of the law. Yet by 1824 settler numbers had escalated so much that Aborigines rebelled in a full scale "Black War".

Of all the contests to follow, this war was the most evenly fought. Leaders like Tongerlongerter of the Oyster Bay Tribe used hit and run tactics to devastating effect. Homesteads were attacked and burnt in lightning raids after which Aboriginal fighters dispersed into the forest. Farmers were paralysed by fear and the government non plussed. The colony spent a vast sum in a military cordon which beat its way across the Island. The so called "Black Line" captured just one old man and a boy.

Tasmania's tribes remained undefeated. Nevertheless seven long years of war, of hunger and disease left them severely depleted. In 1832 the last of the fighters agreed to peace terms. An oral treaty was forged, probably the first British acknowledgment of Aboriginal land rights.

Aborigines had given the lie to Captain Cook's assumptions about an empty land and timid natives. For all that, the warrior tribes of Tasmania were soon consigned to exile on Flinders Island in Bass Strait and government promises were quickly broken.


  • Geoffrey Rush as Colonel David Collins
  • Jerome Ehlers as Captain Watkin Tench
  • Lisa Kinchela as Trugannini
  • Max Cullen as Captain William Clark
  • John Howard as George Robinson
  • Hugo Weaving as Lt. Governor George Arthur
  • Bradley Byquar as Walter George Arthur

With the voices of:

  • Keith Buckley
  • Harry Lawrence
  • Alistair Duncan
  • Tony Martin
  • Raymond Dupac
  • Bary Otto
  • Nicholas Eadie
  • Pamela Rabe
  • Jerome Ehlers
  • Richard Roxburgh
  • Chris Haywood
  • Paul Smythe
  • Bill Hunter
  • Bruce Venables
  • Martin Jacobs
  • David Webb
  • Norman Kaye
  • William Zappa