Frontier: episode guide

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

“…Worse Than Slavery Itself”

Wed, March 12, 1987 (8.30pm)

Part Two: 1830-1860

By 1830 there had been a dramatic moral shift in Britain as the British public were stirred by an anti slavery campaign. Missionaries and humanitarians began to take up the cause of native peoples in the Empire. The official message to Australia was that Aborigines had legal rights as subjects of the crown. However this new mood did not go down well on the frontier and horrific massacres took place in the bush. When seven white killers were arrested, tried and hanged the sustained white backlash exposed the humanitarian mood as fragile and short lived. By 1860 a new, more ruthless, more secretive wave of killing had started.

Around 1830 a sharp moral change occurred in London. The British public was stirred by an anti slavery campaign. Dismayed by gruesome accounts of the slave trade, a million and a half people signed anti-slavery petitions. Missionaries and humanitarians went further. They began agitating on behalf of native peoples and their land rights throughout the British Empire.

In 1835 a new Liberal government was installed. Prominent members of the anti slavery movement were promoted to positions of power and influence in Westminster. At the Colonial Office men like Lord Glenelg and James Stephen tried to ensure that Aboriginal rights were taken into consideration in the planning of a new colony for South Australia. London sent out a message - Aborigines had legal rights as subjects of the crown.

However Australia was a long way away. Private entrepreneurs behind the South Australian venture manoeuvred deftly to avoid any costly recognition of black rights. Meanwhile in New South Wales, officials were less impressed by London's moralising than by reports of black resistance to the north where a squatter land rush was underway.

From Sydney the commandant of mounted police Major James Winniet Nunn was despatched with a detachment of armed men. Nunn rode for eight weeks through remote bush country. Details of his campaign are still sketchy but at a place dubbed Waterloo Creek Nunn's men attacked an encampment of Kamilaroi. On the fiftieth anniversary of first settlement, these policemen committed what may have been the largest mass murder in Australian history.

Major Nunn returned to Sydney to find a new Governor. Sir George Gipps, a Christian Evangelical, had a strong affinity for the new humanitarian push. Gipps demanded an inquiry into Nunn's adventure. However it was the Major's good fortune that another bloody incident intervened.

At Myall creek, a sheep and cattle station to the north, vigilantes had massacred twenty eight Aboriginal men, women and children. Governor Gipps again demanded justice. This time the murderers were identified and, to the vocal displeasure of squatters, seven men were convicted and hanged. There followed a furious white backlash. Gipps was shaken and scaled down his inquiry into Major Nunn's campaign.

The Governor's attempt to rein in frontier brutality came to a premature end. As settlement shifted to Victoria, arsenic and deadly secrecy became new weapons for those determined to clear the land by force. By 1860 the government had formalised squatters' rights with pastoral leases. And in the meantime a new, more ruthless and more secretive wave of killing had started.


  • Bradley Byquar as Walter George Arthur
  • John Howard as George Robinson
  • Patrick Blackwell as Henry Dangar
  • Norman Kaye as Lancelot Threlkeld
  • Nicholas Eadie as James Stephen
  • Chris Hayward as Ward Stephen
  • Robert Coleby as Major James Nunn
  • Tony Martin as Sergeant John Lee
  • Nicholas Hope as Sir George Gipps
  • Noah Taylor as George Anderson
  • Richard Roxburgh as William Hobbs

With the voices of:

  • Keith Buckley
  • Bary Otto
  • Alistair Duncan
  • Geoffrey Rush
  • Raymond Dupac
  • Kevin Smith
  • Ruth Cracknell
  • Paul Smythe
  • Max Cullen
  • Hugo Weaving
  • Jerome Ehlers
  • Bruce Venables
  • Bill Hunter
  • David Webb
  • Martin Jacobs
  • William Zappa
  • Harry Lawrence