As I walked around this area I recalled that British colonialism was a violent endeavour bound up with the establishment of a market-driven, capitalist system via the connections of Empire. It was intimately associated with the processes of dispossession and the experiences of exploiting the land, labour and resources of Australia. This led to conflict, particularly between Indigenous and the white colonialists. The aboriginal presence in the Riverland is now non-existent. So what happened in the frontier history of this region?
I reckoned that aboriginal people would have lived in this region as it was close to Barmera and Lake Bonney. My understanding is that they had huts and canoes. The Riverland became contested territory in the late 1830s. There was conflict between the overlanders or drovers — and the local aboriginal people who lost access to their traditional resources and their resistance to the colonialist invasion of their territory was to attack the overlanding parties. The aborigine’s huts and canoes were destroyed by the overlanders, volunteer militia and police in retribution and the aboriginal men were killed.
Though violent dispossession was the norm there is little record of the killings of the local aboriginal people and the massacre sites in the Riverland, apart from the massacre of the Maraura people at Rufus River by Lake Victoria in NSW is mentioned. Though the early South Australian frontier is the least well known I presume that the mapping of this frontier conflict is difficult, particularly when the documentation attached to it – both official and private – is widely acknowledged to be affected by silences and elisions, euphemisms and denials. It is a lost history as we still know very little about the aboriginal perspective on the Overland Stock Route as a place of conflict or the trauma, or Aboriginal responses (agency, adaptation and survival) to the schisms and discontinuities caused by European colonialism.