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Book shines light on history of massacres across Australia’s north

Charles Darwin University 2 mins read
The book is the result of years of research by Charles Darwin University Lecturer in Colonial History Dr Robyn Smith.

A new book on the violent frontier expansion of Australia’s north will introduce readers to who led massacres of Aboriginal people, the names of their benefactors, and how these horrific events occurred. 

Licence to Kill: massacre men of Australia’s north by Charles Darwin University (CDU) Lecturer in Colonial History Dr Robyn Smith details the massacres of Aboriginal people from 1824 until the 1980s. 

Under the administration of the colonies of New South Wales and South Australia, massacres were a regular occurrence notwithstanding emphatic denials and later claims by officialdom of a knowledge vacuum. 

When South Australia’s ambitions for unimaginable riches dissolved into a mirage of ambitious fantasy, administration was ceded to the Federal Government in 1911.

Massacres continued with relative impunity under that regime. 

Dr Smith reveals not only the perpetrators of massacres but their benefactors and enablers, both public and private. 

She demonstrates how colonialism was subtly perpetuated by the conferral of high civic honour on many of the actors, noting that these are embedded as place names across the landscape.

“It may surprise people to learn that police were not the principal perpetrators,” Dr Smith said.

“They were most certainly involved, but there were too few of them to cover the Territory, and they were vastly under-resourced.

“Those circumstances facilitated relentless human hunting expeditions in the pursuit of land and profit.” 

The book is the culmination of Dr Smith’s years of research on colonial frontier massacres across the north of Australia, particularly in the Northern Territory, as part of the University of Newcastle’s Colonial Frontier Massacres mapping team led by the late Professor Lyndall Ryan. 

Licence to Kill: massacre men of Australia’s north was published by the Historical Society of the Northern Territory Inc and will be launched at an event to be held at CDU’s Casuarina campus on Tuesday, June 18 at the CDU Gallery at the Casuarina campus at 1pm. 

Licence to Kill: massacre men of Australia’s north is available online at

Contact details:

Raphaella Saroukos she/her
Research Communications Officer
Marketing, Media & Communications
Larrakia Country
T: +61 8 8946 6721


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