top of page

How They Fought

Indigenous Tactics and Weaponry of Australia’s Frontier Wars


Ray Kerkhove

Tingalpa, QLD: Boolarong Press, 2023

Paperback ‎     430pp     RRP: $39.99


Reviewer: Neville Taylor, February 2023


Dr Kerkhove has, with seemingly boundless enthusiasm and energy, explored an incredible number of references, contributed his own photographs, tables and diagrammatic representations of First Nations’ tactics in numerous scenarios, and collated all of the former to produce a landmark work for future generations and scholars.

The reader is quickly made aware that this is not an account of indigenous massacres. A table of casualties of major Frontier War incidents dispels any thought that the White Man had it all his own way. Many incidents occurred on individual ‘settlements’ where the individual settler/family was massively outnumbered. Numerous large tracts of First Nations’ food sources were rendered too great a risk for white settlement for decades. Historian Fergus Robinson ‘estimated that the rivers in and around Sydney were not under European control until the 1820s.’ There were 131 white deaths suffered during boat attacks in north Queensland.

The work consists of six chapters on typical engagements, organisation, command and control, strategies, weaponry and defences. Confrontations described are not limited to those against the newly-arrived white man but include inter-tribal clashes. In every aspect the First Nations’ people were ‘a lot smarter’ than credited by the white ‘invaders’ and were quick to adapt to new situations and  develop tactics to thwart the expansion of white settlement. The ‘recycling’ of beer bottles saw the glass used as tools for fashioning spear shafts in greatly reduced time.

This is an enlightening, extremely well-documented treatise on our First Nations people. With over 70 pages of Endnotes, 50-odd pages of Consulted Works and an excellent Index, here is an obvious starting point for any scholar from primary school to university to broaden their knowledge of First Nations people during the two centuries of Australian colonisation.



The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

bottom of page