Grace Karskens with cover of her book People of the River, co-winner of the 2021 Ernest Scott Prize

Country, Culture and Conflict on Australia’s Early Colonial Frontiers

Country and culture, entwined and indivisible, are of the utmost importance to Australia’s Indigenous peoples. Thus they profoundly shaped Indigenous responses to invasion and colonisation – the encounters, negotiations and resistance. Settlers too brought particular cultures, ideologies and attitudes to land with them, which likewise shaped their actions on colonial frontiers.

What happens when we view invasion, colonisation and frontier violence through the lenses of Country and culture? The first of this year’s two Ernest Scott Lectures returns to one of Australia’s famous rivers, Dyarubbin, the Hawkesbury/Nepean in New South Wales, reading the river whole by reconnecting ecologies, geographies, histories, place names and archaeological sites within the larger parameters of deep Aboriginal history and colonial expansion. This intimate, regional approach reveals so much that is startling: settlers who were very different from stereotypical images of colonists; and frontier resistance that was about much more than territory in the British sense. The warriors’ struggles were underpinned and compelled by spiritual beliefs and cultural practices too.

Grace Karskens is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. Her books include The Rocks and The Colony: A History of Early Sydney, which won the 2020 Prime Minister’s Award for Non-Fiction. Grace’s latest book, People of the River: Lost Worlds of Early Australia, is a co-winner of the Ernest Scott Prize for Australian history.

In 2021 the Ernest Scott prize was awarded jointly to Grace Karskens and Hirini Kaa.
Hirini Kaa’s lecture was delivered in October 2021 and will be available online soon.