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Life

Australia grapples with explosive history of frontier wars

Commemoration of long-dead warrior highlights resistance to colonists

Left: Men of Australia's Toowoomba region in the 1870s. Right: Detail of an image showing a convoy of loaded drays similar to the convoy ambushed in 1843 by Indigenous warrior Multuggerah. (Nikkei Asia Montage/John Oxley collection, Samuel Gills painting; Hamel & Ferguson) 

TOOWOOMBA, Australia -- A small crowd recently gathered in a park in the Australian town of Toowoomba, an hour's drive west from Brisbane. Looking out over the vast, flat reaches of the Darling Downs region, the seated crowd considered One Tree Hill, or Meewah, in Indigenous language -- a nondescript bushland spur that was the site of violent confrontation in what is now known as Australia's Frontier Wars.

Soon after this simple gathering, a major TV series on public broadcaster SBS was launched across Australia. Called "The Australian Wars," the three-part documentary is the first detailed on-screen examination of the long, brutal war between colonial settlers and Indigenous Australians, which according to historian Jane Morrison started with the arrival of British explorers in 1788 and lasted until as late as the 1940s.

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