Frontier violence against Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders on the colonial frontier still resonates today, yet Australia refuses to acknowledge the trauma at the heart of our nationhood. 

In “Why Does the War Memorial Ignore Frontier War?”, Paul Daley asks why early governors, including Macquarie, considered the conflict to be a war, but the Australian War Memorial insists it was not. The memorial ignores the story of the battles between Indigenous Australians, on the one hand, and locally raised militias and paramilitary units on the other. Instead, the gargoyles in the memorial’s courtyard include the heads of an Indigenous man and woman, along with those of animals. 

In “The Bone Collectors”, he delves into why the remains of more than 700 Indigenous Australians are being held in cardboard boxes in a Canberra warehouse – remnants of the trade in body parts as museum specimens and curiosities that now await repatriation and burial.

In “Indigenous Australians in Wartime: time to tell the whole story” he explores the hypocrisy of honouring Indigenous servicemen and women who fought in Australian uniforms, while ignoring those who died “serving Country” on the colonial frontier.      

Paul Daley’s articles explore a chapter in Australian history that many would prefer to leave in our collective oblivion. 

Paul Daley is a Canberra-based author, journalist, essayist and playwright whose non-fiction books have been shortlisted for major Australian literary prizes. He is the winner of the Walkley Award for Investigative Journalism (1997), the Paul Lyneham Award for political reporting and two Kennedy Awards. He writes regularly for The Guardian about history and national identity. This year he published the political novel Challenge.

Judges’ comments:

Paul Daley takes an in-depth look at an untold chapter in Australian history – that of the Aboriginal body parts trade. Daley exudes a meticulous investigative flair as he unearths the sordid tale of Aboriginal people being actively hunted for their body parts for the better part of a century. As the Western world, and in particular Australia, currently shudders at the barbaric behaviour of Islamic State, Daley provides some real home truths to a mainstream audience about the ‘settlement’ of Australia and some of the bone-chilling atrocities committed by Australians, not in the name of God, but money, and only 80-odd years ago. With brilliant investigative skills and sensational writing, Daley lifts the lid on a dark part of our past. The impact is clear – this is something all Australians should know about. A transfixing piece.”