European ships chiefly began sailing into southern Australian waters in the 18th century. These left human cargoes behind and, unlike earlier visitors, had an immediate impact on the Aborigines, who suffered interference with their economy and lifestyle as the colonists sought and secured for themselves good sources of water, sheltered positions, and access to fish—all of which were also vital to Aboriginal people.
The perception that Australia was quietly “settled” without conflict with the Aboriginal people, an idea that, it has been argued, enabled the concept of “terra nullius” to be maintained, has been substantially revised in recent years. It is now generally acknowledged that resistance took place right from the first tentative encroachments by European nations into Australian waters. The Dutch sailed into the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1606 and one Dutch sailor was killed by the Tjungundji (whose hero was the warrior Sivirri). Another Dutch ship visited the area in 1623, but in attempting to kidnap people was met by 200 warriors who drove the sailors away. James Cook, in spite of the popular misconception, also met with some resistance in Botany Bay. Two Tharawal men, after sending away the women and children, stood firm against Cook’s landing. According to Cook’s account of the incident: “We then threw them some nails, beads etc. ashore which they took up and seem’d not ill pleased in so much that I thought that they beckoned to us to come ashore, but in this we were much mistaken, for as soon as we put the boat in they again came to oppose us upon which I fired a musket between the two which had no other effect than to make them retire back where bundles of their darts lay, and one of them took up a stone and threw at us which caused my firing a second musket load with small shot, and although some of the shot struck the man yet it had no other effect than to make him lay hold of a shield or target to defend himself. Immediately after this we landed which we had no sooner done than they threw two darts at us, this obliged me to fire a third shot soon after which they both made off...” It was no wonder that Cook would later say “all they seemed to want was for us to be gone”.
Resistance continued for several years around Sydney from 1788. Pemulwuy was the most famous guerrilla leader (from 1790-1802 when he was shot, decapitated, and his head sent to England), but it is unlikely that he was alone in leading his people in skirmishes and full-scale battles as the colony expanded. Captain Arthur Phillip was himself wounded by a spear at Manly.
Resistance continued all over Australia for over another century, one of the last guerrilla fighters, Jandamarra, being killed in 1897 in the north-west. Jimmy Governor, on the other side of the continent, was hanged in 1901. As is always the case where poorly armed locals are resisting an invasion force of greatly superior strength, the war was mainly fought by guerrilla activity, in the form of...