The Sydney Wars: Conflict in the early colony 1788-1817

The Sydney Wars

The Sydney Wars

Conflict in the early colony, 1788-1817
By Dr Stephen Gapps

Published by NewSouth
RRP AUD$34.99 in paperback |ISBN 9781742232140


This book should have seen the light of day on my blog somewhat sooner than it has. I can only blame the haphazard stack of review titles that sometimes gets out of hand, leading to good books being overlooked.

The book, I’m pleased to say, received wide coverage by reviewers at the time of its release, including The Weekend Australian (7-8 July, 2018), the Australian Book Review (August 2018) and Good Reading magazine (June 2018), all of which are good sources for book reviews and information on new releases.

The Sydney Wars tells the history of military engagements between Europeans and Aboriginal Australians – described as ‘this constant sort of war’ by one early colonist – around the greater Sydney region.

Described as the first detailed account of the warfare that occurred across the Sydney region following the arrival of the British expedition in 1788 to the last recorded conflict in the area in 1817, this book sheds new light on a much-studied period of Australian history.

We discover how British and Aboriginal forces developed military tactics and how the violence played out as settlers expanded beyond Sydney Cove and Aboriginal groups began to fight back against the intruders who were occupying their lands and taking their resources.

Gapps details the violent conflict that formed part of a long period of colonial strategic efforts to secure the Sydney basin and, in time, the rest of the continent.

There is no doubt, in reading this book, that later historians who glossed over the military aspects of the British colonial settlement of Australia did us all a great disservice.

Gapps has used original sources – gazettes, letters, personal accounts – including letters of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, whose plans to quell Aboriginal resistance clearly relied on military superiority.

For those who know the city of Sydney and the Sydney basin beyond, it takes some imagination to strip away 230+ years of development and imagine the site as it was in 1788, home to several distinct indigenous groups, not numerous in number but long established in their various locales. It takes no imagination at all to believe that when your home is under threat and your way of life is under threat, you strike back.

The British settlement prevailed, of course, but at a price. It’s worth understanding and acknowledging that price.


CLICK ON THE LISTEN LINK ABOVE TO HEAR an interview with Dr Stephen Gapps by the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association.

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