Nervous nation: Fear, conflict and narratives of fortified domestic architecture on the Queensland frontier

Heather Burke, Ray Kerkhove, Lynley Wallis, Cathy Keys, Bryce Barker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The frontier of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Australia was a place in which colonists routinely lived in fear of retaliation by the Aboriginal peoples whose traditional lands they had forcibly dispossessed. It has been suggested this concern manifested itself in domestic architecture, in both active and passive defensive strategies designed to afford protection against various forms of potential attack. Yet there remains a lack of substantive research to support such assertions. In this article, we present an analysis of accounts drawn from a range of sources of 97 domestic structures across Queensland with claims for defensive features. Although suggesting that fortified domestic structures were more common than previously envisaged, our review indicates that defensive features were usually minimal – holes in walls and barrable doors, windows or other ports of entry – reflecting the often expedient nature of the structures themselves. First-hand accounts of these buildings are rare, although not entirely absent, with most written accounts being reminiscences told in hindsight by later descendants, resulting in both distortions and myth-building. Accounts of fortified domestic structures peak in the decades following Federation and through both World Wars as the newly minted Australian nation explicitly engaged in nation-building and constructing the ‘glorious pioneer’ narrative.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-57
Number of pages36
JournalAboriginal History
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • domestic architecture
  • colonists
  • Aboriginal people
  • Queensland frontier, 1849–1901
  • fortified domestic structures


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