The archaeology of the ‘Secret War’: The material evidence of conflict on the Queensland frontier, 1849–1901

Bryce Barker, Lynley Wallis, Heather Burke, Noelene Cole, Kelsey Lowe, Ursula Artym, Anhony Pagels, Leanne Bateman, Elizabeth Hatte, Cherrie De Leiuen, Iain Davidson, Larry Zimmerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Although the historical record relating to nineteenth century frontier conflict between Aboriginal groups and Europeans in Queensland has been clearly documented, there have been limited associated archaeological studies. As part of the Archaeology of the Queensland Native Mounted Police (NMP) project, this paper canvasses the physical imprint of frontier conflict across Queensland between 1849 and the early 1900s, focusing specifically on the activities and camp sites of the NMP, the paramilitary government-sanctioned force tasked with policing Aboriginal people to protect settler livelihoods. At least 148 NMP camps of varying duration once existed, and historical and archaeological investigations of these demonstrate some consistent patterning amongst them, as well as idiosyncrasies depending on individual locations and circumstances. All camps were positioned with primary regard to the availability of water and forage. Owing to their intended temporary nature and the frugality of the government, the surviving structural footprints of camps are generally limited. Buildings were typically timber slab and bark constructions with few permanent foundations and surviving architectural features are therefore rare, limited to elements such as ant bed flooring, remnant house or yard posts, stone lines demarcating pathways, and stone fireplaces. Architectural forms of spatial confinement, such as lockups or palisades, were absent from the camps themselves. The most distinctive features of NMP camps, and what allows them to be distinguished from the myriad pastoral sites of similar ages, are their artefact assemblages, especially the combined presence of gilt uniform buttons with the Victoria Regina insignia, knapped bottle glass, and certain ammunition-related objects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25–41
Number of pages17
Early online date2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Archaeology
  • Queensland Archaeological Research
  • ‘Secret War’
  • material evidence
  • Queensland frontier, 1849–1901
  • Australian aboriginal history
  • Frontier wars
  • frontier conflict
  • European settlement


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