An archaeological project led by Associate Professor Heather Burke at Flinders University is shedding new light on what is a contentious chapter in Australia’s history: the long operating Queensland Native Mounted Police.

In the early days of European settlement in Australia, the policing system was very different from what exists today. Australian native police units typically consisted of recruited mounted Aboriginal troopers who were usually under the command of white officers, existing in extensive base camps.

Most of the Native Police campsites were located well away from towns in the middle of nowhere, especially in south western Queensland. Even armed with historic maps for their location, the precise locations of many of the camps has long remained a mystery, with some perhaps never to be found.

The project, funded through the ARC Discovery Projects scheme, has used historical records to uncover nearly 200 campsites used by the Native Mounted Police, dotted in some of the remotest parts of Queensland. 

Along with Chief Investigators Professor Bryce Barker, from the University of Southern Queensland, Dr Lynley Wallis, from the University of Notre Dame, Australia, Dr Noelene Cole, James Cook University, and Elizabeth Hatte, Northern Archaeology Consultancies, the team has recorded over 40 of these camp sites to date. 

Revealing more about these sites is fostering a better understanding of the nature of frontier conflict, new understandings of the Aboriginal and settler experience, and contributing to global studies of Indigenous responses to colonialism.

Image: Josephson’s ointment pot lid being excavated from a rubbish pit at the Boralga (Laura), Native Police camp, Cape York.
Image credit: Flinders University.