What most surprised you to discover?
First, the eloquence and persistence of those who denounced the slaughter as it was happening. Killing for Country is dedicated to them. Second, the utter lawlessness of early Queensland. The Colony was a quagmire of blood.
Do the crafts of journalism and history have a lot in common?
Both set out to make sense of what has happened to us – last week or last century. Both turn the past into stories. Journalists are fast. Historians slow. Both are nothing without documents and witnesses. Journalists have one great advantage: they have living witnesses to quiz.
Does the current debate over the Voice find echoes in the past?
Everywhere. All the time. Not least in this: the voices of Indigenous Australians were unheard as their country was invaded. Silence and slaughter went hand in hand.
Was what happened a war, or is there a better way to characterise it?
It was guerrilla warfare on both sides but with the Native Police as a vicious little army unrestrained by any rules of combat. “There is no appeal,” wrote an officer, “from its almighty vengeance.”
Some settler Australians are defensive or in denial about frontier history. Why should they read your book?
To face what happened. This is the history we weren’t taught at school. It’s gripping. It’s not going to go away. And it’s not entirely shameful.
Things were different then and we can’t judge: true or false?
False. The times were certainly different, but murder and kidnapping were crimes then just as they are now. More important: we never change. Greed and cruelty have been deep in us from the beginning of time. So too the decency shown by those brave few who did what they could for Aboriginal Australia. So too the resilience and patience of the Indigenous people. It’s time we made peace.