SBS confronts the Frontier Wars that shaped our nation in new documentary series
[by Clementine Zawadzki]
Rachel Perkins - Image by Dylan River, Courtesy of SBS and NITV.
The story of Australia’s longest and perhaps most defining war has been kept silent - until now. Over three parts, this ground-breaking documentary series gives voice to the story of The Australian Wars - the battles fought on home soil, as the colonial frontier pushed forward, and First Nations peoples resisted.
Premiering at 7.30pm on Wednesday 21 September, this series directed and presented by filmmaker Rachel Perkins, reveals the truth of Australia’s past.
The British claim to the Australian continent, that disregarded First Nations peoples’ sovereignty and their custodianship of Country for thousands of years, set in train brutal conflicts that unfolded for more than 100 years. Over three episodes, Rachel journeys across the continent to explore the breadth of warfare, strategy, and forceful resistance that occurred. The lives of Aboriginal warriors – men and women amongst them - children, military men, governors, and settlers are illuminated as they grapple with the forces of war. It’s also an exploration of the here and now, the legacy of war, and how Australia today engages with this truth.
The Australian Wars presents a compelling awakening to an Australian history not commonly known or understood. Dramatic reconstructions combine with interviews with historians, Aboriginal Elders, descendants of warriors and survivors, to bring this sweeping story to life.
Rachel Perkins, an Arrernte and Kalkadoon woman and Director & Presenter of the project said: “The series has been an epic undertaking that has taken years to bring to fruition. My hope is that it is welcomed by Australian audiences and that it contributes to resetting the relationship with First Nations peoples and our nation.”
Tanya Denning-Orman, a Birri and Guugu Yimidhirr woman and Director of Indigenous Content at SBS, said: “The Australian Wars builds on SBS’s legacy of breaking new ground in telling stories which share First Nations voices and perspectives in ways that can inform and educate audiences. The series is essential viewing for all Australians, crucial to how we understand our true history, and how this has shaped how we think today. Rachel and Blackfella Films have told this story with passion, care, and respect. The Australian Wars has the potential to benefit how current and future generations understand the Australian historical narrative, benefit journeys of healing and shared understanding, and reposition First Nations perspectives, voices and peoples within these at times extremely painful stories.”
Kathryn Fink, SBS Director of Television, said: “The Australian Wars is another landmark documentary series from Blackfella Films and SBS, telling the story of Australia’s history in a way we’ve not seen on our screens before. It will challenge perceptions and ignite important discussion. Through exploring our experiences on both sides of the conflicts, The Australian Wars exposes truths which may be confronting, but we hope this series helps build a shared understanding and acknowledgement to move our country forward.”
Alex West, Screen Australia’s Head of Documentary, said: “We are proud to support this ground-breaking series from the award-winning Rachel Perkins and Blackfella Films, who have a proven track record of bringing to light vital perspectives in their impactful documentaries centring on First Nations voices. The Australian Wars is set to push audiences to reflect on the nation’s history, and with this knowledge and understanding it has the potential to help shape our future.”
Kyas Hepworth, Head of Screen NSW, said: “Screen NSW is thrilled to support Blackfella Films with SBS on The Australian Wars, a timely landmark documentary series that brings to life an important Australian history that needs to be told. Produced by preeminent NSW First Nations production company Blackfella Films, and presented and directed by Rachel Perkins, this series speaks to Screen NSW’s commitment to authentic stories that reflect our nation and shape our future.”
The Australian Wars will be supported by a multi-platform, network-wide offering that further amplifies and explores the truths, facts, and themes raised in the series.
On NITV, The Point’s John-Paul Janke will examine the impact the colonial conflicts still have today in the special panel event Land Wars on Wednesday 5 October at 8:30pm.
On Monday 26 September at 8:30pm, Karla Grant speaks to renowned author John Maynard about how a family history project changed his life forever in Living Black Conversation: John Maynard - The Accidental Historian.
On Sunday 2 October at 8:30pm Servant or Slave follows the confronting story of five Aboriginal women, who in their own words provide insight into the history and legacy of domestic servitude enforced upon Aboriginal girls in Australia. NITV will also feature films that celebrate First Nations creatives and share their stories in support of The Australian Wars, including Sweet Country on Wednesday 21 September at 8:30pm and Looky Looky Here Comes Cooky on Sunday 9 October at 7:30pm. Please refer to your program guide for more information and updates on programming.
SBS News and Current Affairs will be sharing NITV’s output and commissioning original feature content.
In recognition of the documentary’s immense educational value, Blackfella Films and SBS Learn will collaborate with Aboriginal-led organisation, Culture is Life, to publish curriculum-aligned education resources about the frontier conflicts. The resources will analyse the documentary using short clips that explore the ongoing impacts of colonisation and highlight historical perspectives. The resources will also provide an insight into the immense value that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander oral histories possess, with a focus on local history and how schools can engage with their local communities for further learning opportunities. New classroom-ready clips will launch each week as each episode premieres and will be published at sbs.com.au/learn.
Ian Darling, Chair of Shark Island Foundation, said: “The Foundation is honoured to be able to support the voices of First Nations storytelling through the work of Blackfella Films and their education and impact partnership with Culture is Life and SBS Learn. Telling the truth helps all Australians heal and significant events in our history frame who we are as a nation. Without recognition of past injustices, there’s an absence of our complete identity as a nation.”
SBS On Demand will curate several collections of supporting content on the platform around truth-telling, thought-provoking documentaries, and more.
The Australian Wars will be available to stream on SBS On Demand in five languages: Simplified Chinese, Arabic, Traditional Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean, allowing more Australians to engage in this important topic. The series will also be available with audio description for blind or vision-impaired audiences.
The Australian Wars airs Wednesdays from 21 September at 7:30pm on SBS and NITV and will also be available to stream free on SBS On Demand.
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