Author Archives: mjtutty

Fortification or furphy?

Today, there is little evidence of the thriving pastoral station that was known as Cambridge Downs, an enterprise so successful that it was once renowned as the largest station in the Burke District (The Queenslander 11/8/1894). But archaeological survey of the site has confirmed that the building would have been sturdily and skilfully constructed. Local historians have claimed that the homestead also had bars in the windows, designed to protect occupants from attack (Authurs 1995:267), but these have long since been removed.

Cambridge Downs Homestead, 2010
Photographer: Matthew Moran

The aim of my directed study was to document the history of Cambridge Downs and reach some conclusions regarding the rationale for the construction technique and style of the homestead. With several other researchers (e.g. Grguric 2008, 2010; Burns 2010) having identified examples of fortified dwellings on the pastoral frontier, it was hoped that this work might further contribute to this field of enquiry.

There is little doubt that the settlers at Cambridge Downs would have been fearful of attack. There is ample historical evidence to suggest that violent conflict was a real and inescapable consequence of life on the pastoral frontier. At Cambridge Downs, the murder of Chinese shepherd Ah Shong in 1885 is testimony to this fact. But although we can be reasonably certain that conflict took place, and that the homestead was strongly built, we cannot definitively conclude that Cambridge Downs Homestead was built to withstand attack from the local Indigenous population.

It can be said with a great deal more certainty, though, that the homestead at Cambridge Downs has become a physical manifestation of the non-Indigenous ideology and lore that surrounds pastoralism in north Queensland today. Burns (2010) argued that the fortified dwellings of the pastoral frontier were built as symbolic talismans to ward off attack. As symbols, these dwellings were designed to convey strength and invincibility, and to demonstrate the settler’s ‘upper hand’ in racial confrontation. Whilst this may or may not be the case, at the very least such buildings have become symbols of pioneering courage and strength. They undoubtedly reinforce the transformation of events on the frontier to a narrative of pioneer triumph.

These stories of frontier conflict sit uneasily within our culture. On the one hand they illustrate accomplishment of European settlers in the face of adversity; on the other they kindle our shame about a past of injustice and violence. Perhaps the crumbling ruins of homesteads such as Cambridge Downs are a fitting tribute to this paradoxical past. They represent our success and failure, our pride and shame, in equal measures.

Megan Tutty, Master of CHM student


Authurs, J. A. 1995 From Wyangarie to Richmond: An Historic Record of the Richmond District of North Queensland. Richmond, Qld: Richmond Shire Council.

Burns, K. 2010 Frontier conflict, contact, exchange: Re-imagining colonial architecture. In M. Chapman and M. Ostwald (eds.), Imagining … Proceedings of the 27th International SAHANZ Conference, pp.70–80. Newcastle, NSW: Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand.

Grguric, N. 2008 Fortified homesteads: The architecture of fear in frontier South Australia and the Northern Territory, ca. 1847–1885. Journal of Conflict Archaeology4: 59–85.

Grguric, N. 2010 Staking a claim: Fortified homesteads and their place in Australian settler identity construction.   Archaeological Review from Cambridge 25:47–63.

‘The shearing dispute’  1894 The Queenslander 11 August, p.283. Retrieved 1/3/2014 from

Bark hut or stone fortress? The architecture of pastoral Queensland.

In South Australia we tend to take for granted the robust forms of farmstead architecture that proliferate in the agricultural regions of our state, and that are synonymous with our pastoral history and heritage. Little old stone cottages, homesteads, and ruins are so ubiquitous in the rural landscape that it’s difficult to imagine that they might be considered somewhat of an oddity in other parts of Australia.

In northern Queensland, European settlers constructed very different dwellings on the pastoral frontier during the late 19th century. In his rather poetic description of the architecture of the frontier, E.B. Sorenson writes of Queensland houses in 1911:

Though one finds all sorts of curious habitations sprinkled over the country, there is a certain architectural style marking the periods of settlement. What may be accepted as typical of early selection days is the ‘old bark hut.’ … The roof, as its name implies, was covered with stringy-bark, secured with bits of green-hide, and held down with crossed poles, called riders and jockies. The doors and shutters were made of split pine battens, and swung on leather hinges. There wasn’t a pane of glass in it; neither was there in the shingle-roofed cottages that became the vogue at a later period.

Whilst it’s true that this type of dwelling was typical for the earliest phases of settlement, architectural historians have noted that even the more permanent homes, intended for occupancy over the longer term, were still constructed predominantly of timber, or sometimes mud and rubble (Bell 1984; Sumner 1974).

No 10 Cambridge Downs, Stawell - Cambridge river in backgrou
Cambridge Downs n.d., Burke District, Queensland
Original stone homestead to the right was replaced by the timber building on the left, probably in the 1890s.

Cambridge Downs homestead, built sometime in the 1860s or 1870s, is therefore rare, although certainly not unique, for the region. Examples of other stone homesteads do exist, like Old Westmoreland Homestead and Elderslie Homestead, both on the Queensland Heritage Register. Nevertheless, in north Queensland, these types of buildings are few and far between.

The massive stone walls of the first Cambridge Downs homestead, the remains of which still stand today, were skilfully constructed from ‘flagstones’ collected in the vicinity. Photographic evidence and archaeological survey suggests that these walls were broken only by three to four windows, and a door to the front and the rear. Given that most settlers built much humbler bark and timber dwellings, what then, was the motivation for the construction of this comparatively substantial residence? Did the threat of attack really inspire the earliest settlers on this pastoral run to build a stone fortress?

Megan Tutty, Master of CHM student

Bell, P. 1984 Timber and Iron: Houses in North Queensland Mining Settlements, 1861-1920. St Lucia, QLD: University of Queensland Press.

Sorenson, E.B. 1911 Backblock homes and builders: The architecture of the pioneer. The Catholic Press, Thursday 13 April 1911. Retrieved 29 March 2014 from

Sumner C.R. 1974 Pioneer homesteads of North Queensland. In Dalton, B.J. (ed) Lectures on North Queensland History, pp. 47-61. Townsville: James Cook University.

The murder of Chinese shepherd Ah Shong at Cambridge Downs Station, Queensland, 1875

On the day after Christmas day in 1875, the Chinese shepherd referred to only as ‘Ah Shong’ in historical records, was allegedly murdered at Cambridge Downs Station by a large group of local Indigenous people. Although it is the only official account of violence on the station it helps to paint a chilling picture of the atmosphere of terror that likely prevailed over many years as a result of the conflict between Aboriginal inhabitants and pastoral settlers.

On receiving the news that the shepherd had been murdered, Sub Inspector M. Tyrell Day of the Native Mounted Police stationed in Bowen reportedly “proceeded in pursuit of the murderers and continued the pursuit for ten days travelling in that time over two hundred miles” (Queensland State Archives 1876). He followed the suspects without success and was similarly unable to find Ah Shong’s body or other evidence of the murder. Finally returning to Cambridge Downs Station, some two weeks after the incident had taken place, Sub Inspector Day, in collaboration with the station’s managers, questioned ‘witnesses’, “but elicited nothing to prove the murder except that the Blacks were near the place when the Chinaman disappeared and destroyed about fifty sheep” (Queensland State Archives 1876). According to the inquest documents, a young Aboriginal boy informed the police that the man’s body had been cut up and buried in a waterhole.

So many aspects of this incident warrant further investigation, not least of all Sub Inspector Day’s seemingly relentless search for the ‘suspects’ before he even established the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the ‘crime’. But it is possibly because the victim, like the alleged perpetrators, was not of Anglo descent, that the incident demands our greatest consideration. Ill-feeling between European settlers and Chinese migrants is well documented in Queensland’s pastoral and mining history of the period (Evans 2007); is it reasonable to assume that authorities would have viewed the murder of a ‘Chinaman’ with the gravity that is conveyed in the historical record or, perhaps, more pointedly, is it unreasonable to assume that such an incident provided these men with the slim justification they required to initiate a brutal retaliatory attack on local Indigenous people.

As students of archaeology we are constantly taught to question the validity of our sources. It is now impossible to substantiate the claims set forth in this record, and we are similarly even less able to appreciate the principles and beliefs of those who were involved.   Is evidence such as the inquest report for this murder invaluable to teasing out a greater understanding of race relations in colonial Queensland, or does it simply serve to confound our comprehension of an exceedingly complex situation?

 Megan Tutty, Master of CHM student

Evans, R. 2007 A History of Queensland. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.

Queensland State Archives: Justice Department I; Series ID 36; Item ID 348647, Inquest into the death of Ah Shong, inquest 58 of 1876.

“Like hyenas…” Conflict on the frontier of colonial settlement at Cambridge Downs Station in 19th century Queensland

 “Like hyenas, the savage crowd come sneaking up to the house, and Charlie chuckles as he coolly drops two of the foremost with his double barrelled carbine. ‘By God! Missus,’ he exclaims, ‘that’s the way to wake ‘em up blackpellow’.”

The North Queensland Register, 21 December 1892

The savagery of conflict on the frontier of colonial settlement in 19th century Australia is apparent in countless reminiscences published in the newspapers of the time, in official documents penned in spidery script using antiquated language, and in the memory and oral tradition handed down through generations of both Indigenous and colonial settler descendants.

Although it sounds like a story from the Boys Own Annual, the above account was published in The North Queensland Register in December of 1892. It refers to events that took place on a pastoral station on the Flinders River in the Burke District of northern central Queensland, presumably sometime during the 1860s, and describes several bloody encounters between local Indigenous people and pastoralists. It is significant in that it describes the spatial context of the conflict – the pastoralist’s hut, and much is suggested by the language and style of prose adopted by the author.

The subjective nature of documentary evidence regarding conflict has resulted in an historical narrative whereby the violent nature of events has been either repudiated or ignored (Foster 2009); that is to say, history has either painted the colonial settler as a valiant innocent, bravely defending their territory, or concealed the occurrence of conflict altogether. And although we’ve long acknowledged the role of bias in understanding history, this is an issue which has been particularly problematic to our understanding of the ‘frontier’. Consequently, some historians have suggested that archaeologists could make a valuable contribution to this field of research (see Attwood and Foster 2003:23).

Cambridge Downs Station, also located on the Flinders River, was established sometime during the 1860s, and was one of the largest and most successful pastoral enterprises in the region. The first homestead built on the property was unusual in that it was constructed of stone, and had a “cane grass roof, flagstone floor, and one inch bars in the windows” (Authurs 1995:267). It was sturdily built and unlike any other homestead in the region. Local anecdotal evidence suggests that the substantial nature of construction was a response to the threat of attack from local Indigenous people and, indeed, other researchers have suggested that fortification of dwellings is apparent in other homesteads in a number of other states (Burns 2010; Grguric 2008, 2010).

The purpose of my directed study, then, is twofold. In the first instance I will be bringing together available documentary sources in an attempt to reconstruct the history of the Cambridge Downs Station during this period of settlement and conflict. I will also be analysing the construction of the homestead in an attempt to ascertain whether it really does provide independent evidence of conflict on the frontier.

Megan Tutty, Master of CHM student


Authurs, J. A. 1995 From Wyangarie to Richmond: An Historic Record of the Richmond District of North Queensland. Richmond, Australia: Richmond Shire Council.

Burns, K. 2010 Frontier conflict, contact, exchange: Re-imagining colonial architecture. In M. Chapman and M. Ostwald (eds), Imagining … Proceedings of the 27th International SAHANZ Conference, pp.70-80. Newcastle, Australia: Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand.

Foster, R. 2009 ‘Don’t mention the war’: Frontier violence and the language of concealment. History Australia. 6(3):68.

Grguric, N. 2008 Fortified homesteads: The architecture of fear in frontier South Australia and the Northern Territory, ca. 1847–1885. Journal of Conflict Archaeology 4: 59–85.

Grguric, N. 2010 Staking a claim: Fortified homesteads and their place in Australian settler identity construction. Archaeological Review from Cambridge 25: 47–63.

Anonymous  1892  In the Sixties. The North Queensland Register 21 December 1892, pp.14–19. Retrieved 29 March 2014 from

What’s really wrong with the National History Curriculum?

Is anybody happy?

Prime minister Tony Abbott drew attention to his concerns about our national history curriculum in the last week of his election campaign, stating that it focused too much on trade unionism, neglected to reference the work of great coalition leaders and, perhaps most tellingly, didn’t place enough emphasis on the heritage of western civilization.  Commentators have been quick to interpret this last point as criticism for the level of Indigenous history content within the curriculum, and while it is true that this type of sentiment is not an unusual angle for conservative politicians to take (John Howard banged the same drum last year in his lecture to the Sir Paul Hasluck Foundation), you could be forgiven for thinking that the Right are the only ones with an axe to grind about how young Australians are taught to understand their history and heritage.

On the other hand, you might not be surprised to learn that criticism for the curriculum has been fielded from other quarters.

In 2011, Helen Moran, Indigenous Co-chair of the National Sorry Day Committee labelled the draft curriculum as “clumsy” and “insensitive and insulting”.  She claimed that it didn’t “have enough content regarding Aboriginal history” and more specifically explained that there was inadequate discussion surrounding the Stolen Generations and removal policies (Moran 2011).  These sentiments were supported by the Independent Education Union of Australia (IEU 2011), and some academics concluded that challenges to Eurocentric perspectives within the curriculum were at best ‘rhetorical’ (see Salter 2010).
But is content the real problem with our national history curriculum?

How did we get a national history curriculum, and what is it supposed to do?

To better understand what all the fuss is about, it is worth taking the time to look at the political context in which the curriculum was developed.

In 2006 the Australian History Summit was convened in order to draft a national curriculum for the teaching of history in response to the perception that Australian school students lacked a basic knowledge of critical historic events.  Instigated by the Howard Liberal government which was subsequently defeated in the 2007 election, the outcome of this process, namely the Guide to the Teaching of Australian History in Years 9 and 10 (Australian Government 2007) was discarded by the Labor government in 2008, and Stuart Macintyre was appointed to the newly established National Curriculum Board, the remit of which was to produce framing documents for the development of a new national history curriculum.  In December of that year the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians was approved by all states and territories, and in 2009 the Board released the Shape of the Australian Curriculum: History.  It is these two documents that ultimately guided the content of the existing version of the National History Curriculum.

What is significant is that the change in government is believed to be clearly reflected in the socio-political perspective of these documents.  Whilst conservative governments have sought to enforce the teaching of a version of Australian history centred around Western civilisation, Christianity and Australia’s Anglo-Celtic heritage, Labor’s curriculum is seen to have a distinctly ‘multicultural’ flavour.

The prevailing rationale behind the existing curriculum is that students will be better equipped to live in today’s globalised world if they can understand the history of their country within an international context (ACARA 2013).  In keeping with the principles outlined within the Melbourne Declaration, it has three main foci: understanding the value of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, appreciating Australia’s position in the Asia-Pacific region and developing awareness of global interrelationships. 

Although ACARA’s ‘trinity’ of socially and politically expedient themes seems somewhat incongruous, the objectives of the curriculum are at least admirable.  It aims to ensure that students develop not only an interest in ‘historical study’, but also an appreciation of the ‘forces that shape societies’, an understanding of the ‘use of historical concepts, such as evidence, continuity and change, cause and effect, perspectives, empathy, significance and contestability’ and, finally, the ‘capacity to undertake historical inquiry, including skills in the analysis and use of sources, and in explanation and communication’ (ACARA 2013).  If these aims are achieved, students should, at the very least, emerge from school with the ability to question the historical narratives they are presented with, and appreciate that our understanding of history and heritage is value-based, never truly objective, often contentious, and always open to interpretation.  If this is the case, the actual content of the curriculum becomes less problematic.

So what is the real problem?

Are the concerns about how the curriculum has been politicised really valid?  Perhaps not.   The reality is that within the 222 page curriculum document there is scope for teaching just about anything you want.  The curriculum is structured in such a way that only minimal time is intended to be devoted to teaching an historical overview and the remainder is comprised of elective studies of particular societies, events, movements or developments.  Teachers must select their own historical examples to demonstrate the themes they are trying to teach.

Therefore, with the left wing/right wing debate aside, the real problem with the teaching of history in Australian schools today comes down to the question of resourcing.

One of the major concerns levelled at the curriculum with respect to Indigenous history, questions how teachers will be equipped to implement it (for example, see Harris-Hart 2009, Henderson 2008, Salter 2010).  As Anna Clark explained in History’s Children: History Wars in the Classroom (Clark 2008), ‘some teachers feel reluctant to touch on aspects of Indigenous history because they’re not comfortable speaking about someone else’s experience’.  Similarly, as educator Chris Sarra points out, the real problem is how teachers deliver what is in the curriculum (Sarra 2010).  Sarra also concludes, however, that the new curriculum provides the scope and mechanism for the involvement of local Indigenous communities in the teaching of history.

The teaching of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history is undeniably a critical part of our curriculum. Neglecting to address these topics within primary and secondary schools potentially leads to indifference, and this might just be one of the greatest threats that faces Indigenous history and heritage today.  The real challenge then is to find ways to firstly support teaching staff in the teaching of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, and secondly develop opportunities for the involvement and participation of Indigenous communities in the teaching of their own history.


Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority  (ACARA)  2013   The Australian Curriculum: History.  Version 5.1 dated Monday, 5 August 2013.  Retrieved 1/9/2013 from

Australian Government  2007  Guide to the Teaching of Australian History in Years 9 and 10.  Canberra: Australian Government.

Clark, A.  2008   History’s Children: History Wars in the Classroom.  Sydney: University of New South Wales.

Harris-Hart, C.  2009  The national history curriculum: tragedy or triumph?  Draft paper presented at the Biennial Australian Curriculum Studies Conference Hotel Realm, Canberra, October 2-4, 2009.  Retrieved 4/9/2013 from

Henderson, D.  2008  The apology, the Aboriginal dimension of Australian history and a national history curriculum: beginning a new chapter?  QHistory, December. pp. 8-22. Retrieved 1/9/2013 from

Howard, J.  2012  Sir Paul Hasluck Foundation Inaugural Lecture,  Winthrop Hall, The University of Western Australia, 27 September 2012.  Retrieved 11/9/2013 from

Independent Education Union  2011  National Curriculum Needs to Tell the Real Story of Australia’s Indigenous History.  Media Release – Monday 26 September 2011.  Retrieved 1/9/2013 from

Moran, H.  2011  Aboriginal History Lost in New School Curriculum – Interview with Simon Santow, ABC.  Retrieved 10/9/2013 from

Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs  2008  Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians.  Retrieved 10/9/2013 from

National Curriculum Board  2009  Shape of the Australian Curriculum.  Retrieved 4/9/2013 from

Salter, P.  2010  The new national history curriculum: we can’t change history…can we?  Proceedings of the 2010 Australian Teacher Education Association Conference, 4-7 July 2010, pp.1-11.  Townsville, QLD: Australian Teacher Education Association.

Sarra, C.  2010  Response to Indigenous Perspectives in ACARA National Curriculum – Audio Interview.  Retrieved 10/9/2012 from