Images of mounted police contending with anti-lockdown protesters on the weekend have now gone viral around the world. In fact, mounted police have a long history in Australia.
They have certainly been used as a method of crowd control at countless demonstrations in living memory — from anti-war protests to pro-refugee rallies and everything in between.
But the history of mounted police in Australia goes much deeper.
Mounted reconnaissance and messengers
In early colonial Australia, horses were at a premium. In the 1790s, policing of convicts and bushrangers in the confined region of the Sydney basin was conducted on foot by night watchmen, constables and the colonial military.
By 1801, the then Governor King formed a Body Guard of Light Horse for dispatching his messages to the interior and as a useful personal escort.
By 1816, at the height of the Sydney Wars of Aboriginal resistance, the numbers of horses in the colony had grown.
Their importance as mounted reconnaissance and for use by messengers was critical to Governor Macquarie’s infamous campaign, which ended in the Appin Massacre of April 17, 1816.
The horse as a key element of occupation
Along with firearms and disease, the horse was a key element in occupying Aboriginal land and controlling the largely convict workforce on the frontier.
In the early 1820s, west of the Blue Mountains, the use of horses in the open terrain of the Bathurst Plains was critical in capturing escaped convicts and bushrangers, as well as defending remote outstations against attacks from Wiradjuri people.
Early intrusions into Wiradjuri land were not so much by British colonists, but by the animals they brought with them. In what is now recognised as “co-colonisation”, cattle and sheep did a lot of the hard yards for the British, often well before they arrived in Aboriginal lands.
In 1817, Surveyor General John Oxley thought he was well beyond the limits of settlement when, as he wrote:
to our great surprise we found the distinct marks of cattle tracks [that] must have strayed from Bathurst, from which place we were now distant in a direct line between eighty and ninety miles.
From a colonial cavalry to mounted police
During the first Wiradjuri War of Resistance between 1822 and 1824, calls were made to the colonial authorities for the formation of a civilian “colonial cavalry” to assist the beleaguered and overstretched military forces. My (Stephen Gapps) forthcoming book, developed in consultation with Wiradjuri community members in central west region of NSW, The Bathurst War, looks in deeper detail at this period.
It was hoped colonial farmers would be their own first line of defence against Aboriginal warrior raids on sheep and cattle stations.
Governor Brisbane wrote to London that in 1824 a mounted force was becoming “daily more essential [for the] vital interests of the of the Colony”.
But by August that year, heavily armed and mounted settlers, overseers and their armed convict workers had decimated Wiradjuri resistance before a formal cavalry militia was established.
After possibly hundreds of Wiradjuri people had been massacred by heavily armed and mounted settlers, a “Horse Patrol” was created in 1825, which soon formally became the Mounted Police.
The Mounted Police were critical during a spree of bushranging soon after — a largely unanticipated side-effect of arming of convict stockworkers to defend themselves against Wiradjuri attacks in 1824.
By the 1830s, the force had proved useful as a highly mobile quasi-military unit in combating Aboriginal resistance as well as bushranging.
As the colony continued to expand with an insatiable desire for running cattle and sheep on Aboriginal lands, three regional divisions were based at Bathurst, Goulburn and Maitland.
After conflict between colonists and Gamilaraay warriors on the Liverpool Plains, commander Major Nunn led a Mounted Police detachment on a two-month campaign around the Gwydir and Namoi Rivers, resulting in the Waterloo Creek Massacre on January 26, 1838. Armed colonists soon followed suit, ending in the Myall Creek Massacre in June that year, where colonists killed at least 28 Aboriginal people (possibly more).
The Mounted Police’s military functions came with heavy expenses, which included uniforms, equipment and barracks. During the 1840s, a Border Police force of ex-convicts equipped only with a horse, a gun and rations was created and attached to Commissioners of Crown Lands.
It was funded by a tax on squatters (whose interests they protected) and proved a much cheaper policing option for the frontier.
The Native Mounted Police
By 1850 the “Mounted Police” were disbanded. Another relatively cheap and what proved to be a tragic, if remarkably successful, option had been found — the creation of a “Native Mounted Police” force of Aboriginal men with British officers.
The troopers were provided with uniforms, guns and rations. By the 1860s, particularly in Queensland, the main problem on the frontier was not policing colonists but stopping Aboriginal resistance. So arming Aboriginal fighters was part of a tried and tested British method of exploiting existing hostilities by rewarding those who collaborated and punishing those who resisted.
As Bogaine Spearim, Gamilaraay and Kooma man, activist and creator of the podcast Frontier War Stories has noted, the Queensland Native Mounted Police (NMP) were not only feared by bushrangers such as Ned Kelly, but known for their violence toward the Aboriginal population of Queensland.
The NMP united incredible bush skills with military capability. Their legacy has been the focus of a recent project by Australian researchers Lynley Wallis, Heather Burke and colleagues.
The role of animals in colonisation and policing
From 1850, the colonial police force (and then from 1862, the NSW Police force) incorporated mounted police as mobile units in mostly remote locations.
But they also found them useful in urban areas, especially with growing numbers of strikes, political disturbances, protests and riots in the rapidly industrialising cities in the late 19th century.
The use of horses in crowd control has a long history in policing, which itself has a long history in warfare. Among the other issues this presents, we might also consider horses’ long suffering histories of being placed in the front lines of conflict.
Like the inexorable march of sheep and cattle as part of the invasion of Aboriginal lands, understanding the role of animals in colonisation and policing is crucial to a broader understanding of Australian history.
Binoy Kampmark, RMIT UniversityThis piece is part of a new series in collaboration with the ABC’s Saturday Extra program. Each week, the show will have a “who am I” quiz for listeners about influential figures who helped shape the 20th century, and we will publish profiles for each one. You can read the other pieces in the series here.
The idea of a global institution has captivated thinkers since Immanuel Kant in the 18th century. But a body set up to create and maintain world peace and security needs the right people to make it work.
When the United Nations was created in 1945, old sentiments — seen in the disbanded League of Nations — threatened to prevail. Would the UN and its leadership simply comply with the great powers of the day?
Dag Hammarskjöld was the UN’s second secretary-general from 1953 to 1961. He showed that defiant independence in this role was possible.
Hammarskjöld was born in Jönköping in south-central Sweden in 1905, the fourth son of Sweden’s first world war prime minister Hjalmar Hammarskjöld.
In 1953, he reflected on his family’s influence on his career.
From generations of soldiers and government officials on my father’s side I inherited a belief that no life was more satisfactory than one of selfless service to your country — or humanity.
After doing degrees covering literature, linguistics, history, economics and law, he entered the Swedish civil service in 1930, ending up in Ministry for Foreign Affairs. In the late 1940s he represented Sweden at the newly formed United Nations.
A new secretary-general
In 1953, he succeeded Norway’s Trgve Lie as UN secretary-general — easily securing enough votes for the job. At this point, the international state system was in crisis. The Cold War and the Iron Curtain threatened the paralyse the entire organisation.
Hammarskjöld’s approach and lasting legacy was to develop the secretary-general’s political role. He took executive action, which filled power vacuums as the colonial system broke apart after the second world war.
Two concepts underpinned this approach. The first was intervention to maintain international order — thereby transforming the UN from a static international body to a more engaged one.
These interventions including “preventative diplomacy” – trying to stem conflict from developing and spreading — fact-finding missions, peacekeeping forces and operations, technical assistance and international administration.
Fledgling states could rely on UN assistance till they were self-functioning. Doing so would preserve the independence of decolonised countries and forge an international system with “equal economic opportunities for all individuals and nations”.
As Hammarskjöld explained in 1960, the UN was ideal for this task.
a universal organisation neutral in the big power struggles over ideology and influence in the world, subordinated to the common will of the Member Governments and free from any aspirations of its own power and influence over any group or nation.
Indeed, the second key concept was a firm commitment to neutrality when maintaining international order. This was considered a vital element for an international organisation dedicated to global governance.
In practice, Hammarskjöld negotiated the release of United States soldiers captured by the Chinese volunteer army during the Korean War and attempted to resolve the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956. He was also instrumental to facilitating the withdrawal of US and British troops from Lebanon and Jordan in 1958. In such conduct, he defined the secretary-general’s office in international diplomacy and conflict management and ensured the lingering role of peacekeeping operations.
Making waves — and enemies
But the expansion of this type of intervention by the UN was not welcomed by the traditional powers. Reflecting on the role played by Hammarskjöld during the Suez Crisis, Sir Pierson Dixon, British Ambassador to the UN, observed the secretary-general could no longer be considered a “a symbol or even an executive: he has become a force”.
As historian Susan Williams writes,
Hammarskjöld sought to shield the newly-independent nations from the predatory aims of the Great Powers. His enemies included colonialists and settlers in Africa who were determined to maintain white minority rule.
In September 1961, Hammarskjöld was on a peace mission in the newly independent Congo. But while flying from Leopoldville, former capital of the Belgian Congo, to Ndola in Northern Rhodesia (present day Zambia),
his plane crashed. Everyone on board, including the secretary-general, was killed.
The crash has never officially been recognised as a political assassination. But there have always been deep suspicions, making it one of the great unresolved mysteries of the 20th century.
As former US president Harry Truman told reporters immediately after the crash, Hammarskjöld
was on the point of getting something done when they killed him. Notice that I said ‘when they killed him.’
Hammarskjöld’s legacy was so profound as to encourage a range of theories as to why he died. In 1992, Australian diplomat George Ivan Smith and Irish author Conor Cruise O’Brien, both UN officials in 1961 in Congo, opined the secretary-general had been shot down by mercenaries in the pay of European industrialists.
In her 2011 book, Who Killed Hammarskjöld? Williams examined the possibility of an assassination or a botched hijacking. Noting details were still murky, she concluded:
his death was almost certainly the result of a sinister intervention.
Peacekeeping, neutrality, independence
To this day, Hammarskjöld’s legacy endures through the continued deployment of UN peace keeping operations with the aim of promoting “stability, security and peace processes”.
His shaping of the general-secretary position is also marked: an international, neutral figure tasked, however successful, with using preventative diplomacy, promoting peace and securing an environment where states can develop on their own terms.
Correction: an earlier version of this article incorrectly quoted Susan Williams to say Hammarskjöld’s death was “most certainly” the result of a sinister intervention. It has been amended to “almost certainly”. The piece has also been amended to correct Truman was the former US president at the time of the crash, not the current president.