Issue 11
Monday, 04 July 2016
Charles Darwin University
Professor Alan Powell will launch his latest book this week
Professor Alan Powell will launch his latest book this week

Book uncovers NT war history

By Leanne Miles

The story behind strategically placed military outposts along the Northern Territory coastline by the Britain during the 1800s is the subject of a new book by academic and historian Professor Alan Powell to be launched on Wednesday, 6 July.

Between 1824 and 1849 the British created and maintained three short-lived military outposts on the coasts of the NT: Fort Dundas Melville Island 1824-1829, Fort Wellington Raffles Bay 1827-1829 and Victoria Port Essington 1838-1849.

In his book “World's End: British Military Outputs in the Ring Fence Around Australia”, Professor Powell is the first historian to draw a link between the three NT outposts and those of Westernport and King George’s Sound in the southern states.

“In1829 Captain Fremantle formally laid Great Britain’s claim to all of New Holland outside the bounds of New South Wales and to garrison a vast coastline,” Professor Powell said.

“Sporadically over the past century, Australian historians have considered the history of these outposts, which have almost universally been seen in terms of two major factors: trade and strategy.”

By looking at the five outposts in unison, Professor Powell has established that they formed a “ring fence”, a group of strategically positioned posts to protect assets from outside intrusion.

“Although England had formally laid claim to the land, it did not allay British fears of intrusion by the old and powerful enemy, France,” he said. “It was likely that the creation of the early outposts became increasingly important in the founding and maintenance of the last and most enduring of them, Port Essington.”

Professor Powell travelled throughout Australia to each of the five outposts and to the United Kingdom to gather information and talk to community members to document a section of history not previously recorded.

“I wanted to not only document the strategic reasons behind the founding of the outposts but also to discover what these remote posts were like to live in more than 150 years ago,” he said. “There is also much variation in the roles that Indigenous people played in this section of history.”

He said the intention of the book was not to provide a comprehensive account of ring fence outposts, but to draw together the threads of policy and strategy, and the human face of ephemeral frontier life among the ancient people who belonged to the land.

“It is really a story that may help to explain Britain’s last fling of Empire in Australia and its legacy," he said. "That no part of Australia was ever occupied by the French owed much to French mistakes, but Sir John Barrow the head of the British Admiralty’s determination that  the continent should belong to Britain alone laid the foundations for the future Australian nation, the only nation on earth to occupy a whole continent."

Alan Powell is Emeritus Professor of History and Political Science at CDU. He acknowledges the work of historians Ernest Scott and Dora Howard, along with the vital role of historical geographer Jim Cameron and biographer Ted Street in the creation of the book.

The book will be launched at the Northern Territory Library, Parliament House, Darwin at 5.30 pm on Wednesday 6 July, by the Honourable Austin Asche.