Killing for Country: A Family Story

David Marr

Killing for Country: A Family Story
Black Inc.
3 October 2023

Killing for Country: A Family Story

David Marr

David Marr was shocked to discover his forebears served with the Native Police, the most brutal force in Australian history. Killing for Country is the result - a personal history of the Frontier Wars.

Marr brings his experience as an investigative journalist, an award-winning biographer and political analyst to the story of a colonial family that seized hundreds of thousands of acres of land and led Aboriginal troopers into bloody massacres in the most violent years of the Native Police.

Killing for Country is a unique history of the making of Australia - a richly detailed and gripping family saga of fortunes made and lost, of politics and power in the colonial world, and the violence let loose by squatters and their London bankers as they began their long war for the possession of this country - a contest still unresolved in today's Australia.


What does it mean to reckon with Australia’s bloody history? For David Marr, that history came especially close to home when he discovered a white officer of the brutally violent Native Police lurking in his ancestry. Killing for Country is Marr’s reckoning with that past: an exhaustively researched and unflinching portrait of colonial-era Australia and the unceasing violence it was built upon. Marr stands back and lets the history speak for itself, letting the singular act of colonisation unravel into an endless succession of individual cruelties, revealing the simple yet inexcusable motivation behind each and every dispossession and massacre.

Using his own ancestors as focal characters, Marr illustrates the birth, growth and moral corrosion of the Native Police, an institution that armed Indigenous soldiers and sent them into nations far from their own; an institution created to protect settlers and punish Indigenous ‘criminals’, but which quickly gained licence to indiscriminately ‘disperse’ any Indigenous gathering suspected of committing crimes, hiding bloodshed behind a ‘curtain of euphemism’. Over and over again, Marr lays out the same cycle: colonial expansion, Indigenous self-defence, astonishingly excessive white retaliation and, finally, legislative failure when the worst violence of the Native Police was allowed to continue. Every chapter is full of moments where this cycle could have been broken, but cruelty, greed and apathy win out every time, as the story of colonisation is slowly transformed from a sobering tragedy into a recurring nightmare.

Although the history discussed is broad, complex, and endlessly heartbreaking, Marr does a masterful job at holding the reader’s attention throughout Killing for Country. Fascinating primary-source material, ranging from first-hand accounts of harrowing violence to the minutiae of court cases and petty feuds, grounds the expansive sociological history in the voices of those who lived through it, and frequent maps and illustrations offer a glimpse into the world they inhabited. And whenever the history and the horror threatens to become overwhelming, Marr is there to encapsulate it all with a single devastating sentence.

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