[Historian Lyndall] Ryan is based at the Centre for the History of Violence at Newcastle University, up the coast from Sydney. A few years ago, she applied for a research grant to embark on a hugely ambitious undertaking: to map the site of every Australian colonial frontier massacre on an interactive Web site. Ryan defines a massacre, in this context, as the indiscriminate killing of six or more undefended people. Since Aboriginal communities tended to live together in camps of about twenty people, losing six or more people in one killing—a “fractal” massacre—usually led to the whole community collapsing.
Four years of painstaking research later, with the grant depleted, Ryan’s map is nowhere near finished. So far, it includes more than a hundred and seventy massacres of Indigenous people in eastern Australia, as well as six recorded massacres of settlers, from the period of 1788 to 1872. She estimates that there were more than five hundred massacres of Indigenous people over all, and that massacres of settlers numbered fewer than ten. (Ryan has not yet researched any massacres of Torres Strait Islander people, who are culturally distinct from mainland Aboriginal groups but share their history of colonization.) In July, Ryan and her tiny team decided it was time to release the partially completed map online.