nettelbeck and foster on mounted policemen and frontier mythology
Primary amongst the legal instruments that would implement British law across Britain’s Empire were colonial mounted police forces, and one of their shared purposes was to ensure Aboriginal people’s compliance to colonial rule. Although the land wars that accompanied the imposition of British rule are an integral part of national historical memory in some parts of the “British west”, Australia and Canada have always been framed by national foundational narratives of peaceful settlement through the rule of law. This article will compare the history and historical memory of colonial mounted police forces in Australia and Canada in relation to their role in subduing Aboriginal resistance to colonial sovereignty. While by the late nineteenth century the operations of Australia’s colonial mounted police forces had achieved little purchase in a foundational story of developing Australian nationhood, over the first decades of the twentieth century, the omnipresent image of the Mountie as the foundational figure of Canadian nationhood not only helped to shape a parallel Australian story of a “fine body of men” who brought law and order to Australia’s frontiers, but also served both to obscure and to justify the violence in Australia’s policing history against Aboriginal people.
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