Publication Date: Mar 2012
RRP: $29.95
ISBN: 9781921867262
Format: Paperback
Size: 153mm x 234mm
Pages: 310
Category: Australian History, History, Indigenous Studies

A Wild History

Life and Death on the Victoria River Frontier

Darrell Lewis

Also available as an ebook from your favourite retailer.

If Ned Kelly had been gentler and more learned but just as much a bushman he might have written A Wild History’ Tom Griffiths, Inside Story

Now at last this majestic tract of north Australia has its defining history… Wild tales, dark times, deep history.‘ Nicolas Rothwell, The Australian

‘An outstanding publication… His meticulous research combined with extensive first-hand knowledge of locations and people result in a study already widely recognised as a major historical work…’ Professor David Carment, Public History Review

‘It is a story with which every Australian should become familiar.’ Henry Reynolds

Joint winner of the Northern Territory Chief Minister’s History Book Award 2013

In 1883 pastoralists began to drive great herds of cattle into Victoria River District of Australia’s Northern Territory. They entered a vast tropical land of big rivers, wide plains, and rugged ranges. It was a cattleman’s paradise, but also a paradise for the Aboriginal people who had lived there for thousands of years. Each side came to see the other as the serpent in the garden – a serpent that had to be banished – and a twenty year war ensued. The cattlemen won, but it was a pyrrhic victory. The coming of the cattle began the destruction of the paradise for both.

The frontiersmen who came to the district included cattle and horse thieves, outlaws, capitalists, dreamers, drunks, madmen and others. Together they established massive stations of up to 12,000 square miles on the traditional lands of the Aborigines. This book looks at them all, from the explorers of the 1830s and 1850s to the founders of the big stations in the 1880s and 1890s, and finally at the ‘golden era’ of the cattle duffers in the early 1900s.

Drawing on painstaking research into obscure though rich documentary sources, Aboriginal oral traditions, and first-hand investigations in the region over thirty-five years, Darrell Lewis pieces together the complex interactions between the environment, the powerful and warlike Aboriginal tribes and the settlers and their cattle, which produced what truly became A Wild History.


1.     The Victoria River Country: Land and People
2.     First Contact
3.     The Advance Scouts of Settlement
4.     The Coming of the Cattle
5.     Unquiet Times
6.     Jasper Gorge
7.     Captain Joe’s Bradshaw
8.     The Wild Wardaman Warriors
9.     The Victoria River Sheep Saga
10.   Hard-Riding Individualists
11.   The Nest of Reputed Thieves

Darrell Lewis

Darrell Lewis is an historian and archaeologist who, for the past 40 years, has lived among and worked with Aboriginal and white Australians in the Northern Territory. Travelling by four wheel drive, helicopter, boat and on foot, his work has taken him to many remote regions to record historic sites and Aboriginal rock paintings. He has written books on rock art, settler history, cattle station technology and environmental history. Among his publications are The Rock Paintings of Arnhem Land, Australia (1988), Beyond the Big Run (1995), Slower than the Eye Can See (2002) and The Murranji Track (2007). He is currently employed at the National Museum of Australia where he is writing a history of the search for the lost explorer, Ludwig Leichhardt.