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“On duty in pursuit of the natives”: accounting and truth-telling about Australia's frontier wars

Nicole Sutton (Department of Accounting, University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, Australia)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 18 August 2022

Issue publication date: 27 March 2023




This paper considers how archival accounting records may support truth-telling about past atrocities during Australia's frontier wars.


The study examines two colonial accounting records – military muster payrolls and the ledger statements of a local tax fund – used during the British's punitive expeditions against the Aboriginal peoples of Sydney in 1816.


The accounting records reveal new information about the full scale of the campaign, the degree to which the violence was formally endorsed and acts of Aboriginal resistance. However, much of the human toll of the campaign remains obscured by the highly structured, monetary lens of financial records authored and archived by the British colonial regime.

Social implications

Australia's First Nations have called for greater truth-telling about the frontier wars to enable meaningful reconciliation and political recognition of Indigenous sovereignty. This study highlights the potential role of accounting records as a resource for contemporary truth-telling processes.


The study contributes to the literature about the dark history of accounting by explicating genre features in the content, form and context of archival accounting records, which can both render past atrocities more visible as well as perpetrate invisibilities, ambiguities and silences.



This research started during a collaborative investigative podcast project, “The Bank, the Sergeant and his bonus”, for 2SER's History Lab, supported by UTS Business School and the Australian Centre for Public History. The author thanks the podcast team: Jason L'Ecuyer, Tom Allinson, Tamson Pietsch, Joe Koning, Lauren Carroll Harris and Ellen Leabeater and is grateful for the feedback received on this manuscript from Gawaian Bodkin-Andrews, Jason O'Neil, Olivia Henderson, Eddie Synot, Megan Davis, Robynne Quiggin, Helena Liu, Danielle Logue, Kyoung-Hee Yu, Stewart Clegg, David Brown, Sonja Gallhofer, Lyndall Ryan the participants of the 13th Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Accounting Conference (2021), as well as editor Lee Parker and two anonymous reviewers. As a non-Indigenous scholar, the author acknowledges that this research was conducted on the land of the Gadigal, Boorooberongal, Gamaragal, Dharug, Gundungurra and D'harawal peoples, which was taken from them without their consent, treaty or compensation. The author pays her respect to Elders past, present and future


Sutton, N. (2023), "“On duty in pursuit of the natives”: accounting and truth-telling about Australia's frontier wars", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 36 No. 2, pp. 712-738.



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