When the first European settlers arrived in 1788 the Aborigines were the sole occupants of Australia. A hundred years later Aborigines no longer held much of the continent, and many Aboriginal groups were struggling for survival. Almost everywhere white settlement had proved overpowering. There had been no peaceful adjustment between whites and Aborigines, and the frontier between them had many times been marked in blood. Even where white settlement was sparse, traditional Aboriginal society was often strongly influenced by the presence of the new arrivals.
White people, claiming they had greater natural abilities and a higher standard of civilisation, soon justified what was happening. When they later looked backwards on their short time in Australia, they began to revere the achievements of pioneering whites. The achievements of the Aboriginal people, and the story of what had happened between whites and Aborigines, were ignored or quickly passed over.
Before 1788 the Macassan seamen were not the only visitors to Australia’s shores. European explorers, especially the Dutch, began to make contact with Australia’s coasts in the seventeenth century. The Dutch, making their way from their Indonesian trading posts, were probably the first white people Aborigines had seen. Contacts between them were very limited, for the Dutch made only fleeting visits to the coastline and had been instructed to be careful in any contacts with people found there – possibilities of trade must not be spoiled. The Dutch went back however to report that there was no chance of trade, for the land seemed miserable and full of flies. the Aborigines, unimpressed with the trinkets shown to them, resented the visitors, who had attempted to kidnap some of them. Fear, hostility and occasional bloodshed marked contact between the two sides.
In 1688 and 1699 the buccaneering Englishman William Dampier visited Australia’s north-west coast. He gave Europeans a more detailed version of Aboriginal life. Without other versions to compare them with, Dampier’s views became widely known and accepted. His lack of understanding led him to a disgust of Aboriginal life, influencing others to a similar conclusion.
His description helped to establish the typical beliefs and attitudes – the stereotypes – that future white people were to hold about Aboriginal Australians
Part of William Dampier’s description of the Aborigines on the north-west coast of Australia. (After the account in his New Voyage round the World 1697)
The inhabitants of this country are the miserablest people in the world. The Hodmadods of Monomatapa, though a nasty people, yet for wealth are gentlemen to these; who have no houses and skin garments, sheep, poultry, and fruits of the earth, ostrich eggs, etc., as the Hodmadods have; and setting aside their human shape, they differ but little from brutes. they are tall, straight-bodied and thin, with small, long limbs. they have great heads, round foreheads, and great brows. Their eye-lids are always half closed, to keep the flies out of their eyes, they being so troublesome here that no fanning will keep them from coming to one’s face… so that, from their infancy, being thus annoyed with these insects, they do never open their eyes as other people do; and therefore they cannot see far, unless they hold up their heads as if they were looking at somewhat over them.
They have great bottle-noses, pretty full lips and wide mouths, the two fore-teeth of their upper jaw are wanting in all of them, men and women, old and young: neither have they any beards.
They are long-visaged, and of a very unpleasing aspect, having no one graceful feature in their faces. Their hair is black, short, and curled, like that of the negroes; and not long and lank … the colour of their skins, both of their faces and the rest of their body, is coal black, like that of the negroes of guinea.
They have no sort of clothes, but the piece of the rind of a tree ty’d lyke a girdle about their waists, and a handful of long grass, or three or four small green boughs, full of leaves, thrust under their girdle to cover their nakedness.
They have no houses, but lye in the open air without any covering the earth being their bed and the heaven their canopy. Whether they cohabit one to one women, or promiscuously. I know not. but they do live in companies, twenty or thirty men, women and children together. their only food is a small sort of fish, which they get my making wares of stone across the coves or branches of the sea; every tide bringing in the little fish, and there leaving them a prey to these people, who constantly attend there to search at low water.
I did not perceive that they did worship anything. these poor creatures have a sort of weapon to defend their ware or fight with their enemies, if they have any that will interfere with their poor fishery. They did endeavour with their weapons to frighten us who, lying ashore, deterr’d them from one of their fishing places. some of them had wooden swords, others had a sort of lances. the sword is a piece of wood shaped somewhat like a cutclass. the lance is a long strait pole, sharp at one end, and hardened afterwards by heat. I saw no iron, nor any other sort of metal; therefore it is probable they use stone hatchet.
How they get their fire I know not but probably, as Indians do, out of wood.
yow, keep away from there…….
After Dampier it was some time before other navigators had much contact with Aborigines.
The famous Englishman Lieutenant James Cook was the most important. After examining Australia’s eastern coast in 1770, Cook wrote more favourably about the Aboriginal inhabitants:
They may appear to some to be the most wretched people upon Earth, but in reality they are far more happier than we Europeans; being wholly unacquainted not only with the superfluous but the necessary Conveniences so much sought after in Europe, they are happy in not knowing the use of them … the Earth and sea of their own accord furnished them with all things necessary for life …
Aborigines in early Sydney and other districts could see little point in many European practices. They did not need to cultivate the soil or keep domesticated animals, since the natural environment provided for their wants. Similarly they saw little need for European learning and religion – they had their own skills and their own explanations of the world around them. In fact Aborigines often proved the better teachers. they show3ed white settlers the trees that provided the best timbers for various purposes and how to cut and treat bark for hut making; they showed how to obtain bark fibre, valuable for rope, and other skills.
Above all Aborigines proved excellent guides, especially to white explorers, in strange country.The whites claimed that physical clashes occurred because Aborigines were naturally wicked and loved fighting. The claim was not accurate. Aborigines in their own society were a peaceful people. Fighting among them was usually on a limited scale, often stopping when the first blood was drawn. there was nothing like the wars known among European people for territory, nor did Aborigines form large-scale combinations for fighting. And Aborigines could scarcely have been impressed by what they saw among the new arrivals, for convict society offered daily examples of harshness and ill-treatment.
White people also claimed that Aborigines had no idea of land ownership, therefore white settlers could not be dispossessing them. why, they asked, did Aborigines resent the new arrivals so much? Part of the answer was already apparent to Governor King, who became governor of New South Wales in 1800. He realized that loss of land was a major reason for trouble, although settlers continued to claim Aborigines had no land of their own. Whites would not learn from the example of Bennelong, the Aborigine they knew best, who repeatedly declared that the island of Me-mul (Goat Island), near Sydney Cove, was his own and his family’s home. Like other Aborigines Bennelong was deeply attached to his land. to be forced from their group land meant that Aborigines lost their spiritual homes as well as their source of food. In occupying Aboriginal land, whites drove off game, destroyed vegetation, fouled waterholes and showed no respect for sacred places.
A modern writer, Professor Colin Tatz, has shown the nature of what was happening:
For Aborigines … land is a spiritual thing, a phenomenon from which culture and religion derive, it is not sellable or buyable. Land is not private property … Land was and is endowed with a magical quality, involving a relationship to the sun and the water and the earth and the animals all put together – for the collective use of all. the notion of a fence to separate portions of the land was unknown to them for fences defaced the land. They could not, and some still cannot, understand the concept of making land into private property and giving its ‘owners’ the right to bar everyone else … And so bloody conflict and massacre developed … because whites ‘took’ what Aborigines did not comprehend could be ‘taken’.As white settlement spread after 1800, clashes continued. Officials in Britain and New South Wales thought the matter was simple. the British Crown was held to own the land.
People of both races inhabiting the land were claimed to be British subjects. Aborigines were neither consulted nor given a choice. They were actually declared to be under the protection of the law, but this proved little. In fact whites were those who clamoured for protection and who received it most. With the wool trade becoming more prosperous, settlers then began settling on new grazing land after the Blue Mountains were crossed.
In more distant areas official protection of either race was more difficult and often not attempted. violence – ‘guerilla warfare’ – extended again along the frontier of settlement. guns were at the ready, or were used, on many pastoral properties. Aborigines, too, took to arms, using spears against settlers and stock. Inevitably, clashes ended in the taking of Aboriginal land and the subjection of the people.
The nature of relations between Aborigines and Europeans varied in different districts and was not always violent. European diseases were often the most destructive agent in the decline of Aboriginal groups.
Surviving Aborigines began to live in towns as well as country areas. European missionaries sought to break down Aboriginal beliefs and convert Aborigines to Christianity, but they also tried to provide some relief to suffering Aborigines. Yet by the 1830s relationships between Europeans and Aborigines were at a critical stage.
European settlers had seized great stretches of country in New South Wales. some pitched battles and other incidents were of major significance. In northern New South Wales in 1838 a group of station-hands killed twenty-eight bound Aborigines in what became known as the Myall Creek Massacre. In this case, unlike many others, the seven station-hands held to be responsible were convicted and hanged for their crime, despite white sympathy for them. Many whites seemed to share the view of a writer a little earlier “Speaking of them collectively, it must be confessed I entertain very little more respect for the aborigines of New Holland, than for the ourang-outang … ‘they would have shared his further opinion:” ‘They would have shared his further opinion: ‘We have taken possession of their country, and are determined to keep it …’
In Van Diemen’s Land the position was even worse. In 1804, soon after white settlement began, some ‘innocent and well disposed’ Aborigines were murdered at Risdon Cove, starting a chain reaction of unpleasant incidents. Lawless sealers and convicts, in murdering Aborigines and kidnapping Aboriginal women, provoked Aborigines to hatred and a desire for revenge. The settlers wanted to solve the Aboriginal question decisively; some simply wanted to exterminate all Aborigines on the island. they looked to the governor, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur, to take strong action. After several futile measures, Arthur tried to outlaw Aborigines from the settled districts. Soon he declared martial law and began in 1830 an amazing military operation, in which five thousand whites attempted to drive the remaining Aborigines into the Tasman Peninsula.
This so-called ‘Black War’, said to be extremely costly, failed dismally – only two Aborigines were captured. It was left to George Robinson, a bricklayer of simple faith, to attempt a government policy of conciliation.
Making contact with surviving groups, he persuaded Aborigines to make their home on flinders Island. though this provided some physical safety, Aborigines now lacked the spiritual comfort of their own lands. Urged to accept strange European customs and learning, Tasmania’s Aborigines continued to decline in numbers. By 1850 few survived.In Western Australia, settled in the 1820s, the early aims of protecting, Aborigines and offering them the benefits of European learning and religion were, as elsewhere, soon outweighed by other concerns. governor Stirling allowed whites to take strong measures against Aborigines said to be causing trouble. Stirling personally took part in the ‘Battle of Pinjarra’ to punish Aborigines of the Murray River district south of Perth. Once again the Aborigines faced strong pressure from whites determined to occupy the land and use arms if they chose.
At Port Phillip Bay in 1835 an initial attempt was made at land negotiations. John Batman, an ambitious pastoralist from Van Diemen’s Land was anxious to secure good grazing land near the Yarra for himself and his partners. Unable to win official approval to settle there, Batman simply bargained with local Aborigines for a large tract of land. the New South Wales governor declared this private treaty illegal, and although settlement at Port Phillip expanded quickly and profitably for other whites, Batman obtained no benefit from his curious deal. Nor did Aborigines, who soon found their traditional life decaying and their numbers declining. This was despite the appointment of official protectors of Aborigines, the founding of mission stations and schools, and an attempt to form a ‘Native Police’ force which recruited Aborigines themselves for police work.Great hopes were held that South Australia, settled in 1836, would be free of the racial troubles elsewhere.
In Britain officials influenced by the humanitarian movement of the time were anxious to give South Australia’s Aborigines much greater protection and the blessings of British ways and the Christian religion. they believed South Australia could be a model colony in this respect. Although a protector of Aborigines was appointed and although a good deal of humanitarian talk about kindly treatment took place, efforts and results were feeble.
The Kaurna people around Adelaide was soon shattered as a unit. Aboriginal groups surviving longer felt limited benefit from occasional educational, missionary and welfare attempts. Far from being a model colony in its relations with Aborigines, South Australia resembled the other colonies in the rapid occupation of Aboriginal lands, the physical violence between the races, and the settlers’ ignorance of the nature of Aboriginal society.
And once again the original idea of giving protection to Aborigines soon gave way to settlers’ demands for protection from Aborigines, especially after clashes involving overlanders bringing stock to South Australia.In northern Australia Aborigines and whites engaged in an often violent struggle in the Moreton Bay district (part of the future colony of Queensland).
White settlers often resorted to poisoned food and guns along the very troubled frontier. As settlement advanced, the Native Police force – used before in Victoria and New South Wales – became prominent. These mounted Aboriginal troopers, enlisted from remote districts to use their skills of bushcraft against their own race, were trained to enforce peace, ruthlessly as pastoral holdings were developed. For whit3es, the possession of potentially valuable grazing land in the Darling Downs and other areas was at stake; for local Aborigines, this was traditional land and the lifeblood of their existence.
Only on stations where their labour was valued were Aborigines welcome; elsewhere they were likely to be attacked indiscriminately. In the Northern Territory things were no better. From the time of John McDouall Stuart’s explorations, the Northern Territory was a scene of racial conflict, a conflict marked by mistrust and violence in which guns, spears and staghounds often featured. Administrators made only feeble efforts to calm the situation. Matters were left to the settlers themselves or entrusted to police leading punitive expedition and forces of Native Police. Cattle spearing would often be the reason given for such an expedition, frequently leading to loss of Aboriginal lives.
Such actions hastened the decline of Aboriginal groups during the nineteenth century, though the decline went on even where there was friendship and trust on both sides. The decline came despite the setting up of government ration-stations to distribute flour and blankets to needy aborigines, and despite the work of missionary establishments and official protectors of Aborigines.
It came, too, despite the often spirited resistance of Aboriginal people to the seizure of their land and the attacks on their culture. the land question lay at the heart of the decline of traditional Aboriginal society. The declared attitude of the British and colonial governments remained clear: the land, ‘waste and uncultivated’, belonged to the whites, even if they had not yet occupied parts of it. Even where some land reserves were set aside for Aborigines, the colonial governments claimed actual ownership of the reserves and white pastoralists could often graze their stock there. Only a few whites admitted that Aborigines were being dispossessed of their land.
The Aboriginal people regarded white settlement as an unjustified intrusion on their lands. Sheep and cattle began to eat out the native grasses and drive off the game which provided essential meat food. The situation was made worse by the white pastoralists’ determination to control the existing waterholes, soon fouled by stock. There was an increasing upset in the balance between Aboriginal population numbers and the available food supply. the white intruders showed no desire to compensate, and did not acknowledge the food-sharing practices found among the Aboriginal people themselves.
The situation, of course, was not simply an economic one, since whites and their stock were occupying sacred Aboriginal places, such as the totemic sites to which Aborigines were reverently attached. It was little wonder that Aborigines began their own campaign of spirited resistance on the frontier of settlement. They speared stock which were on their haunting-grounds and which they thus believed they were entitled to hunt. In many areas a bitter racial conflict began, in which Aborigines were at a disadvantage in arms, especially when whites could make greater use of rifles in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The first interest of white governments came to be to provide protection from the Aborigines, rather than of them.
Police action, punitive raids and began enforcement were some of the methods used. It is no exaggeration to conclude that actual warfare thus took place over a long period in Australia.
In legal proceedings Aborigines were at a considerable disadvantage. Because Aborigines were regarded as incapable of understanding the oath in European courts, their evidence was not accepted. When this situation was later corrected, Aborigines were still greatly disadvantaged. No Aborigine appeared as prosecutor, juror or judge. Court procedures and the legal code were European, and bewildering to Aborigines.
Aborigines also became victims of bias and prejudice in courts, which were anxious to uphold white dominance and did not acknowledge Aboriginal title to the land. the punishment system made matters for worse – its basis w3as not understood and it left Aborigines confused and very fearful.The Europeans’ failure to consider Aboriginal law and customs was part of the pattern of white supremacy. this made no allowance for Aboriginal practices. In traditional society, of course, Aborigines were bound by strict obligations and codes of conduct, which whites simply refused to recognise.
Aborigines settled disputes by different means, involving actual or ceremonial punishments and not detention. the idea was to restore normal group life as quickly as possible. Whites were unwilling or unable to understand the Aboriginal system. They failed to observe obligations which Aborigines thought should apply to whites as well as themselves. This caused much Aboriginal resentment – especially the practice of whites trespassing on Aboriginal land and the troubles arising from the whites’ desire for relationships with Aboriginal women.
Translation of Aboriginal languages caused problems in court, and Aboriginal customs and law were not taken into account. The position was made worse by the Aboriginal tendency to look for, and give, the answer required by the prosecution.
By 1901 Aborigines had lost control over their land in all except the remote parts of the continent. They were not given the chance to determine their own future. their culture was not respected. Aboriginal languages were dying out with the people. Few whites took, the trouble to learn anything about Aboriginal life; many whites regarded Aborigines as oddities or nuisances. Along the frontier the view was still usually the same – ‘Bullocks and blacks won’t mix’. It was hoped that the establishment of the new federal government, in 1901, would lead to a better deal for Aborigines. There were even suggestions that the new government, and not the separate states, should have responsibility for Aboriginal affairs. But things changed little. It was decided, for example, that Aborigines should not be counted in the feral census. thus the original owners of the land were officially not counted or regarded as Australians. the federal government had no new views on Aboriginal affairs, which remained the responsibility of the individual states. State laws reflected the desire to restrict and segregate Aborigines.
A Queensland Act in 1897 set the pattern. It gave the official protectors of Aborigines wide powers to control the lives of the Aboriginal and part-Aboriginal people. It provided for reserves on which Aborigines should live and supervised their movements and employment by whites. Western Australia and South Australia adopted similar legislation, so that Aborigines who no longer lived in their traditional societies often had to live on reserves under government administration. In effect they had to live as inmates of institutions.The basis, then, of the protection policy was restriction of the Aboriginal people and their rights. As before, there was no attempt to consider what Aborigines themselves might want. Once again whites assumed that the best policy for Aborigines was to adopt white ways. If Aborigines did not follow that path, then it was said they were lacking in ability. there was always the feeling that the Aborigines, not the whites, were responsible for any failure.
Along the frontier of settlement in the early twentieth century, relations between whites and Aborigines continued to reveal conflict and inhumanity. In outlying areas of the Northern Territory and Western Australia some settlers and bushmen were accustomed to shoot Aborigines on sight or turn their dogs loose at sundown. Several of the worst incidents were described by Dr. W.E. Roth, who was asked to make a report to the Western Australian government in 1905. He revealed ‘a most brutal and outrageous state of affairs’ in the northern part of the state: there was police corruption in administering Aboriginal ration allowances; the chaining together (by the neck) of arrested Aborigines and Aboriginal witnesses and prisoners, forced labour for Aboriginal children, and heavy sentences for children and adults convicted of killing cattle; discrimination in court proceedings; and a shortage of food.
As white colonists seized Aboriginal land – land with its spiritual as well as economic importance – there began the assault on traditional Aboriginal society. Beliefs, social customs and morale were weakened as Aboriginal numbers declined. No longer did the social system firmly support Aboriginal groups, ritual duties were no longer performed with the old vigour. The spiritual basis of Aboriginal life was undermined. The whites’ desire to educate and convert Aborigines hastened the breakdown of Aboriginal society. Whites usually described that society as primitive. Aboriginal beliefs and customs were ridiculed, as attempts were made to replace them with European culture. this culture puzzled rather than satisfied Aborigines, to whom it had little relevance. Aborigines found adjustment difficult.
Their own world was one in which tradition was highly important – unlike whites, they placed no emphasis on change. In turn Aborigines were criticised for their apparent unwillingness to live according to ‘civilised’ ways. Meanwhile Aboriginal social life continued to decline. white missionaries, by discouraging initiation ceremonies, hindered younger Aborigines from being accepted as full participants in traditional life. whites encouraged Aboriginal marriages which cut across traditional kinship rules. Other patterns of behaviour, so important in regulating Aboriginal social life, decayed.White settlers usually concentrated on the material problems of colonial life. In the clash for land, especially in remote parts, the settlers’ fear of Aborigines was noticeable.
With their control of the land gone, Aborigines drifted to the edge of towns, pastoral stations and mission stations, attracted by European material items and by food, drink, and tobacco. Hand-outs of ration food and clothing were periodically made, emphasising the unfortunate and dependent state to which Aborigines had been reduced. The availability of alcohol and tobacco began to take a severe toll of Aboriginal health.
Disease played a vital role in the breakdown of traditional Aboriginal societies. In fact introduced diseases have often been suggested as the major cause of the disappearance of many Aboriginal groups, with a much greater impact than physical violence or any other factor. Before the Macassan visits and the arrival of Europeans, Aborigines had been relatively free from diseases, their chief trouble coming from eye and skin complaints. The marsupials they hunted did not transmit their diseases to humans. but after the coming of other peoples and their stock, Aborigines began to suffer badly from the new diseases, to which they had no natural resistance. Smallpox, tuberculosis, venereal diseases and leprosy had disastrous effects, while milder diseases such as influenza, measles, whooping-cough and the common cold could be just as deadly to a people with no previous contact with them. Several descriptions stated that in some areas most, or all, of the children died from disease.
Diseases in fact often drastically reduced a local Aboriginal population even before the full pressure of white settlement was felt there. Smallpox destroyed the majority of Aborigines close to Sydney within three years of white settlement in 1788. the disease spread down the Murray to south Australia, shattering she health and numbers of Aborigines as it went. the ‘smallpox song’ that Aborigines sang was powerless to stop the deadly disease. the death of the traditional Aboriginal ‘doctors’ and the destruction of medicinal herbs by introduced stock removed the traditional Aboriginal sources of relief from illnesses. by 1850 the results of disease were already being felt in the settled areas of southern Australia, where whites were noticing the decline in the Aboriginal population.
Disease robbed Aboriginal people of their spirit and ability to survive. By reducing numbers it broke down the strength of the kinship system and the links between the generations. The birth rate was lowered. Surviving groups were left unable to carry on in the former manner as strong social units. The impact of disease on the social structure of Aboriginal groups and on total numbers was profound.
As the rapid decline in Aboriginal population took place, few whites tried to suggest reasons. One who did so in 1886 described the grim process and some of its causes: Experience shows that a populous town will kill out the tribes which live near enough to visit it daily in from two to ten years … in more sparsely-settled country the process is somewhat different and more gradual, but it leads to the same end. In the bush many tribes have disappeared, and the rest are disappearing. Towns destroy by drunkenness and debauchery; in the country, from fifteen to five-and-twenty per cent fall by the rifle; the tribe then submits, and diseases of European origin complete the process of extermination.This description showed a general pattern. the process varied in intensity according to districts, and was slowed by the efforts of a few determined showed a general pattern. the process varied in intensity according to districts, and was slowed by the efforts of a few determined whites to help Aborigines.
Not all the Aboriginal groups died out. but long before 1900 most whites thought it was only a matter of time before the Aboriginal people ceased to exist. This apparent dying-out of the whole race helped to end earlier ideas – held mostly by whites in towns – about Aboriginal assimilation into the white community. Instead of different approach was suggested. Its goal was to make the passing of the Aborigines as peaceful as possible. the approach was termed ‘soothing the dying pillow’. To those who cared, the policy seemed a worthy one, though it was also a policy of despair.
As early as 1868, when more than three-quarters of Victoria’s Aborigines had already died out, a Melbourne editor summed up the policy:Let us make their passage to the grave as comfortable as possible – let us do our best to civilize them and convert them to Christianity; but let us not flatter ourselves that, up to the present at any rate, we have succeeded. something may be done with the half-castes, but the case of the full-blooded aboriginal is, we fear, hopeless.Whites tended to make a fuss of the last Aboriginal members of a group, just as they did of those they described as ‘king’ or ‘queen’ of a particular group. In practice, however, few whites, or their governments, did much towards Aboriginal welfare.
Mission stations and government reserves became the enforced homes of many surviving Aborigines, where they were supplied with medicine, shelter, a minimum of food, and the customary blankets. some schooling and elementary training in practical skills could also be provided. governments favoured this policy of segregation, declaring that it would enable Aborigines to avoid contact with the worst of the whites. Yet by encouraging the isolation of Aborigines this policy also enabled white society to avoid Aborigines and the ‘problem’ of Aboriginal welfare. the idea of ‘soothing the dying pillow’ was easy to accept, for it helped to satisfy the few whites who were concerned about the Aborigines’ position. It also left other whites free to pursue their own tasks on the land taken from Aborigines.This Brilliant article by Jane Resture
Whites in the north did not hide their fierce determination to seize and hold the land. this brought them into opposition with some city-dwellers, who questioned not the northerners’ right to the land but the means used to obtain it. “Arguments over the issue sometimes flared in the press. the northerners’ feelings were clear, as shown in a poem, written by one of their supporters:
The civic merchant, snugly housed and fed,
Who sleeps each night on soft and guarded bed,
Who never leaves the city’s beaten tracks.
May well believe in kindness to the blacks.
But he can never know, nor hardly guess,
The dangers of the pathless wilderness;
The rage and frenzy in the squatter’s brain
When the speared bullocks dot the spreading plain;
The lust for vengeance in the stockman’s heart
Who sees his horse lie slain by savage dart;
The nervous thrill the lonely traveller feels feels
When round his camp the prowling savage steals;
Nor that fierce hate with which the soul is filled
When man must daughter or himself be killed.
Ah! who shall judge? Not you, my city friend,
Whose life is free from all that can offend;
Who pass your days in comfort, ease, and peace.
Guarded by metropolitan police.
Ah! who shall judge the bushman’s hasty crime
Both justified by circumstance and clime.
Could you, my friend, ‘neath such assaults be still,
And never feel that wild desire to kill?
Steps in your own defence would you not take
When law is absent then your own laws make.
From 1911, when it took over the administration of the Northern Territory from South Australia, the Commonwealth became more involved in Aboriginal affairs. Its policy of protection resembled the policy found in several of the states. Every aspect of Aboriginal life was carefully regulated. The Aborigines freedom of movement was greatly restricted. For many Aborigines, life became centred on institutions established under government control, where the opportunity to make personal decisions and live in simple dignity was slight. Special conditions governed their employment, while their personal property remained under the control of the government’s chief protector of Aborigines. The protector, not the children’s parents, was the legal guardian of the children.
Yet the Commonwealth was no more able than the states to improve Aboriginal affairs. The Northern Territory remained prone to racial disturbances, which police solved as they saw fit. In places such as Arnhem Land it was possible for Aborigines to lead a better life, in more traditional manner. but around white settlements and stations Aborigines camped in poverty, valued only when their labour was essential in the pastoral industry. the commonwealth seemed to forget they existed, until their condition came to public notice late in the 1920s. At that time drought threatened natural food supplies, bringing concern in southern cities about the Aborigines’ plight.
About another matter – the ‘Coniston Massacre’ – there were louder complaints. following the death in 1928 of a white prospector at Coniston Station in Central Australia, a police expedition set out to find the culprits. In a series of raids police took heavy toll of Aboriginal lives. The reaction from city people interested in Aboriginal welfare was hostile, and not softened by an official report justifying the raids and the police shooting of many Aborigines. Reports of killings elsewhere, such as in the Kimberleys, and of the miserable conditions which many Aborigines were forced to endure, aroused further concern.
Such troubles revived the arguments between whites in towns and those on the edge of settlement about policies towards Aborigines. Like others earlier, there were settlers who still thought and spoke of Aborigines as a kind of animal, describing them as ‘wild’ or ‘tame’. Many whites still took refuge in the belief that the Aboriginal race was dying out, despite evidence to the contrary. ‘even as late as 1938 Daisy Bates, the well-known worker for the Aborigines on the Nullarbor, published her book under the title of the Passing of the Aborigines.
Malnutrition and disease continued to play havoc with Aboriginal health as the twentieth century wore on. A white doctor, well informed about the Aboriginal situation, even claimed later that malnutrition was the greatest damage inflicted by the whites and the one least acknowledged with regret. Government and station rations were often inadequate. flour, sugar and tea were the basic rations, following the pattern laid down in the previous century, when governments saw feeding-stations as a means of preventing Aboriginal hunger and thus possibly of preventing the spearing of stock. The absence of protein foods affected Aboriginal health and contributed to high infant mortality. Damp clothing and poor housing brought further suffering. Disease, especially tuberculosis, remained widespread and often fatal.
This wonderful article is by Dr. Jane Resture.
To the invaders the Aborigines seemed part of a strange land with distinctive fauna. Aborigines were often described as wild while the term savages survived from early days.
Then, after the clash between the races, came the decline of Aboriginal traditional life.
"On February 14, Valentines Day, 1779 Captain James Cook of the British Royal Navy was killed by natives in Kealakekua Bay, on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Cook sailed across the world bringing murder, rape, disease, and colonialism to native peoples all over the Pacific. He was conflicted about doing this but it was his "duty".
When he was killed, Cook was trying to kidnap the Hawaiian Aliʻi (tribal chief) Kalaniʻōpuʻu in response to an unknown person stealing a small boat. In the process, he had threatened to open fire on the islanders.
At this point, the Hawaiians decided they had enough of Cook, threatened with murder and the kidnapping of one of their tribal leaders, the Hawaiian islanders finally attacked him and he died from a knife to the chest. This put an end to a lifetime of predatory behaviour and conquest of lands in the service to the British empire.
..... Sooooo... instead of celebrating a boring consumerist holiday like Valentine’s Day, a lot of Aboriginals celebrate the death of Captain Cook Day…"
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