The past resonates in the present and will linger in the future. The histories of the Indigenous Australians are complex and pervasive. The Indigenous people sustained various wrongs in the various eras such as dispossession, segregation, and loss of power to control their own lives. This paper will focus on discussing the frontier war, protection, segregation and stolen children eras and ways in which Indigenous Australian people resisted the occupation of Australia and policies implemented on them.
The colonial frontier era was characterized by a series of wars between Indigenous Australians and British settlers which spanned for 146 years. The first conflict ensued some months after the advent of the First Fleet in January 1788, and the last fighting took place as late as 1934. The estimated fatalities in the clashes are at least 20, 000 Indigenous Australians and approximately 2500 Europeans. However, recent studies on frontier wars show that the Indigenous fatalities in Queensland may have been substantially higher. Indeed, while fighting took place in several locations across Australia, they were predominantly bloody in Queensland, due to its relatively larger pre-contact Indigenous inhabitants (Goodall & Read, 1988).
Far more annihilating in their effect on the Aboriginal populace, however, were illnesses, infertility, and food shortage due to hunting grounds. For instance, there are indications that Aboriginal tribes lost up to 50% of its populace to small pox epidemics. As a result of effects of the various factors, the tribe had limited ability to fight invasion and dispossession. (Tench, 1788).
In 1770, Europeans embarked on their first voyage along the Australian east coast. The expedition was under the direction of then-Lieutenant James Cook. The British on their voyage up the east coast of Australia saw no signs of agriculture or other activities by its inhabitants. Under the European law such land was deemed belonging to nobody or terra nullius or land having no occupants. The British claimed the land on 23rd of August 1770 (Phillip, 1790).
Conflicts between Indigenous Australians and Europeans were as a result of the fight over resources. Initially, the British occupied small amounts of land; however, they expanded their settlements disrupting Indigenous food-gathering activities. Due to of occupation land and destruction of food resources by the British the Indigenous Australians were faced with food shortage and starvation. The Aboriginal became inevitably hostile due to the competition of resources (Ryan, 2008).
The first frontier conflict took place in 1795 due to the Europeans establishing farms along the Hawkesbury River. The local Darug populace invaded the farms to steal food. These raids led to Governor Macquarie to dispatch troops from the British army in 1816 to patrol the Hawkesbury valley. The conflict ended when 14 Indigenous Australians were killed when the British troops raided their campsites.
War arose again when the Europeans expanded their settlements into inland New South Wales. The Wiradjuri warriors harassed the settler who crossed the Blue Mountains. The British retaliated by killing them. The conflicts led to Governor Brisbane to proclaim martial law. The law stipulated there would be no more slaughter of black women and children and unoffending of white men.
In the 1830s, the British extended their settlements into inland eastern Australia resulting to widespread conflict. The war spread across the Liverpool plains, with up to 500 indigenous Australians and 16 British being killed between 1832 and 1838. The war on the plain resulted in several massacres of Indigenous Australians including Myall Creek and Waterloo massacres.
Killings began again in 1834 with the spearing of Trooper Hugh Nesbit. The killing seemed odd to the Europeans since Nesbit had befriended the Indigenous people. With the Aboriginal structure of payback, building friendship bonds with the Aborigines made no difference. Tribal rule surpassed any relationships that may have been formed.
The Aborigines system was one life for one life while the British embarked on incapacitating the adversaries. The conflicts continued into the 20th century and was driven by the Indigenous people desire to secure their land and reprisals against their tribal men deaths.
In early twentieth century, the authorities deemed it necessary to protect the indigenous people as they faced the threat of extinction. The government made Indigenous people their wards in the name of ‘protection’ and subjected them to various protection policies. Consequently, the state had the power to decide where indigenous people could reside, work and who they could marry.
The government established reserves intended to shelter indigenous people against violence and disease. Often, indigenous people were forcibly relocated from their lands and made to live in the institutionalized environments. The reserves aimed at civilizing the indigenous people and subduing their traditions. However, in the process of civilization indigenous people lost their cultures and languages. Many indigenous people lost their legal claim to their traditional lands as a result of forcible removal (McGrath, 1995).
The protection act established in 1869 set a pattern of laws including the removal of Aboriginal children from their parents. The regulation led to the emergence of the stolen generations. However, in early the 1880s the Protection Board became chronically short of capital. The protection act provided that at the age of 13 boys were to be sent to work in farms or apprenticed while girls were to work as house servants. Orphaned mixed- race children were relocated to institutions of abandoned children or the government division dealing with neglected children. All ‘part-Aborigines’ aged 34 and below were to move from the missions with their families although the board still had control over them (Read, 2000).
Subsequent protection regulations stretched the Board’s power allowing it to send all mixed-race children, whether orphaned or not, to various children departments for their ‘better care and protection.’ Families declining to approve were made to leave the reserves and denied rations (Aboriginal & Islanders, 2003).
Between 1886 and 1923 the number of stations had progressively reduced. Fewer Aboriginal people resided in the Board’s stations. Those who were still in the missions lived a highly controlled life. Their residences were under scrutiny, and they could be banished for misconduct.
Indigenous persons who had been expelled from the Board’s stations or who voluntarily left faced persistent hostility in non-Indigenous society. The government did not offer welfare that was available to the non-Indigenous populace. The only form of assistance it provided to them was rations circulated by the police. Although the protection board reclaimed control over mixed-races, it denied help to anyone who was not living in reserve. In the face of these challenges, Indigenous people settled in shanty towns on the edges of country cities, in locations of former reserves and in areas that presented employment, such as seasonal fruit harvesting work (Dodson, 1997).
Indigenous Australians, who had been in Australia for at least 40,000 years before the advent of European settlers in 1788, were dispossessed of their land by the British who claimed Eastern Australia as their own on the basis of terra nullius doctrine. The indigenous inhabitants were gradually forced into neighboring areas as a result of the European expanding their settlements. Most of the indigenous people were repositioned to missions and land reserves. These land reserves and missions were unsuitable for human occupation since they facilitated diseases to spread quickly and had to be closed and the residents relocated to other areas (Clarke & Galligan, 1995).
The Aborigines eventually became discontented with the poor conditions and started rumbling when they met at Skull Spring. The rumblings developed into a fully-fledged strike in 1946. The first phase of the strike was between May 1946 and August 1949. During this period, the authorities used illegal practices, pressure and intimidation against the Aborigines in an effort to dismantle their spirit and drive them back to the stations.
In 1966, the Gurindji, Waripiri, Ngarinman, Bilinara and Mudbara Aboriginal groups walked off their stations resulting to a strike that lasted seven years. Initially, their actions were seen as strike against deplorable living and working conditions. However, it became apparent that they were also campaigning for the return of their land.
In 1967, there was a referendum in which majority of Australians voted “Yes” to giving the government authority to make laws for the Indigenous people. In 1972, the Labor government suspended development leases that might destroy the land, called to a halt mining exploration licenses and offered a small piece of land at Wattie Creek as an first phase of giving back land to the Indigenous people. In 1975, the Aboriginal groups were given back a portion of their land following successful negotiations between the Labor government and Vesteys.
The stolen generations are Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people who were separated from their families and communities when they were children. The children were taken away by various institutions including churches, welfare bodies, and governments. The separation took place in the period approximately between 1905 and 1969.
Contemporaneous documents of 19th and early 20th century indicate that the removal of Aboriginal children from their mothers was associated to the supposition that the Aborigines were dying off. Given their colossal population decline during the frontier conflicts, Europeans assumed that the Aboriginal population was doomed to extinction due to its inability to sustain itself. The exercise was also motivated by the belief that full-blooded Aboriginal people resented the mixed-race children and thus they needed to be protected from neglect and abuse.
Historians contend that substantial numbers of mixed-race children were brutally and forcibly taken from their mothers, probably even after being born, when recognized as mixed-blood babies. In some cases, families had to sign legal documents to relinquish the care of their children to the state. In Western Australia, the authorities adopted legislation that took away the legal custody of Aboriginal parents. Therefore, the government did not require parental approval to move the mixed-race children to institutions since all the children were legal wards of the state (McGregor, 2002).
The Aborigines and Torres Strait Islander could not resist since the government established policies that made mixed-race children their wards.In most cases, the removed children were relocated to institutional facilities run by charitable and religious organizations. A substantial number, particularly females were fostered or adopted by white families.
Children placed in such institutions were trained to be integrated into Anglo-Australian culture (Koolmatrie & Williams, 2000). Rules included reprimand for speaking their native languages. The aim was to prevent their being socialized into Aboriginal cultures and instead educate them for a changed future.
The program also aimed at protecting the children from abuse and neglect. However, reports show that a significant number sexual assault and other forms of abuse while in an institution, living with a foster family or at work.
The past is to a great extent part of the contemporary society, in the persistent devastation of the lives of Indigenous Australians. The devastation cannot be resolved unless the whole society is willing to commit itself to reconciliation and redress the dispossessions and other sustained by the Indigenous populace.
Aboriginal, A., & Islanders, T. S. ( 2003). Indigenous by definition, experience, or world view. Bmj. 327, 403-4.
Cassidy, J. ( 1989). A reappraisal of aboriginal policy in colonial Australia: Imperial and colonial instruments and legislation recognising the special rights and status of the Australian aboriginals. The Journal of Legal History, 10(3), 365-379.
Clarke, T., & Galligan, B. ( 1995). ‘Aboriginal native’and the institutional construction of the Australian citizen 1901–48'. Australian Historical Studies, 26(105), 523-543.
Dodson, M. (1997). Bringing them home: Report of the national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families.
Goodall, H., & Read, P. (1988). Chapter 1: The First Cycle: 1813-1850. In A hundred years war: the Wiradjuri people and the state (pp. 1-28).
Koolmatrie, J., & Williams, R. ( 2000). Unresolved grief and the removal of Indigenous Australian children. Australian Psychologist,, 35(2), 158-166.
McGrath, A. (1995). Chapter 2: New South Wales. In Contested Ground: Australian Aborigines under the British Crown (pp. 55-92). Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd.
McGregor, R. ( 2002). ‘Breed out the colour’or the importance of being white. Australian Historical Studies,, 33(120), 286-302.
Phillip, A. (1790). The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay: With an Account of the Establishment of the Colonies of Port Jackson and Norfolk Island... To which are Added the Journals of Lieuts. Shortland, Watts, Ball, and Capt. Marshall. J. Stockdal.
Read, P. (2000). Belonging: Australians, place and Aboriginal ownership. Cambridge University Press.
Ryan, L. (2008). In Massacre in the Black War in Tasmania 1823-34: a case study of the Meander River Region,June 1827| NOVA (pp. 10(4), 479-499). The University of Newcastle's Digital Repository.
Sexton, J. H. (1946). Bringing the Aborigines into Citizenship: How Western Australia is Dealing with the Matter . Adelaide: Aborigines’ Friends’.
Tench, W. (1788). Chapter VIII: From the Fleet’s Arrival at Botany Bay to the Evacuation of it; Natives, and taking Possession of Port Jackson. Interviews with the; Bay., and an Account of the Country about Botany. In A narrative of the expedition to Botany Bay.
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