Indigenous Australians: Australia’s First People

Subject: History
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There has been an intense debate on the history of the interaction of European settlers and the early inhabitants of Australia. The landing of Captain Cook in Botany signified the entry of European settlers into Australia. Several historians present this as the beginning of Australia’s history. European settlers helped in establishing a civilised Australian society. Prior to the arrival of Captain Cook, indigenous Australians had inhabited Australia and the nearby islands for more than 50,000 years. Indigenous Australians had migrated from Africa. Torres Strait Islanders are the indigenous inhabitants of the Torres Strait Islands.

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On the other hand, Aborigines are the original inhabitants of mainland Australia and Tasmania. Indigenous Australians and European settlers have different views on Australia’s history. According to the indigenous Australians, destruction of way of life, and death as the major characteristics of Australia’s history. Settlement, exploration, and expansion are the major characteristics of Australian history according to the European settlers.

Aboriginal Australians before the First Fleet

In the eighteenth century indigenous Australians lived in different parts of Australia. In addition, they also inhabited nearby Islands. The Torres Strait Islanders lived in Islands that were north of Australia. On the other hand, Aborigines lived in mainland Australia and Tasmania. Aborigines were not a united group of people. They comprised of more than 500 separate groups. Each of these groups had their own language and subculture. The groups did not call themselves Aborigines. European settlers are the people who first used the word to refer to the native inhabitants of Australia. Native inhabitants who lived around Sydney called themselves Kooris. Wangai, Nunga, Anangu, Palawah, and Tiwi are some of the names that various native inhabitants called themselves (McGregor 45).

Native inhabitants of Australia were mainly hunters and gatherers. Aborigines were mainly semi-nomadic. They moved across large parts of Australia due to the changing availability of food. In additional, seasonal changes necessitated the movement of the native inhabitants. The native inhabitants had different cultures and mode of life. Certain native inhabitants had permanent settlements. These inhabitants cultivated various crops. The River Murray valley had one of the highest population densities.

Dispossession & Protectionism

European settlers settled in mainland Australia during the last decade of the 18th century. Governor Arthur Phillip was the individual who represented the British monarchy in Australia. He was under strict instructions to treat the natives of the country fairly. Native Australian inhabitants had never seen white men prior the arrival of the First Fleet. They believed that the white men were ghosts or demons. Eventually, their fear subsided. They started making cautious contact with the white people. In the beginning, the relationship between the European settlers and the native inhabitants was good. Both sides feared each other. In addition, misunderstandings were common (Prentis 10). However, the relationship deteriorated after a few years.

Governor Phillip strived to improve the interaction between the native inhabitants and the European settlers. Therefore, he ordered European settlers to take hostage some native inhabitants. These hostages lived in the Port Jackson settlement. Governor Phillip thought that bringing native inhabitants closer to the culture of the European settlers would encourage them to accept the culture. European settlers believed that the original inhabitants of Australia had ‘uncivilised’ lifestyles. Therefore, they believed it was their duty to teach them how to lead a ‘civilised’ lifestyles. The European settlers hoped that the hostages would take the ideas to their communities. However, this did not happen. Soon after the hostages returned to their communities, they reverted to their traditional ways of life.

The issue of land is one of the major factors that led to the breakdown of the relationship between the European settlers and the native inhabitants. Port Jackson was the earliest European settlement. As more European settlers arrived into the country, the settlement continued to expand. This made it to encroach into the land of the native inhabitants. The British monarchy granted many European settlers land grants. This encouraged them to continue staying in the new colony. They received land grants irrespective of the previous use of the land by native inhabitants. The European settlers destroyed the sacred sites and hunting grounds of the native inhabitants. This led to the breakdown of the relationship between the native inhabitants and the European settlers (Syron and Kearney 34).

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The native inhabitants valued their land. Living in harmony with the land was one of the major characteristics of their culture. The spiritual beliefs and customs of the native inhabitants of Australia valued the land. Therefore, the native inhabitants formed a close relationship with their land.

The native inhabitants believed that they lived with their land. They did not live on top of the land. On the other hand, the European settlers viewed the land in the context of money and who was the owner of the land. The European settlers could not understand the spiritual relationship that the native inhabitants had with the land. As the Port Jackson settlement expanded, the European settlers continued to encroach into the land and sacred places of the native inhabitants.

The European settlers did not just bring new ideas to the native inhabitants of Australia. They also brought various diseases. These diseases were new to the native inhabitants. Therefore, the native inhabitants did not have natural immunity to the diseases. Smallpox was one of the deadliest diseases that the European settlers brought to Australia. Soon after the arrival of the European settlers, there was an outbreak of smallpox among the Eora people. The Eora lived near the Port Jackson settlement. The outbreak of the diseases led to the death of half of the population of the Eora. In addition it spread further into the country. The spread of the disease led to the death of more native inhabitants. Influenza and measles are some of the deadly diseases that killed tens of thousands of the native inhabitants.

It is impossible to determine the number of native inhabitants who were in Australia prior to the arrival of the European settlers. Various scholars estimate that there were between approximately 500,000 native inhabitants before the arrival of the European settlers. However, by the time the European settlers formed the Federation in 1901, the population of native inhabitants had reduced to approximately 20,000. This is a clear illustration of the deadly impact of the diseases. After overcoming the deadly diseases, the number of the native inhabitants increased significantly. Currently, the native inhabitants have the highest birth rate in Australia.

There were violent massacres and bloodshed soon after the settlement of the European settlers. As white settlers began moving out of their original settlement, they increased their contact with the native inhabitants. They took over more land and food sources of the native inhabitants. Most of the native inhabitants were nomadic. Therefore, the European settlers assumed that they would move on to other lands. The European settlers cleared the land for various agricultural activities. In so doing, they denied the native inhabitants their source of food. This led to the eruption of war between the European settlers and the native inhabitants.

Both groups thought they were fighting for their survival. Therefore, the wars between the two groups was brutal. Both sides committed deadly massacres. However, the European settlers had superior firepower. In addition, after the death a sizeable percentage of the native inhabitants due to the outbreak of various diseases, the European settlers had greater numbers than the native inhabitants (Attwood 21).

European settlers believed the native inhabitants were weaker and inferior. Therefore, they expected them to die out slowly. The European settlers embraced Darwin’s theories on evolution and survival of the fittest. Since the European settlers thought they were the superior race, they saw it as their duty to protect the native inhabitants before they died out. Therefore, established a ‘protection’ policy. However, this policy did not protect the freedom and way of life of the native inhabitants.

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Assimilation, Self-Determination, and Reconciliation

During the first decades of the 20th century, a sizeable percentage of the native inhabitants worked in various establishments that were owned by the European settlers. Since they were British subjects, they had the right to vote. However, the government allowed only the native inhabitants who ‘merged’ into the western society the chance to vote. Queensland and various parts of Western Australia denied all native inhabitants the right to vote. On the other hand, South Australia added native inhabitants who lived in the region in its electoral rolls. This gave them the right to vote in the Commonwealth. The European settlers violated the rights of the native inhabitants. They justified the killing of the native inhabitants (Broome 32).

During the 1960s, there was significant advancement of the Aboriginal rights. The advancements were due to the increased collaboration between Aboriginal activists and white activists. These groups conducted various campaigns to highlight the discrimination of Aboriginal Australians. They encouraged the native inhabitants to resist discrimination. In 1967, the Australian Prime Minister called for a referendum to make several corrections to the existing laws. The corrections would respect Aboriginal Australians. In addition, they would necessitate the government to include Aboriginal Australians when counting people to determine electoral representation. More than 90% of Australians supported the referendum (Attwood 69).

The referendum recognised the rights and freedoms of Aboriginal Australians. However, it did not allow them to achieve complete emancipation. In 1971, the Australian High Court held that Australia had been ‘terra nulius’ prior to the settlement of the British. In addition, the High Court held that there was no concept of native title in Australian law. In 1992, the High Court invalidated the ruling. The government strived to reconcile with the Aboriginal Australians. The Motion of Reconciliation termed the oppression of the native Australians as the worst period of Australia’s national history. In 2008, the Australian government issued a public apology to all native Australians who were victims of oppression.

Currently, indigenous Australians face several issues. Indigenous Australians have the highest birth rates among Australians. Therefore, the percentage of indigenous Australians who are young is higher than the percentage of young people of other Australians. In addition, the life expectancy of indigenous Australians is much lower than the life expectancy of other Australians. Aboriginal Australians are more likely to drop out of school that other Australians.

This reduces their likelihood of gaining gainful employment. In fact, the rate of unemployment is highest among the Aboriginal Australians. Aboriginal Australians are more likely to have various health problems. Crime is one of the major problems among Aboriginal Australians. Poverty is the major factor that drives the Aboriginal Americans to crime. There is over-representation of Aboriginal Australians in Australians prisons. Aboriginal Australians are also more likely to be the victims of crime. Therefore, it is vital for the Australian government to formulate strategies that would help in addressing problems of Aboriginal Americans. This would prevent the breakdown of the culture of the Aboriginal Australians.

Prominent Contemporary Aboriginal Australians

Cathy Freeman is one of most prominent Aboriginal Australians. Freeman is a 40-year-old former Australian sprinter. Freeman has competed in several Olympic Games. Winning an Olympic gold medal is one of Freeman’s greatest achievement. This made her to become the first Aboriginal Australian to win an Olympic gold medal. During the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics Freeman lit the Olympic torch. Freeman has helped in raising awareness on the issues of Aboriginal Australians. In 2006, Freeman was part of the ‘Going Bush’ documentary series. ‘Going Bush’ was a four part documentary series that highlighted the culture of the native Australians (Wallechinsky and Loucky 300).

Noel Pearson is another famous contemporary Aboriginal Australia. Pearson is a 48-year-old Australian lawyer and activist of the rights of native Australians. Pearson has helped in the establishment of several organisations that strive to improve the welfare of native Australians. Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership is one of the organisations that Pearson founded. Pearson’s organisations target native Australians who live in Cape York (Kelly 654).

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History has treated Aboriginal Australians unfairly. They have experienced several calamities that have led to the death of thousands of the Aboriginal unfairly. However, they have bounced back from near extinction. The arrival of European settlers marked the beginning of various problems. The settlers encroached into the land of the native Australians. In addition, they destroyed the sacred sites of the native Australians. During this period, there were deadly massacres of Aboriginal Australians. The native inhabitants who remained had to overcome deadly diseases that were previously unknown. These factors led to a significant reduction in the population of native Australians.

In the 1960s, the Australian government started recognising the rights and freedoms of the Aboriginal Australians. The referendum in 1967 marked the beginning of complete emancipation of the Aboriginal Australians. There have been several changes in the legislation to accommodate the needs of the Aboriginal Australians. If the current trend continues, the Aboriginal Australians will regain their pride as the native inhabitants of Australia. Currently, the Australian government strives to address the issues facing Aboriginal Australians. The government has formulated various strategies that address the problems facing Aboriginal Australians. If this trend continues, the government will be able to eliminate some of the problems of the Aboriginal Australians.

Works Cited

Attwood, Bain. Telling the truth about Aboriginal history. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2005. Print.

Broome, Richard. Aboriginal Australians: A history since 1788. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2010. Print.

Kelly, Paul. The march of patriots: The struggle for modern Australia. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2009. Print.

McGregor, Russell. Indifferent inclusion: Aboriginal people and the Australian nation. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2011. Print.

Prentis, Malcolm D. A concise companion to Aboriginal history. Dural Delivery Centre, NSW: Rosenberg, 2008. Print.

Syron, Brian and Kearney, Briann. Kicking down the doors: a history of Australian indigenous filmmakers from 1968-1993. New York: Lulu, 2008. Print.

Wallechinsky, David and Loucky, Jaime. The complete book of the Olympics. London: Aurum Press, 2008. Print.