Aboriginal Dispossession

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In the 1950’s, a vast deposit of bauxite was found at the Yirrkala Methodist mission in the Northern Territory. When the mission lease expired, the Federal Government changed it to a special purpose lease that could be taken away for mining, but no Aboriginal people were consulted. When the Methodist missionaries Edgar and Ann Wells arrived at Yirrkala, they learnt that the Aboriginal people were very disturbed and anxious that the mining would violate their sacred sites but despite the feelings of the Aborigines, the Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, announced that a mining project was to go ahead at Yirrkala.

The Methodist mission was to be reduced from over 500 square kilometres to about one and a quarter square kilometres. This caused major trauma to the Yirrkala people and made them feel dislocated from their religion and their life, until they petitioned against it, which led to the Yirrkala Bark Petition. The Yirrkala Bark Petition was of great significance because it focused attention on Aboriginal affairs in white consciousness and influenced other missionaries to protect their sacred land.

Dispossession is the process of the expulsion of a person or group from land, through the process of law. This dispossession has had a continuing detrimental effect through a loss of spiritualities. For the Stolen Generations, those who were removed from their Aboriginal families, the trauma has extended to the loss of personal identity.

Aboriginal spirituality lies in the belief in a cultural landscape. Everything on the vast desert landscape has meaning and purpose. The land is both an external landscape and an internal relationship with the ancestral spirits. Landmarks are both metaphysical and physical. As an example Uluru can be seen as an epic poem, a source of sacred law, a physical landmark and a repository of knowledge.

Separation from the land meant that cultural practices and ceremonies associated with the land could not be carried out. They...
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