Aboriginal Histories and Aboriginal Perspectives Essay

Topics: Indigenous Australians, Australia, Indigenous peoples Pages: 8 (2834 words) Published: May 31, 2012
Aboriginal Histories and Aboriginal Perspectives Essay

“I would not hesitate for one moment to separate any half-caste from its Aboriginal mother, no matter frantic her momentary grief might be at the time. They soon forget their offspring.” C.F. Gale, Chief Protector of Aborigines in Western Australia, 1909, quoted in Tatz, C. (1999), Genocide in Australia. Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Research Discussion Paper number 8, Canberra: AIATIS. http://www.aiatsis.gov.au/research/docs/dp/DP08.pdf

“I would not hesitate for one moment to separate any half-caste from its Aboriginal mother, no matter frantic her momentary grief might be at the time. They soon forget their offspring.”

These were the closing remarks of James Isdell, Travelling Protector, in a paragraph titled "Half-castes". He was writing a report to The Chief Protector of Aborigines, C.F. Gale, and the letter was included in Gale's Western Australia "Report" for 1909. This section of the report is concerned with the location and paternity of "half-castes", and the removal of these children from their mothers. Isdell describes the "harrowing grief of the mothers" but dismisses it on account of the "open indecency and immorality ... and vile conversations ... which these young children see, listen to, and repeat" (p. 9). He also explains that it is the responsibility of the State to rescue the children: "The half-caste is intellectually above the aborigine, and it is the duty of the State that they be given a chance to lead a better life than their mothers" (p. 9). Throughout the 20-page document, Indigenous Australians are referred to as either "native full-bloods" or "half-castes" - the former considered inferior because of the absence of European paternity. The overwhelming tone of the report infers that the "whites" should tolerate the "full-bloods" while their numbers diminish, and foster the "civilising" of the "half-castes". This method of defining, grouping and policing Aboriginals by blood-quotum remained until the 1950s (Gardiner-Garden, 2003). This report is representative of the attitudes towards, and treatment of Aboriginals in Australia at the turn of the 20th century. It was written during a period in Australia's Aboriginal history widely referred to as 'protection' and 'segregation', and includes the events surrounding the legislated removal of Aboriginal children now remembered as The Stolen Generations. At Federation in 1901, The Commonwealth Constitution stated, "in reckoning the numbers of people ... Aboriginal natives shall not be counted". They certainly didn't count; they had no vote and could not access pensions. They were forbidden from employment in post offices and the armed forces. Over 120 years, their numbers had been reduced catastrophically by a combination of starvation, murder and institutionalisation. Tatz (1999) considers this period as part of "the casual chains [of events] ... that help[s] explain the degradation, disease and premature dying [of Indigenous people] over these past 200 years" (pp. 49-50). In fact, Tatz (1999) considers Australia's treatment of Indigenous people to be an act of genocide. While the definition of genocide remains a matter of contention, the facts of Australia's Aboriginal history are difficult to dispute. In 1788, the First Fleet landed in Australia and Britain declared the land her own. To the British it was an arrival, (a word used frequently by Tench (1788)) to the Aboriginals it was an invasion. Tench (1788) describes Aboriginals "shouting and making many uncouth signs and gestures" (n.p.) but thinks nothing remarkable of the British "taking possession" of the land. European beliefs about land ownership were based on John Locke's theory of value and property; that ownership required use of the land (Vaughn, 1978, pp. 311-312). Today we know that "Indigenous peoples ... have a special relation to and use of their traditional...
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