Aboriginal Society - Complex or Simple?

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Yr 9 History

Indigenous Australia: Essay

At the start of the video, Triumph of the Nomads, historian Geoffrey Blainey states that the white man dismissed the Aboriginals as “backward (primitive), and barbaric, and their lifestyle appeared haphazard, when really it has pattern and purpose.”

Explore the Aboriginal culture and their adaption to the harsh Australian environment, evaluating whether they were a primitive or complex society.

Use footnoted historical evidence to support your arguments and include a correctly formatted bibliography.

When European settlers first landed on the shores of what they called terra nullius[1], they almost unknowingly started off a chain reaction that was to prove fatal to the original inhabitants of terra australis[2]. The strange natives and their seemingly outlandish and primitive customs confused the Europeans, who almost from the very beginning began applying unfair and biased judgements to Aboriginal culture, calling them ‘primitive’ and ‘simple’. Without looking at the dictionary, the anthropological definition of ‘simple’ could be something along the lines of: Lacking technology, or lacking higher level cognitive processes to use or make technology. Another meaning could be: A formless society, having no rules or laws to regulate life. When we think of the word ‘complex’, we very likely think of our own civilization. ‘Complex’ might be defined as: A community that utilises and improves modern technology, and has form and orderliness. However, when we consult a dictionary, the word “simple” is defined as: Lacking sophistication; belonging or referring to a people who do not use or rely on complex technologies. The word “complex” is defined as: Multifaceted, a whole made up of complicated, intricate and interrelated parts.[3] If we accept these definitions as being true, then the Indigenous society fits into the latter category perfectly, rather than the former, and is by no means primitive or simple, but in fact even ordered and well-structured. Aboriginal is complex, based on a happy, content society, stable agrarian economy, and developed religion. “You cannot be happy unless you love God...Love white men...learn to speak English” was what Europeans tried to teach the Aborigines, with little or no regard to the fact that the Indigenous people already had a very well established community, religious beliefs and language. Throwing aside the fact that they tried to convert the ‘natives’ to their own religion, what the Europeans did was against Christian teachings and morality, and what they were told by their superiors anyway[4]. However, there were a number of early settlers who sympathised with the Aboriginals, a notable character being the pioneer Edward Curr. Although Curr referred to Aboriginals as his ‘sooty friends’, he acted in a pleasant manner towards Indigenous people and even wrote a book, titled Recollections of Squatting in Victoria. The book outlines many traditions and cultural practices of the Yorta Yorta people during the late 19th century. However, this book is the subject of much controversy, as it was possible some passages of the book were misinterpreted by the judge in a case, and allowed him to rule against the Yorta Yorta tribe.[5] Although there were people such as Edward Curr, the majority of the British population continued to treat the Indigenous tribes as less than human, not knowing or caring much about their cultural beliefs, what was known as the Dreamtime. The Dreamtime is used by the Indigenous people to describe the “time before time” or the “time of the creation of all things”. According to the Dreaming, ancestor spirits came to Earth in human and other forms and the land, the plants and animals were given their form as we know them today. The spirits also recognized relationships between groups and individuals, regardless of whether they were people or animals, and when they travelled across the land they created rivers and hills as...
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