PEOPLE, POWERE AND POLITICS – ABORIGINAL ISSUES
The arrival and settlement of the British in Australia was not peaceful. As the colonies spread across the continent, Aboriginal people were dispossessed and displaced from their lands, killed in battles for their land, or by hunting parties. The settlers often resorted to inhumane techniques such as the poisoning of waterholes. The estimates of the numbers of Aboriginal people who died in frontier conflict vary widely, and it is an area of history that is still very vigorously debated today. Aboriginal resistance to the occupation was immediate, with the most renowned early-on being from Pemulwuy, an Aboriginal warrior who led counter-raids against those settlers responsible for the injustices being suffered by his people at the time. In June 1802, in response to the many instances of violence, the Governor issued a proclamation stating: “His Majesty forbids any act of injustice or wanton cruelty to the Natives, yet the settler is not to suffer his property to be invaded or his existence endangered by them, in preserving which he is to use the effectual, but at the same time the most humane, means of resisting such attacks”. Shortly after this proclamation was made, Pemulwuy was shot. No one was ever charged for his murder. In addition to the violence, many Aboriginal people died from introduced diseases. Aboriginal people had no immunity to European diseases such as smallpox, influenza and measles. As a result of these events, there was a drastic decline in the numbers of Aboriginal people. In the second half of the 19th Century, Torres Strait Islanders also lost their independence when the Queensland Government annexed the Torres Strait Islands. Torres Strait Islanders were not dispersed from their homelands like Aboriginal people, but were effectively denied full citizenship rights until 1967. ‘Protection’ policies & Federation
The forced relocation of Aboriginal people onto reserves and missions was part of a national policy designed to ‘protect’ and control Aboriginal people. In fact it was a widely held belief that Aboriginal people would simply die out in time. Until that happened, laws to control the relations between Aboriginal people and other Australians, including what work Aboriginal people could do, who they could marry and where they could travel, were put in place across the country throughout the 19th century (for more information see the Timeline of Australia’s shared history). The first laws started in 1816, when Governor Macquarie announced a set of regulations that meant no Aboriginal person was allowed to appear armed with any weapon within a mile of any settlement and no more than six Aboriginal people are allowed to ‘lurk or loiter near farms’. As a result, some Aboriginal people became fringe dwellers on the outskirts of cities and towns, while others managed a meagre living in the casual labour force of rural and outback Australia. They were no longer allowed to live as they had done for tens of thousands of years, but neither were they able to become equal partners and citizens in the wider society that had taken their land. The expansion of the colony away from the coast and beyond the Great Dividing Range is often celebrated as a crowning achievement of resiliance and a testament to Australia’s ‘explorers’ and colonialists’ skill. History should record that Aboriginal people conscripted into service of such explorers provided knowledge of the geography and natural resources needed to traverse and survive this harsh continent. Without Aboriginal guides many of the celebrated explorers would quite simply have perished or been killed by hostile Aboriginal people. As more territory was opened up and new colonies established the violence and bloodshed continued, Aboriginal peoples strongly resisted having their land taken away from them. Countless specific examples can be seen in the Timeline, including the Myall...
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