MASARYK UNIVERSITY BRNO
FACULTY OF EDUCATION
Department of English Language and Literature
Aboriginal Australians and the Impact of the White Man
Supervisor: Michael George, M.A.
I sincerely would like to thank Michael George, M.A. for his outstanding support, great advice and kind help as well as for the supervision of this work.
I declare that I have worked on this bachelor thesis independently,
using only the sources listed in the bibliography.
Historical background 7
The official policy and situation in Australia in the late 19th century 8
Aboriginal Protection Acts 8
The Stolen Generations 13
Ways of social and cultural assimilation of “stolen” children 15
Aborigines at the beginning of the 20th century 16
The Constitution of Australia 1901 and its effect on Aborigines 16
White Australia policy 20
Aboriginal situation after the Constitution 22
Policy of assimilation 1930 – 1970 25
First signs of resistance and pro-Aboriginal organizations 28
The Day of Mourning 1938 34
World War II and Post World War II development 37
The petition campaign and the 1967 referendum 41
Policy of self-determination and land rights movement 48
‘Bringing Them Home’ report 1997 53
The Indigenous peoples of Australia (Australian Aborigines) led very rich and spiritual life connected with nature for thousands of years. It is estimated that before the arrival of white man there were up to 750,000 Aborigines living in more than 500 tribes scattered throughout the whole continent. Aborigines did not build any permanent houses because they used to move from place to place in a nomadic way because they were mostly hunters and gatherers but they had strong connections to their traditional lands nonetheless. The arrival of the whites in the 18th century proved to be almost fatal not only for Aboriginal peoples themselves but also for their culture and traditional life style.
When James Cook first arrived at the new continent of Australia he declared this new country unpopulated and thus started almost 200 years of Aboriginal discrimination. New European settlers brought with them diseases unknown to Aborigines which led to epidemics devastating Aboriginal population from the very beginning; and as Australia was considered to be unpopulated Europeans started to appropriate land and water resources. The Aborigines, one of the oldest peoples on the Earth with their culture dating back thousands of years, were not even considered to be human beings by many. Despite that, there began to be an ever increasing number of children of mixed descent, especially of white fathers and Aboriginal mothers, who were called Half-Castes and who were to be protected and assimilated into the white society. It was believed that full-blood Aborigines would die out through their cultural and social inferiority. The children of mixed descent were thus offered the above mentioned protection and later assimilation into the white society, in a way of official government policies, even though it meant their forcible removal from their families for European upbringing and education. These children forcibly removed from their families were later to be called the Stolen Generations, sometimes also referred to as the Lost Generations. The population of Aboriginals thus started to decline rapidly.
The situation of Aborigines did not improve after the 1901 Constitution at all because according to the Constitution Aboriginals were not to be recognized in the Census and the forcible removal of children continued even on a larger scale. The policy of protection was changed into the assimilation policy which was the official government policy from 1930s to 1970s and there were no signs of improvement of Aboriginal status in the society. It was in the 1930s when Aborigines started to be organized in official associations and organizations protecting their rights and demanding the change of the overall situation of the Aborigines. The Day of Mourning in 1938 is among the most visible and memorable events on the Aboriginal way to recognition from this period of time.
The path to Aboriginal recognition was in fact very slow process which was happening throughout the whole 20th century. The most significant event was the 1967 Referendum which is considered to be one of the milestones and turning points in the history of Australian Aborigines and pursue for their rights. The referendum basically recognized the Indigenous people of Australia because it led to the change of the Constitution so that Aborigines could be counted in the national Census and it gave the government right to make special laws concerning Aborigines. The forcible removal of children did stop after the Referendum 1967 and the official government policy did change from assimilation to self-determination but there were another thirty years and a lot of struggle on the way to reconciliation. The final step towards reconciliation was in fact the 1997 ‘Bringing Them Home’ report which openly and clearly addressed the issue of the Stolen Generations and called for compensation and apology. The official government apology came more than ten years later from the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in his parliament speech on 13th Feb. 2008. Overall it took Indigenous people in Australia almost 200 years to be recognized and eventually also reconciled.
This thesis compiles historical data concerning Aborigines from the arrival of the whites to the beginning of the 21st century. It deals with Aboriginal situation from the initial contact and their protection status with the Stolen Generations. In chapter 3 it tries to analyse the so called Protection Acts and it also discusses the ways of this government protection policy while the possible reasons and explanations are offered. The first half of the 20th century is chronologically mentioned as well, especially the 1901 Constitution and the World War II, because these historical events played a great role regarding Aborigines and their status in the society. The importance of these events and the complicated process of Aboriginal struggle for recognition are outlined in chapter 4.
The final chapter of the thesis summarises two turning points in the history of Aboriginal recognition which were the 1967 Referendum and the ‘Bringing Them Home’ report thirty years later. The backgrounds as well as consequences of both these events are explained together with the resulting government change of the official policy and the concurrent Aboriginal land rights movement. The process of reconciliation, which consequently led to 2008 apology to the Stolen Generations, is described in the final chapter as well.
The continent today called Australia has been peopled long before the first Europeans came there. It is believed that the first Aborigines (indigenous peoples of Australia) arrived at Australian continent some 40,000 to 70,000 years ago. This is why they belong to one of the oldest surviving peoples in the world. Even though there are no written records it is believed that their strong and spiritual culture and traditions has been preserved for tens of thousands of years (Crawford and Tantiprasut 2). It is estimated that before the first arrival of Europeans Aboriginal people had lived there for over 2,000 generations (Clarke 10), and all these people continued in their developed lifestyle of hunters, gatherers and fishermen. Pursuant to their lifestyle and to their concept of history or religion, often referred to as the Dreaming1, Aborigines developed the unique connection with their land and nature. Unlike Europeans, they considered themselves as part of natural world as well as the land they lived (Clarke 15) and it was the land that became one of the most striking issues after the arrival of white man.
There are no official data about when Europeans, or any white man, first reached Australia but it is generally accepted fact that Australia had existed in minds of Europeans long before it was really discovered (Clancy 2). Portuguese and Dutch ships observed the west coast of Australia as early as at the beginning of the 16th century. It was arguably the English buccaneer and scientific observer William Dampier who officially recorded the first observation of Aborigines in 1688 (Clancy 2). The official discoverer of Australia is considered English explorer and ship captain James Cook who arrived to the east shores of Australia almost hundred years later in 1770. The Crown almost immediately recognized the great potentials of new lands mainly as a convict colony and a possible source of commercial commodities like timber or flax. The first English Fleet with its captain and to-be Governor Arthur Phillip reached Australia in 1788. Aborigines were almost immediately looked at as an inferior race and this basic fact together with profound cultural and language differences led to violence as early as in late 1700s and early 1800s. The growing numbers of Europeans arriving to Australia, especially convicts as cheap and much needed labour, meant even greater disruption of Aboriginal traditional way of life and violence toward Aboriginals became common practice.
The official policy and situation in Australia in the late 19th century
Aboriginal Protection Acts
Not only violence towards Aborigines and tendency to control their lives by the new European settlers from the very beginning of the colonization of Australia but rapidly growing population of whites in Australia with their different attitude to the lands and different lifestyle had an enormous impact on them. Although Aboriginal conception of the land is very specific because it plays the crucial role for them, the white people could see another great commercial potential of Australian land. As arid land was quickly taken and sheep stations spread out throughout less agricultural lands, more and more labour was needed and more and more men were getting settled within those original Aboriginal lands. Aborigines had to suffer cruel treatment as well as labour exploitation right from the beginning of the colonization. Even though the official policy of the whites towards the Aborigines in the late 19th century was officially less controlling and more protective and even though it considered natural assimilation of Aborigines as a solution to become part of white society, the reality was in fact different. As Andrew Armitage, who works as an associate professor and director of School of Social Work at the University of Victoria, writes:
Aboriginal peoples recognized exactly what happened. ‘They were poor now. White men had taken their good country, they said, no ask for it but took it. Black man show white man plenty grass and water and then white man say come be off and drive them away and no let them stop.’ This pattern of dispossession without negotiation, compensation, or recognition was characteristic of the Australian frontier. Land was taken, and the relationship of the Aboriginal owners of the land to the European settlers was defined in terms of the right of the latter to defend his or her property and the duty of civil government to protect property rights. As a consequence, violence was common.2
The official Aboriginal policy was constituted in the first Aboriginal Protection Act 1869 which was enacted in the state of Victoria in 1869. This Act is called Protection Act but it was passed to regulate and control the lives of the Aborigines in Victoria in terms of the places of their residence, their employment, marriage and even social lives. It was stated within the Aboriginal Protection Act 1869 very clearly who was deemed to be an Aboriginal: “Every aboriginal native of Australia and every aboriginal half-caste or child of a half-caste, such half-caste or child habitually associating and living with aboriginals” (3). The Act also established the agency called the Board of Protection of Aborigines which was to put these Laws into action and serve as a controlling authority. The Board of Protection of Aborigines is defined in the Aboriginal Protection Act in its section 3:
There shall be in and for Victoria a Board to be styled the “Board for the protection of aborigines,” consisting of the Minister and such and so many persons as the Governor stall from time to time appoint to be members thereof, and the persons who at the passing of this Act shall be the members of the board for the protection of the aborigines are together with the Minister hereby appointed the first members of such board.3
The assimilation of Aborigines into white society was also happening especially when taking into account the fact that there were mostly white men and clearly a very limited number of white women, given the hard circumstances and life in Australia in those days. Aboriginal women seemed to be a very easy target for men’s libidos, especially considering that half of the men working in sheep country were convicts. The result was a growing number of children of mixed race descent, especially children of white fathers and Aboriginal mothers, the so-called half-caste4. The mixing of the Aborigines and Europeans was in fact very natural process even though some convicts’ ways were less than genteel5 but throughout the second half of the 19th it was clear that European and Aboriginal societies were simply incongruous in most aspects. There was the Aboriginal perception of the lands, their culture, traditional life-style, habits and different attitude towards property, food gathering and hunting while on the other hand there was the European land exploitation and overall materialistic way of life. The figurative as well as literally clash of these two different societies seemed to be inevitable especially when taking into account that it was European people who spread unknown diseases like cold, flu, measles and smallpox6 among Aborigines and it was also Europeans who proved to take the lands Aboriginal peoples had lived for thousands of years. As Aborigines were considered to be the inferior race and as the mutual peace co-existence seemed to be impossible, the political consequence was not long in coming and in 1886 the government passed the second Aboriginal Protection Act.
While the first Act 1869 was enacted in the state of Victoria and its consequences were clearly visible only in Victoria itself, this following Aboriginal Protection Act 1886, which is often referred to as the Half-Caste Act, had its implications throughout the whole Australia. One of the most significant regulations of the Act was the regulation concerning Aboriginal children and Aboriginal children of mixed descent, the Half-Castes. This particular provision gave government the power to take away the Aboriginal and Half-Caste children in order to bring them up in accordance to official white-Australian policy. This official policy of the Australian Government was considered to be a help to the Aboriginal peoples as Aboriginal society was believed to be incapable of providing the right education and upbringing for these children. It was also considered the most appropriate way of introducing and assimilating the indigenous peoples into the white-Australian society, including the culture and the way of life. White men wanted the Aboriginal children to behave like white people and this was to be ensured before the children learned Aboriginal lifestyle (Read 3). Another Aboriginal Act, the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 18977, is significant as well because authorities were allowed to “provide for the care, custody, and education of the children of aboriginals” (7) and it was also “prescribing the conditions on which any aboriginal or half-caste children may be apprenticed to, or placed in service with, suitable persons” (7). Interesting fact is that one of the main reasons this Act 1897 was officially enacted was because of “great and widespread injury was being caused to the aboriginal and half-caste and certain other inhabitants of the Colony by the consumption of opium” (1). Opium was brought to Australia by Europeans together with the above mentioned diseases as well as malnutrition caused by the labour exploitation of Aboriginals by new settlers and it is clear that this particular Act was only a veil covering a search for different ways to control Aboriginal peoples. Dr. Sally Babidge from the University of Queensland suggests that:
Being ‘under the Act’ meant that an Aboriginal person was subject to Queensland legislation, the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 (and later amendments) which remade Aboriginal people into wards of the state. The legislation meant a decline in the extent to which Aboriginal people could order and determine the course of their own lives, and Amendments in 1901, 1934 and 1939, each extended government powers. Aboriginal people’s ability to reproduce and determine their family relationships in the context of these Acts was limited in a myriad of ways, not least in removals and extensive surveillance from 1897 up until, and in some cases beyond, the Aborigines Act 1971. … Under the Act, people thus defined could be removed to settlements, had their wages controlled by the Department and had to ask for permission from the Protector to get married. The 1897 Act decreed that ‘every person who desires to employ an aboriginal or half-caste shall make application in writing … to the nearest police officer in charge of a station…’8
Officially the children were thus taken from their reserves or stations to be put in the care of whites only in case they were neglected. The Board officers’ official definition of ‘neglect’ was connected particularly with children having “no visible means of support or fixed place of abode” (Read 7). It became a common practice to remove the Aboriginal and Half-Caste children from their families with the intention of their assimilation. Even though it was mostly children who was taken from their parents, the Act 1886 specified that any half-caste under the age of 34 might be removed from a reserve (Aboriginal Protection Act 1886 284). All these children and all the young people removed from their parents and their communities and homeland are generally referred to as the Stolen Generations sometimes also called the Lost Generations. There are no official data or statistics concerning the numbers of people removed and lost without trace (see table 1) but there is no question that the impact on Aboriginal communities, culture and way of life has been enormous.
3.2. The Stolen Generations
The Stolen Generations term in general meaning then stands for the removing children of Aboriginal origin or children of half-Aboriginal origin, the Half-Castes, from their families by Australian government between 1869 and 1969 in order to assimilate them. These children, who were usually under the age of four, were taken into government-controlled institutions and/or Church missions, commonly referred to as State homes or religious homes, but the Board for protection of Aborigines had to rely on unofficial powers like stopping the food rations or different threats or promises because there were no legal powers to coerce people, and Aborigines showed no enthusiasm for the scheme (Read 3). Members of the Board had to often face a practical difficulty of having to release the children by the magistrates because these children could not simply be considered ‘neglected’ because they were healthy, well clothed and well fed. Even though there are not enough data or legal documents to enumerate exact number of such cases, it is clear that they were not rare because members of the Board started to complain about insufficiency of their powers. The situation was similar in most states in Australia.
All children in New South Wales, including Aboriginal children, could be removed from their parents if neglect could be proved before a court. The problem facing the Board was that most of the Aboriginal children it had its eyes on were not suffering neglect. As the Board explained to the Chief Secretary in 1909: “Under the law these children cannot legally be called neglected … If the Aboriginal child happens to be decently clad and apparently looked after it is very difficult to show that the half-caste or Aboriginal child is actually in a neglected condition, and therefore it is impossible to succeed in court:” The Board thought it needed the power to separate children from their parents even where there was no question of neglect.9
The situation of Aborigines even deteriorated after the complaints and demands from members of the Board were met and the Aborigines Protection Amending Act in 1915 was passed. It clearly stated in its new section 4, subsection 13a the new “rights” for taking children into the custody:
The Board may assume full control and custody of the child of any aborigine, if after due inquiry it is satisfied that such a course is in the interest of the moral or physical welfare of such child.
The Board may thereupon remove such child to such control and care as it thinks best.10
If the definition of a child being ‘neglected’ was considered ambiguous and the members of the Board complained about limited powers, the above mentioned definition of ‘moral or physical welfare of a child’ was even more ambiguous and it gave the members of the Board almost unlimited powers. In fact, Peter Read describes the overall situation as follows:
It was up to the parents to show that the child had a right to be with them, not the other way round. No court hearings were necessary; the manager of an Aboriginal station, or a policeman on a reserve or in a town might simply order them removed. The racial intention was obvious enough for all prepared to see, and some managers cut a long story short when they came to that part of the committal notice, ‘Reasons for Board taking control of the child’. They simply wrote, ‘for being Aboriginal’11
Thus, numbers of children who were being taken away in the two following decades after 1915 rose from hundreds to thousands (as seen in table 2, which is an example showing estimates only for New South Wales). The periods of times (between Protection Acts and/or their Amendments) in terms of children taken away are very difficult to compare because there were many factors affecting these numbers but it is clear that the number of children, who were “stolen” from their homes, was rising. This official policy of Aboriginal assimilation into white society and culture was in operation until 1969 and unofficial estimates vary. Kevin Rudd, the former Australian Prime Minister, in his ‘Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples’ speech on 13th Feb. 2008 estimated that the number of children taken forcibly from their families was up to 50,000, which was between 10 and 30 per cent of indigenous children.12