B. a) Aboriginal People

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Stages in Australia’s relationship wtih its first peoples

Since 1788 there have been phases in British and Australian Government policy in relation to Aboriginal people.

These stages have included significant legal events.

Did you know . . .

To find out more explore the content in the Tabs.
TICK the items you know. Find out more about what you don't know.

Choice 1 1. Aboriginal people have been in Australia for between 50,000 and 120,000 years.
Choice 1 2. Aboriginal land was taken over by British colonists on the premise that the land belonged to no-one (‘terra nullius’).
Choice 1 3. The history of Aboriginal dispossession is central to understanding contemporary Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations.
Choice 1 4. From the end of the nineteenth century, various State and Territory laws were put in place to control relations between Aboriginal people and other Australians. Under these laws, protectors, protection boards and native affairs departments segregated and controlled a large part of the Aboriginal population.
Choice 1 5. In 1937, the Commonwealth Government held a national conference on Aboriginal affairs which agreed that Aboriginal people ‘not of full blood’ should be absorbed or ‘assimilated’ into the wider population. The aim of assimilation was to make the ‘Aboriginal problem’ gradually disappear so that Aboriginal people would lose their identity in the wider community.
Choice 1 6. A major feature of the assimilation policy was stepping up the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families and their placement in white institutions or foster homes.
Choice 1 7. 1967 saw the commonwealth referendum and Aboriginal peoples were granted the right of citizenship.
Choice 2 8. The federal Labor Government led by Gough Whitlam adopted the policy of ‘self-determination’ for Indigenous communities in 1972. This policy was described as ‘Aboriginal communities deciding the pace and nature of their future development as significant components within a diverse Australia’.
Choice 3 9. The federal Coalition Government led by Malcolm Fraser, which came to power in late 1975, adopted the policy of ‘self-management’ which focused on Indigenous communities managing the government projects and funding locally but with little say in what projects would be created.
Choice 410. The Commonwealth Government established the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. It was established in 1991 with the unanimous support of the Parliament. The Councils charter was to raise public awareness and consult on a ‘Document of Reconciliation’ within a 10 year legislated period.

 

Can you answer the following?.

To find out more explore the content in the Tabs.
TICK the items you know. Find out more about what you don't know.

Choice 1 1. What is "Terra Nullius"?
Choice 1 2. What is native title?
Choice 2 3. What are land rights?
Choice 3 4. What is the Mabo judgment and why it's important?
Choice 4 5. What is the Wik case and why it's important?

 

Stages in Australia’s relationship wtih its first peoples

Initial invasion and colonisation (1788 to 1890)

From 1788, Australia was treated by the British as a colony of settlement, not of conquest. Aboriginal land was taken over by British colonists on the premise that the land belonged to no-one (‘terra nullius’).

Possession of Australia was declared on the basis of unilateral possession. The land was defined as terra nullius, or wasteland, because Cook and Banks considered there were few 'natives' along the coast. They apparently deduced that there would be fewer or none inland. Their observations were soon proven incorrect. The governors of the first settlements soon found that Aboriginal people lived inland, and had special territories and associations with land on a spiritual and inheritance basis. Nonetheless, they did not amend the terms of British sovereignty.

Protection and segregation (1890s to the 1950s)

Indigenous survivors of frontier conflict were moved onto reserves or missions. From the end of the nineteenth century, various State and Territory laws were put in place to control relations between Aboriginal people and other Australians. Under these laws, protectors, protection boards and native affairs departments segregated and controlled a large part of the Aboriginal population. It has been estimated that the Aboriginal population during the 1920s had fallen to only about 60,000 from perhaps 300,000 or even one million people in 1788

Assimilation (1940s to the 1960s)

In 1937, the Commonwealth Government held a national conference on Aboriginal affairs which agreed that Aboriginal people ‘not of full blood’ should be absorbed or ‘assimilated’ into the wider population. The aim of assimilation was to make the ‘Aboriginal problem’ gradually disappear so that Aboriginal people would lose their identity in the wider community.

Protection and assimilation policies which impacted harshly on Indigenous people included separate education for Aboriginal children, town curfews, alcohol bans, no social security, lower wages, State guardianship of all Aboriginal children and laws that segregated Indigenous people into separate living areas, mainly on special reserves outside towns or in remote areas.

Another major feature of the assimilation policy was stepping up the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families and their placement in white institutions or foster homes.

Integration, self-determination and self-management (1967 to mid 1990s)

1967 saw the commonwealth referendum and Aboriginal peoples were granted the right of citizenship.

The federal Labor Government led by Gough Whitlam adopted the policy of ‘self-determination’ for Indigenous communities in 1972. This policy was described as ‘Aboriginal communities deciding the pace and nature of their future development as significant components within a diverse Australia’.

The federal Coalition Government led by Malcolm Fraser, which came to power in late 1975, adopted the policy of ‘self-management’ which focused on Indigenous communities managing the government projects and funding locally but with little say in what projects would be created.

Reconciliation

The movement for Aboriginal reconciliation aims to promote understanding of the history of contact between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and develop better relations for the future.

The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was established by legislation in 1991and was given a 10 year life span which ended in December 2000.

The Council’s final report, Reconciliation: Australia’s Challenge, recommended comprehensive action to address the ‘unfinished business’ of reconciliation. This included calls for a formal agreement or treaty as well as the establishment of a foundation to continue the Council’s work.

A new independent, not for profit body, Reconciliation Australia was formed to provide a continuing national focus on reconciliation, to report on progress to the Australian community, to circulate information, to encourage partnerships and to provide forums and discussion.

The Australian Parliament made an apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples on 13 February 2008. The text of motion moved by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is here

Closing the Gap

In 2008, COAG agreed to six ambitious targets to address the disadvantage faced by Indigenous Australians in life expectancy, child mortality, education and employment.

They were to:

  • close the gap in life expectancy within a generation (by 2031);
  • halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five by 2018;
  • ensure access to early childhood education for all Indigenous four year olds in remote communities by 2013;
  • halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements for children by 2018;
  • halve the gap for Indigenous students in Year 12 (or equivalent) attainment rates by 2020; and
  • halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and other Australians by 2018.

Legal Events

Terra Nullius

The land now called Australia was defined as terra nullius, or wasteland, because Cook and Banks in the 1770s considered there were few 'natives' along the coast. They apparently deduced that there would be fewer or none inland. Their observations were soon proven incorrect

Citizenship and Voting rights

1967 saw the commonwealth referendum and Aboriginal peoples were granted the right of citizenship.

What is native title?

'Native title' is the name given by Australian law to Indigenous peoples' traditional rights to their lands and waters. To have their native title rights recognised. the Indigenous group has to prove they still have their connection with their country according to their traditional laws.

What are land rights?

Land rights are not the same thing as native title. Land rights are given by the government whereas native title existed before white occupation. A land rights grant may cover traditional land, an Aboriginal reserve, an Aboriginal mission or cemetery, Crown land or a national park. Native title only covers land on which the traditional relationship is unbroken.

What is the Mabo judgment?

The Mabo Case in 1992 was the first recognition of native title by the High Court of Australia. This decision rejected the doctrine of terra nullius. It recognised for the first time that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have maintained a continuing connection with their country, according to their traditions and customs, may hold native title.

What is the Wik case?

In the Wik Case in 1996 the High Court held that pastoral leases do not necessarily cancel out native title and that it could co-exist with the rights of some pastoralists.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Australia’s first people

Aboriginal people have been in Australia for between 50,000 and 120,000 years. They were a hunter-gatherer people who had adapted well to the environment. There were between 300,000 to 950,000 Aboriginal people living in Australia when the British arrived in 1788.3 At that time there were approximately 260 distinct language groups and 500 dialects.

Aboriginal people lived in small family groups and were semi-nomadic, with each family group living in a defined territory, systematically moving across a defined area following seasonal changes. Groups had their own distinct history and culture. At certain times, family groups would come together for social, ceremonial and trade purposes. It is estimated that
up to 500 people gathered at the one time. Membership within each family or language group was based on birthright, shared language, and cultural obligations and responsibilities. Relationships within groups predetermined categories of responsibilities and obligations to the group and to family. Aboriginal people built semi-permanent dwellings; as a nomadic society emphasis was on relationships to family, group and country rather than the development of an agrarian society. Being semi-nomadic meant that Aboriginal people were also relatively nonmaterialistic. Greater emphasis was placed on the social, religious and spiritual activities. The environment was controlled by spiritual rather than physical means and religion was deeply tied to country.4,5

According to Aboriginal beliefs, the physical environment of each local area was created and shaped by the actions of spiritual ancestors who travelled across the landscape. Living and nonliving things existed as a consequence of the actions of the Dreaming ancestors. Helen Milroy speaks about the importance of land as part of the Dreaming:

We are part of the Dreaming. We have been in the Dreaming for a long time before we are born on this earth and we will return to this vast landscape at the end of our days. It provides for us during our time on earth, a place to heal, to restore purpose and hope, and to continue our destiny.6 (p414)

Land is fundamental to Indigenous people, both individually and collectively. Concepts of Indigenous land ownership were, and are, different from European legal systems. Boundaries were fixed and validated by the Dreaming creation stories. Each individual belonged to certain territories within the family group and had spiritual connections and obligations to particular country. Hence land was not owned; one belonged to the land. Aboriginal people experience the land as a richly symbolic and spiritual landscape rather than merely a physical environment.

Religion was based on a philosophy of oneness with the natural environment. Both men and women were involved in the spiritual life of the group. While men have been acknowledged as having the overarching responsibilities for the spiritual activities of the groups, past scholars studying Aboriginal cultures have neglected women’s roles. Women’s roles in traditional contexts, how these were disrupted during colonisation, and the misrepresentation of these roles, have become important issues.

Aboriginal social, cultural and historical contexts

 

Initial invasion and colonisation (1788 to 1890)

Video Clip C: First Australians Ep1 NSW Arrival 1788 (5 min 59 sec)

 

Video Clip D: First Australians Ep1 NSW Resistance 1790s (4 min 2 sec)

 

The arrival of Lieutenant James Cook, and then Arthur Phillip in 1788, marked the beginning of ‘white settlement’.

From 1788, Australia was treated by the British as a colony of settlement, not of conquest. Aboriginal land was taken over by British colonists on the premise that the land belonged to no-one (‘terra nullius’).

The history of Aboriginal dispossession is central to understanding contemporary Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations. Colonial takeover was premised on the assumption that European culture was superior to all others, and that Europeans could define the world in their terms. A colony could be established by persuading the indigenous inhabitants to submit themselves to its overlordship; by purchasing from those inhabitants the right to settle part or parts of it; by unilateral possession, on the basis of first discovery and effective occupation.

Possession of Australia was declared on the basis of unilateral possession. The land was defined as terra nullius, or wasteland, because Cook and Banks considered there were few 'natives' along the coast. They apparently deduced that there would be fewer or none inland. Their observations were soon proven incorrect. The governors of the first settlements soon found that Aboriginal people lived inland, and had special territories and associations with land on a spiritual and inheritance basis. Nonetheless, they did not amend the terms of British sovereignty.

In the first hundred years there was no consensus about the basis of British sovereignty. Deaths in Custody

Australia’s colonisation resulted in a drastic decline in the Aboriginal population.
Estimates of how many Indigenous people lived in Australia at the time of European settlement vary from 300,000 to 1 million. Estimates of the number of Indigenous people who died in frontier conflict also vary widely. While the exact number of Indigenous deaths is unknown, many Indigenous men, women and children died of introduced diseases to which they had no resistance such as smallpox, influenza and measles. Many also died in random killings, punitive expeditions and organised massacres.

Source: Face the facts p 45

 

Protection and segregation (1890s to the 1950s)

Indigenous survivors of frontier conflict were moved onto reserves or missions. From the end of the nineteenth century, various State and Territory laws were put in place to control relations between Aboriginal people and other Australians. Under these laws, protectors, protection boards and native affairs departments segregated and controlled a large part of the Aboriginal population. It has been estimated that the Aboriginal population during the 1920s had fallen to only about 60,000 from perhaps 300,000 or even one million people in 1788
Face the facts page 45

Protection and Segregation in New South Wales

In June 1883 the Aborigines Protection Board was established. The Board, consisting of five men, controlled the lives of the 9000 or so 'full-blood' and 'part- Aboriginal' people who lived in New South Wales. More reserves or stations were set up - by 1900 there were 133 of them. Maloga and Warangesda were taken over by the Board, and the people of Maloga subsequently moved to Cummera gunja. Missionaries were allowed to live on the reserves.

In 1909 the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Act was passed. This was to be the main legislation
governing the lives of Aboriginal people for the next 60 or so years, although it was amended many times according to changing government policies. The Act provided for all reserves and stations and
all buildings to be vested in the Board. The Board had the power to move Aboriginal people out of towns; to set up managers, local committees and local guardians (police) for the reserves; to control reserves; to prevent liquor being sold to Aboriginals; and to stop whites from associating with Aboriginals or entering the reserves.

Amendments to the Act in 1915 and 1918 allowed the Board to remove children from their parents for training, and to force 'half-castes' to leave the reserves. Young girls were sent to Cootamundra Girls
Home to train as domestic servants, and the boys to Singleton to train for service on farms. Kinchela Boys Home at Kempsey was established in 1924. The children in these institutions received almost no education and their labour was exploited. The effects on Aboriginal family life were devastating.

From the 1920s the policy became one of enforced assimilation for 'part- Aboriginals' as the Board tried to reduce the number of people on the reserves. In the 1930s people were shifted from one reserve to another, so that some reserves could be closed and the land leased to neighbouring white farmers, as happened at Tibooburra, Angledool and Carowa Tank.

The Aboriginal Welfare Board replaced the Aborigines Protection Board in 1940, but continued, under a 'new policy of assimilation', to close reserves and encourage people to move to town. In 1967
a Joint Committee of the two houses of State Parliament strongly endorsed these policies. The Committee also recommended that in due course all Aboriginal reserves should disappear. Such decisions totally demoralised the people still living on the reserves, who had come to regard them as
homelands. (The subsequent official neglect of these properties largely accounts for the poor conditions suffered by many Aboriginal people now living on former reserves.)

During the 1920s Aboriginal people began to lobby for the abolition of the Aborigines Protection Board in favour of a body with an all-Aboriginal membership. Several organisations were formed and were active
throughout the 1920s, '30s and '40s: the Australian Aborigines Progress Association, the Australian Aborigines League and the Aborigines Progressive Association. These organisations also fought for national citizenship for Aboriginals and full equality with other citizens, Some people also wanted a representative in the Commonwealth Parliament, Those involved in these activities in the 1930s came from all parts of New South Wales and Victoria. Among them were William Cooper (Cummeragunja), Bill Ferguson (Dubbo), Margaret Tucker and Douglas Nicholls (Melbourne), Jack and Selina Patten and Tom Foster (La Perouse), Pearl Gibbs (Brewarrina), Jack Kinchela (Coonabarabran) and Helen Grosvenor
(Redfern).

In 1937, with the l50th anniversary of British settlement looming, Bill Ferguson, inspired by William Cooper, called the founding meeting of the Aborigines Progressive Association and set about organising a conference in Sydney for 26 January 1938, It was called' A Day of Mourning and Protest', About 1000 Aboriginal men and women attended, Before the meeting a pamphlet' Aborigines claim citizen rights!' was written by Patten and Ferguson. This meeting was the culmination of ten years' action by New South Wales Aboriginals against the policies of the Aborigines Protection Board.

Australia Hall Sydney 26 Jan 1938

The following week, on 31 January 1938, a deputation of about 20 people presented the Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons, with a proposed national policy for Aboriginals. They wanted Commonwealth control of all Aboriginal matters, with a separate Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs; an administration advised by a Board of six, at least three of whom were to be Aboriginals nominated by the Aborigines Progressive Association; and full citizen status for all Aboriginals and civil equality with white Australians, including equality in education, labour laws, workers compensation, pensions, land ownership and wages. Lyons replied that, under the Constitution, Commonwealth control was not possible.

These protests prompted the State Government to set up the New South Wales Parliamentary Select Committee of 1937 and the Public Service Board investigation of 1938 to look at mis-management and conditions on the reserves. Unfortunately, very little resulted from these investigations.

Aboriginal action continued. In February 1939 people at Cummeragunja went on strike; they left the reserve and camped on the other side of the Murray River in Victoria. Protest meetings were held in the Domain in Sydney. The movement for citizen rights continued into the 1960s. During the 'Freedom Rides' of 1965 students and Aboriginals protested against discrimination in certain New South Wales towns.

Source: Aboriginal Australia Aboriginal People of NSW

 

 

Assimilation (1940s to the 1960s)

In 1937, the Commonwealth Government held a national conference on Aboriginal affairs which agreed that Aboriginal people ‘not of full blood’ should be absorbed or ‘assimilated’ into the wider population. The aim of assimilation was to make the ‘Aboriginal problem’ gradually disappear so that Aboriginal people would lose their identity in the wider community.

Protection and assimilation policies which impacted harshly on Indigenous people included separate education for Aboriginal children, town curfews, alcohol bans, no social security, lower wages, State guardianship of all Aboriginal children and laws that segregated Indigenous people into separate living areas, mainly on special reserves outside towns or in remote areas.

Another major feature of the assimilation policy was stepping up the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families and their placement in white institutions or foster homes.
Face the facts p 45

Integration, self-determination and self-management (1967 to mid 1990s)

Integration

1967 saw the commonwealth referendum and Aboriginal peoples were granted the right of citizenship.

Self-determination

The federal Labor Government led by Gough Whitlam adopted the policy of ‘self-determination’ for Indigenous communities in 1972. This policy was described as ‘Aboriginal communities deciding the pace and nature of their future development as significant components within a diverse Australia’.
It recognised that Aboriginal people had a right to be involved in decision making about their own lives.

Self-management policy

The federal Coalition Government led by Malcolm Fraser, which came to power in late 1975, adopted the policy of ‘self-management’ which focused on Indigenous communities managing the government projects and funding locally but with little say in what projects would be created. The Hawke and Keating Labor Governments from 1983-1996 used both self-determination and self-management as key principles in their Indigenous affairs policies and Keating began the reconciliation movement in 1991.

Reconciliation on a National level

Reconciliation is about unity and respect between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and non-Indigenous Australians. It is about respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and valuing justice and equity for all Australians.

Respect and justice have:

  • personal, family and community implications
  • practical and structural implications
  • local, state and national implications

Progress towards reconciliation has been slow.

Below are a few points in the national story.

Reconciliation on a National level

Royal Commission into the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, 1991
The final recommendation of the Royal Commission into the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was a formal process of reconciliation between Indigenous and other Australians.

Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation
In response the Commonwealth Government established the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. It was established in 1991 with the unanimous support of the Parliament. The Councils charter was to raise public awareness and consult on a ‘Document of Reconciliation’ within a 10 year legislated period.

The Redfern Park Speech was made on 10 December 1992
by Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating at Redfern Park in Redfern, New South Wales.

Push for constitutional reform February 6, 1995
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) report Recognition, Rights and Reform said constitutional reform is a priority. The report, which was endorsed by ATSIC at its 33rd meeting held in Canberra, said consultations across the country had found overwhelming support for the recognition of Indigenous Australians in the constitution.

Bringing them Home, 1997
Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 1997

Northern Territory National Emergency Response, 2007
The Northern Territory National Emergency Response (also referred to as "the intervention") was a package of changes to welfare provision, law enforcement, land tenure and other measures, introduced by the Australian federal government under John Howard in 2007 to address allegations of rampant child sexual abuse and neglect in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities. Ssignificant human rights concerns were raised by the particular approach adopted by the government.

Election pledge for new referendum October 16, 2007
Prime minister John Howard makes a re-election pledge to hold a referendum on constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians. Kevin Rudd, as opposition leader, follows by promising bipartisan support for the proposal, regardless of the election outcome.

Apology to the Stolen Generations February 13, 2008
Prime minister Kevin Rudd delivered an apology in Federal Parliament for the mistreatment of Indigenous Australians. In the speech he commited to closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage and made a statement of recognition "that today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history".

Closing the gap, 2008
In 2008, COAG (Council of Australian Governments) agreed to six ambitious targets to address the disadvantage faced by Indigenous Australians in life expectancy, child mortality, education and employment. They were to:
    • close the gap in life expectancy within a generation (by 2031);
   • halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five by 2018;
   • ensure access to early childhood education for all Indigenous four year olds in remote communities by 2013;
   • halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements for children by 2018;
   • halve the gap for Indigenous students in Year 12 (or equivalent) attainment rates by 2020; and
   • halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and other Australians by 2018.

Leaders support act for recognition February 13,
2013 Prime minister Julia Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott addressed Parliament in support of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill. Ms Gillard said:
"We must never feel guilt for the things already done in this nation's history, but we can and must feel responsibility for the things that remain undone.
"No gesture speaks more deeply to the healing of our nation's fabric than amending our nation's founding charter.
"We are bound to each other in this land and always will be. Let us be bound in justice and dignity as well."

July 6, 2015 Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten
hosted an unprecedented joint summit with about 40 of the nation's most influential Indigenous representatives on the path forward to a referendum.