One of the most pronounced Effects of European Settlement on Aboriginal Australia was the Dispossession and Assimilation of Aborigines. In 1901 the Australian colonies became states and territories of a federated nation called the Commonwealth of Australia. The new federal government left responsibility for … Continue reading
One of the effects of European settlement on Aboriginal Australia with regards to relations with settlers in the 19th century was the sort of relationship that evolved between them. In the remote, sparsely populated outback, pastoralists, or ranchers, needed Aboriginal labor to work their … Continue reading
It was only after the 1880s, once most Aboriginal opposition had been crushed in eastern Australia, that Australian colonies began passing oppressive legislation to control Aboriginal people in the name of protection. Between 1886 and 1911 the colonies (and, after 1901, the states) introduced laws that restricted the movement of Aboriginal people to government reserves and controlled most aspects of their lives, including where they could work and whom they could marry. These reserves were, for the most part, small, circumscribed areas where residents could not lead independent self-sufficient lives. Reserve residents lived in makeshift housing and worked on cattle and sheep stations, or, if there was no work, lived on government rations. White officials oversaw the reserves, sometimes living in a nearby town rather than directly on the reserve. In the remote central and northern parts of the continent, reserves were more institutionalized, with schools, health clinics, and a general work regime overseen by missionaries.
In the early 20th century the colonial governments began instituting policies of removing many Aboriginal children, especially those of mixed race and lighter skin color, from their families without parental consent. These children were placed in state institutions or adopted by white families, where they were raised as Christians and educated as white Australians were. Only “full-blooded” Aboriginal children were permitted to remain on the reserves. Child-removal policies grew out of the desire of white Australians to merge Aboriginal people into European culture, thereby extinguishing indigenous traditions and preventing the growth of the Aboriginal population. The practice was officially discontinued in the late 1960s.
Children who had been removed would later become known as the Stolen Generations. Their exact number remained unknown due to poor record keeping. In 1997 the national Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission concluded an inquiry into past child-removal policies. According to the commission’s report, Bringing Them Home, at least 100,000 indigenous children had been forcibly removed from their families and communities from 1910 to 1970.
Early Land Rights Acts in Australia
In 1973 the federal government created a commission to report on how land rights might be granted to Aboriginal people. Following the commission’s report, the government passed the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act in 1976. The act transferred several large tracts of land to some Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory and allowed other Aboriginal communities to claim lands in the territory if they could prove that they had a continuing spiritual connection with the land since before European settlement. The act also created four Aboriginal land councils to oversee the transferred lands and several Aboriginal land commissioners to judge the legitimacy of native land claims. As a result of the 1976 act, more than 40 percent of the Northern Territory was transferred to native communities; the period for making claims ended in June 1997. This includes the widely visited Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, home to the monolith Uluru (formerly Ayers Rock) and the grouping of rock domes known as Kata Tjuta (Olga Rocks). Aboriginal people now lease this area to the Australian Parks and Wildlife Service. Nonetheless, the act is limited in scope. Aboriginal communities have no claim to land that is occupied by the towns, farms, or homes of non-Aboriginal people, even if such land was traditionally inhabited by Aboriginal people. Although mining is sometimes possible, much of the land that has been transferred to Aboriginal people is inhospitable desert, often useless for agriculture and far from any services. Consequently, many of these traditional communities rely on government-provided economic support.
In 1981 and 1984 the government of South Australia passed land rights acts returning traditional lands to the Pitjantjatjara and Maralinga Tjarutja communities. The lands lie in the desolate northwest section of the state, hundreds of kilometers from any large towns. Part of the Maralinga Tjarutja lands remain contaminated from nuclear weapons testing performed by the United Kingdom in the 1950s and early 1960s. Still, until the passage of the 1993 Native Title Act, South Australia and the Northern Territory were the only two states or territories in Australia in which Aboriginal communities had reclaimed a significant amount of land.
- Early Discrimination of Aboriginal Australians (egrejeen.wordpress.com)
Early Discrimination of Aboriginal Australians
Great Britain began its colonization of Australia in 1788. As British settlement grew in the years that followed, colonists and indigenous Australians came into increasing conflict over land; many thousands of Aboriginal people died from the fighting and from European diseases. After a century of such problems, the Australian colonies began to pass protection acts. In 1886 Victoria was the first to do so, followed by Queensland in 1897, Western Australia in 1905, New South Wales in 1909, and the Northern Territory and South Australia in 1911. In Tasmania, where large numbers of the Aboriginal population had been wiped out by war and disease, the government did not recognize the remaining survivors and thus did not follow the other states in establishing discriminatory laws.
The acts took different forms in different colonies and states. The governments of Victoria and New South Wales did not want to control and maintain large Aboriginal populations, so their acts established small reserves for Aboriginal people to live on but allowed few to live there. This policy, called dispersal, scattered Aboriginal people around the colonies, splitting groups and families. For example, a woman with one Aboriginal parent might be defined as half-caste and legally Aboriginal, and would therefore be forced to live on a reserve. Meanwhile, her children, who might have had only one Aboriginal parent, would be defined as quarter-caste and not legally Aboriginal, and would therefore be forced to leave the reserve.
The other colonies, states, and the Northern Territory (which was administered by the federal government from 1911 to 1978) believed the best way to control and protect Aboriginal people was to separate them from the rest of the population on large, isolated reserves. As a consequence, they did not disperse Aboriginal people. Queensland and Western Australia placed the most restrictions on their Aboriginal inhabitants. In Western Australia many Aboriginal people were forcibly taken to the Moore River Native Settlement, which they could not leave without permission. If they tried to escape they were pursued, returned, and punished. They were given minimal education, inadequate food, and lived in substandard conditions. Many of the children at Moore River were sent to work as servants and cheap labor for white families. In Queensland, Aboriginal people from all regions were sent to Palm Island, which had a reputation as a place of punishment. Aboriginal people were forbidden to leave Palm Island or other settlements without permission, and their lives were tightly controlled while they lived there. In all states, governments controlled wages for Aboriginal labor; typically, Aboriginal people were paid with food rather than money.
Sacred Sites Protection Acts of Australia was necessary to preserve the cultural heritage of Aborigines. Both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal lands within Australia contain sites and landforms that have spiritual significance to Aboriginal people. Landforms such as hills, outcrops of rocks, and water holes might together constitute a dreaming trail, which tells the story of how the world was created according to Aboriginal tradition. While sacred lands already had minimal protection under state and federal legislation, the federal government expanded protection of sacred sites by passing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act in 1984. The act gives the federal government the power to prevent mining and construction projects that would threaten sacred lands. It operates in cases where no state legislation exists, or where state legislation will not be used to protect a sacred site.
The protection of sacred sites has proven highly controversial, in part because many non-Aboriginal Australians do not understand why the sites are sacred or do not think that they merit special status. In 1991 the federal government provoked controversy when it used the Heritage Protection Act to block the development of the Coronation Hill gold mine in the Northern Territory. The local Jawoyn Aboriginal people had argued that the mine threatened one of their sacred sites. Another controversy erupted in 1994, when the federal government declared sacred sites on Hindmarsh Island in South Australia to be protected areas. In the mid-1990s the protection of sacred sites remained one of the most strained aspects of relations between white Australians and Aboriginal people. Sacred Sites Protection Acts of Australia though controversial shows the interest of the Australian government to respect the belief system of their citizens.
Assimilation Acts of Australia were intended to reduce as much as possible the number of Aborigines within Australian societies. During the first half of the 20th century, as the number of people of mixed descent grew, the state governments began to expand the definition of who was Aboriginal and therefore subject to control. In Western Australia and South Australia especially, the definition of who was Aboriginal was broadened so much that people who had not been previously treated as Aboriginal by the state were suddenly being deprived of a wide range of rights. In South Australia, this included residents with any Aboriginal ancestry.
Some of these later acts included exemptions, under which Aboriginal people could apply to the government for a certificate that would exempt them from the protection acts and remove their Aboriginal designation. To be exempted, a person had to show that he or she behaved like a non-Aboriginal person and did not associate with Aboriginal people. In this way, governments encouraged Aboriginal people to abandon their heritage and assimilate with white Australia. Aboriginal people deeply resented the certificates, which they referred to as “dog licenses.”
Assimilation policies also involved the forcible removal of Aboriginal children from their families and communities. By 1911 all of the states officially allowed the removal of indigenous children without parental consent. This practice was also regarded as a method of population control on the reserves. Most of the removed children were of mixed descent or lighter skin color. They were placed in state institutions, church missions, or white foster families and completely cut off from their Aboriginal culture as they were assimilated into white society. Laws allowing the practice were finally abolished in the late 1960s.
The removed individuals, who became known as the Stolen Generations, suffered long-term psychological effects as a consequence. Many were physically abused and victims of racial prejudice. How many children were taken away would later prove difficult to estimate due to poor record keeping. An official inquiry by the national Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission concluded in 1997 that at least 100,000 indigenous children had been forcibly removed from 1910 to 1970. Assimilation Acts of Australia however brought a lot of dissatisfaction on the part of the Aborigines, coupled with huge human right abuses.
The Mabo Case and the 1993 Native Title Act of Australia was one instituted to give equal opportunities to the Aboriginal people. In the 1992 Mabo v. Queensland case, the High Court of Australia ruled that all of Australia’s native communities have a right to use their ancestral lands, so long as they have lived on or used such lands, without interruption, since before European settlement of Australia. To implement the Mabo ruling, the federal government passed the Native Title Act of 1993. Under the act, the National Native Title Tribunal hears land claims. If the tribunal finds a claim to be legitimate, Aboriginal communities are given native title to the land, a special kind of possession given to a community as a whole rather than to individuals. Holding native title to land is not necessarily the same as owning land. In many cases native title simply recognizes the right of Aboriginal people to continue traditional uses, such as hunting, living, and practicing religious ceremonies.
In some cases where Aboriginal people have been given native title, non-Aboriginal people may also use the land for pastoral work (ranching and farming). However, the Mabo ruling did not specify when this dual usage could take place. As a result, the National Native Title Tribunal had difficulty deciding many of the claims before it. In 1996 the High Court addressed some of this confusion in Wik Peoples v. Queensland. In the ruling, the court reaffirmed that native title and pastoral work can coexist and described some of the circumstances under which this was possible.
Most Aboriginal Australians live in cities and towns and cannot benefit from the Native Title Act because they have lost the connection to their traditional land. The same is true of Aboriginal people who live on reserves. Their ancestors were forced onto the reserves in the 19th and early 20th centuries, losing contact with most of their land. Although Aboriginal people now own these reserves, they are generally small tracts of land in harsh environments.
The land rights acts have been very controversial, in large part because Australia’s economy depends on the mining of bauxite, aluminum, gold, diamonds, and uranium in remote areas. Many of these areas have been given back to Aboriginal people or could be given back if a claim arose. Most of the land rights acts contain special provisions to ensure mining can occur; however, the acts make it difficult to do so without the approval of the Aboriginal community that owns the land. In several instances, Aboriginal people have allowed mining in exchange for various forms of compensation, such as royalties, jobs, respect for sacred sites, and measures to minimize environmental damage. The Mabo Case and the 1993 Native Title Act of Australia finally gave victory to Aboriginal people.
The Rise of Aboriginal Rights with particular reference to Human Rights refers to the basic rights enjoyed by Aborigines. Questions about human rights abuses against Aboriginal people came to national and international attention in the late 1980s, when the Australian government faced criticism over a disproportionately high death rate among Aboriginal people in police custody. In 1988 the United Nations published a report accusing Australia of violating international human rights standards in its treatment of Aboriginal people.
In 1991 a report by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody showed evidence of extensive racism in Australian police forces and prison systems. The report outlined more than 300 recommendations to improve the situation. Much of the report examined the underlying causes for the disproportionate number of Aboriginal people in custody and in prisons in particular. It concluded that the most significant factor in the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in custody was “the disadvantaged and unequal condition that Aboriginal people find themselves in…socially, economically, and culturally,” and it recommended greater empowerment of Aboriginal people and more adherences to policies of self-determination. Unfortunately, today Aboriginal people are still seriously overrepresented in Australian prisons in relation to their population size. Many advocates of Aboriginal causes believe that the history of mistreatment and domination of Aboriginal people, and particularly the legacy of child-removal policies, has contributed substantially to high rates of crime, alcohol abuse, and drug abuse among Aboriginal people, which in turn contribute to the high incarceration rates. The Rise of Aboriginal Rights: Human Rights though continue to improve, Aborigines continue to suffer neglect and sometimes false imprisonment and the standard of living vis-à-vis white people have a wide margin.
The Rise of Aboriginal Rights and Land Rights was one of the most discussed issues in Aboriginal communities during the 20th century. The rights of Aboriginal people to their ancestral lands have dominated the politics of white-Aboriginal relations since the 1960s. Among the first Aboriginal groups to bring the issue of land rights to national attention was the Yolngu people from Yirrkala in northeastern Arnhem Land. In 1963, with the assistance of some members of the Methodist Church and a Labor Party parliamentarian, the Yolngu petitioned the federal Parliament against bauxite mining on their land. Their petitions, presented on traditional bark paintings, noted that they had never been consulted about the mining project and requested an inquiry. This led to the first legal case in Australia to test whether Australian law recognized Aboriginal land ownership, Milirrpum v. Nabalco. In 1971 a judge decided that while it was clear the Yolngu had lived at Yirrkala for thousands of years, Australian law, based on the principle of terra nullius, did not recognize prior Aboriginal ownership of the land.
In 1966, at the same time as the Yolngu were seeking control of their land, Gurindji workers at the Wave Hill cattle station in the Northern Territory went on strike for equal wages with white stockmen and better working conditions. Their strike quickly became a claim for land, as the Gurindji sought a pastoral lease on part of the station that covered their traditional lands. In 1975, after years of legal struggles, they were granted such a lease.
The passage in 1976 of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act marked a radical change in governmental attitudes toward Aboriginal land rights. As a result of this act, more than 40 percent of the total land area in the Northern Territory has reverted to Aboriginal ownership. In 1985 the government officially transferred Uluru, one of the world’s largest monoliths, to the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal peoples, who consider it sacred. They now lease the site back to the government as Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Australia.
Before 1992, land was returned to Aboriginal groups on the basis of laws passed by Parliament, rather than any judicial recognition that Aboriginal people were the original owners of the land. In a landmark 1992 case, Mabo v. Queensland, the Australian High Court overturned the concept of terra nullius, for the first time acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the original owners of the Australian continent. The court introduced the legal concept of native title, ruling that Indigenous Australians had title to land on the continent before European settlement in 1788. Indigenous people could claim native title if they could show a continuous relationship with their ancestral lands and if such title had not been extinguished by a valid act of government, such as a grant of the land to a private owner. In 1993 the government passed the Native Title Act, which aimed to harmonize the existing rights of non-indigenous people with the Mabo judgment. This act established the National Native Title Tribunal to hear land claims and mediate between indigenous and non indigenous interests.
In 1996, in the case of Wik Peoples v. Queensland, the High Court partially clarified the question of whether native title was extinguished by pastoral leases, in which individuals rent land from the government for the purpose of ranching and farming. The court found that native title could coexist with pastoral leases, but that the rights of the leaseholder prevail in cases of conflict. The ruling greatly upset pastoral leaseholders, and in 1998 the federal Parliament passed amendments to the Native Title Act that made it somewhat harder for some groups to obtain recognition of their native title. The Rise of Aboriginal Rights and Land Rights are important issues that decide the true place of Aborigines within their communities.