Australian Social History Term Paper

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Aboriginal Activism in Australia

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were the centuries of new exploration; the scientific discoveries had allowed Europeans to build better ships and navigation system and to explore the new worlds. The French, British and Spanish explorers were more successful in these endeavors. They not only found new lands but were able to exploit the small local population of Natives to control the land. North America is perhaps the most significant example of this. The British first went as explorers, then traders and in the end easily managed to control the lands, building their own colonies. It was the advanced technology of the Europeans that played a significant part in their control of the "New Worlds."

Australia in this respect is no exception. It is said that the Aboriginals came to this part of the earth some 50,000 years ago and they came from the neighboring islands like Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Despite the harsh conditions in Australia the Aboriginal people were able to survive with their not so advanced technology. Though the technology was not so advanced they adapted well and their population increased to around 500,000 people. The Europeans settlers came to the region with their more advanced technology in 1788 from England began to settle in the region [Smallwood, 2002].

Initially the Natives did welcome the Europeans; they had seen the white man for the first time and it was a new experience for them. Gradually the British started to colonize the region and their treatment and relations to the Native population deteriorated and there was an inevitable clash between the two cultures. The British tried to reach some sort of agreement with the Native people but there was no central Aboriginal authority to deal with. The Aboriginal population lived in many different tribes each tribe had its own leader. Moreover they spoke different languages. Encouraged by this and facing little resistance by the Aboriginals the British declared the land "Terra Nullius" meaning effectively uninhabited [Paisley 1997]. The Europeans began to control many parts of the island and because the Aboriginals were living in different tribes they faced little resistance from them. The Europeans not only brought with them disease of control and occupation but also other diseases, in 1792 and in 1892 two plagues of small-pox swept through the Aboriginal population and wiped many of them out in addition there was a plague of venereal disease which killed many Aboriginals. Aboriginal small scale of resistance by stealing animals and destroy houses of the settlers, the reaction to that was killing of Aboriginals on sight, many of the farmers shot Aboriginal people who would try to steal or burn their houses. In 1901 the island became the nation of Australia, it was basically declared a country of white man and Aboriginals were not considered as citizens or part of Australian population. The Aboriginal people were constantly discriminated and were isolated to certain parts of the island [Paisley 1997].

The year 1926 had been one of the darkest periods in the history of Aboriginal since the European settlers came to this part of the country. After an Aborigine killed an Australian the local police collected a gang of people and killed the whole Aboriginal tribe. It was this incident that led the Aboriginal to reconsider their situation and to organize themselves to initiate a movement, a protest against this brutality and discrimination against them. Aboriginal's had been subject to racial oppression and discrimination for over one hundred years and it was about time they united to form a single voice against this state sponsored discrimination. It was in late 1920s and 1930s that the modern movement for the Aboriginal rights began. The first political organization was also formed in these years including the Australian Aborigines Protection Association, the Association for the Protection of the Native Race of Australia and Polynesia and the Aboriginal Union. After that massacre of the Aboriginal tribe the government too began to take steps to stop the recounting. The Australian government very similar to the United States government had established reserves for the Aboriginal people, these reserves were controlled by the government and the Native people were not allowed to leave the reserves [Stanton, 1999].

These organizations made in the 1930s demanded that Native population must be saved and that the government should implement policies which would guarantee the safety and protection of the Native people and their lands. The government of Australia took some steps to provide some sort of relief to the Aboriginal population, the government created more reserves, but these had strict control of the government. The Europeans settled in Australia had always considered the Aborigines as inferior beings with primitive culture and life style. It was believed that the population of Aborigines would soon die out but this was challenged by the mixed race children which started to spring up in Aboriginal settlements. The Native people understood that in order to gain complete freedom and end of racial oppression they have to fight for the rights of the Native people [Miller, 1985]. Two organizations of the Aboriginal people, the Australian Aborigines League (AAL) and the Aborigines' Progressive Association (APA) played a significant role in spreading awareness of the equal rights movement and laid the foundation of the Aboriginal movement of the 1960s and 70s. It became apparent to both APA and AAL that the government policies of protection did not work, rather than providing the welfare and relief to the people the government was exercising more control and the agencies were destroying Aboriginal communities and cultures. As a result in 1937 William Cooper of AAL circulated a petition which he tried to present to the English King which demanded the proper representation of Aboriginal people in the government and in the House of Representatives. The government on the other hand tried to destroy the Aboriginal population, in the 1930s and 1940s, the government with the help of agencies and church took all the mixed race children and transferred them to the orphanages and in some cases helped adopt them into white families. Some gave their children while others had to be forced about 25% of children were removed from their parents at that time [Miller, 1985].

The two organizations the AAL and the APA became one of the strong voices of the Aboriginal liberation and struggle for the equal rights. On January 26, 1938, the Australian government celebrated the 150th anniversary of the British colonization of Australia. The APA called a conference of all the organizations of Aboriginal people engaged in struggles and declared the day as the "day of mourning." This was perhaps the start of the first big protest and activism against the government which not only gave a clear message to the government but also attacked the myth of white supremacy and benevolence. All the organizations participating in the conference adopted a manifesto which was addressed to the government and to the white population and said that this land was inhabited by the Native people and that it was taken from them by force by the Europeans. The Europeans not only have invaded the land but they also almost exterminated Native people. According to the manifesto this is all brutality, discrimination and oppression in the name of civilization, progress and humane treatment. The manifesto demanded that the Aboriginal people are the true citizens and inhabitants of this land and that they do not ask for protection and charity but for justice, equality, freedom and rights. The manifesto demanded that all government restriction imposed on the Native people should be eliminated; Aboriginal should be given proper status as equal citizens and should be considered a part of Australian population having proper representation in the democracy of Australia [Reynolds, 1996].

The Aborigines organizations have realized that the best way to fight for the rights of their people is within this system, they realized that they did not want charity and protection and that this would gradually destroy the whole culture of Aboriginal people. The conference gathered the attention of the media and the APA's leader William Ferguson told the media that what they want is the justice and their right to be free in this land as their forefathers were. It was in his historical conference that the members of the APA's organization along with the leader William Ferguson met the Prime Minister of Australia Joseph Lysons and presented him a 10-point plan for achieving the Aboriginal equality, their freedom and their right to be the equal citizens of Australia. The plan also demanded positive policies should be implemented in the areas of education of Native population, their housing, working conditions and social welfare, one of the significant demands of the organization was that federal government should takeover the affairs of the Aboriginal from the individual states. The Lyson government rejected all of these proposals and plans. In the 1940s the radical groups began systematic agitation's and many of them walked off from their reservations…[continue]

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