Terra Nullius Great Britain Colonized Australia in Essay

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Terra Nullius

Great Britain colonized Australia in 1788. It is been estimated that there were between 300,000 to 750,000 native inhabitants on the continent and at that time (Russell, 2005). English Common Law forbade colonization of any area inhabited unless this was accomplished by a treaty or force. The English colonists typically acknowledged the native peoples of the lands that they colonized; however, this was not the case during the colonization of Australia (Daunton & Martin, 1999). The Aborigines defined themselves according to their clan relationship and were separated by at least 200 different dialects (Daunton & Martin, 1999). The British did not indigenous Australians as having any formal societal organization and this contributed to the British treating the natives they encountered in North America and in Australia quite differently.

Instead of recognizing the native Australians the British denied them any rights or ownership over the lands that they had inhabited prior to British colonization. Although the notion of terra nullius, "a land that belongs to no one," is often tied to both the Americas and Australia, the British viewed Native Americans as an organized society, whereas in Australia they viewed the native people as barbarians. Terra nullius was applied to Australia and the policy formally remained in effect from 1788 until the 1990s (Russell, 2005). The terra nullius doctrine is based on Locke's ideas regarding the ownership of property. Locke's notions were that since native populations did not have an investment in the soil they lived on they had no claim over it. The British interpreted this as meaning the land inhabited by indigenous Australians belonged to no one and allowed them to assume complete ownership over the land with no regard to the Aborigines (Buchan & Heath, 2006). The traditional Aboriginal lifestyle was considered to be a crude culture of hunting and gathering by many British and white Australians. This attitude continued following the British departure from Australia (Reconcilaction Network, 2007). Terra nullius contributed to this attitude as a people that have no inherent rights to the land they live on cannot be viewed as having equal or any rights in the society that controls the land (Buchan & Heath, 2006).

The British retained control over Australia until 1901 when six major colonies combined into one democratic government (Buchan & Heath, 2006). At this time the Aborigines were considered to be a dying race and were not counted in the census. Instead the six colonies, now referred to as "States," were given complete power over them until 1967 when a majority vote would include them in the census (Reconcilaction Network, 2007). However, the Australian constitution drafted in 1901 allowed each state to determine how to deal with their native populations, so the Aborigines still had little say regarding their fate. In 1962 Aborigines were given the right to vote, but only in federal elections; they were still considered wards of the State so they were not able to vote in State elections. Despite being able to vote in federal elections the Aboriginal people were still treated inhumanely, a lingering effect of terra nullius. They remain the poorest sector of people in Australia and even though they had obtained voting rights in federal elections very few of them were able to exercise this right either by choice or coercion (Reconciliaction Network, 2007). It was not until 1967 that the Aborigines were granted legal citizenship of Australia despite the fact that they were the indigenous people.

Being "inferior" the Aborigines were placed under the protection government administrative policies and administrative boards as a result of the terra nullius mandate. These boards and policies dictated complete control over the lives of Australia's indigenous people. The parallel to slavery invoked on blacks in America quite striking; however, slavery in the United States of America was officially abolished following the Civil War 1865, whereas these policies controlling the lives of Australia's indigenous population continued well into the 1900s and beyond (Reconciliaction Network, 2007).

One of the major effects of the terra nullius policy on the Aborigines was the legal policy allowing for the removal of aboriginal children from their families. The formal policy lasted from 1910 to around 1970, but historically this policy was in effect far earlier and continued following 1970 (Celermajer, 2005). Churches, welfare boards, and other institutions contributed and took part in the process of removing these children without the consent of their parents or without a court order. The process typically consisted of taking a child from his/her home placing them in institutions and then later placing them with white families. The reasoning behind this was totally genocidal in nature designed to exploit the children at the same time enforce "white" values on them. Removing children from their homes was justified as being humane by severing ties with the family and their culture (considered to be barbaric; Celermajer, 2005). The most common age a child was removed was at birth, two, or four years of age. The impact of such a policy can hardly fully be realized on generations of people. Entire generations of Aboriginal families were disconnected from their heritage, their culture, and were indoctrinated into a society that neither respected them nor really cared about their well-being. The effects of this policy also created major tensions and distain between Aborigines and whites today (the effect of the "Stolen Generations"; Celermajer, 2005). When generations of people are exploited and abused in this manner they cannot help but develop prejudicial attitudes towards their oppressors. Likewise, the oppressors will cognitively seek out information that confirms their biases and stereotypes of the oppressed group long after the policies and practices of the past have ceased. In Australia this certainly was the case and despite efforts to allow the indigenous peoples their freedoms to exercise their culture these tensions remain quite strong. Of course one also needs to consider the effect on those that were oppressed and how their perception of the situation influenced future generations as well. These policies of removing a substantial number of Aboriginal children from their families have resulted in deep scars and continue to distance efforts at reconciliation both from a logical standpoint and from a social standpoint (Buchan & Heath, 2006).

Other social effects of terra nullius that continue to burden the Aboriginal peoples in Australia to this day are the policies resulting from terra nullius regarding where Aborigines could live. Because of this policy the Aborigines had no legal claim to any land territory under white rule. This allowed boards and committees to dictate where these people could live, what types of jobs they were able to get, their educational opportunities, and where they could even go and how they could get there (Buchan & Heath, 2006). Aborigines were denied options for supporting themselves and obtaining viable employment. The type of mindset that this creates in both the oppressed group as well as the oppressor is also important to consider. From the standpoint of the oppressor the disenfranchised group is labeled as being "helpless" or "childlike" or something along those lines identifying them as inferior. The implications from such an attitude continued long after legal and social reforms have outlawed such formal policies. When people designate who is in the in -- group and who belongs to the out -- group these cognitive structures are stronger and result in longer lasting effects than legal or social actions. Such designations are the foundations of racism and discrimination (Lickel et al., 2000). Thus, the attitude of the oppressing group and members towards an out-group will still prevail even if it is at the level of the subconscious.

Likewise, the oppressed group initially may accept designations of being inferior and passively play into them, but historically over time these people will tend to resist not only the attitudes but the formal policies that oppress them. But the resistance of such a disenfranchised group is not initially viewed as an act of legitimacy by the governing group. Resistance is viewed as being a "rebellion" against the status quo and is responded to in a ruthless manner (Roccas & Brewer, 2002). The long-term implications of such a situation where the disenfranchised group is viewed as less than human and incapable of functioning on their own recognizance are long-standing and can be traced to the terra nullius philosophy. Aborigines are still denied access to basic health services, educational opportunities, and housing services (Reconcilaction Network, 2007).

According to the Australia Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC, 1998) the experience of forcible separation from their family continues to severely affect many Aboriginal people to this day. The effects of these separations may take generations of people not exposed to the separation to recover. This includes personal feelings of inadequacy and helplessness due to a person's ethnicity. The ATSIC (1998) findings also indicated that: 1. Despite efforts for reconciliation a good number of indigenous Australians still live in poverty due to structural and cultural barriers that do not allow them access to government…[continue]

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