Aboriginal People in Australia Research Proposal

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Aboriginal People in Australia

Aboriginal People in White Society

Protection and Segregation From the Mid-Nineteenth to the Mid-Twentieth Century

On February 13, 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a move toward equality and openness for all ethnic groups in Australia with his apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples. A motion to parliament, the apology specifically cited the controversial topic of the Stolen Generations as one for which the Australian government was sorry. Rudd apologized "to the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities," and hoped that the apology would allow Australians to become "fully reconciled to their past" in order to "open a new chapter in the history of Australia" (2008, n.p.). The apology came ten years after the creation of the National Sorry Day Committee, a stipulation of the Brining Them Home report, which detailed the monumental human rights abuses committed by those who participated in the displacing of the Stolen Generations ("National Sorry Day Committee" 2008). National Sorry Day, which is held each year on the 26th of May as a way of remembering, honoring, and apologizing to the Indigenous peoples wronged by the events of the Stolen Generation and other human rights abuses, has become a nationwide symbol of the history and mistreatment of one of the world's oldest peoples (National Sorry Day Committee 2008, Rudd 2008). By telling the heartbreaking story of Nanna Fejo in his apology, Rudd attempted to open Australians' eyes to number of wrongs that had been committed against native Australians. Fejo was just one of the thousands of Aboriginal children taken from her home and family and placed into the care of welfare workers and churches during the 150 years of white raids on Aboriginal villages "in the name of protection" (Rudd 2008, n.p.). Through her story, Rudd stressed the need to apologize and right those wrongs, the effects of which are still haunting and hurting Indigenous communities today (2008, n.p.). While the Bringing Them Home Report, National Sorry Day, and Rudd's apology have marked significant achievements for the Australian government in reconciling with and advancing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the issue of Indigenous people in white society is still a topic of concern in Australia. By detailing a brief historical background of the issue, discussing the protection and segregation of Indigenous Australians, and the their achievements in a move toward self-determination, natives and non-natives alike can draw conclusions about the complexities and importance of this issue.

II. A Brief Historical and Social Background

Long before Britain's colonization of Australia, or even Captain Cook's first citing of Australia in 1770, Aborigines were living a rich cultural life complete with complex spiritual beliefs tying them to the land, oral storytelling, and music brought to them by the didgeridoo, a long, bamboo instrument characterized by low vibrating (Siasoco 2007, n.p.). In addition to the Aborigines, the Torres Strait Islanders, another group of Australian Indigenous people, were living on the continent when the British arrived. Like the Aborigines, the Torres Strait Islanders were a unique cultural group who settled in the "reef-strewn" Torres Strait between the Northeast tip of mainland Australia and Paupa New Guinea and its collection of islands around 3,000 years ago (Lawrence and Lawrence 2004, 15, 18).

Upon colonization in 1788, however, both of these cultures were radically changed. As a result of the United States' newfound independence, Britain struggled with an overabundance of convicts, as criminals had previously been sent to the stateside colonies of Virginia and Maryland. Needing a new harbor for these convicts, the first fleet to enter Australia captained by Arthur Philip consisted of mainly criminals, although marines and other British citizens chose to live in the colony as well ("European Discovery" 2008, n.p.). While the Indigenous people and European settlers enjoyed a peaceful communion of mutual necessity at first, Aborigines and Torres Straight Islanders soon realized that the British colonists were encroaching upon the land that was so necessary for their spiritual and physical existence. This resulted in a series of hostilities between the ethnic groups. Although treaties in the 1700s and 1800s attempted to deal with the issue of land ownership among the indigenous people, these treaties were largely farces that offered the native people little compensation for their land. Exasperating the problem further was New South Wales Governor Richard Bourke, who issued a proclamation in 1835 that established Britain as the first and only owners of Australian land ('European Discovery" 2008, n.p.).

If the issue of land ownership were not enough, "new diseases introduced by colonists, deliberate poisonings, conflicts with colonists, and the dispossession of lands that had provided traditional sources of food" lead to a significant "reduction in the aboriginal population," a reduction that some estimate close 70,000 (Cassidy 2003, 410). The effects of colonization on the Indigenous peoples of Australia, therefore, were anything but positive. Unsuspecting Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were forced from their land, an action that cost them both food supply and culture, as they could no longer farm nor worship their land. Furthermore, diseases brought from Britain to Australia ravaged the native population, as did war with the colonizing Australians. Seeing the Indigenous population as a block for their successful colonization of the continent, they were also treated as second-class citizens, being stripped of their rights and mocked by such actions as Bourke's proclamation. These problems were not simply part of the Indigenous people of Australia's history, however. Rather, the legacy of colonialism in Australia has continued to affect both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations in the contemporary era. In fact, through what the Australian government termed "protection" and the segregation of Indigenous Australians, one of the oldest ethnic groups in the world was subject to some of the most terrible legislated human rights abuses in history.

III. The Protection and Segregation of Indigenous Australians

In Julie Cassidy's 2003 study of the legacy of colonialism, the researcher determined that Australia's Indigenous population was among those who have been left as "second-class citizens," suffering poor "social, economic, educational, and health conditions," with "little hope of breaking free of this status" (409). Cassidy lists a host of issues through which the Indigenous people of Australia have had to suffer, as compared with their non-Indigenous counterparts. Among these trials are high infant and maternal mortality rates, high general mortality rates, and higher levels of disease (Cassidy 410-411). As the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population in Australia is now growing, as opposed to sharp decline in population during the colonists first encounters with the group, these problems are significant for a large part of Australia's population (Cassidy 410). Although they may have started with colonization, the problems did not end there. Instead, a legacy of protection and segregation by the Australian government has brought Indigenous Australians' problems to their current height.

The term "protection" was first used to describe a restriction on Australian Indigenous peoples' rights in 1869 with the formation of the Aboriginal Protection Act under in the colony of Victoria. Created to "regulate the lives of Aboriginal people," including Torres Strait Islanders, the act allowed the Board for the Protection of Aborigines to control a variety of aspects of Indigenous people's lives, including where they lived, worked, and whom they married. Many of these Indigenous peoples were placed in camps, stations, or reserves, and, in 1886, another act provided for the separation of "half-castes" from the other Indigenous people in the camps. These people were removed from their families and everyday lives and told to mingle or assimilate into white society. Without any aid from the government, both "half castes," or those who were of mixed Indigenous and white ethnicity, were left to fend for themselves. Similarly, government officials hoped the removals would allow the populations in camps to dwindle, eventually putting an end to Indigenous populations. By forcing the Indigenous populations to reside in these camps, missions, or pastoral stations, the government removed them into what became a forced ghettoization -- Indigenous people were unable to live in a way that would allow them to use their natural abilities and talents to prosper, but were forced into a small living area and told where they could work. What made the acts, with their obvious human rights abuses, grossly ironic was the fact that during the time of the law's enactment, white Australian citizens were earning more freedom ("Aboriginal Protection Act 1869 (Vic)." 2005).

This trend of control and removal of Indigenous people did not end in the 1800s. Instead, "successive State Government agencies" continued the practice from 1905 until Indigenous peoples were eventually granted the right to become citizens in the late 1960s ("Aboriginal Records" 2007). Aboriginal protection boards operated in a variety of Australian colonies, including Victoria, the first to implement the system, and New South Wales. The numerous boards and acts dealing with the treatment of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were generally the same throughout colonies ("Aboriginal Affairs in NSW" 2008). Using the word "protection"… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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