Some thoughts on Australia's indigenous population

Katoomba Travel Blog

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Not really much done this weekend as the weather has been poor and we have spent much of the time reading.  So, we thought we would take this opportunity to write something about the Aboriginal people of Australia.

We have been here for three months now, and have learnt a little about Australia's indigenous population. One of the first things you notice when you have been here for any decent length of time, is that the Aboriginals are practically invisible. They are not comparable with other indigenous peoples, such as the Moari of New Zealand or the Indian tribes of Canada, who are relatively well integrated. Even when we have seen Aboriginals, eye contact is not made and greetings not exchanged.  In many ways the two cultures are just as distant as they were 200 years ago, and really, this is at the heart of why there is little successful integration: the Aboriginal culture is extremely complex and stretches back 70,000 years.

The last 200 years does not make for happy reading. The original colonisation of Australia was based on the assumption that it was 'uninhabited wasteland' and that indigenous peoples had no right to the land because they did not farm it. The Aboriginals are in fact, made up of many different peoples or tribes; they were semi-nomadic for a good reason - much of Australia is too arid and barren to be farmed. The Aboriginal peoples soon found their traditional food sources disappearing due to the white settlers - they either resisted and were shot, or had to move on from their traditional lands. They also suffered terribly from new diseases they had no resistance to; whole communities were wiped out by smallpox and malaria. European animals were introduced, such as cats and foxes, responsible for the near extinction of many small mammal species, upon which Aboriginal tribes-people were dependant.

We have both just read a book called 'Follow the Rabbit-proof Fence.' It is about three young Aboriginal girls, who were forcibly removed from their families in the Sandy Desert, Western Au, in the 1930's. They were transported half-way across the state to a 'Native Settlement,' little more than a prison, where they were instructed in the ways of white society and forbidden to speak their native tongue. This particular story is remarkeable, because the three girls escaped and for 1600km, followed the 'Rabbit-proof fence' (erected from North to South to prevent rabbits from entering WA - it didn't work) all the way back home to their families. These were just three of thousands of children removed from their families, now known as the 'Stolen Generation.'  John Howard, the PM, still refuses to apologise to the Aboriginal peoples on behalf of the government.

The result of two centuries of mistreatment and mismangement, is an Aboriginal population that is now displaced and highly disadvantaged. They were only given citizenship and voting rights as late as 1967. The combination of unemployment, lack of medical care, poor education, and alcoholism, has driven many Aboriginal communities to despair. Unbelievably, Aboriginal women's life expectancy is 30 years below that of their white counterparts.

On the positive side, there are glimmers of improvement. Aboriginals have been given land rights, with large areas of state owned land being returned to Aboriginal care. Many Aboriginal communities are beginning to face up to the problems of alcohol, and coming up with different solutions.

So how is the immediate future looking? With the present government, not good. It's had it's knuckles rapped twice in recent years, including by the UN, for its Aboriginal policies. It's continuing lazy and ineffective policies ensure that Aboriginal lives continue to be wasted. It is easy for tourists to be fooled by the impression of a thriving Aboriginal arts culture in the shops and galleries of Alice Springs, Cairns and elsewhere. What tourists don't see, is the appalling slum conditions in which Aboriginals still live.

"This is a disparity of opportunity that knows little equal even in the world's poorest nations and reveals the scandal of the 'lucky country's' indigenous underclass."

moorsideman says:
Interesting piece.

You may know there is film of the book:
'Follow the Rabbit-proof Fence'.
Posted on: Mar 10, 2007
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