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Josh Land - 11333326

Assessment 1


Table of Contents
Executive summary.....................................1
Cultural context...........................................1
Historical circumstances..............................4
Contemporary context.................................6
Recommendations and Conclusion..............8

Executive summary
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This report looks in detail at the historical neglect of Indigenous
Australians the effect this had from colonisation through to today,
contributing to the entrenched disadvantages Indigenous peoples face
throughout their lives. It involves looking at past and present policies such
as land dispossession and those which led to The Stolen Generation
through to the Northern Territory National Emergency Response. These
policies directly contributed to the suffering of Indigenous Australians and
led to the situations of significant disadvantage we see today such as
incarceration rates, life expectancy, health and education. The different
religious and cultural beliefs between Indigenous Australians and the
dominate culture of today with regards to The Dreaming and concepts of
time are discussed as a way of understanding how we can bridge these
gaps. I contend that we as a whole must first acknowledge the wrongs of
the past in a more meaningful way before we can fully reconcile with
Indigenous Australians.

Cultural context
Australian culture has transformed tremendously in the past several
hundred years through changing population characteristics and
demographics. We cannot look at Australian history beginning with
colonisation but must look at the culture that survived 40,000 plus years
through to the present. The marginalisation of Indigenous Australians
since colonisation has only recently been identified through changing
community attitudes and reports such as The Overcoming Indigenous

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Disadvantage (OID) report of 2014, as something to be rectified to end the
entrenched disadvantage the Indigenous have faced for several centuries.

Within Aboriginal society and culture, religion is a part of every

aspect of life. Religion underlines all actions, expressions and
interpretations (Rose, 1998, p. 239) which is a concept that can be difficult
for other contemporary Australian cultures to understand. Aboriginal
culture sees their spirituality as a layered concept (Magin, 2005, p. 50)
with many different manifestations throughout the different nations
around the country articulated through the Dreaming stories. There were
a variety stories told all around Australia depending upon the landscape,
flora and fauna in a particular area (Magin, 2005), which led to a rich and
diverse Indigenous culture.

Western concepts of linear time with a separation of past and

present make it difficult to describe the Dreaming as it refers to Aboriginal
culture (Edwards, 1998, p. 79). Indigenous concepts of time are cyclic with
the Dreaming constituting the beginning of the world as well as the
present (Edwards, 1998, p. 80). The Dreaming is not like creationism in
Christianity it does not assume a total creation of the world from nothing.
In the Dreaming a watery expanse or featureless plain exist, with Spirit
beings dormant under the surface. These Spirits emerged and assumed
various identities with human, animal and plant features, the stories that

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developed in different nations revolved around the plants, animals,
objects and incidents that were native to that particular area (Edwards,
1998, p. 80). This shows how the concept of the Dreaming is fluid and the
stories depended upon where a nation was located and the environment
that enveloped it as to the stories that developed. Within Aboriginal
communities the passing of Dreaming stories from one generation to the
next was a vital part of education with knowledge the most important
possession of Indigenous elders (Edwards, 1998, p. 83).

The land played an extremely important role in defining Aboriginal

culture, with the whole environment playing a role in the development of
Dreaming events (Edwards, 1998, p. 81). The spirit beings in Dreaming
stories are believed to be the ancestors of the people from that area and
the species descended from. This conflicts heavily with Western ideas of
reality and religion (Edwards, 1998, p. 81). Indigenous concepts of land
are vastly different from Western philosophies. Indigenous Australians saw
themselves as belonging to the land and had ownership to use the land
(Myers, 1986, p. 187), while European colonialists saw the land as
something to conquer, live off and an asset to buy, sell and own.

The Indigenous communitys idea of kinship is dramatically different

from those of Western descent. The terminology used by Indigenous
Australians encompasses categories of people that British colonial settlers

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did not. In the local Indigenous community, everyone is classifiable as kin,
the definitions for kinship in Western society terminology focuses on the
individual and their direct ancestors and descendants, the system fades
off very quickly into cousins and then non-kin as soon as it leaves the
realm of nuclear families and procreation (Morphy, 2006, para. 30).

There is much that contemporary Australia can learn from Aboriginal

way of life, part of this relates to the land management practices that
have been honed over thousands of years, particularly with fire which we
are only just beginning to understand (Rose, 1996, p. 10). Many within the
Aboriginal community have quite different views towards land
management, for thousands of years Aboriginal peoples enacted a
detailed and skilled use of fire which was responsible for the long term
productivity and biodiversity of Australia (Rose, 1996, p. 10).

Historical circumstances
Previously Aboriginal societies had only known gradual and minimal
change with colonisation this changed dramatically. Colonisation and
dispossession of land was justified through a Darwinism theory that more
primitive social organisations would be replaced or conquered by more
sophisticated and highly developed organisations (Edwards, 1998, p. 88).
Throughout colonisation the Indigenous population did not simply roll over

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and accept the invasion, the harsh reality of the situation is that they were
killed (Short, 2012, p. 32

Between 1788 and 1884 the indigenous death toll through conflict
alone is estimated to be around 20,000 (Short, 2012, p. 32). Through land
dispossession and destruction of the natural environment the Indigenous
population lost the basis of their spiritual, cultural and legal systems
(Short, 2012, p. 32) that came with their attachment to the land. The loss
of their lands and autonomy and the resultant cultural erosion and welfare
dependency led to a great decline in health and wellbeing of the
Indigenous population (Short, 2012, p. 32).

Not only were Indigenous settlements facing threat through hostile

colonisation and land dispossession, but the introduction of new and never
before seen diseases took a massive toll on Aboriginal communities with
unadjusted immune systems ill-equipped medical training and supplies.
The arrival of diseases such as smallpox was catastrophic and devastated
Indigenous populations who had any contact with the disease (Egan,
2012, p. 22). Its arrival is the source of much controversy as it is unsure
whether the outbreak was deliberate or not (Egan, 2012, p. 22), this
seems immaterial as the resulting devastation saw between 50 and 90
percent of indigenous people died of smallpox within 3 years of British
occupation (Egan, 2012, p. 26).

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Christian missionaries which were widely used around the world

inhibited the emergence of Aboriginal leadership and worship (Edwards,
1998, p. 91). The radical difference in culture and religion made it difficult
for the Indigenous to merge their world view to that being preached
(Edwards, 1998, p. 91). This diminished the rich culture that permeates
Indigenous life and could have eradicated Indigenous language, religion
and culture from the Australian landscape.

In 1937 a Native Welfare Conference was held to discuss what

needed to be done about their perceived Aboriginal Problem (Bringing
Them Home, n.d.). The Australian states eventually began adopting
policies to assimilate Indigenous people of mixed descent. This involved
passively pushing these people into the non-Indigenous community
without any assistance (Bringing Them Home, n.d.). Moving Indigenous
peoples into a foreign community separated from their people, traditions
and culture caused great anguish. The theory behind assimilation policy
was that there was nothing of value in Indigenous culture (Bringing Them
Home, n.d.).

The Stolen Generation is one of the blackest marks of Australias

recorded history. From the first days of occupation it involved the
exploitation of Indigenous children, forcible separation from their families
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and communities. It was not just a case of random kidnappings but a
systematic government and missionary policy to remove children and
instil European values for the service of colonial Australians (Short, 2012,
p. 87-88). Policies came under a cover of protection and segregation of
the Indigenous, which due to settler squatting forcing Indigenous to the
periphery. They suffered malnutrition, disease and became dependant on
welfare measures (Short, 2012, p. 88). The protection side of this
amounted to total control of everything from marriage, employment,
freedom of movement and guardianship of children (Short, 2012, p. 88).

Contemporary context
For Aboriginal peoples in contemporary settings their culture and
religion are steeped in tradition. Their stories, ceremonies, values and
structures which existed for thousands of years before colonisation and
still survive today were greatly impacted by the radical shift that
colonisation brought with it. It is in this context that we must understand
that policies of the past such as dispossession and segregation although
not present in todays climate, still contribute to the entrenched
disadvantage faced by indigenous Australians and to the feelings of
resentment that are still harboured.

Throughout the early colonial era in Australia, governments limited

indigenous peoples access to finances creating entrenched poverty and
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disempowerment. There has been considerable effort in recent decades
by governments of all persuasions to address disadvantages faced by
indigenous peoples. The dispossession of land is sited as the root cause of
todays level of Aboriginal disadvantage (Short, 2012, p. 4). The history of
dispossession is integral to understanding contemporary indigenous/nonindigenous relations. Colonial settling was built upon the assumption that
European culture was superior to all others (Goodall, 1995, p. 12). The
employing of Terra Nullius (Nobodies Land) was critical allowing colonists
to dispossess the indigenous from their land.

Though there has been much progression in terms of government

policy, there is still much room for improvement. Though government
policies have come a long way since those of dispossession, assimilation
and the stolen generation there has not been much of a change in
indigenous life expectancy, health and education which is of great
concern. Self-determination which had been a part of government policy
since 1972 and included Aboriginal control over decision making
processes and control over a wide range of matters in political, economic,
social and cultural circumstances was rolled back in the mid to late 90s
(Pritchard & Dodson, 1998, p. 5). This regression went against
fundamental principles of equality and non-discrimination and was at odds
of many other nations who employ self-determination policies (Pritchard &
Dodson, 1998, p. 5).

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Contemporary government attitude and policy are trending toward a
more colonial way of thinking towards indigenous Australians which
involve negative stereotypes of Aboriginal people. Income management
laws which were a part of the 2007 Northern Territory intervention and
have been trialled in other Australian states (Bielefeld, 2012, p. 522-523)
since. These policies decrease indigenous autonomy and form a
regressive policy base which draws parallels to past policy which diminish
dignity and demoralise communities (Bielefeld, 2012, p. 523). It is with
hope that we do not continue to trend in this direction after having spent
decades slowly rectifying past injustices. As an inclusive society we must
work together with indigenous Australians to provide a platform of robust
social justice which promotes freedom, dignity and autonomy (Bielefeld,
2012, p. 523).

Recommendations and Conclusion

With many years of neglect, policy makers are only recently making
efforts to correct the errors of the past and to give indigenous students
the same advantages of their non-indigenous counterparts. Knowledge
and education is extremely important for indigenous and non-indigenous
people alike. Our Western-centric style schooling which teaches little
about indigenous society, religion and culture gives indigenous students
no ownership or connection to their education, creating feelings of
marginalisation and neglect.

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Integrate more Indigenous elders into education as teacher aides or

the like, providing mentoring to indigenous youths.

Taking heed of studies which show the way indigenous students
learn is vastly different to non-indigenous and alter the

curriculum/teaching accordingly.
Close the disconnect young indigenous students feel about the
education system by using more relevant material for them to
study such as Indigenous writings in English, or Indigenous culture
(not just colonisation) in history
This report was intended to shine light on the disadvantage faced by

Indigenous Australians with the hope of eventually closing the gaps in

education, health, life expectancy and incarceration rates. By doing so we
can take a massive step in healing the wounds that still exist over
colonisation, dispossession and government policy which led to these
gaps in the first place. As a first world nation it is unfathomable we have a
situation where a whole sector of our community faces so many

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Australian Human Rights Commission: Bringing Them Home. (n.d.).
Retrieved from https://www.humanrights.gov.au/publications/bringingthem-home-chapter-2
Bielefeld, S. (2012). Compulsory Income Management and Indigenous
Australians: delivering social justice or furthering colonial domination?.
UNSW Law Journal, 35(2), 522-362.
Edwards, B. (1998). Living the dreaming. In C. Bourke, E. Bourke, & B.
Edwards, Aboriginal Australia: an introductory reader in Aboriginal studies
(2nd ed.) (pp. 77-99). St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.
Egan, R. (2012). 1788-1790: amity and kindness. In Neither amity nor
kindness: Government policy towards Aboriginal people of NSW 1788 to
1969 (pp. 5-32). Paddington, NSW.
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Murphy, F. (2006). Lost in translation? Remote indigenous households and
definitions of the family. Family Matters, (73), 23. Retrieved from
Myers, F.R. (1986). Always ask: resource use and land ownership among
Pintupi Aborigines of the Australian Western Desert. In N. M. Williams &
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policy: the abandonment of self-determination?. Indigenous Law Bulletin,
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Aboriginal religion. Traditional Aboriginal society (2nd ed.) (pp. 239-251).
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