I’ve just finished watching a 7-part documentary series called The First Australians, which is on exactly that. It recounts our history here in Australia and how the first settlers all the way through to ‘white’ Australians’ in the mid 1900s treatment of aborigines in Australia.
It’s a pretty eye opening documentary I found, that almost brought me to tears at times when you hear stories from indigenous Australians about their parents and other ancestors who suffered at the hands of the Europeans during the 1700s, 1800s, 1900s and even today.
There were originally 250+ tribes covering every part of Australia. It’s believed Australia has been home to 1.6 billion human lives in the time following the arrival of the first Australians maybe more than 60 000 years ago. Within a few short decades of the first settlers arriving most were killed off either actively being shot to death like wild animals, or passively from European diseases contracted from the first settlers and passed on to countless other aborigines when they were corralled together in jails, camps and Christian missions.
Victoria was home to 60 000 or more aborigines when the first settlers arrived in the late 1700s. Within decades they numbered no more than 2000. Today, every single aboriginal with Victoria heritage can trace their ancestry to one or more of only ~350 aborigines. Tasmanian aborigines numbered less than 30 in the early 1800s after they were killed off by disease, shot by farmers worried about the price of their land and their livestock’s safety from inhabiting aborigines.
The 1800s saw the worst treatment of aborigines in our history, in my opinion, where they were systematically moved off their land, hunted, tortured, raped, hanged, shot, murdered, jailed, had their wives and children stolen, their lands poisoned, deforested and stolen, and worse. After white initially aimed to try moving them off their land, and when they refused to simply shoot them, they later tried breeding them out or ‘merging’ them into white society in the hope that the future Australians would forget the existence of the country’s original owners.
“Half-casts” were banned from living with their parents on reservations because they were part white. Whilst “full bloods” weren’t allowed to leave the reservations without legal documents having been signed and given to them. Even until the mid 1900s they were banned from pubs, ex-military members were banned from joining RSLs, they weren’t allowed to go into hotels, pubs or bars, giving birth in hospitals, they weren’t allowed to be served at stores unless no single white person was waiting to be served, they had no vote and no land rights.
For those who rose up initially in protest of their treatment, they were banned from reservations, had their rations restricted or completely taken from them so that they and their children would starve and hopefully die from the state’s point of view.
There were a few ‘white’ heroes along the way, don’t get me wrong, who stepped in where they could to do the right thing and learn from, protect, and fight for the safety and rights of the aborigines. Two brilliant examples are Sir Walter Baldwin Spencer and Francis James Gillen. But most ‘heroes’, or those trying to ‘do the right thing’ were Christian missionaries who stripped the aborigines of their culture and heritage, and in the worst cases their children. They often also forced or conned large numbers of aborigines off their land and into missions to be ‘educated’ by in school and church, which quite often to the subsequent deaths of 100s of individuals from diseases to which they had no prior exposure or immunity to.
Anyway, I thoroughly recommend watching the full series. It’s about 6 hours in length through the 7 episodes, but it covers a sizeable portion of the first Australian’s history. A lot of which is either denied, hidden or lied about by past and present Australians.
Although I never had anything to do with what happened to the first Australians, nor did any of my Australian ancestors (at least to my knowledge) who only arrived in more recent years, as a ‘white’ European Australian I feel a great deal of disgust, shame and sorrow for what was done (and is still done to a lesser extent today) to these people by Europeans.
You can watch it all free here online, and find information on it there too.