The First Fleet in Sydney Cove

“I remember during the bicentennial year of 1988 seeing the slogan ‘White Australia has a Black History’ spray-painted in large letters onto the concrete walls which surround the base of the new Australian Parliament building in Canberra.

It appealed to me greatly as one of the most effective protests by indigenous Australians during that flawed year of celebration, a year which most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, (and probably more European Australians than we might guess), viewed more accurately and appropriately as a year of loss and mourning, recognizing the terrible damage done to Australia’s indigenous peoples by the historic act of European settlement”.

These words have been spoken at the Indigenous Research Ethics Conference, 27-29 September 1995 by John Thompson, a speaker during that conference.

How true these words are, taking into account the long history of humiliation of the aboriginal Australians from the European colonists for over 200 years. The first real discoverer of Australia was Captain James Cook, who first set foot in Australia in 1770.

Until then Australia has only vaguely been known by various Dutch and Portuguese trader. Of course, local aboriginal people had known this land fully for over tens of thousands of years before. They were people who shared the culture, language, dreams and lives for all this time.

Ironically, the first settlers of Australia, which landed there in 1788, were prisoners on the run, or convicts with officers to guard them. Before the American War of Independence, Britain had sent convicts to America. American independence ended the practice and the British prisons had to be sent somewhere else.

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Australia seemed the perfect place for the purpose. (The First Fleet in Sydney Cove, January 27, 1788 by John Allcot) From these very early years, there has been a huge problem between the native people and the settlers, be it prisoners or British high society.

They took the lands of the locals, made them slaves, destroyed their identities. The anthropologist W. E. H. Stanner noted on one occasion: “No English words are good enough to give a sense of the links between an Aboriginal group and its homeland. [… ]The Aboriginal would speak of “earth and use the word in a richly symbolic way to mean his “shoulder” or his “side”. I have seen an Aboriginal embrace the earth he walked on. When we took what we call “land” we took what to them meant home, the source and locus of life, and everlastingness of spirit. ”

At the time of the first settlements there were approximately 300,000 aborigines in Australia. As they didn’t have a governmental system, no formal laws, or land ownership, the British throw them off their lands. This brought heavy fights between the two groups anytime they came into contact with each other. (painting representing the conflicts between the aborigines and the colonists in the early days) The British also brought into the country illnesses previously unknown to the Aborigines, such as smallpox, measles, influenza, tuberculosis , due to which many natives dies.

After over 100 years from the first colonization, the Europeans, now established Australians, started to recognize the aboriginal people as real people of Australia, not only some black slaves. In the early 1900 there have been laws passed to protect the Aborigines in every state. But at the same time laws on restrictions for the Aborigines have been created, such as related to owning land, or whom they could marry, where they could live. The first real change in the Constitution has been made in 1967, when the Aborigines have been recognized as full citizens of Australia.

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