Australian Aboriginals

Cynthia Henry '91, English 34 (1991)

More than 40,000 years ago, several groups of people from Southeast Asia emigrated to Australia and are now regarded as that country's indigenous population - the Aboriginals. Before European colonization in the nineteenth century, the Aboriginals organized their existence around nature. Their ability to survive depended on an extensive knowledge of Australia's flora and fauna, as well as an ability to adapt to different areas of the land. When the number of people in a group became to large for the land to support them, the group would divide and move to the next suitable piece of land. Naturally, differences arose amongst these groups over time, however a core culture, language, and approach to life remained. Their communal co-existence with nature suffered a permanent alteration and near extinction with the advent of the Europeans beginning in the late 1700's.

Europeans moved to Australia and claimed the better land for themselves. Though the Aboriginals struggled to keep their land, the fighting was unequal and they were inevitably forced to adjust to the new arrivals, becoming paupers in a land that had previously been theirs. Those who lived near the Europeans had to rely less on the land and more on an improper diet given them by the new settlers. The Europeans also forced covering on them, providing clothes and blankets which they used unhygienically and suffered from various new diseases. These factors contributed to a demoralization and defeatism within these groups which caused them to die out. Other groups survived by managing to retain much of their traditional customs, while becoming a menial part of this new world by working for the foreigners.

In the mid twentieth century, the Australian government began to redress those wrongs. In the 1950s and '60s the aboriginals were finally enfranchised. Later governments have also committed to a program of Aboriginal self-determination, and have given grants to Aboriginal-run organizations which provide legal and medical assistance for the groups. In addition, a process of land reclamation was begun in 1976 with the passing of the Aboriginals Land Rights Act. This act has enabled some former reservations to be returned to original hands.

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