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The exhibition had five core themes explored through multimedia, art, cultural material and collection objects.
These extended family relationships are the core of Indigenous kinship systems that are central to the way culture is passed on and society is organised.
"All people with the same skin grouping as my mother are my mothers... They have the right, the same as my mother, to watch over me, to control what I'm doing, to make sure that I do the right thing. It's an extended family thing... It's a wonderful secure system." Wadjularbinna Doomadgee, Gungalidda leader, Gulf of Carpentaria, 1996
Kinship systems define where a person fits in to the community, binding people together in relationships of sharing and obligation. These systems may vary across communities but they serve similar functions across Australia. Kinship defines roles and responsibilities for raising and educating children and structures systems of moral and financial support within the community.
Elders bridge the past and the present and provide guidance for the future. They teach important traditions and pass on their skills, knowledge and personal experiences. It is for these reasons that in Indigenous societies elders are treated with respect.
In Aboriginal Society the family unit is very large and extended, often with ties to the community... Having that family unit broken down has just opened the floodgates for a lot of problems, a lot of emotional problems, mental and physical turmoil. If you want to use a really hard term to describe the impact that removal of Aboriginal children has had on Aboriginal families,'attempted cultural genocide' is a good phrase. Carol Kendal in 'Indigenous People and the Law' , C. Cunneen & T. Libesman (eds) Reed international Books, 1995
Indigenous communities have strong family values that are rarely endorsed or understood by government authorities. Children are not just the concern of the biological parents, but the entire community. Therefore, the raising, care, education and discipline of children are the responsibility of everyone - male, female, young and old.
Indigenous education stresses the relationship between the child and its social and natural environment, which children learn by close observation and practice. However, some knowledges are secret and are revealed only when the child is ready.
The government policies in which families and communities were separated were more than just heartbreaking for the individuals involved - they also effectively halted the passing of cultural knowledge from one generation to another.
Passing the Culture to Children - Storytelling
In Aboriginal Australian society storytelling makes up a large part of everyday life. Storytelling is not only about entertaining people but is also vital in educating children about life.
Storytelling is used in a variety of ways. It is used to teach children how they should behave and why, and to pass on knowledge about everyday life such as how and when to find certain foods. Stories are also used to explain peoples' spirituality, heritage and the laws. Dreaming stories pass on information to young people about creation, how the land was formed and populated, creation of plants, animals and humans, information about ancestral beings and places, the boundaries of peoples' tribal lands, how ancestors came to Australia, how people migrated across the country and arrived in a particular part of the country.
However, not all information can be known by all people. Some information can only be revealed to certain people. This information is known as sacred. For example, some sacred information can only be told to certain initiated women or men after they have carried out certain initiation rites.
The elders use every opportunity to educate the children about the way of life of their people. Stories are told while walking down to the waterhole or grinding up seeds to make damper (bread) or sitting around the campfire at night. As children grew older more information is passed on about their culture. Once a person becomes an adult they are responsible for passing on the information they had learned to the younger people.
Storytelling ensures that Aboriginal heritage is passed on to the younger people. This is how Dreaming stories have been passed down for thousands of years and continue to be passed on today.
Today storytelling in Indigenous Australia is still a very important way of passing on information to people. For thousands of years information has been passed on through stories and songs. Today you can also see and hear it in many types of music, plays, poetry, books, artwork, on television and on the Web and you can now read in books the traditional stories that were once only spoken.
These stories keep alive the traditions and heritage of Indigenous Australia not only within Indigenous communities but also within the wider community. This helps to increase understanding and awareness between people.
Today, as well as elders in the communities, we have professional story tellers who visit schools and other educational groups passing on their knowledge about Indigenous culture and beliefs.
Indigenous children across Australia often make their own toys, and like children everywhere, they are incredibly resourceful. Some toys are models of traditional tools and weapons, such as boomerangs, spears, baskets or boats, while others are model airplanes, torches or telephones. Some toys are created specifically for Indigenous games. Special throwing objects called weet weets were used in boys' throwing game in northern Queensland. This selection of toys is just a sample of the range found across the country.
String games are common in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures around the world. String figure designs often resembled objects that were, and in some parts of Australian still are, used in everyday life such as dilly bags and baskets, or they represented animals and people, or abstract ideas such as the forces of nature. As people played the string game designs would change quickly from one thing to another. This game was also used to help tell stories.
They just came down and say, "We taking these kids". They just take you out if your mothers arms. That's what they done to me. I was still at my mother's breast when they took me. Alec Kruger, 1995
The greatest assault on Indigenous cultures and family life was the forced separation or 'taking away' of Indigenous children from their families. This occurred in every Australian state form the late 1800s until the practice was officially ended in 1969. During this time as many as 100 000 children were separated from their families. These children became known as the Stolen Generation.
The separation of children from their families placed into Indigenous children into government-run institutions; adoption of children by white families; and the fostering of children into white families. The last two strategies were particularly applied to 'fair-skinned' children.
These forced separations were part of deliberate policies of assimilation. Their aim was to cut children off from their culture to have them raised to think and act as 'white'.
Well there was nine of us in the family, old (Lambert) came along and said: "You can't look after these kids by yourself Mrs Clayton", but we were for months without welfare coming near us. We had the two grandmothers and all our uncles and aunties there and our father's brothers were there. We weren't short of an extended family by any means. We never went without anything. But they still took us away. What right did they have? I am still seeking answers to [my] family's removal. Iris Clayton, Wiradjuri Elder, Leeton/Canberra in 'Link-Up' Booklet 1995
Link-Up was formed in 1980 to work with Aboriginal adults who were separated as children from families. They may have been raised in state or sectarian institiutions specifically for Aboriginal children or in non-Aboriginal institutions, foster homes or adoptive homes.
Most of the children separated from their families grew up knowing little about their Aboriginal names, families, culture and heritage. These circumstances made it very difficult for those who wanted to find their families.
According to Link-Up, "empowerment is the basis of our work. Empowerment means that as workers we acknowledge the person's experience and we respect their ability to make decisions about their needs and their healing process. They are the experts of their own experience". Link-Up provides support and counselling before, during and after the reunion of families. Since its beginning Link-Up has worked with thousands of Aboriginal families.
Government Institutions for Children
Kinchela is a 13 hectare area of fertile land at the mouth of the Macleay River on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. In 1924, the Aboriginal Protection Board opened the Kinchela Boys Home with the 'official' purpose of providing training for Aboriginal boys between the ages of five and fifteen. These boys were taken from their families by the State from all over New South Wales.
Conditions at Kinchela were harsh. The boys received a poor education from unqualified teachers and worked long hours on vegetable and dairy farms run by the Board on the reserve land. Boys were beaten, tied up, given little emotional support, and no attention was given to developing skills of individual boys.
At the age of fifteen, the boys were sent to work as rural labourers. The board kept control of most of their earnings, which were supposed to be kept in trust for them until they reached adulthood. Most never saw their trust money.
Conditions improved in 1940, when the Protection Board was abolished and replaced by the Aboriginal Welfare Board. From the 1950s boys were sent to high school in Kempsey where they won many local athletics and sporting championships. Despite improvements, the fact remains that Kinchela was a home for 'stolen children'.
Kinchela closed down in 1969, when the Aboriginal Welfare Board was finally disbanded.
Cootamundra Girls Home
Cootamundra Girls Home, established in 1911, was the first of the homes for Aboriginal children set up by the Aborigines Protection Board. The main aim of the Board was to 'rescue' Aboriginal children from their families and assimilate them into the white community. Girls were the main target of the Board, especially so-called 'half-caste' or 'mixed blood' girls. The girls were trained as domestic servants and sent out to work for middle class white families.
At Cootamundra, Aboriginal girls were instructed to 'think white, look white, act white'. This was part of the process to make the girls suitable wives for white men, in the hope that through interracial marriages, Aboriginal blood would be 'bred out'. They were taught to look down on their own people and to fear Aboriginal men.
Girls in the home were not allowed to communicate with their families. They were often told that their parents were dead and even given forged death certificates. As a result, many of the girls in the home lost their families forever.
Cootamundra Home was closed in 1968, the year before the Aboriginal Welfare Board (previously the Aborigines Protection Board) was abolished.
These rights have been difficult to achieve for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders because of a history of governmental and colonial racism.
Social justice is what faces you in the morning. It is awakening in a house with adequate water supply, cooking facilities and sanitation. It is the ability to nourish your children and send them to school where their education not only equips them for employment but reinforces their knowledge and understanding of their cultural inheritance. It is the prospect of genuine employment and good health: a life of choices and opportunity, free from discrimination. Mick Dodson, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 January, 1997
What is social justice?
Non-Aboriginal Australia has developed on the racist assumption of an ingrained sense of superiority that it knows best what is good for Aboriginal people. Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, National Report
Redfern Park Speech
[I]t might help if we non-Aboriginal Australians imagined ourselves dispossessed of the land we lived on for 50 000 years, and then imagined ourselves told that it had never been ours. Imagine if ours was the oldest culture in the world and we were told that it was worthless. Imagine if we had resisted this settlement, suffered and died in the defence of our land, and then were told in history books that we had given it up without a fight. Imagine if non-Aboriginal Australians had served their country in peace and war and were then ignored in history books. Imagine if our feats on the sporting field has inspired admiration and patriotism and yet did nothing to diminish prejudice. Imagine if our spiritual life was denied and ridiculed. Imagine if we had suffered the injustice and then were blamed for it. Extract from the speech by Mr Paul Keating, Prime Minister of Australia, Redfern Park, 10 December 1993 at the launch of Australia's celebration of the International Year of the World's Indigenous People.
Social Justice - keeping score
The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody found a long history of social injustice in a number of crucial areas for Indigenous Australians. The following statistics measure progress in achieving social justice for Indigenous Australians in these areas.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations comprise just over 1.6% of the total Australian population.
Two thirds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders live in rural or remote areas. However, more Indigenous people live in Western Sydney than anywhere else in Australia.
Indigenous Australians are ten times more likely to suffer from diabetes mellitus than non-Indigenous Australians. Indigenous Australians are seven times more likely to die of a respiratory disease.
The rate of Indigenous infant mortality is two to three times greater than for non-Indigenous Australians.
The life expectancy for Indigenous Australians is between 16-18 years less than non-Indigenous Australians.
In 1991, the unemployment rate for Indigenous Australians was nearly three times that of the national average.
Employment rate in 1991:
- Indigenous Australian 30.8 %
- National 11.7 %
Indigenous Australians earn less than two thirds the national average.
Average income per year in 1991:
- Indigenous Australian $11 491
- National $17 614
For more detailed statistics go to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission website.
Over 30 percent of Indigenous Australian family dwellings are 'over-occupied', by national standards. The national average is eight percent.
27 percent of Indigenous Australians own their own homes. The national rate for home ownership is 69 percent.
Law and Justice
At 30 June, 2016:
- There were 10,596 prisoners who identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, a 7% increase (711 prisoners) from 30 June, 2015 (9,885 prisoners). The number of non-Indigenous prisoners increased by 8% (2,002 prisoners).
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners accounted for just over a quarter (27%) of the total Australian prisoner population.
- From 30 June, 2015, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment rate increased by 4%, from 2,253 to 2,346 prisoners per 100,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. The non-Indigenous rate increased by 6% over the same period from 146 to 154 prisoners per 100,000 non-Indigenous population.
- The proportion of adult prisoners who identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ranged from 8% in Victoria (535 prisoners) to 84% (1,393 prisoners) in the Northern Territory.
(Australian Bureau of Statistics)
Dispossession and Health
I thought that's a real indictment upon Australia, that Aboriginal people living in an advanced country, have third world health problems. Dr Sandra Eades, Aboriginal Medical Service in My Kind of People, Achievement, Identity and Aboriginality, 1994
Colonisation has affected the health of Indigenous communities in a number of ways. One of the most devastating impacts of European colonisation on Aboriginal people was the introduction of diseases such as smallpox, influenza, venereal disease, typhoid, tuberculosis, pneumonia, measles and whooping cough. For example, many of the Eora people who lived on the foreshores of Sydney Harbour died from smallpox in the first years of the European occupation.
Other effects of colonisation such as poverty and racism on Aboriginal health are less obvious but no less devastating.
Aboriginal incomes are generally lower than the average for other Australians.
Large proportions of Aboriginal people have inadequate housing, water quality, food supplies and sanitation. This seriously affects the health of children.
Aboriginal children are typically lighter in weight and shorter than non-Aboriginal peers.
Controlled by the State
Nothing could have prepared my mother for the experience of reading her files. The first entry in 1942 and the last 1974 - 32 years of surveillance. Jackie Huggins, Historian/Writer, Auntie Rita, Brisbane, 1994
Until 1969, state-run Aboriginal Protection or Welfare Boards controlled and supervised the lives of Indigenous Australians. These boards, which began operating in the early 1900s, could decide where Indigenous people could live, whom they might marry or have relationships with and where and how their children could be raised. They also determined which jobs Indigenous people could have, and withheld their wages indefinitely. They governed what property Indigenous people could own and how they disposed of it and also where people could travel who they could visit.
Certain exemptions were made for those Indigenous people who were deemed to have reached 'acceptable' standards of non-Indigenous civilisation, that is, a European lifestyle. These people were granted a type of 'honorary' citizenship which could nevertheless be withdrawn by the authorities. Aboriginal people referred to these exemption certificated as 'dog tags' or 'dog licences'.
Finally in 1969, the Protection Board was disbanded and the Commonwealth assumed responsibility for Indigenous affairs. This meant that under the Constitution, Indigenous Australians were entitled to the same rights as all other Australian citizens.
Albert Namatjira was an Arrente man from the Hermansburg mission in west Alice Springs, who became known nationally for his paintings of Central Australia.
Despite his fame, Namatjira was still subject to the controls of Aboriginal Protection Boards. In 1949, his application for a grazier's lease was rejected. In 1951, his application for permission to build a house of his own was denied. At the same time as these basic rights were denied him, and even though he was not considered an Australian citizen, Namatjira was required to pay tax on his earnings.
Namatjira was awarded the Queen's Coronation Medal in 1953, and in 1957, he and his wife were granted honorary citizenship of Australia, though their children remained state wards.
In 1958, he was arrested for sharing alcohol with a relation who did not have citizenship privileges. For this 'crime' he was forced to spend two months under open arrest on the Papunya Reserve. He died of a heart attack three months later.
The Freedom Rides
In February 1965, 30 people led by Charles Perkins and Jim Spigelman undertook a bus tour of northern and western New South Wales towns to protest against racial discrimination. This group became known as the 'freedom riders'.
The tour focussed national attention on racism that had been generated and supported by the 'White Australia Policy'. Indigenous people were often denied service in shops, separated from whites in cinemas, banned from hotels and clubs and excluded from swimming pools being used by white people.
The freedom riders experienced hostility in most towns and violence in some. Eventually,'White Australia' was formally ended as government policy in 1972 and the Race Discrimination Act was passed in 1975. Nevertheless, the struggle for social justice continues today.
Horton, D, Aboriginal Encyclopedia
Reproducing the stereotypes
White Australians basically are racist. Racism stems from what you see on TV. Not seeing an Aboriginal family in these productions is part of that. It's all right to have a black American family in there, that's fine, but not a black Australian. But you can't paint a black picture if you only use white paint. Ernie Dingo, Actor/Comedian, in 'My Kind of People, Achievement and Identity and Aboriginality', 1994
In 1990, the National Inquiry into Racist Violence found that Aboriginal people (and other minority groups) saw television and newspapers as a major influence in the maintenance of racism and misrepresentation of their cultures and lives.
The Inquiry supported Indigenous Australians' concerns that issues and events involving Aboriginal people were predominantly shown in a negative light - that Aboriginal people were either portrayed as a threat to society, or as victims. This type of misrepresentation continues the cycle of misunderstanding and racism. The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody confirmed these problems with media portrayals of Indigenous people and issues when it recommended that journalists be trained in cross-cultural awareness.
Since the early 1980s, Aboriginal community-based media organisations have been formed to provide an Aboriginal perspective and influence, in the representation of Indigenous peoples in the media.
Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
Australia must know the truth behind the deaths or else we must forever live with the knowledge that our fear of the truth or our misguided sense of priorities caused us to abandon an essential and momentous decision to examine a little of our national character and the behaviour of people in authority. Justice James Muirhead, Royal Commissioner into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
Asking an Aboriginal what he or she regards as the important factors underlying deaths in custody often elicits as a first reply "racism"... it is an uncomfortable subject which tends not to be talked about very openly and the existence of which is vigorously denied by those who are its most obvious practitioners. Hal Wootten, Royal Commissioner into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
Between 1980 and 1989, at least 99 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people died in prison, youth detention centres or police cells.
The relatives of a number of the dead began campaigning for a national Inquiry into the deaths. In August 1987, after the death of an Aboriginal man in the New South Wales town of Brewarrina, the sixteenth person to die in custody that year, the Prime Minister, Mr Bob Hawke, announced that a Royal Commission into deaths in custody would be held.
In 1991, the Commission presented its report and made a series of recommendations to improve the treatment of Indigenous Australians in the justice system. However, the fundamental finding of the Commission was that racism towards Indigenous Australians is ingrained at all levels of Australian society and was the major contributing factor to deaths in custody.
Five years after the Commission made its recommendations, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Report found that between 1989 and 1996, at least 96 Aboriginal people died in custody. In 1995, 22 Aboriginal people died in custody - the highest number since 1987.
Governments claim they have implemented the recommendations but the stories of Indigenous people who died tell otherwise. Failure to implement [the Royal Commission's] recommendations within the criminal justice system is a major cause of continuing deaths. Mick Dodson, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission press release, 25 November 1996
The findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
The commissioners investigating the deaths in custody of the 99 Aboriginal people did not find widespread foul play by the custodians as was generally expected. However, they did find damning similarities in the lives of those who died. Almost half had been taken as children from their families by State authorities, most were unemployed, and nearly all had had repeated contact with the justice system from an early age.
In summary, the Commission found that the major cause of death in custody was that Aboriginal people were brought into contact with the justice system more than non-Indigenous Australians and for lesser offences. They also found that people were inadequately cared for and supervised while in detention.
The Royal Commission stressed the need to find alternatives to custody for Aboriginal people, for the involvement of Aboriginal communities in the justice system and for self-determination at the local level. Finally, they called for a process of national reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Community Service Alternatives to Custody
The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody found that a history of cultural ignorance and misunderstanding over the value and practice of Indigenous law had resulted in Indigenous Australians being severely disadvantaged in the courts and over-represented in prisons.
Too many young Indigenous people were caught in an escalating cycle of encounters with police and the criminal justice system. Consequently, the Commission recommended that the community be involved in the sentencing process and that community service order be issued as alternatives to prison sentences for some offences.
Two Systems of Law
"Colonial law has been a reality in Australia since 1788. Aboriginal law has always been a reality and we are unanimous in our resolve that it continue to be so." Noel Pearson, Executive Director, Cape York Land Council, 1993.
Many Indigenous Australians live under two legal systems - the British-based Australian legal system and the Indigenous customary law system. Customary law is a term used to describe the laws and ways of living handed down to Aboriginal people by the Ancestral Beings.
In many remote of parts of Australia, Indigenous cultures are the dominant cultures. In areas such as Arnhem Land, the Western Desert (Central Australia) and Pitjanjatjara lands, a blend of British-based Australian law and Indigenous customary law is working successfully.
We have extended our hand to other Australians. Those Australians who take our hand are those who dare to dream of an Australia that could be. In true reconciliation, through the remembering, the grieving and the healing, we become as one in the dreaming of this land. This is about us and our country, not about the petty deliberations of politics. We must join hands and forge our future. Will you take our hand? Will you dare to share our dream? Mick Dodson, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 January, 1997
One of the reasons they have survived for so long is their ability to adapt to change.
Culture: the total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings, which is passed on from one generation to the next.
Heritage: that which comes or belongs to one by reason of birth.
Maintaining one's culture, values and traditions is beyond price. Human beings cannot live without that. We are glad to share our culture with Europeans and other migrants but we will never give them up. Getano Lui, jnr, Thursday Island, 1994
Indigenous Australia has been influenced by other peoples who have come to Australia to stay and peoples who visited Australia for trade or other reasons but did not stay. Indigenous peoples also exchanged ideas and goods among themselves. Goods were exchanged and other things such as songs and dances were traded. Songs and dances were exchanged often at large ceremonial gatherings when many people collected together. These gatherings often occurred at a time and place when there was plenty of particular foods.
Although Indigenous cultures are very strong, years of European misunderstanding and indifference have affected them. Today, Indigenous communities keep cultures alive by:
- passing their knowledge, arts, rituals and performances from one generation to another
- speaking and teaching languages
- protecting cultural property and sacred and significant sites and objects
The Oldest Living Culture
We've been here a long, long time Koori Mail, October 1996
The long history of Indigenous people is found in the many significant archaeological sites throughout Australia. Archaeological sites provide information about how Indigenous people lived, used resources and were able to adapt to environmental changes in the past. These archaeological sites also illustrate how Indigenous cultures have changed over time. Archaeological investigations in the northwest of Australia suggest that Indigenous people may have occupied Australia for at least 60,000 years.
Sites of cultural significance are protected by law. Any activities which could damage these sites must be cleared by the relevant Indigenous communities.
Botany Bay, New South Wales
One type of archaeological site that can be found on the shores Botany Bay is a shell midden. Archaeological evidence shows that a midden in Botany Bay was occupied many times during the last 3 000 years.
Middens are sites where Aboriginal people ate different kinds of shellfish, fish and other animals. Mounds of shells and other leftovers indicate the site's special use by humans.
Aboriginal shell middens commonly occur along the Australian coastline and are an important archaeological resource. Objects that are often foumd in middens along the southern part of the New South Wales coast are shell fish hooks in different stages of their manufacture, bone points and barbs.
Jinmium, north Western Australia
According to Aboriginal elders Biddy Simon and Paddy Carlton, Jinmium has always been a special place. It was only recently that archaeologists have caught up with this view.
Archaeological work at Jinmium created enormous public interest in 1996 when initial dates suggested stone artefacts (flakes and some tools) were older than 116,000 years and engravings were up to 58,000 years old. More recently developed dating methods challenged the early dates, suggesting the stone artefacts and rock-art may be less than 20,000 years old -- perhaps only 10,000 years of age.
However, these results have also been questioned, with ongoing research indicating the true maximum age of some Jinmium artefacts and rock-art to be somewhere between 20,000 and 60,000 years before present. Scientists, including both dating experts and archaeologists, simply do not agree on when the first Aboriginal people arrived at Jinmium or the rest of Australia. Only time and further research will tell.
Lake Mungo, western New South Wales
Lake Mungo in western New South Wales is a site of great Aboriginal and archaeological importance, containing material dated to at least 33,000 years ago. Lake Mungo is now dry but it was once part of a series of freshwater lakes that would have been full during the late Pleistocene period when the sites were first occupied. The lake had varying water levels during this time but 21,000 years ago the freshwater lakes gradually began to dry up and Lake Mungo itself disappeared about 17 000 years ago.
Many stone artefacts, such as flaked stone tools, have been found at Lake Mungo. The tasks for which these flaked stone tools were used are often not known, although some may have been used for wood-working.
A Changing Culture
Indigenous cultures changing through time
Archaeological evidence shows that Indigenous cultures have developed and altered a number of times as a result of changes in the environment such as rise in sea level and drying out of the continent. This has caused changes in the types of resources available to people, the tool kits and diet.
Indigenous people have been influenced by a range of cultures over time and in most recent history have managed to survive and fight against the sudden and often catastrophic changes to their cultures and ways of life brought about by Europeans since 1788.
Influences on Indigenous cultures
Aboriginal people were in contact with other cultures, sharing ideas and skills long before permanent European occupation in 1788. Many Indigenous communities have been influenced by contact with Macassans, Melanesians, Dutch, English, Portugese navigators and traders, as well as other Aboriginal communities and Torres Strait Islanders.
For over 300 years, Macassan traders from Sulawesi (now part of Indonesia) visited the coast of northern Australia to fish for 'trepang' (sea slug), a delicacy in cooking. The cultural exchange can be seen in rock and bark paintings, emblems and objects used in ceremonies, the introduction of dug-out canoes and some Macassan words in Aboriginal languages.
Images of Macassans were painted in rock and bark. Tobacco was introduced to northern Australia. There are pipes from this area made after the Macassan style but with local designs.
The population of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is extremely diverse in its culture with many different languages spoken. Think of the Kimberly region of Western Australia... if you travel through the Kimberly with its large Aboriginal population and the diversity of people within this region, it's just like travelling through Europe with its changing cultures and languages. Dot West, Chairperson, National Indigenous Media Association of Australia, Boyer Lectures, 1993.
There are many different Indigenous cultures in Australia, made up of people from various Indigenous 'nations' that speak their own languages.
Over thousands of years, communities of Indigenous Australians have exchanged ideas, technology and cultural practices with each other. As a result, many communities may share certain technologies but use them in different ways. Objects, such as shields and baskets, differ in their design, decoration and meaning from region to region.
Shields were made by men and used in ceremonies, dances and occasionally in defensive combat. The narrowest shields were usually used in hand-to-hand combat while large, broad shields protected the bearer against spears and missiles. The largest and most spectacular shields were made by the rainforest peoples of north Queensland, where they were painted with clan designs and colours.
Baskets, bags and other containers are usually made by women but are used by both sexes mainly for food gathering. Some of these containers and bags are often woven from bark, human hair, pandanus and palm fronds, grasses and bush twine made from plant fibres. They are coloured with dyes made from roots, bark and other natural substances, and are sometimes decorated with feathers and pieces of cloth.
European misunderstanding of Aboriginal life
The complexity and richness of Aboriginal cultures was poorly understood by the majority of early colonists. Government legislation and policies worked against the interests of Aboriginal people but greatly benefited the pastoralists who were rapidly spreading across Australia, setting up farms and sheep stations, often with the labour of Indigenous men and women. This lack of understanding of Aboriginal ways of life and how they used the land resulted in many clashes between settlers and Aboriginal people, particularly over land and access to land, which for Aboriginal people meant food and spiritual well-being.
As in the past Indigenous Australian arts today are as diverse as the people that make them. Many artists work in introduced media, such as acrylic, fabric, photography or print-making. The themes of Indigenous art reflect the range of artists' concerns and experiences: from relationships to landscapes and animals to political and social injustices.
Some forms of contemporary art, such as certain bark paintings, are based on historic practices. However, most Indigenous artists express their heritage and experiences in innovative ways which both reflect Indigenous and non-Indigenous influences.
Bangarra Dance Company
Traditionally Aboriginal ceremonies have always blended dance and drama with music and visual art forms. This tradition has continued in new ways by contemporary dance companies such as Bangarra.
Bangarra's mission is:
"to maintain the link, with respect and integrity, between the traditional Indigenous cultures of Australia and new forms of contemporary artistic expression, giving voice to social and political issues which speak to all people."
It is a mistake to dismiss our languages as part of history, and long gone. They're not. They are alive and vibrant. They are in a new phase of growth. They're part of us as the Indigenous people of the land. Our languages are the voice of the land, and we are the carriers of the languages. Jeanie Bell, Linguist, Boyer Lectures, 1993
At the time of invasion there were over 700 different Aboriginal languages and dialects spoken in Australia. Now there are less that 250 still in use.
One of the major practices of colonists was to stop Aboriginal people speaking their own languages, which interrupted the passing of language from one generation to another. Today, many of Australia's Indigenous languages are no longer spoken as first languages. However, they live on through individual words and through varieties of Aboriginal English which incorporate the structures of Aboriginal languages.
The unique aesthetic of Indigenous Australian cultural work is recognised all over the world. However, the marketability of Indigenous arts has resulted in many cases of exploitation: Indigenous artists' work has at times been reproduced without permission and without regard for the cultural and spiritual significance of the designs to the artist.
In an effort to protect the integrity of their work and share it with others, many Indigenous artists now make licensing agreements with manufacturers so that their designs can be reproduced and the artist can be fairly rewarded.
Its forms and practices have been profoundly influenced by the impact of colonialism, both past and present.
Some Indigenous Australians share the religious beliefs and values of religions introduced into Australia from other cultures around the world, particularly Europe. But for most people religious beliefs are derived from a sense of belonging-to the land, to the sea, to other people, to one's culture.
The form and expression of spirituality differs between Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders. Aboriginal spirituality mainly derives from the stories of the Dreaming, while Torres Strait Islander spirituality draws upon the stories of the Tagai.
So the sad thing about it all was the missionaries didn't realise that we already had something that tied in with what they'd brought to us. They saw different as inferior, and they didn't ask us what it was that we had. And it's very sad because if they had asked... things may have been different today. Our people, before the white man came were very spiritual people. They were connected to land and creation through the great spirit, there was a good great and a great evil spirit... And Satan was the great evil one. So there wasn't much difference in what the missionaries brought and what we already had... Wadjularbinna Doomadgee, Gungalidda Leader, Gulf of Carpentaria, 1996
Since the European colonisation of Australia, Indigenous Australians have had contact with missionaries and their missions. This relationship has been a difficult one. In some instances missions became instruments of government policy, engaging in practices such as forcibly separating Aboriginal children from their families in order to maximise control over the child's education into Christian ways and beliefs. In this way, missions contributed to the suppression of Aboriginal cultural practices and languages.
However, not all missions were agents of government policies. Some respected Aboriginal ways of life and the importance of ceremonies and cultural practices.
The Dreaming means our identity as people. The cultural teaching and everything, that's part of our lives here, you know?... it's the understanding of what we have around us. Merv Penrith, Elder, Wallaga Lake, 1996
The Dreaming has different meanings for different Aboriginal people. It is a complex network of knowledge, faith and practices that derive from stories of creation, and it dominates all spiritual and physical aspects of Aboriginal life. The Dreaming sets out the structures of society, the rules for social behaviour and the ceremonies performed in order to maintain the life of the land.
It governed the way people lived and how they should behave. Those who did not follow the rules were punished.
The Dreaming or Dreamtime is often used to describe the time when the earth and humans and animals were created. The Dreaming is also used by individuals to refer to their own dreaming or their community's dreaming.
During the Dreaming, ancestral spirits came to earth and created the landforms, the animals and plants. The stories tell how the ancestral spirits moved through the land creating rivers, lakes and mountains. Today we know the places where the ancestral spirits have been and where they came to rest. There are explanations of how people came to Australia and the links between the groups throughout Australia. There are explanations about how people learnt languages and dance and how they came to know about fire.
In essence, the Dreaming comes from the land. In Aboriginal society, people did not own the land it was part of them and it was part of their duty to respect and look after mother earth.
The Dreaming did not end with the arrival of Europeans but simply entered a new phase. It is a powerful living force that must be maintained and cared for.
What are Dreaming Stories about?
Dreaming stories vary throughout Australia and there are different versions on the same theme. For example, the story of how the birds got their colours is different in New South Wales and in Western Australia.
Stories cover many themes and topics. There are stories about creation of sacred places, landforms, people, animals and plants. There are also stories of language or the first use of fire. In more recent times there are stories telling of the arrival of the first Europeans on ships or stories about trading with Macassan fisherman in northern Australia.
The Tracks of Life
The journey of the Spirit Ancestors across the land are recorded in Dreaming tracks. A Dreaming track joins a number of sites which trace the path of an Ancestral Being as it moved through the landscape, forming its features, creating its flora and fauna and laying down the Laws. One of these Spirit Ancestors is the Rainbow Serpent, whose Dreaming track is shared by many Aboriginal communities across Australia.
"And that... is the resting place of the Rainbow Serpent, and all of the gullies and all of the lagoon itself was about the Rainbow Serpent created after he had created the universe and all the dry gullies is the tracks that he's made looking for a resting place."
Carl McGrady, Aboriginal Education Assistant, Boggabilla, describing the path of the Rainbow Serpent at Boobera Lagoon, northern New South Wales, 1996.
The Rainbow Serpent is represented as a large, snake-like creature, whose Dreaming track is always associated with watercourses, such as billabongs, rivers, creeks and lagoons. It is the protector of the land, its people, and the source of all life. However, the Rainbow Serpent can also be a destructive force if it is not properly respected.
The Rainbow Serpent is a consistent theme in Aboriginal painting and has been found in rock art up to 6000 years old. The Rainbow Serpent is a powerful symbol of the creative and destructive power of nature. Most paintings of Rainbow Serpents tell the story of the creation of the landscape particular to an artist's birthplace. Some aspects of Rainbow Serpent stories are restricted to initiated persons but generally, the image had been very public. Today, most artists add personal clan designs to the bodies of Rainbow Serpents, symbolising links between the artist and the land.
The Mimi Spirits
The Mimi are tall, thin beings that live in the rocky escarpment of northern Australia as spirits. Before the coming of Aboriginal people they had human forms. The Mimi are generally harmless but on occasions can be mischievous.
When Aboriginal people first came to northern Australia, the Mimi taught them how to hunt and cook kangaroos and other animals. They also did the first rock paintings and taught Aboriginal people how to paint.
"I'm as much a Torres Strait Islander irrespective of where I live because my feelings of being a Torres Strait Islander live inside me. It is not predicated by what is outside me, it is determined with my feelings and my spirituality."
Bilyana Blomely, Academic Co-ordinator, Lismore 1996
The people throughout the Torres Strait are united by their connection to the Tagai. The Tagai consists of stories which are the cornerstone of Torres Strait Islanders' spiritual beliefs. These stories focus on the stars and identify Torres Strait Islanders as sea people who share a common way of life. The instructions of the Tagai provide order in the world, ensuring that everything has a place.
One Tagai story depicts the Tagai as a man standing in a canoe. In his left hand, he holds a fishing spear, representing the Southern Cross. In his right hand, he holds a sorbi (a red fruit). In this story, the Tagai and his crew of 12 are preparing for a journey. But before the journey begins, the crew consume all the food and drink they planned to take. So the Tagai strung the crew together in two groups of six and cast them into the sea, where their images became star patterns in the sky. These patterns can be seen in the star constellations of Pleiades and Orion.
Changing it and changing with it. The land was not just soil or rocks or minerals, but a whole environment that sustains, and is sustained, by people and culture.
I feel with my body. Feeling all these trees, all this country. When this blow you can feel it. Same for country... you feel it, you can look, but feeling... that make you. Big Bill Neidjie, Gagudju Elder, Kakadu
For Indigenous Australians the land is the core of all spirituality and this relationship has been deeply misunderstood over the past 200 years or so. This relationship is central to all issues that are important to Indigenous people today.
When European colonisers first arrived in Australia they encountered an unfamiliar land occupied by people they didn't understand. As they didn't understand the peoples' society and their land 'ownership' system, Australia was deemed to be 'terra nullius' and the land was claimed by the British. However Indigenous people fought, and are still fighting, for their land and their lives. The history of these battles is not often told but they involved hundreds of incidents and thousands of people. These stories form a part of the untold history of Australia.
It is my father's land, my grandfather's land, my grandmother's land. I am related to it, it give me my identity. If I don't fight for it, then I will be moved out of it and [it] will be the loss of my identity. Father Dave Passi, Plaintiff, 'Mabo' Case in 'Land bilong Islander' 1990
The history of the struggle for land rights goes back to the earliest days of the European occupation of Australia. These struggles too were often resolved through violence as Indigenous people were progressively dispossessed of their land.
The struggle for land rights continues today through the legal and political systems. Some important legal milestones have been reached which show that arrangements based on cultural sensitivity and respect can be successful for all Australians.
It is imperative in today's world that the common law should neither be nor be seen to be frozen in an age of racial discrimination. From the High Court's judgement on the Native Title or 'Mabo' Case, 1992
On 3 June 1992 the High Court of Australia handed down its decision in Mabo vs The State of Queensland, ruling that the treatment of Indigenous property rights based on the principle of terra nullius was wrong and racist.
The Court ruled that Indigenous ownership of land has survived where it has not been extinguished by a valid act of government and where Aboriginal people have maintained traditional law and links with the land. This legal recognition of Indigenous ownership is called Native Title. The Court ruled that in each case native title must be determined by reference to the traditions and customary law of the Indigenous owners of the land.
"Island people have their own portions of land which are handed down through generations and with my dad's claim, he was denied access to his land through the government and he said "Why? We all have our right to our own lands. I can show you where my boundaries are."
Gail Mabo, Torres Strait Islander, Kempsey, 1996.
In 1982, Eddie Mabo and four other Torres Strait Islander people went to the High Court of Australia claiming that their island, Mer (Murray Island), had been continuously inhabited and exclusively possessed by them, therefore, they were the true owners. They acknowledged that the British Crown had exercised sovereignty when it annexed the islands, but claimed that their land rights had not been validly extinguished.
On June 3 1992, the High Court decided in favour of Eddie Mabo and the other plaintiffs. But Eddie Mabo never heard the ruling, as he died of cancer in January of that year.
The fight for Land Rights
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy
The first 'Aboriginal Tent Embassy', also known as the 'tent embassy', was established on the lawns of what is now Old Parliament House, on Australia Day, 26 January, 1972. It was called the 'embassy' in order to symbolise the feeling of many Indigenous people that they were essentially foreigners in their own country. The Aboriginal Flag was flown over the 'tent embassy'.
The embassy provided a focus for Indigenous peoples' campaigns for land rights and social justice, as well as a meeting place for all people interested in the issues. It was forcibly removed by police on several occasions, but rebuilt each time. It remained in place until 1975 when its removal was negotiated.
In January 1992, another 'embassy' was established on the same lawns to draw attention to claims for land rights. This is a replica of the 1992 embassy and is still there today.
The Wreck Bay community on the south coast of New South Wales, was the first community outside the Northern Territory or Queensland to have traditional land returned.
Wreck Bay is located along a track which Aboriginal people had used for centuries when travelling along the coast, for special occasions and ceremonies, or in recent times, looking for work. The community began as a temporary camp in the mid 1880s, and by 1900 had become permanent, though it residents remained highly mobile.
From the beginning of the twentieth century until 1987 the land was under the control of various Commonwealth and State authorities. In 1954 the community came under the control of the Commonwealth once more. In 1975, after much community lobbying to regain control of their land, the Commonwealth offered the people a lease over the reserve. The community rejected this offer and were eventually successful in winning full title to the land in 1987. Since then, the land has been managed by the Wreck Bay Community Council.
In 1995, the Community Council also obtained title over Jervis Bay Commonwealth National Park. The Council has leased this area back to the Federal Government for use by all Australians.
The issue of Aboriginal land rights was first brought to national attention in 1966, when 200 Gurindji stockmen, domestics and their families walked off the Wave Hill cattle station in the Northern Territory demanding better wages and conditions. The strike, led by Vincent Lingiari, was the catalyst for two decades of struggle as Gurindji people battled to regain control of traditional lands and establish their own cattle station.
In 1967, Gurindji people petitioned the Governor-General, claiming 1295 square kilometres of land near Wave Hill. Their claim was rejected, but in 1975, they won a lease for their land. This, along with 90 square kilometres of land voluntarily surrendered by Wave Hill owners, became Dagaragu cattle station.
In 1985, following a recommendation from Justice Toohey of the Aboriginal Land Commission that the Gurindji be granted traditional land adjacent to Dagaragu, the Gurindji lease was converted to freehold.
The decision was an important milestone in the land rights struggle - as was Dagaragu, the first Aboriginal owned and managed cattle station.
"To expect us to tell you everything in our Law in one day is arrogant. The State Government has not given us a proper hearing... Instead of talking you should have been listening; instead of assuming you had all the knowledge, you should have been trying to learn."
Yungngora Community letter to Premier Court, Western Australia.
In 1971 the Yungngora people employed on Noonkanbah station walked off in protest over poor pay and conditions. Then in 1976, the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission bought Noonkanbah station for the Yungngora community, and the work of revitalising the station under Aboriginal management was begun.
In May 1978, the Yungngora community learned that an exploration company was intending to drill on areas sacred to them. The Yungngora people offered to show drillers alternative sites from the sacred areas. This was refused.
The Western Australian Government was determined that the exploration should proceed and claimed that the religious beliefs of the Yungngora had been "trumped up" or inspired by outside influences.
After court action by the Aboriginal Legal Service, the mining company was required to protect the sacred places. When this was not done satisfactorily, the community blocked access. Elders used media coverage of the blockade to explain their religious beliefs and the importance of the sites. In April 1980, the drillers were finally forced to leave the site.
In August 1981, the Western Australian Government enforced, by law, its rights to oil exploration drilling. The Government provided a heavy police escort so that drilling could continue in the area of the sacred site. The Yungngora resisted peacefully but in vain. Many were arrested and the drilling went ahead.
No oil was discovered.
Uluru is an important place for Aboriginal peoples of the Central Desert. It is a symbol of Australia and a major tourist attraction. When Uluru was returned to Indigenous owners in 1985, it also became an important symbol in development of co-operative relations between government and Aboriginal people.
The largest stone monolith on earth, Uluru was named 'Ayres Rock' by explorer William Grosse in 1875. Regarded as economically useless, Uluru and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) were included in the South West Aboriginal Reserve in 1920. In 1958, Uluru and Kata Tjuta were excised from the reserve and declared a national park.
In 1985, the Commonwealth Government made an agreement with the traditional owners of Uluru and Kata Tjuta where the freehold title to the park area was to be vested in the Uluru Kata Tjuta Land Trust, which would then lease the park back to the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Tourism in the park has continued to increase since the handover. The Uluru Kata Tjuta Land Trust has developed plans which aim to preserve the area's heritage value, safeguard the interests of the local Mutijulu community and protect the many sacred sites of the park.
What is terra nullius?
Terra nullius is a Latin term meaning 'land belonging to no one'. When colonising Australia, the British Government used this term to justify the dispossession of Indigenous people. The British colonists did not recognise the land was being used as Indigenous people did not use the land in the same way as the British. The British saw no evidence of agricultural, social or religious structure like their own, and therefore incorrectly concluded that Indigenous people did not own the land but simply roamed it. By using the principle of terra nullius, the British Government claimed sovereignty over Australia, ignoring the rights of Indigenous people who had lived there for at least 60 000 years.
The common law of this country would perpetuate injustice if it were to continue to embrace the notion of terra nullius and persist in characterising the Indigenous inhabitants of the Australian colonies as people too low in the scale of social organisation to be acknowledged as possessing rights and interests in land. Justice Brennan of the High Court of Australia
Indigenous Land Use
My own education was a Yolngu education. It took place with our large family group living in the places on our land that hold special importance for us. With Mum and Dad we went from place to place and every place had its stories. Mandawuy Yunupingu, Artist/Performer, Arnhem Land, Boyer Lectures,1993
Over thousands of years Indigenous people have lived in Australia developing a unique system for signposting and marking the land. This system is interconnected with stories of the Dreaming and Spirit Ancestors. Indigenous people use natural features of the landscape to identify and mark the land and its significance. Many Indigenous children learn these "mental maps" of their countries and about how places relate to each other and to people.
"Our story is in the land... it is written in those sacred places, that's the law. Dreaming place... you can't change it, no matter who you are."
Big Bill Neidjie, Gagadju Elder, Kakadu, 'Australia's Kakadu Man Bill Neidjie' 1986.
Dreaming tracks trace the creative journey of the Spirit Ancestors as they formed the land and laid down the Law. Dreaming tracks are sometimes called 'songlines' and record the travels of the Spirit Ancestors who 'sung up' the country into life. It is believed that performing the right songs and ceremonies at points along the Dreaming track gives people direct access to the Dreaming.
Many Aboriginal communities travel along Dreaming tracks with their young people, telling the stories of the sites. They explain and perform ceremonies to educate the young people about their country and their Dreaming.
Toas are carved wooden and painted objects once used by the Dieri people who live near Lake Eyre in South Australia. They are thought to have been placed in the ground as directional markers, but their true purpose remains a mystery. Their painted tops take many forms. The shape of birds heads, animals, objects such as boomerangs or abstract designs. At the turn of the last century, missionaries made large collections of them.
A Land of Plenty
"A lot of people say Aboriginal people never farmed the land... never ploughed the land and they never grew wheat and they never planted apple tres and orange trees. We never had to. Our mother, the earth, she gave herself freely to us. And because we respected her and loved her, we never had to go and do all them other things. That would have been harming our mother. So we just took what she gave us."
Paul Gordon, Language Officer, Brewarrina, 1996.
Indigenous people accumulated a vast store of knowledge of plants and animals and of the foods and medicines they provided. Aboriginal people call these foods and medicines, bush tucker and bush medicine. There is a huge variety of bush tucker and bush medicine all over Australia for people who know where to find it.
The disruption of Indigenous communities and families during the conquest of Australia resulted in the loss of information about collecting, preparing and using bush medicine. However, as western societies are becoming more and more interested in other forms of healing and natural remedies, efforts are being made to record and publish Indigenous peoples' knowledge of bush tucker and bush medicine.
The sea, rivers and waterways of Australia have always played an important role in many Indigenous Australian lives. People first arrived in Australia after crossing 60 kilometres of ocean on crude rafts. They lived along the coasts, then moved inland following rivers an streams. Over time, a wide variety of boats, rafts and other forms of transport were developed, along with fish spears, harpoons, fish hooks and nets for fishing. It is thought that some fishing and boat building technology to have first been introduced by seafaring peoples from the islands to the north of Australia, while other forms were developed in Australia.
A variety of tools were developed for hunting and gathering of food. These included spears, boomerangs, clubs, nets, traps, and more recently, rifles. Spears were probably adopted soon after the first Australians arrived in Australia, while boomerangs have been used for at least 10 000 years. Spear throwers and more elaborate fish and animal traps are more recent, some forms dating back a few hundred or a thousand years. In the past, each cultural group made different types of tools, sometimes painting or incising them with clan designs or personal designs.
Bush Food and Medicine
Nutritional studies show that much bush tucker is high in nutrients. Some native grain seeds that Aboriginal people grind into flour have far higher levels of iron, zinc and fibre than wholemeal flour or rice, and the wild plum (Terminalia ferdinandiana) is possibly the world's riches source of vitamin C.
Most bush medicine consists of barks, roots and leaves, but non-herbal materials such as animals and minerals are also used. Bush medicine is often administrated in conjunction with ceremonies. Although many Aboriginal people know remedies for everyday ailments, older women are recognised as the experts in bush medicine.
Australia's Untold Stories
Pemulwuy - New South Wales
Pemulwuy was the first of the Aboriginal resistance fighters. Between 1790 and 1802, Pemulwuy waged a guerrilla war on the young colony of New South Wales. This was in response to the invasion of his country, the killing of his people and the restriction of his peoples' food sources caused by the British.
Pemulwuy planned and carried out several 'lightning' or guerilla attacks against the European settlements in the Parramatta and Toongabbie areas.
Pemulwuy was a strong, charismatic leader with a fierce determination to rid his land of the European settlers. He was able to organise his people into a force of more than 100 warriors. The early Governors of the colony recognised Pemulwuy as a threat and sent large parties of soldiers to protect the settlers.
After years of resisting and evading the authorities, Pemulwuy was eventually shot and captured in 1802 and died of his wounds shortly after.
Pemulwuy's reputation as an elusive and powerful leader was so great, that as proof of his death, his head was removed from his body and placed in a bottle of spirits. It was later sent to Sir Joseph Banks, the botanist who sailed into Botany Bay with Captain James Cook in 1770.
Waterloo Creek - New South Wales
In late 1837 and early 1838, Major James Nunn of the New South Wales Mounted Police led an expedition into northern New South Wales to resolve complaints by settles about attacks by Aboriginal people.
Nunn was instructed by the Acting Governor, Lieutenant-Colonel Snodgrass, to:
"act according to your judgement and use the utmost exertion to suppress these outrages. There are a thousand blacks there, and if they are not stopped, we may have them presently within the boundaries."
Nunn's expedition travelled widely looking for Aboriginal people believed responsible for the 'outrages'. They eventually cornered a group of Aboriginal people at Waterloo Creek and in a 'battle' lasting ten minutes, massacred 40-50 people. The exact number is not known. Nunn's party then continued its murderous path for the next three days, killing every Aboriginal person it encountered.
On their return journey to Sydney, Nunn and his party were welcomed like heroes by towns along the way.
Myall Creek - New South Wales
In early May 1838, 28 Kwiambal people camping on the Myall Creek station, were murdered by a posse of heavily armed men who had been out hunting Aboriginal people. Most of those killed were women and children.
Eleven men were eventually arrested and tried for murder on 15 November 1838, amid an atmosphere of anger over white men being tried for murder of Aboriginal people. In summing up the case, the Chief Justice said:
"It is clear that the most grievous offence has been committed; the lives of nearly thirty of our fellow creatures have been sacrificed, and in order to fulfil my duty, I must tell you that the life of a black is as precious and valuable in the eye of the law as that of the highest noble in the land."
In spite of the overwhelming evidence, the jury found all eleven men not guilty with only 15 minutes deliberation. However, a second trial was ordered amid great public indignation. This time, only seven men were accused. They were found guilty of murder and hanged. They were the first Europeans to be executed for killing Aboriginal people.
The gaoled men were not even aware they had broken the law, because killing Aborigines was commonly considered a frontier sport.
The Blackline - Tasmania
Tasmania is Australia's second oldest colony, therefore its Aboriginal population experienced early effects of colonisation and were constantly on the 'front line' of violence and reprisal. Random killings and massacres of Aboriginal people were commonplace and Aboriginal people responded in kind. The colonial administrators saw the only answer to the problem of racial violence was removal of the Aboriginal people to reserves or islands out of the way of European settlement.
'The Blackline' is the name given to a systematic attempt by Tasmania's Governor Arthur in 1830 to capture large numbers of Aboriginal people. The strategy involved 2200 soldiers and settlers marching through the bush in a closely packed continuous line. They forced the Aboriginal people in front of them, towards the Tasman Peninsula, where they could be rounded up and captured. This massive effort captured two Aboriginal people - one elderly man and a crippled boy.
Despite the failure of 'the Blackline' the process of removing Aboriginal people to islands continued. On the islands Aboriginal people died in great numbers because of European diseases, poor food and accommodation, ill treatment and, sometimes murder.
Kalkadoon - Queensland
The Kalkadoon people of the Mt Isa region of western Queensland first came into contact with the advancing European pastoralists and miners in the mid 1860s. At first the Kalkadoon people worked with the Europeans as guides and labourers. But as the number of settlers and their stock increased, the competition for the land's resources became more intense, leading to conflict.
The Kalkadoon people began a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the settlers and their stock from about 1871 to 1884. The Kalkadoon gained a reputation as ferocious warriors with an ability to vanish into the bush.
In 1884, the Kalkadoon people killed five Native Police and a prominent pastoralist. The Queensland Government responded by sending a large contingent of heavily armed police to confront the Kalkadoon. The Kalkadoon had retreated to a defensive position now known as 'Battle Mountain'. After fierce resistance the Kalkadoon succumbed to the greater firepower of the police.
It is estimated that 900 Kalkadoon people were killed during the six years that they fought to protect their land.
Jandamarra - Western Australia
One of the most complex figures of early Aboriginal resistance is Jandamarra. He was a Punuba man who lived in the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia from 1870-1897. In his early years he lived and worked as a respected stockman.
In 1889 after his initiation Jandamarra met an older Punuba man called Ellemarra and became more aware of the problems being caused by the settlers and their sheep. In 1888 there was a serious drought and the Punuba people were suffering. This was because of the arrival of the Europeans and their sheep had destroyed much of the food and water supplies that the Punuba protected to help them in times of drought. As a result the Punuba needed to hunt sheep to live.
Ellamarra, still considered a young man by his people, knew a lot about the Punuba law and was greatly respected by the younger men. Ellemarra was a natural leader - a good warrior and he was not afraid to stand up to the invaders. He taught Jandamarra and the other young men much about their law.
Jandamarra and Ellemarra were captured in 1889 when Jandamarra walked up to a number of police troopers he knew, and they tricked him into guiding them to his campsite. Jandamarra didn't know that he was wanted by the police. His old employer had laid charges against him for killing a sheep in May 1889, annoyed that Jandamarra had not return to the station after his initiation. The police dropped the charges against him and he returned to stock work. He eventually became a police tracker. He later helped police capture Ellemarra and 16 other Punuba warriors.
Jandamarra was scorned by his people for helping the police capture Ellemarra, so he assisted Ellemarra and the other warriors to escape. During the escape, Jandamarra shot a policeman. He joined the band of escapees and began a campaign to rid the area of European settlers. Colonial authorities responded by sending 30 police to capture Jandamarra and the band. In the battle that followed at Windjana Gorge Jandamarra was injured but managed to escape. He continued to taunt police and was soon believed immortal by his people. His campaign came to an end in 1897 when, after another skirmish with police, he was tracked and shot dead by an Aboriginal trooper.
Jandamarra is still remembered by his people as a defender of Aboriginal rights.