The Breaking Down of Aboriginal Society-1

Aborigines And White Settlers

When the first European settlers arrived in 1788 the Aborigines were the sole occupants of Australia. A hundred years later Aborigines no longer held much of the continent, and many Aboriginal groups were struggling for survival. Almost everywhere white settlement had proved overpowering. There had been no peaceful adjustment between whites and Aborigines, and the frontier between them had many times been marked in blood. Even where white settlement was sparse, traditional Aboriginal society was often strongly influenced by the presence of the new arrivals.

White people, claiming they had greater natural abilities and a higher standard of civilisation, soon justified what was happening. When they later looked backwards on their short time in Australia, they began to revere the achievements of pioneering whites. The achievements of the Aboriginal people, and the story of what had happened between whites and Aborigines, were ignored or quickly passed over.


The European Explorers

Before 1788 the Macassan seamen were not the only visitors to Australia’s shores. European explorers, especially the Dutch, began to make contact with Australia’s coasts in the seventeenth century. The Dutch, making their way from their Indonesian trading posts, were probably the first white people Aborigines had seen. Contacts between them were very limited, for the Dutch made only fleeting visits to the coastline and had been instructed to be careful in any contacts with people found there – possibilities of trade must not be spoiled. The Dutch went back however to report that there was no chance of trade, for the land seemed miserable and full of flies. the Aborigines, unimpressed with the trinkets shown to them, resented the visitors, who had attempted to kidnap some of them. Fear, hostility and occasional bloodshed marked contact between the two sides.

In 1688 and 1699 the buccaneering Englishman William Dampier visited Australia’s north-west coast. He gave Europeans a more detailed version of Aboriginal life. Without other versions to compare them with, Dampier’s views became widely known and accepted. His lack of understanding led him to a disgust of Aboriginal life, influencing others to a similar conclusion.

His description helped to establish the typical beliefs and attitudes – the stereotypes – that future white people were to hold about Aborigines.

Part of William Dampier’s description of the Aborigines on the north-west coast of Australia. (After the account in his New Voyage round the World 1697)

The inhabitants of this country are the miserablest people in the world. The Hodmadods of Monomatapa, though a nasty people, yet for wealth are gentlemen to these; who have no houses and skin garments, sheep, poultry, and fruits of the earth, ostrich eggs, etc., as the Hodmadods have; and setting aside their human shape, they differ but little from brutes. they are tall, straight-bodied and thin, with small, long limbs. they have great heads, round foreheads, and great brows. Their eye-lids are always half closed, to keep the flies out of their yes, they being so troublesome here that no fanning will keep them from coming to one’s face… so that, from their infancy, being thus annoyed with these insects, they do never open their eyes as other people do; and therefore they cannot see far, unless they hold up their heads as if they were looking at somewhat over them.

They have great bottle-noses, pretty full lips and wide mouths, the two fore-teeth of their upper jaw are wanting in all of them, men and women, old and young: neither have they any beards. They are long-visaged, and of a very unpleasing aspect, having no one graceful feature in their faces. Their hair is black, short, and curled, like that of the negroes; and not long and lank … the colour of their skins, both of their faces and the rest of their body, is coal black, like that of the negroes of guinea.

They have no sort of clothes, but the piece of the rind of a tree ty’d lyke a girdle about their waists, and a handful of long grass, or three or four small green boughs, full of leaves, thrust under their girdle to cover their nakedness.

They have no houses, but lye in the open air without any covering the earth being their bed and the heaven their canopy. Whether they cohabit one to one women, or promiscuously. I know not. but they do live in companies, twenty or thirty men, women and children together. their only food is a small sort of fish, which they get my making wares of stone across the coves or branches of the sea; every tide bringing in the little fish, and there leaving them a prey to these people, who constantly attend there to search at low water.

I did not perceive that they did worship anything. these poor creatures have a sort of weapon to defend their ware or fight with their enemies, if they have any that will interfere with their poor fishery. They did endeavour with their weapons to frighten us who, lying ashore, deterr’d them from one of their fishing places. some of them had wooden swords, others had a sort of lances. the sword is a piece of wood shaped somewhat like a cutclass. the lance is a long strait pole, sharp at one end, and hardened afterwards by heat. I saw no iron, nor any other sort of metal; therefore it is probable they use stone hatchet.

How they get their fire I know not but probably, as Indians do, out of wood.

yow, keep away from there…….

After Dampier it was some time before other navigators had much contact with Aborigines. The famous Englishman Lieutenant James Cook was the most important. After examining Australia’s eastern coast in 1770, Cook wrote more favourably about the Aboriginal inhabitants:

They may appear to some to be the most wretched people upon Earth, but in reality they are far more happier than we Europans; being wholly unacquainted not only with the superfluous but the necessary Conveniences so much sought after in Europe, they are happy in not knowing the use of them … the Earth and sea of their own accord furnished them with all things necessary for life …

This Brilliant article by Jane Resture

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