Australian PrehistoryHistory - AustralianAustralian CultureAustralian IdentityCultural Comparisons Between Australia and other Countries


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Relations between Aborigines
and colonists

Myths in History
Fabrications for politics

Should they be defined as part of a war?

Black Woman and White Man
Rape or love?

Myall Creek Masscare
Causes and consequences of colonial violence

The Stolen Generations
It's not so black and white

Jimmy Govenor
Not a good fence builder

Mary Anne Bugg
Female Bushranger

Justice or resistance?

1967 referendum
The myths

Convicts and their legacy

Convict legacy
How the past shapes the present

Convict life
Regrets and floggings

Convict crimes
Power and morality

Convict punishments
What purpose?

Larrikin Convicts
Breaking rules

Thinking different

Convict women
Moral diversity


Can Convict Creations be relied upon?


White Australia had a Black History

Fabricated Myths in Aboriginal History

" During the intervals of duty, our greatest source of entertainment now lay in cultivating the acquaintance of our new friends, the natives."A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson by Military Officer Watkin Tench

Both America and Australia have a history of suppressing black people; however, the oppression has come from opposite ends of the political spectrum. In the USA, the oppression has largely revolved around right-wing ideology in that it has been based on an ideological viewpoint that whites are superior to non-whites and should stay that way. For example, policies such as segregation stemmed from whites wanting to keep their blood uncorrupted and non-whites in a state of under development. In Australia, the oppression has largely derived from left-wing ideology. For example, segregation in Australia was based upon an ideological viewpoint that lower class whites were sexually exploiting Aboriginal women and corrupting Aboriginal men. In other words, segregation was a way of helping the "marginalised" against the dominant race. For this reason, the laws did not punish Aborigines who had interacted with whites, rather, they punished the whites who interacted with Aborigines. (There were no laws prohibiting Australian of European descent interacting with Australians of Asian or African descent.) The segregation laws commenced in the 1850s with the establishment of "Aboriginal Protectors" and continued into the 1970s.

As well as being left wing as they have been based on a view of white degeneracy, many of Australia’s oppressive laws towards Aborigines have been left wing in that they have been based on a belief that government intervention in the social world is the best method to achieve social justice for Aboriginal people. For example, in the Northern Territory a policy of making Aboriginal children wards of the state from 1955 to 1970 was justified with left-wing ideology of "inclusion" and "advancement." In the legislation's own words:

(i) to promote their social, economic and political advancement for the purpose of assisting them and their descendants to take their place as members of the community of the Commonwealth;

Because Australian history has typically been written by white people of a left-wing persuasion, many of the crimes of the left have been white washed. Instead, the left have fabricated a mythical narrative that the oppression of Aborigines in Australia has been underpinned by right-wing ideology in that it was done in the name of white racial supremacy and for the advancement of the British then Australian flags. Although the fabrications have helped the left build esteem and pride in their left wing identity, they have also corrupted understandings of history, helped the left avoid culpability for their actions, and contributed to many of the mistakes of the past being repeated into the present day.  

Fabrication 1 – There is a lack of awareness of frontier wars because Australians are too embarrassed by them

War is typically associated with the right-wing. For this reason, left-wing historians like Henry Reynolds who have written about secret “frontier wars” against Aborigines have found a sympathetic audience with others of the left.  In 2002, Keith Windschuttle released the Fabrication of Aboriginal History in which he demonstrated Reynold’s had misrepresented evidence to justify the existence of war. In one example, Reynolds had cited primary sources when giving accounts of 10,000 Aborigines being killed by colonists; however, when Windschuttle checked the citations, he found that Reynolds had made the figure up but cited it as if it were a recorded fact. Basically, Reynolds had gone to newspapers and counted the mentions of attacks on white settlers by Aborigines. Reynolds then multiplied his figure by 3 and added 20% to decide how many Aborigines had been murdered by whites.  Reynold’s did not justify why he used that ratio nor did his clarify that his citations were referring to written records of whites killed by Aborigines rather than the opposite.

Newspapers of the time often criticised colonial governments for not retaliating after attacks by Aborigines, which could mean that Aboriginal deaths were lower than colonial deaths.  If the military was not retaliating, a good argument could be made that the colonial population simply did not have the capability to kill large numbers of Aborigines. Firstly, guns were in short supply. So much so, when Convicts rebelled against authorities in the 1804 Castle Hill Rebellion, they did so using pikes. Pikes were also the miners' weapon of choice at the Eureka Rebellion of 1854. Despite being made of steel, the poles of colonists were vastly inferior technology to the spears and woomeras of Aborigines. Furthermore, most colonists had no military training or knowledge of the landscape that could give them an edge in battle.

Aside from a lack of written evidence demonstrating a war between colonists and Aborigines, there is a lack of cultural evidence. Specifically, unlike America which developed an entertainment genre based around cowboys fighting Indians, Australia never developed an entertainment genre based around stockman fighting Aborigines. Furthermore, unlike South Africa where whites celebrated victories over the natives, such as the Battle of Blood River, Australia never made monuments, holidays, poetry or songs celebrating victory over Aborigines.

In 1999 Reynolds partly acknowledged the absence of cultural evidence for war when he said,

"We all played cowboys and Indians and we all knew names of chiefs and tribes and yet we knew very little about what had happened in Australia, because we -- never in the 20th century were we comfortable with the idea that war was going on" (1)

There was an inherent contradiction in Reynold’s logic in that no one knew about the war because they were too embarrassed even though other colonial countries celebrated their conquest of the natives.

Not only was there a lack of cultural fingerprints of war in colonial society, there was also a great deal of cultural fingerprints indicating respect for Aborigines. Firstly, unions sang patriotic songs like Waltzing Matilda that used Aboriginal words like jumbuck, coolabah and billabong to build its patriotic credentials. Secondly, most of rural Australia adopted Aboriginal place names like Wagga Wagga and Mullumbimby instead of the names of European dignitaries. During World War 1, there was even a campaign to replace German names in the Barossa region with those of Aborigines since Germany had become a war time enemy. Finally, paintings generally depicted Aborigines in a noble light. If conflict with Aborigines was depicted, it tended to be sympathetic to Aborigines rather than glorifying their murder as was the case in the art of other colonial societies.

Admittedly, there has been the occasional example of a region being named to glorify a white massacre of Aborigines. For example, in the Myall Creek region of NSW, colonists named Vinegar Hill, Slaughterhouse Creek and Gravesend in tribute to themselves for killing Aborigines in those locations. Although these namings do reflect the fact that certain areas celebrated the killing of Aborigines, it needs to be acknowledged that such namings were extremely rare.

Lumholtze Massacre at Mistake Creek

Artworks are products of the imagination but because they are made for public consumption, they can reveal shared moral viewpoints of a time. Lumholtz's 1888 drawing shows a massacre but also his moral viewpoint towards it. As Aborigines are shot in the back, the drawing shows distaste, rather than support, for the killing of Aborigines - especially by other Aborigines in uniform.


Battle of Blood River

In other colonial countries, battles between colonists and natives were celebrated in art, songs, poetry and national holidays. For example, in South Africa The Battle of Blood River was said to be a battle between 500 Afrikaneers and 20,000 Zulus in 1838. Legends developed that only 3 Afrikaneer fell for the 3,000 Zulus that were killed. The Afrikaneers celebrated their victory as an example of divine intervention. For most of the 20th century, the date of the battle had been observed as a public and religious holiday by the white South African government. If colonials in Australia had been killing Aborigines, at the very least, they had a very different public morality towards it.

William Buckley

Cultural reflections: cowboy symbolically battles indian for America. Escaped Convict joins an Aboriginal tribe and becomes a celebrity.

Convict William Buckley escaped from the Sorrento penal settlement in 1803. The settlement was then disbanded and with nothing heard of Buckley, it was presumed that he had died. 33 year later, a farmer came upon a strange white man speaking an Aboriginal language. He had a extremely long beard and wore possum skins. Once the man learnt to speak English again, he informed the authorities that he was William Buckley and had spent 33 years living with the Aborigines. His story amazed the colonial population. He was pardoned and became a respected civil servant. Buckley’s story had some parallels with the American movies Dances with Wolves and Avatar, except Buckely was pardoned, rather than ostracised, after discovery of his relationship with Aborigines.


Fabrication 2 - Competition for resources forced Aborigines and colonists into conflict

In the absence of written records and cultural expressions demonstrating a war between colonists and Aborigines, many left-wing historians have justified the war narrative by referring to colonists fighting over resources. For example, Benjamin Madley from Yale University argued:

“Conflict between indigenous people and settlers often revolves around two interlocking economic issues: access to natural resources and control of territory. Both groups need natural resources and land to achieve their definition of economic success. The loss of their food supply and land threatened both Aboriginal society and their physical survival.” (2)

Similar myths are common in popular culture. For example, the Lonely Planet Guide to Australia (which relies on academic consultants such as Dr Michael Cathcart from the University of Melbourne) said,

“Aborigines were ruthlessly pushed off their tribal lands as new settlers took up land for farming or mining.” (

Finally, the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities proposed (3):

"conflict was the result of competition for land which settlers required for crops and the grazing of sheep and cattle; Aboriginal people relied upon the same land for food and water (Kidd 1997:14). The initial response by the Administration was to dispatch troops to police the frontier, but the expanding area of land to be covered made this an increasingly difficult task. A lawless frontier environment soon existed where it was impossible to control the conflict between settlers and Aboriginal people. In response to this challenge the Administration ordered settlers to defend themselves and ordered Aboriginal people to stay away from European habitation. There is no evidence that Aboriginal people understood and agreed with these orders to stay away from European settlement as the conflict on the frontier continued."

Such explanations for conflict were perhaps naively applied to Australia because they were the foundation of conflict in other colonial countries such as the USA. To be more precise, because Americans slaughtered buffalo in the thousands and deprived the Indians of food in the process, it is presumed the same thing must have happened in Australia. In reality, over 90% of Australia is dry, flat and arid and almost three-quarters of the land cannot support agriculture in any form. In these areas, it was only possible to live off the land as a hunter gatherer. In short, 3/4s of Australia has never had farmers wanting the land thus the Aborigines on the land never had colonists competing with them for resources. Furthermore, animals like kangaroos could not be slaughtered in the thousands because they run in different directions when scared.

The land's lack of suitability for agriculture is the chief reason why Australia has almost no significant inland cities aside from its capital and why Australia never developed American-style pioneering stories of colonists heading west and founding new towns. It is also why Australia's farming regions have very low density populations.

In areas where agriculture did develop, colonists and Aborigines ate different things so there was little competition for food. Among other things, the Aborigines ate kangaroos, ants, roots, moths, grubs and lizards. The early colonists were starving and would have eaten the Aboriginal food if they knew how to find it and were prepared to live a hunter gatherer lifestyle. Because most were not prepared, or able, to live a nomadic life, they farmed imported crops and animals such as cows, chickens, goats, sheep, and pigs. (Many went feral where they perhaps became an extra food source for Aborigines.)

As well as not being conducive to high-density farming communities, the Australian environment also contained a host of native animals that increased as a result of farming. The kangaroo was one such animal. The farmers' dams gave kangaroos permanent water supplies that helped them survive drought. Even though farmers wanted to kill the kangaroos as pests, or build fences to keep them out, the kangaroos simply jumped the fences, drank the water, ate the grass, and then hopped back into the bush where they remained a valuable food source for Aborigines. Consequently, the colonists and natives didn't have to fight over food as they did in other colonial countries.

Finally, once Convict transportation came to an end, farmers looked to Aborigines as their best chance of getting workers. Few free settlers wanted to live in the harsh outback to do low paid work associated with Convicts (who had previously been used as a kind of slave labour on farms); however, the Aborigines already living there were prepared to work in exchange for some European items like blankets, axes and flour (which they desired.) Reflecting these exchanges, tens of thousands of Aborigines were born on cattle stations. Furthermore, 70 per cent of contemporary Aborigines live in urban areas because their ancestors gravitated to urban areas to find the things they desired.

In regards to Aborigines being pushed off land due to mining, contrary to Lonely Planet Guide book stereotypes, most of Australia isn’t a mine site. Less than 0.02 percent of the Australian land mass is mined. So little of the Australian land mass is mined, or has been mined, that most Australians have never even seen a mine. In the colonial era, mining was even less advanced.

In short, Australia was one colonial country where colonists and Aborigines had relatively little need to fight over resources. Consequently, if conflict occurred, it was usually for different reasons.

Kangaroo and buffalo - One species likes to congregate in small groups near woodland and flees in different directions when scared. One species herds in the thousands on the plains. One increased in numbers after colonisation. One was decimated.

Drysdale Ruins

Drysdale The Ruins (1965): An Aborigine stands over the failed attempts of colonists to expand inland.


Fabrication 3 -Aborigines were not allowed to vote and were not citizens until 1967

Many left-wing Australians like stories of Aborigines being excluded from the vote and denied citizenship status until the 1967 referendum. These kind of stories liken Australia to Apartheid South Africa where white supremacy resulted in people of colour being seen as sub-human. Phillip Noyce, the director of the Aboriginal rights movie Rabbit-Proof Fence, is one left winger who promoted the myths. Specifically, in 2002, Noyce wrote:

“Until 1967, Australian Aborigines couldn’t vote and were not counted as citizens.” (4)

Something similar was said by historian Itiel Bereson. In 2000 textbook for High School students, Bereson wrote:

" the referendum...gave Aboriginals the right to vote in Federal elections. But Aboriginal people still had a long struggle ahead of them." (5)

In 2007, Mark Colvin, a senior broadcaster for the ABC, introduced a commemoration of the 1967 referendum by stating:

“ If you weren't around for the 1967 referendum on Aborigines, or you can't remember why it mattered, think about this. Before that vote, Aboriginal people weren't counted as people, they came under the Flora and Fauna Act.” (6)

Contrary to what Noyce, Colvin and Bereson told people, the 1967 referendum had nothing to do with voting rights, citizenship or making changes to a non-existent Flora and Fauna Act. When the various colonies federated into one nation in 1901, Aborigines were not officially given the federal vote; however, they did retain their state voting rights and these state voting rights gave Aborigines federal voting rights. Under section 41 of the federal constitution, any person who held a state vote also held a federal vote. Legally, Aborigines in NSW, Tasmania, Victoria, and South Australia have been allowed to vote in all federal elections. The Menzies Liberal and Country Party government officially gave the Commonwealth vote to all Aborigines in 1962. The states of Queensland and WA gave Aborigines the state vote around the same time.

In regards to citizenship, Aborigines in Eastern Australia attained British citizenship in 1770 when Captain Cook annexed eastern Australia for Britain. Australian citizenship did not exist until 1948 and Aborigines attained it at the same time as every other Australian if they chose to apply for it.

In regards to a "Flora and Fauna Act", no act by that name has ever existed at a federal level and Aborigines were never managed under any act with a similar name at state level.

In truth, the 1967 referendum asked whether the federal government should be given the power to make race-specific laws for Aborigines and whether Aborigines should be counted when determining the population of Australia.

The exclusion of Aborigines from the race-specific laws of 1901 was a function of a number of left-wing causes of the time. Firstly, unions were concerned about the use of foreign non-white labour to undermine workplace conditions in Australia. Some of the labour came from China and India where companies would co-coerce people into exploitive contracts and bring them to work in Australia. Other labour came from the Pacific Islands in a process known as “black birding,” which often involved the kidnap of Islanders to work in conditions akin to slavery. Unions wanted the newly formed federal government of Australia to be able to make race-specific laws to stop the labour practices and forcibly deport the coloured workers. Because unions never had concerns about Aborigines undermining their workplace conditions, they never campaigned for the federal government to have the power to make restrictive laws targeted at Aborigines.

Despite the lack of union agitation for laws targeting Aborigines, the federal government may still have gained the power had it not been for resistance from colonial governments that wanted to implement their own social engineering policies for Aborigines that reflected differing concerns around Australia. In Queensland, the left seemed more concerned with Aboriginal women marrying non-Aboriginal men. As a consequence, the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 (Qld) prohibited Indigenous woman from marrying anyone other than an Indigenous man without the permission of an Aboriginal Protector. NSW and Victoria were relatively more liberal in the sense that the colonial governments didn't ban sex across the colour line. They were, however, concerned with Aboriginal drinking. NSW had introduced the first prohibition on alcohol sales to Aborigines in 1838. Other governments didn't ban the sale of alcohol to Aborigines until almost a century later. In short, different colonial governments had different beliefs about what needed to be done to advance Aboriginal people. This changed in the 1960s when the left wanted unified policies for Aborigines, which could only be achieved if the federal government had the power to make laws targeting Aborigines as a race. Previously, the federal government could make laws for all Australians, which included Aborigines, but they could not make laws specifically targeting Aborigines as a race. The 1967 referendum changed that.

Since politicians are not always honest about their motivations, there has been some debate about why Aborigines were not included in the federal census. Labor minister Kim Beazley Sr argued that it had been too difficult to count Aboriginal people in remote areas in 1901. (Aborigines in urban areas participated in the census and had their answers recorded but they were not used in counting the population of the state.) Pat Stretton, a former researcher for the State History Centre in South Australia, believed Aborigines were not included as counting them would increase the contributions that states with a high Indigenous population would have to make to the new Australian federation. According to Stretton,

"Each colony had a capitation fee -- I think it was a pound a head, but it was a certain sum for every person -- to get the Commonwealth going, because they didn't have any money until they could start raising taxes. And, at Federation, South Australia included the Northern Territory. So, if you said, 'We will add the Aboriginal population to the white population,' that was going to hit South Australia in the hip pocket** big-time, and, I'm sorry to say, that was the end of that conversation." (

Historian Keith Windschuttle took a different view and argued that it was intended to pressure Queensland and Western Australia into giving Aborigines the vote. Windschuttle explained that Section 25 of the Constitution stated:

"For the purposes of the last section, if by the law of any State, all persons of any race are disqualified from voting at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of the State, then, in reckoning the number of the State or of the Commonwealth, persons of the race resident in that state shall not be counted."

According to Windschuttle, because NSW, Vic, SA and Tas gave people of Aboriginal descent the state vote, the states gained greater representation in parliament. These states wanted to use this power to pressure Queensland and WA to give Aborigines the vote in the hope that there would be universal franchise laws. (7)

As for the merits of the referendum itself, it was sold to the Australian public as something that would made Aborigines equal and was in their interests. As a consequence, 90% of Australians voted in favour of it. Even some dissenters had pro-Aboriginal ideas for voting no. Some argued that a yes vote would be a form of forced assimilation of Aborigines and destroy their free lifestyle.

Not all Aborigines were happy with the result of the referendum either. The chairman of the Northern Land Council, Mr Galarrwuy Yunupingu said:

“The historic 1967 referendum - where Australians voted overwhelmingly to make Aborigines citizens and for federal government powers to legislate on their behalf - had been forced upon the Aboriginal nation.

Aboriginal people have never wanted to be equal with the white people of Australia.
The referendum had been inspired by guilt and had never considered the rights we Aboriginal people really had, or who we really were.”

Aboriginal Vote

The 1967 was more about symbolism than substance. It was sold as a gesture of goodwill towards Aborigines. In hindsight, it seems symbolism and gestures of goodwill were not sufficient to stop Aborigines being defined by statistics of disadvantage. The goodwill existed. The logical plan did not.

1967 Referendum Concerning Aborigines

Most Australians believed the 1967 referendum was about equality of rights, not extending the Federal government’s power to make race-specific laws.


Fabrication 4 - In Tasmania, the Aborigines were exterminated due to a “black line” of genocide

Genocide as a result of military conquest is a popular topic for left-wing historians because it gives it gives them something to denounce in order to affirm their left-wing identity. As a consequence, the left distort and fabricate the facts of the past to fit their desire for the story of genocide. A great example of the distortion is the "black line" of 1830, which was an 'Aboriginal hunt' that cost £30,000, involved 5,000 men, and lasted for seven weeks. Left-wing historians have seized upon the figures to portray Tasmania's colonisation as a holocaust of British Australian savagery. One of these white historians is Jennifer Isaacs, a self-defined expert on Aboriginal culture who has set herself up as a consultant to government. In an emotional account, Isaacs wrote in 1987:

"In Tasmania the white invasion and occupation was complete and the whole Aboriginal population was systematically annihilated. A few children survived to be secretly reared as stockmen on the mainland, but the survivors of the ‘Black Line’ led an isolated and heart-rending existence in forced exile in a small white supervised community on Flinders Island where they died one by one. Today a small stone church marks the spot on a cliff where the last of the Tasmanians sat in their Victorian costumes looking over the sea towards Tasmania." (8)

In reality, the black line was a complete failure and it did not result in the "systematic annihilation" of Aborigines, as Isaacs declared. Despite the cost, the time, and the manpower invested in it, the line only netted one man and one boy.

In addition to omitting the fact that the line failed, the historians have omitted its real purpose. In truth, the black line was not designed to exterminate Aborigines, rather, it was designed to relocate two of the nine tribes on the island to uninhabited country from where they would no longer be in conflict with the whites, or be "corrupted" by whites. According to Governor Arthur (the man who devised the line), if Aborigines were not relocated, they would become extinct. In his own words:

"It was evident that nothing but capturing and forcibly detaining these unfortunate savages ... could now arrest a long term of rapine and bloodshed, already commenced, a great decline in the prosperity of the colony, and the extirpation of the Aboriginal race itself." (9)

Because it was a policy of relocation, rather than eradication, it had more in common with the partition of Palestine that led to the creation of Israel than it did with the Nazis' final solution for the Jews. Maybe the people in the United Nations who divided Palestine were selfish and facilitated the cultural loss of the Palestinians by depriving them of access to sacred sights but that didn't change the fact that they believed partition was the best way to achieve peace.

In 1833, George Augustus Robinson (a Christian missionary) persuaded around 300 Aborigines to move to Flinders Island with the promise of food, housing, and clothing. Over the following 14 years, 250 died of the flu or other diseases. The last one, Truganini, died in 1876.

Outside of Robinson's mission, a few full blood Aborigines continued to live in other parts of the state. The last known full-blood, Fanny Cochrane-Smith, married an ex-Convict, produced 11 children with him and lived until 1905. Smith recorded songs in her native language, which are the only audio recordings that exist of an indigenous Tasmanian language.

Despite the full bloods dying, Aborigines survived in mixed race families. Today, around 16,000 Tasmanians define themselves as Aborigines, which is significantly more than the estimated 2,000 to 5,000 that existed at the time of colonisation. Admittedly, none live a lifestyle that even remotely resembles the Aborigines at the time of colonisation but that does not make them victims of genocide. In the same regard, many descendants of Irish Convicts no longer speak Irish, don't drink Guiness on St Patrick's Day and might not even like eating potatoes, but it would be wrong to say they are victims of genocide.


Davey's proclaimation

Posters erected in Tasmania in the early 19th century. The posters aimed to communicate that blacks and whites would be treated equally by the British justice system. While the posters aim to communicate a vision of equality, they position the British as the instruments of power and a colonial life as the aspiration. Sometimes people can not see their own inequality of thinking when making claims of equality.


Fabrication 5 - The 1992 Mabo judgement recognised Aboriginal sovereignty

The 1992 Mabo versus Queensland judgement is very popular amongst the left because it is often portrayed as a kind of denouncement of British treating Aborigines as subhuman to steal their land. For example, when passing the judgment, Justice William Deane said that Aborigines had been treated as a

"different and lower form of life whose very existence could be ignored for the purpose of determining the legal right to occupy and use their traditional lands."

Left wing newspaper journalists also celebrate it because they say it recognises that Aborigines once owned all of Australia. For example, News Ltd journalist Simone Ziaziaris celebrated the 25-year anniversary of the decision, by writing,

"On June 3, 1992, the High Court handed down its decision in the Mabo case, overturning 200 years of the common law assumption of terra nullius — the idea that Australia belonged to no-one when European settlers arrived." (10)

The comments by Deane as well as references to terra nullius by journalists and academics have disguised many of the aspects of the judgement that arguably outweigh any of the positive symbolism associated with recognising Aborigines once owned all of Australia. Firstly, the judgement asserted that sovereignty of Australia resides with the Crown. This fact was missed in Deane’s initial proselytizing but the High Court clarified this in Walker versus New South Wales (1995) when it said,

"Mabo is entirely at odds with the notion that sovereignty adverse to the Crown resides in the Aboriginal people of Australia."

Secondly, the High Court asserted that each time a colonial, state or federal government sold land, or gave a grant of Aboriginal land to colonists, it was acting legally in accordance with its sovereign powers. In other words, the High Court declared that Britain legally dispossessed Aborigines of their land and there was no need to pay compensation to Aborigines for land lost before 1975. Despite recognising past Aboriginal ownership, these assertions of Crown power could perhaps be defined as the High Court’s stamp of approval for a right-wing form of ideology that has legalised invasion and dispossession.

As well as giving a stamp of approval to right-wing conquest, the High Court also created a left-wing framework that allowed Aborigines to claim title over land the Crown had not yet sold or granted - provided that Aborigines could demonstrate unbroken occupation since 1788. This requirement to provide more than 200 years of evidence was significantly more onerous than that required under squatter laws that allow other Australians to claim ownership through association. For example, under the NSW Real Property Act 1900, a person can apply to gain acquire possession of the property if they have remained in that same property for a minimum of 12 years.

As well as making it far more onerous for Aborigines to claim land, the High Court also created a framework that restricted what Aborigines could do with the land. Specifically, it stipulated that Aborigines could not sell or individually own the land. Not only was akin to an outsider telling a family what it could do with its inheritance, it also made it difficult to economically develop Aboriginal land. As explained by Richie Ahmat, chairman of the Cape York Land Council:

"Wilder nullius, which is a vision that TWS (The Wilderness Society) has for indigenous homelands across northern and remote Australia, allows for black people in the landscape but in a highly restricted form. These blacks are not supposed to engage in any form of wealth creation or development. They are only allowed to pursue traditional activities. They are to eschew employment or consumption, and not participate in or be in favour of any form of industry.

If the blacks abide by the role envisioned for them, then TWS will arrange for the environmental agencies of government to provide funding programs for them to be employed as rangers and so on. If they step outside of this role, then TWS will get the government to stop the funding. Only compliance to the TWS vision of wilder nullius will receive support." (11)

Likewise, Warren Mundine, head of NSW Native Title Services, expressed frustrations with the restrictions when he stated:

"We own a couple of billion dollars' worth of land and it means sweet bugger-all for the Aboriginal community."


Map of native title in Australia in 2010. Virtually none of NSW, the first colonised state, was in Native Title. In the Mabo vs Queensland judgement, the Justices congratulated themselves for recognising that Aborigines owned all of Australia prior to 1788. There was less publiclity given to the High Court also saying that the Crown became the sovereign power in 1788 and was legally allowed to dispossess Aborigines of their land.

Fabrication 6 - Disadvantage in Aboriginal communities today stems from British invasion

The left’s stereotype of Aborigines typically revolves around defining them as social failures as a consequence of the actions of 18th century right-wingers or those who wave the Australian flag today. For example, in 2018, Australian tennis legend Pat Cash asserted that the date of Australia Day needed to be changed because it was causing disadvantage in Northern Territory Indigenous communities. In his own words,

"That is not going to be a celebration for me, it’s like an Invasion Day, celebrating white England — English landing...As you can see it has changed my life. Seeing what has gone on up there…I was out of the country for years — I had no idea how bad it was up there… I’ve got to say I was embarrassed to be Australian, I was shocked. It was mindblowing. I was in tears half the time seeing the poverty and the situation these people are in". (12)

Likewise, ANU academic Nicholas Biddle asserted,

"However, in every part of Australia indigenous status predicts poorer socioeconomic outcomes and our policy makers, service providers, educators, employers -- everyone really -- needs to be aware of this." (13)

There are two significant problems with the left’s stereotypes. The first is that the stereotypes result in people approaching individual Aborigines with the expectation that they are social failures.  The story of Dallas Scott provided an insight into how everyone being aware that "Indigenous status predicts poorer socioeconomic outcomes" affected how people like him were treated:

“They seem wary of me because they know that Aboriginal people are over-represented in our jails, and jails house people who have committed crimes. Possible criminal by default – proceed with caution. On the flipside, you get people who want to use you to demonstrate just how much their first year Indigenous Studies Professor has taught them about “my struggles”. They tell me “you’re a true Australian” or loudly exclaim that they “support the First People like me in their just plight against the white man” or simply must tell me about some rally they attended to “make a difference…(they) never seem to stop being able to view me as a victim or as anything other than an Aborigine. They speak to me like I’m an idiot, that because of the colour of my skin, I was discriminated against in education and therefore lacking against their University educated prowess so they must make concessions for me and expect a lower standard of me at every opportunity. They seem to believe that I am unaware of how the modern world works, or worse, believe I need some of their do-gooderness to overcome a disadvantage that I clearly don’t have. I’m a cause, not a person to them.” (

The second problem is that blaming 18th century right wingers for the perceived social deficiencies in Aborigines white washes the many left-wing policies that have resulted in Aborigines having different socio-economic outcomes if measured in group terms. For example, statistics used to define disadvantage indicate that most disadvantage occurs in the northern part of Australia where Aborigines have had land title recognised and where they still maintain traditional ways. Whatever social problems exist in these communities is difficult to explain as stemming from the actions of right-wing British soldiers in the 18th century. Many of the problems can, however, be linked to left-wing interventionist ideology that included making Aborigines wards of the state, breaking up families with laws prohibiting sex across the colour line, and selective alcohol bans that made Aborigines criminals (or associates of criminals) for doing what other adult Australians could freely do. Meanwhile, “disadvantage” is lowest in the heavily populated south-east regions where the cultural loss and land dispossession has been the most severe. In other words, in areas where their lifestyle is most like non-indigenous Australians, their socioeconomic statistics are most like non-indigenous Australians. It should be noted; however, that despite rural Aborigines being more prone to be defined as 'disadvantaged,' research by the ABS (quoted by Robinson 2010) (11) has found that Aborigines in rural areas are more happy with their own lives than are Aborigines in the cities. In other words, the very Aborigines who Pat Cash looked at and was brought to tears because their lives were so terrible were also likely to have been happier than Aborigines who Cash might define as the model he is working to make others more like.



Racism Against Aborigines in Australia

How others see Aboriginal groups is often different to how Aboriginal groups see themselves. As said by George Campbell, Yarralin elder:

"FED up with accusations that they are dysfunctional places riddled with child sex abuse and domestic violence, some remote indigenous communities are fighting back. ‘I'm proud of what we are doing here. Look around — my people are happy and they are doing things that give them pride as well’


Questions to think about

Activity 1 - What does it mean to be disadvantaged?

According to Posselt (2000)

“Measuring socio-economic disadvantage is not a straightforward exercise because disadvantage is a relative concept which involves value.” Posselt, H (2000) Socio-economic disadvantage across urban, rural and remote areas. Retrieved October 1, 2010, from

  1. Create your own definition of disadvantaged
  2. Create your own definition of advantaged
  3. In your opinion, what is the advantaged model that Aborigines should aspire to be like?
  4. Are you personally advantaged or disadvantaged? Why?

Activity 2 - Put yourself in Aboriginal shoes

  1. If you are Australian, how would feel if a country like Japan or China used Britain’s mistreatment of Convicts to explain why Australians suffer high rates of drug use, divorce, alcoholism and illiteracy? How would you feel about being defined as disadvantaged relative to Chinese and Japanese using these kinds of socio-economic measures?

  2. Japanese soldiers committed atrocities to Chinese and Australians in World War 2. China has been keen to keep the memory of those atrocities alive whereas Australia has tended to ignore them. Should Australia make a more concerted effort to raise awareness of those atrocities inflicted on Australians in the name of reconciliation with Japan? Would raising awareness of the atrocities be helpful for Japanese language teachers wanting to increase student engagement in Australia?

Activity 3 - How can we help disadvantaged MPs overcome their alcohol addictions?

Over the last century, politicians have developed numerous strategies to counter problem drinking in Aboriginal communities. Meanwhile, binge drinking has been rife in Parliament House. For example, Australia’s first prime minister, Edmond Barton, was known as Toby Tosspot" due to his fondness for a drink. Another Prime Minister John Gorton, inspired the euphemism "Gorton's Flu" in reference to a hang over. Still another, Bob Hawke, held an entry in the Guinness Book of Records for sculling 2.5 pints of beer in 11 seconds. Still another, Kevin Rudd, got drunk and visited a strip club with journalists. Aside from the leaders, countless politicians have been renowned for their long lunches, and their use of grog to pass the time. More recently, it was alleged that Peter Slipper, the former Speaker of the House (deemed to be the most moral position in parliament) frequently passed out in Parliament House from drinking red wine. On one occasion, he was thrown out of a bar for being drunk and on another, he was so drunk that he was filmed urinating out a window.

The following strategies have been used to solve problem drinking amongst Aborigines. Assess whether the strategies would be effective in countering problem drinking amongst politicians.

  1. Quarantining the salaries of MPs so that they can't be used to purchase grog
  2. A complete ban on the "rivers of grog" that flow into Parliament House
  3. Prosecution of any liquor licence owner that supplies grog to politicians
  4. Creating a Problem Drinker Register amongst MPs and banning the supply of alcohol to these MPs
  5. Running a media campaign in Australia's major newspapers that "raises public awareness" about the struggles that politicians have with alcohol
  6. Running an education campaign targeted at MPs that raises awareness about the dangers of alcohol for their bodies
  7. Printing pamphlets for MPs, which have the slogan, "Say No to grog."

8) In your opinion, could any of the above policies have negative side effects regarding social status? For example, might politicians find the campaigns to be demeaning and might the public awareness campaigns of politicians being alcoholics lower public respect for politicians?

9) Could a second side effect be an increase in criminal behaviour as politicians try to get around the grog bans and lose respect for inequitable laws?

10) A 2004 study found that around 15% of Indigenous Australians drank at risky levels of consumption. This figure was almost double the rate of non-indigenous Australians. Of course, the figure could also be interpreted as showing that around 8 out of 10 Indigenous Australians DO NOT drink at risky levels just as around 9 out of 10 Australians do not drink at risky levels. Nevertheless, the fact that 8 of 10 Indigenous Australians don't have a problem with grog has not spared them grog bans or communication campaigns raising awareness of Aborigines having having a problem with alcohol. In the same way, would it be fair to subject all politicians to grog bans or the negative stigma of public awareness campaigns even though perhaps 1 in 2 politicians might not be alcoholics?


Activity 4 - What is the cause of "disadvantage"?

Left-wing activists often refer to war and genocide in the 18th century when explaining the statistics of disadvantage that they use to define the Aboriginal stereotype today. Rather than war, could past left-wing laws be more useful in explaining the statistical differences? For example, Lowitja O’Donoghue, the former head of the Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander Commission (ATSIC), ended up in a mission after the South Australian government amended the Aborigines Act in 1939 to prosecute white men who were consorting with Aboriginal women. Tom O'Donohue (Lowitja's father) was convicted of carnal knowledge and fined £5 with 10 shillings costs. He was then forced to sell his lease, abandon his defacto wife of 20 years and move to Adelaide. Before he left, he placed Lowitja and her four sisters in a catholic boarding school and paid for their care. Although Lowitja O’Donoghue did not become a statistic of disadvantage*, would others who had experienced what she experienced have had a higher chance of becoming a statistic? *(Admittedly, the law change made her the daughter of a criminal so she came from a criminal family.) In 2010, the Australian Bureau of Statistics Report, Indigenous Disadvantage and Selected Measures of Wellbeing, showed that Aborigines' life expectancy was 10 years less than non-Aborigines, that Aborigines were twice as likely to die before the age of one, four times more likely to be unemployed, twice as likely to need support for a health care problem, seven times more likely to be victims of child abuse, and 13 times more likely to be incarcerated. Could any of these statistics be linked to family breakdown or the prevention of families forming due to laws such as the Aborigines Act of 1939.

Activity 5 - How might historical stories affect approval for "closing the gap" programs as well as their outcomes?

There is a lot of money spent on programs aimed at "closing the gap" so that the Aboriginal stereotype is not defined by statistics of social failure. Each year, the federal government releases a closing the gap report that consistently shows failure of the programs to achieve the intentions that they were funded for. In 2016, Chair of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, Warren Mundine, said,

“We sat down with the Productivity Commission. We looked at the Indigenous space. $30 billion is spent in this space annually. $30 billion on 500,000 people and you still see the problems you get to see.

Programs fail for two reasons. Either they are poorly designed or they don't have buy in from the participants. Consider how the use of historical narratives might increase the chance of poorly designed programs being approved as well as low buy in from those being targeted.

1) Imagine you are a politician or on a board of an organisation making funding decisions. After reading stories of genocide of Aborigines, would you be more or less sympathetic to the idea of funding a program aimed at closing the gap caused by that genocide. If you were more open to funding, could this desire to help possibly cause you to not scrutinize the program as as diligently as you might if you were more dispassionate?

2) Imagine you are an Aborigine who has just read stories of the genocide inflicted on your people. How open might you be to participating in a program run by the people from a culture that inflicted that genocide?


1)Race wars written out of Australian history: historian -

2) BENJAMIN MADLEY Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(2), June, 167–192 - Patterns of frontier genocide 1803–1910: the Aboriginal Tasmanians, the Yuki of California, and the Herero of Namibia

3) Australian Heritage Database;place_id=105869 Accessed March 2013

4)Rabbit-Proof Fence: Phillip Noyce's Diary

5) Bereson, Itiel, (2000) Australia in the 1960s, Echidna Books

6) Aust commemorates Aboriginal referendum PM - Friday, 25 May , 2007 
Reporter: Nance Haxton

The Constitution is anything but racist

8)ISAACS, Jennifer, Australian Dreaming. 40000 years of Aboriginal history. Sydney: Lansdowne Press, 1987

9) Our history, not rewritten but put right Sydney Morning Herald November 25 2002

10) Simone Ziaziaris The daughter of Eddie Mabo joins celebrations to mark 25th anniversary of High Court decision June 3 2017

11) Greenies use ‘wilder nullius’ to get their way in Cape York Tasmanian Times May 2 2010

12) Tennis legend Pat Cash reveals why he won’t be celebrating Australia Day January 14 2018

13) Aborigines disadvantaged across the nation By PATRICIA KARVELAS

14) Robinson, N (2010, September 30). Indigenous urban dwellers better off but not happier The Australian Accessed 2010




John Caesare
The first

Our Ned Kelly
A story heard and considered

Eureka Massacre
Dying for liberty

Post Convicts

Why is it not celebrated?

White Australia Policy
From Convicts to Chinese

Baptism of Fire or Well of Tears

Simpson and his Donkey
A larrikin and a hero

Nancy Wake
A larrikin and a hero

The Depression
Australia's Greek Moment

World War 2
The eastern chapters

Cold War
The expression of transnational identities

Prime Ministers
Values and policies of Australian leaders


The Europeans
Building a new Australia

The Vietnamese
No longer "New Australian", now "Multicultural"




"Let no-one say the past is dead, the past is all about us and within"(Oodgeroo)