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How European Traditions and Assumptions on Land were Applied to Australian colonies

Updated on April 8, 2015

Europeans first arrived in Australia during the 18th century, A.D. Upon arriving into the continent, they found an environment and cultures that were of great value. However, they had negative attitute toward the local aboriginal people and did not consider them as “normal human beings”. Contact between the white settlers and aboriginal led to decrease of the local people owing to new diseases introduced by Europeans, outright massacres, and dispossession of aborignal land(Duyker, 2003)

When the Europeans arrived at their Australian colonies, they took away land that belonged to aborigines (native people). they had considered this land has being unclaimed and therefore, they were the “real owners”. They drove aborigines into special reserves in return for protection. The aborigines were traditional hunters and the white settlers pushed away their dwellings, thus disrupting their normal lifestyle (Hamilton, 1998). In addition, they destroyed the fishing traps used by the native people, reduced their food supplies, cleared the habitats, as well as polluting their water.

Further, Europeans killed and massacred indigenous people on regular basis for opposing their moves to acquire the land. They believed that this move could instill fear among the local and in turn enable them inquire more land withouth opposition. Among the massacres instigated by the new settlers include the Battle of Risdon, which occurred in Tasmania, Myall Creek massacre and others. These massacres and killings perpetrated by the white settlers resulted into intense and prolonged conflict between them and aborigines, eventually leading into loss of pure aborigines in Tasmania (Steward, 1965).

It should be considered that the white settlers came with new foods and diseases along with them. They did not believe that aboriginal food was fit for their own consumption. Though most of the diseases were not harmful to them, they affected the health and general life expectancy for the indigenous people. Simple diseases such as influenza and measles had negative effects on the life of indigenous people including many deaths (Jurgen, 2005). Some of the foods brought by Europeans such as those containing sugar, and wheat resulted into obesity and heart disease among the local Australians. Europeans also introduced new fauna and flora in aboriginala land, with a believe that theirs were more valuable than the local habitat. This led to extinction of local animals and plants, which had been relied upon by the aboriginals (Dixon, 1892).

The white settlers had a common believe that aborigines were impure people and hence they viewed them as lower beings. The massacres instigated by Europeans were a form of ethnic cleansing for native aboriginals, to remove the “evil” associated with them. Settlers took way local children from their parents so that they can grow with the English children. Consequently, the aborigines in Australia and their offspring diminished on a gradual basis. The rationale behind this measure was that aboriginal people had high rate of alcoholism, criminal behavior, infant mortality, and drug addiction. By taking away aborigine’s children and assimilating them into the European culture, they hoped that these children could be separated from the aboriginal society and its culture. This would in turn enable these children to be raised in an environment devoid of such problems. Unfortunately, aboriginal children suffered emotionally and psychologically because of racism that existed in the homes of White settlers (Kelly and Mercer, 2005).

By forcibly taking indigenous children away from their parents and assimilating them into the European culture, white settlers were hoping to change the culture of aborigines. Consequently, this led to loss of language, culture, traditions and customs for the local people, hence fulfilling European intentions. Prior to arrival of Europeans in Australia, more than 250 local languages existed in the country. Few of these native languages are extant today. Moreover, many of the aboriginal stories and legends gradually disappeared (Graham, 2011).

Europeans also had assumptions that colonizing Australia was bound to bring benefits, not only to England, but also to the colony. This was because they saw the aboriginal land as lying idle and therefore wanted to utilize it effectively so that it can be more productive. According to Slattery (2009) Europeans perceived that their occupation of aboriginal Australia would increase the living standards for the local people, instill Christian virtues, in other words, transforming them into Christianity. In addition, they wanted to improve education and health standards, as well as establish order in the land. In achieving these goals, the white settlers had to introduce farming to enable them build churches, health care facilities and convert people into Christianity. Farming was therefore, essential as a source of revenue to accomplish these goals.

Despite being in place a British legal system that includes fair dealings with native people, the constraints were not applied to Australian colonies. This was because land theft and invasion were common phenomena under this system , with justification of a legal fiction identified as Terra Nullius. Terra Nullius was a common assumption held by Europeans that Australia was unoccupied territory before white settlement (Pryor, 2014).

By 1830, the white settlers from Europe had seized much of the aboriginal land, claiming it to be wasteland. Europeans had also an assumption that aboriginal people had no right to own land; hence, they were free to take any land that belonged to them. They also thought that they were not dispossessing there since they did not have any “title”. In occupying land that had belonged to aboriginal people, Europeans destroyed vegetation, chased away game, destroyed sacred places and fouled waterholes, jeopardizing the livelihood of the local people (Howitt, 1855).li

Beliefs of the white settlers about land contradicted sharply with those of the aborigines who had all along considered land as a spiritual object. For aborigines, land is a thing by which religion and culture are derived from. In their perspective, land was a private property that could not be sold, or bought. Therefore, Europeans notion of acquiring land, separating and fencing it was considered an abomination. They failed to comprehend how land could be turned into private property and the owners prevent others from accessing it. This was the major cause of constant wrangles and massacres in this region (Freyfogle, 2011).

European settlers claimed the aboriginal land for the British Crown, since according to them, “they were the first to lay claim for it. Therefore, all who inhabited the land, whether settlers or aborigines were considered British citizens. However, this decision did not involve aboriginal people in any way, thus causing conflicts and confusion. When the wool trade proved to be settlers that are more successful, took more grazing and “waste” land after crossing the Blue Mountains (Kelly and Mercer, 2005).

White settlers undertook various measures in preventing aborigines from claiming their land. Among these included establishing laws that barred them from the settled districts and military operations that were aimed at driving the indigenous people to Tasman peninsula and other reserves preserved for them. Eventually, aborigines were persuaded to settle on Flinders Island in return for their physical protection. They were urged by Europeans to accept the culture, customs and education of the white people (Graham, 2011).

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