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Nationhood and the ‘Pure’ Race (part 3)

Ideology and the Indigenous Australians

Racial preconceptions had germinated by 26th January 1788 when the history of European-Aboriginal interactions began as the British flag was raised at Port Jackson. Accordingly, Governor Phillip and others brought their own preconceptions about Aborigines and also their intentions of their future. Based on these preconceptions they would be considered a part of Australia’s past.

Contemporary writers offer a picture that suggests that in January 1788 amicable relations between the Europeans and the Aborigines were established with comparative ease. Among them, Bradley (1969:1-9) wrote liberally of pleasant interactions. “They will soon discover that we are not their enemies” wrote Hunter, who also noted that the Aborigines were treating the whites as their equals (Cited in Kohen, 1993:48-49). However:

As Aboriginal people … had nothing the invader wanted but their land … attempts to maintain diplomatic relations with them were abandoned (Kociumbas, 1992:55).

Nevertheless, Aborigines were to be treated as equals of British subjects – without actually being British subjects – in order to allow the Governor some semblance of control over actual British subjects.

Peterson and Sanders (1998:4) have examined the legal status of Aborigines in the early days of colonial settlement. Official correspondence, they note, frequently drew a distinction between British subjects and the Aborigines, treating the two groups differently. (See R. v. Bonjon regarding the trial of an Aboriginal person for the murder of another Aboriginal person. The legal status of Aborigines in Australia was certainly a subject of legal argument). But Peterson and Sanders also recognise that as interaction between the groups increased, Aboriginal people came to be treated as if they were British subjects, albeit for some purposes.

At the outset of white settlement the British government claimed ownership of all land for the crown. London espoused the ethnocentric viewpoint that Aboriginal peoples who did not cultivate the land and who showed no signs of permanent homes were not accorded any legal rights to the lands. Instead … “the Aboriginals were to be treated as coming under British dominion, subject theoretically to the same laws which applied to the European settlers” (Castles and Harris, 1987:1-28). Taplin noted that just as the colonists were allowed to manage their own affairs, so the Aborigines were left to themselves to do as they like so long as they do not interfere with the colonists. If an effort was made by the government to benefit them by trying to induce them to adopt a civilised life, it is left entirely at their option whether they permitted themselves to come under the provisions made for their benefit or not.

However, as the colonies later became self-governing in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the influence of London declined, Aboriginal people were increasingly displaced, legally and physically, as a distinct people. This change was to be dramatic in the later half of the nineteenth century when the distinctive differences could be explained, classified, and sanctioned.

The year 1859 saw the publication of a rather important book: Charles Darwin’s The Origins of Species. In his book Darwin suggested that species were not permanently fixed, that they were all undergoing change by natural selection. If a species did not adapt successfully, it was liable to become extinct. Only the favoured survived and prospered in the struggle for life.

Darwin’s theories also suited the social order. Even before The Origin of Species, the idea of ‘the survival of the fittest’, a phrase coined by Herbert Spencer, was being used to justify ruthless competition between individuals, classes, nations and races. Although The Origins of Species did not relate natural selection to humanity, it seemed to give a scientific – and therefore moral – sanction to repressive social relationships. For the remainder of the century, Social Darwinism, as this misapplication of Darwin’s ideas came to be called, was used to justify the oppression and exclusion of the Aborigines. Darwin’s ideas seemed to justify what happened when the British expanded their empire, populated new lands and dispossessed indigenous peoples. White (1981:70) observes that:

Before Darwin had published The Origin of Species, the extinction of the Aborigines was being explained away as ‘the design of Providence’. Darwin’s theories gave such sentiments an aura of scientific legitimacy.

Following the publication of Darwin’s book the view of evolution was quickly applied to the study of racial groups. Herbert Spencer considered the development of society and human intellect in evolutionary terms and argued that the dominant races overrun the inferior races. Spencer’s premise that a general law of evolution could be formulated led him to apply the biologic scheme of evolution to human society. The doctrine of social structure and change, if the generalisations of his system were pertinent, must be the same as those of the universe at large. In applying evolution to human society, Spencer, and after him the Social Darwinists, was adding integrity to its origins. The ‘survival of the fittest’ was a “biological generalisation” of the cruel colonial processes at work in late nineteenth century society (Hofstadter, 1955:38). Spencer himself wrote that:

The whole effort of nature is to get rid of such, to clear the world of them, and make room for better. Nature is as insistent upon fitness of mental character as she is upon physical character (Spencer cited by Hofstadter, 1955:41)

Spencer, significantly, was more concerned with mental than physical evolution. This doctrine confirmed his evolutionary optimism. For if mental as well as physical characteristics could be inherited, the intellectual powers of the race would become cumulatively greater, and over several generations the ideal person would ultimately be developed.

Spencer’s theory of social selection was written out of his concern with population problems. In two articles that appeared in 1852, seven years before Darwin’s book was published, Spencer had set forth the view that the pressure of survival upon population must have a beneficent effect upon the human race. This pressure:

… had been the immediate basis of progress from the earliest human times. By placing a premium upon skill, intelligence, self-control, and the power to adapt through technical innovation, it had stimulated human advancement and selected the best of each generation for survival (Hofstadter, 1955:39).

Baker (in Cashmore and Troyna, 1990:35) observes that Darwin precipitated the development of this new perspectives on ‘race’. If the human race had evolved, it was perhaps natural to suppose that the human races might represent evolutionary stages. Social Darwinism was subsequently to become one of the leading strains in conservative thought and was used to defend racial conflict. Although Darwinism was not the primary source of the “belligerent ideology and dogmatic racism of the late nineteenth century,” it did become a new instrument in the hands of the colonial theorists of race and struggle (Goodwin, 1964:393).

Spencer’s theory had considerable influence in European social evolutionary thinking. Within a few years of the publications of Spencer’s work he was known to a considerable body of American readers and the following article from The Atlantic Monthly 1864 draws parallels to the ideologies of the colonial Australian and articulates the influence of his work:

Mr. Herbert Spencer is already a power in the world … He has already influenced the silent life of a few thinking men whose belief marks the point to which the civilisation of the age must struggle to rise … Mr. Spencer has already established principals which, however compelled for a time to compromise with prejudices and vested interests, will become the recognised basis of an improved society (Cited Hofstadter, 1955:33).

The doctrine of Social Darwinism had thus produced a set of ideas that were to be very engaging to the colonial society. Previously Europeans had been convinced of the inferiority of the Aborigines, but that did not justify their extinction, whereas Social Darwinism did. White explains that colonial Australia:

… proved an attractive spawning ground for Social Darwinist ideas since it was an area of new Anglo-Saxon settlement where racial conflict needed to be explained away. Although Darwin only gained real acceptance in Australian scientific circles towards the end of the century, at a more popular level his ideas enjoyed a very wide currency. In the first place, they provided a comforting, seemingly scientific explanation for the actual destruction of Aboriginal society. Previously Europeans had been convinced of the inferiority of the Aborigines, but that did not justify their extinction. Social Darwinism did. (White, 1981:69).

In a period that witnessed Aborigines being hunted like animals, dying in their thousands through imported diseases, and reportedly murdered at the hands of punitive colonials, the emergence of a law which not only justified the extermination of Aborigines but argued that it was beneficial to the human race, was gratefully accepted and enthusiastically endorsed by many sectors of Australian society.

Popular literature of the nineteenth century depicted an image of the Australian Aborigine that reinforced these colonial ideals. We are to assume that the contemporary reader of the following extract from David Blair’s History of Australasia, when published in 1879, foreshadowed, perhaps demanded, the inevitable extinction:

As a race the aborigine is a savage in the strongest sense of that term. Alike cruel and treacherous, he loses no occasion of wreaking his vengeance on an enemy, and indulges in the most bloodthirsty propensities. The practice of cannibalism is general among the natives: for a long time this was doubted, but it has been proved, beyond the reach of question, and the practice often found accompanied by the most revolting ferocity – as the sacrifice of an infant by its own mother for the mere pleasure of eating its flesh (Blair, 1879:237).

McConnochie (1998:44,48) and Stephenson (1997:2) argue that evolution and survival of the fittest, per se, supported the colonial racist ideology of white dominance and the biological inferiority of the dominated (or displaced). The laws of evolution, it was confidently assumed, were not only pushing the Aboriginal race to the brink of extinction, but there was nothing that should, or could be done about it. Such ‘demands’, debatably influenced by publications such as Blair’s as well as the dominant ideology, were being called for throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century. In colonial discussions about the Aborigines references to racial struggle and the survival of the fittest became commonplace from the 1860s onwards.

Evans and others (1993:77) suggest that a strong correlation can be seen between racist thoughts and the racialist practices that developed. A “definite inner-relationship can be drawn between the structure of a contact situation and the ideas and the theories which evolve from, and in turn, serve to strengthen that structure” (Evans et al, 1993:77). In his discussion on Aboriginal-European relations, which he titled Natural Phenomena and the Australian tribes, Rusden acknowledged that the violence and rapid population decline, especially focussing on their apparent trend towards extinction in Tasmania, confirmed the emergent ideology of Social Darwinism, proving:

… the ‘inevitable’ consequences of colonisations … Australians were told not to trouble themselves about the ‘disappearance’ of the Aborigines (Maykutenner in McGrath, 1995:363)

This doctrine conveniently helped justify colonialism and the favourable tenet that Aborigines would eventually disappear under the impact of civilisation and hence supported the ideal of white dominance and the biological inferiority of the dominated. To support this convenient doctrine it became a task to provide evidence as to whether the Aborigine was inferior to the European. This was already known. It was instead to become a task of confirmation. Chase and von Sturmer (in Kearney, 1973:13) consider that the Australian Aborigine thus became the victim of an “intellectual hiatus.” During the latter half of the century, it was increasingly to the writing of natural science that Europeans subsequently turned to find the most credible and compelling support for their racist suppositions.

Goldberg (1990:301) suggests that the data that lent themselves most readily were clearly those of biology and natural history. Extended to human affairs, the pervasive spirit of simplicity sought to reproduce for social relations the sort of simple order thought to be inherent in nature. Hence there was an application of categories of racial classification to human groups on the basis of natural characteristics. Goldberg continues this racial ordering also implied a behavioural expectation and that:

Perhaps the major assumption underlying classification was that identification of races in terms of their differentia is adequate to establish the laws of behaviour for their members (Goldberg, 1990:302).

Early applications of this theory were none-too-soon observed in the behaviour of the Aborigines. Behaviour, it was argued, that was driven by primitive instinct and “without the habits of forethought or providence” (Chase and von Sturmer, cited in Kearney, 1973:7) For example, their instinctive mating habits and the eating of raw meats – to an ethnocentric observer – clearly represented diminished intellectual development. Archaeologist Josephine Flood reports that even the absence of nets or fish-hooks in some coastal Tasmanian societies was taken as an indication that the local Aborigines had not yet evolved to the point were they needed one of the most basic of human foods. Hence terms such as ‘the childhood of humanity’ were liberally and needlessly applied and the evolutionary theory enforced.

Reynolds argues that at this time, and certainly based on observation, few Europeans in colonial Australia doubted that other races were inferior, but many felt the need to establish some scientific basis for their belief. The evolutionary notions of Aboriginal inferiority were the founded on ‘scientific’ racism. The most conclusive ‘evidence’ to support the Aborigines’ low level of intellectual development was thus obtained through scientific ‘proof’. Science found a way to satisfy the ideology that primitive intellect was confirmed through recognisable primitive characteristics. One such conclusion was derived through the study of craniology: the examination and measurement of crania.

The crania of the Aborigines supplied “fertile ground” (Evans et al, 1993:74) for evidence of their primitiveness: long heads with a sharp, sloping brow; prominent ridges and heavy bone structure; and significantly, a smaller, lighter (and presumably less complex) brain than that of a European. These structural features were considered ape-like, to which other physical similarities were unduly drawn (Reynolds, 1987:118). Such conclusions served to support the view that the Australian Aborigines are a “relic of the oldest type of mankind [sic]” (Chase and von Sturmer, cited in Kearney (1973:11), or indeed, even “living fossils” (Kingston, 1988:60).

The science of phrenology was credited with to further advancing consistencies of primitiveness in that the ‘astute’ European could now – through even more elaborate scientific reasoning – develop a model for character analysis also drawn from cranial properties. Popular in the Australian colonies in the nineteenth century, phrenology was a pseudo-science based on the:

Twin assumptions that specific areas of the brain were responsible for particular moral and intellectual characteristics and that the shape of the skull reflected the inner structure of the brain.

Phrenologists professed to discover an individual’s mental faculties from identifiable peculiarities of skull formation (Girling, 1983:307). With racist suppositions the colonial scientists elaborated Aboriginal inferiority based on phrenological ‘evidence’. Their prominent bumps or ridges on the skull – as an example – were a signature of depravity or other abstract qualities; and the smallness of their brain (or internal capacity of the skull – as compared with an average European) was the cause of ‘miserable manifestations of mind’; and even the mere thickness of the skull alone was a sure indicator of low mental ability, moral character, benevolence and conscientiousness. The conclusion was drawn, that based on the evidence of phrenological interpretation, the Aborigines possessed only a few of the intellectual faculties so evident in white Australians.

The colonisers therefore had no compunction in applying erroneous scientific theories as justification for extermination. Science had confirmed the inevitable: that the Aborigines as primitives faced extinction and “every assessment of their situation, every evaluation of policy, took place in the shadow of that certainty” (Reynolds, 1987:122)

McConnochie and others (1993:49) conclude that the relationship between the colonisers and the Aborigines was fundamentally based on the social evolutionary theory. Goodwin (1964:398) had earlier wrote that this theory justified European colonialism, summarising that “Destruction of the weak was the only way to assure success for the strong.” Subsequently, government policy making in Australia embraced these racial beliefs. These government policies took on a short-term palliative nature to ‘protect’ Aborigines by isolating them on state regulated reserves (away from European contact and abuse in wait of their demise) and by removing most of the rights they had enjoyed as citizens. The policies of Protection, Segregation (and Assimilation which was sanctioned in the twentieth century) reflected this ideology.

Protection was influenced by the theory that Aborigines were certain to die out as a result of the European contact. Subsequently, all that could be done for them was to protect them until this inevitable demise. However nature had not yet selected Aborigines for extinction – only the colonisers had – and the policy of protection underwent a subtle change to Segregation. Their differences are difficult to identify although their purposes are not: Aborigines were a dying race so they were protected from the wider community; the Aboriginal race had failed to die off, so they were segregated from the wider community.

Whilst the Aboriginal ‘race’ had survived, government policies reflected the attitude that, nonetheless, by the twentieth century they had still failed to progress since European contact. Sentiment thus ruled that continued segregation of the Aborigines from the wider community would ensure white purity. Such practices would not only expedite the demise of the Aborigines, but would hasten the emergence of the Australian national.

The Australian type was believed to be a new product of the multiplying British stock, the ‘race’ which, in the heyday of British imperialism and legitimated by the now immensely influential ideology of Social Darwinism, saw itself as superior to all other ‘races’ and therefore possessing the duty and destiny to populate and ‘civilise’ the rest of the world.

Interest subsequently increased in using evolution theory for justification of a strong state in Australia. It is this racialist concern with a distinctively Australian type that undergirded the White Australia Policy, which was sanctioned by the adoption of the Immigration Restriction Bill in 1901. Pettman comments that the:

Imperialist and racist ideology drew on generations of conquest, slavery and exploitation, and on a whole language of black inferiority and white superiority, bolstered in the nineteenth century by the new sciences. This ideology proved useful and flexible in rationalising the bloody violence, dispossession and incarceration of Aboriginal people, necessary to clear the way for the white nation (Pettman, 1988:2).

Jan Pettman notes that the Darwinist explanations of evolution asserted that given equal competition, the fittest societies would survive and the inferior would die out, and links the attempted and hastened destruction of Aboriginal societies based on this theory. The British, being industrious and capital driven, accepted themselves as superior to the ‘improvident’ Aborigines and accepted that as racially doomed and undesirable were destined to die out, or as Pettman suggests, provided encouragement to hurry on the inevitable result of colonial contact. Such acts, it was argued, sidestepped issues of morality by assertions that such conflict was “beyond the reach of normal moral or social concern, being driven by irresistible forces of species survival” (Hollinsworth, 1998:38). Destruction of the weak was the only way to assure success for the strong. (See Reynolds [1987]) regarding the destructive acts that were practiced to hasten the demise).



Beckett, J. (1988), editor Aborigines and the state in Australia, The University of Adelaide, South Australia.

Blair, D. (1879), The history of Australasia, McGready, Thomson and Niven, Glasgow.

Cashmore, E; and Troyna, B. (1990), Introduction to race relations, 2nd edition, The Falmer Press, London.

Castles, Alex; and Harris, Michael (1987), Lawmakers and wayward wigs: government and law in South Australia, Wakefield Press, Adelaide.

Donaldson, Ian; and Donaldson, Tamsin (1985), editors Seeing the first Australians, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Edwards, W.H. (1988). An introduction to Aboriginal societies. Social Science Press, Wentworth Falls, NSW.

Evans, Raymond; Saunders, Kay; and Cronin, Kathryn (1993), Race relations in colonial Queensland: a history of exclusion, exploitation and extermination, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia.

Flood, J. (1995). Archaeology of the Dreamtime. Collins, Sydney.

Girling, D. (1983). Editor New age encyclopedia. Volume 22. Bay Books, Sydney.

Goldberg, David (1990), editor Anatomy of racism, University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota.

Goodwin, Craufurd (1964), ‘Evolution theory in Australian social thought’ in the Journal of the history of ideas, Volume 25, pp 393-416, in Knowledge, Ideology and Social Science (Level 1) Readings, University of South Australia, Adelaide.

Hollinsworth, D. (1998), Race and racism in Australia, 2nd edition, Social Science Press, Katoomba, NSW.

Hofstadter, Richard (1955), Social Darwinism in American thought, Beacon Press, Boston.

Kalantzis, Mary (1998a), ‘Reconsidering the meaning of our Commonwealth (part 2)’ on the Women’s constitutional convention website (Online, accessed 9 Apr. 2001). URL:http://www.womensconv.dynamite.com.au/kalantz2.htm

Kearney, G. (1973), editor The psychology of Aboriginal Australians, John Wiley and Sons, Sydney.

Kingston, Beverley. (1988), The Oxford history of Australia volume 3: glad, confident morning 1860-1900, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Kociumbas, J. (1992), The Oxford history of Australia volume 2: possessions 1770-1860, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Kohen, J. (1993). The Darug and their neighbours: the traditional Aboriginal owners of the Sydney region. Darug Link: Blacktown and District Historical Society, NSW.

McConnochie, K; Hollinsworth, D; and Pettman, J. (1993), Race and racism in Australia, Social Science Press, Australia.

McGrath, Ann (1995), editor Contested ground: Australian Aborigines under the British crown, Allen and Unwin, St Leonards.

Peterson, Nicolas; and Sanders, Will (1998), editors Citizenship and Indigenous Australians, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Pettman, Jan (1988), ‘Whose country is it anyway?: cultural politics, racism and the construction of being Australian’, Journal of intercultural studies, Volume 9(1), Pages 1-24, in Race Relations in Australia: Theory and History Readings Part 2, University of South Australia, Adelaide.

Reay, M. (1964), editor Aborigines now, Angus and Robertson, Sydney.

Reynolds, Henry (1987), Frontier: Aborigines, settlers and land, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Stephenson, P. (1997), ‘Race’, ‘whiteness’ and the Australian context, (Online accessed 28 Sep. 2001). URL:http://www.arts.uwa.edu.au/MotsPluriels/MP297ps.html

Stratton, John; and Ang, Ien (1994), ‘Multicultural imagined communities: cultural difference and national identity in Australia and the USA’ in Continuum: the Australian journal of media and culture, Volume 8, Number 2, pages 1-20.

Taplin, G (1879) 1997 Extracts from ‘The Native tribes of South Australia’ facsimile edition, The Friends of the State Library of South Australia, Adelaide, pp xli-xlii, 6-9, 98, 102-103, 118-122, 136-137 and 145-150 in Australian Ethnography Readings Part 1, University of South Australia, Adelaide.

White, R. (1981), Inventing Australia, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Continued tomorrow: The Other Threat

Link to Part 2

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  1. Kate Ahearne

    Thanks so much for this, Michael.

    The big, fat lesson for me in all this is about how dangerous it can be to accept one’s own way of thinking without rigorous scrutiny. It’s so important to be able to doubt oneself, to scrutinise the motivations that lie behind and propel the conclusions we come to about ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’. (Douglas Adams)

  2. leefe

    It is ironic in the extreme that people with a culture whose oral histories and accumulated knowledge were (are) as broad, deep and intricate as those of our First Nations people could be considered ‘mentally inferior’ by those who only just managed to survive here despite their enormous technological superiority.

  3. totaram

    Kate: It is dangerous to accept any hypothesis that is not rigorously backed up by experimental or observational evidence.
    leefe: They had “military superiority”, which they had “temporarily” acquired (in the historical context) and this allowed them to loot and plunder as indeed previous peoples who had this superiority did (Mongols Huns, etc. etc.)

    This did not “justify” wiping out other peoples, just as the theory of evolution did not “justify” anything that happened historically. Darwin merely explained historical events in terms of evolution.

    However, politicians have routinely used explanations as “justifications”. Standard MO especially amongst the rapacious. Nothing new.

  4. Michael Taylor

    Kate: It is dangerous to accept any hypothesis that is not rigorously backed up by experimental or observational evidence.

    totaram, are you doubting my research?

    Events of 130 years ago are impossible to be backed up by experimental or observational evidence. We can only rely on the ethnographies of the day and to question (or confirm) the findings of those who went before us.

  5. DrakeN

    @ Michael: “We can only rely on the ethnographies of the day and to question (or confirm) the findings of those who went before us.”

    Hardly firm foundations upon which to base one’s opinions.

    “History is written by the victors” or words to that effect.

    There is much historical bullshit upon which can base solid cynicism, going back to the days of the Greek philosophers and Roman historians: The prizewinners in these stakes are, of course, religious “Scriptures”.

    The problem with much of Academe is that it is insufficiently open to scrutiny from outside its own closed and incestuous circles; reflecting mainstream society and its inherent tribalism and strong suspicion of ‘outsiders’.

    “Beware the Jabberwocky” – and anything which you do not understand, especially if it challenges your preconceptions.

  6. Michael Taylor

    Hardly firm foundations upon which to base one’s opinions.

    Drake, I apologise for not being there at the time. Perhaps you were.

  7. Michael Taylor

    I really wish I hadn’t published this series.

    I was hoping that people would learn a bit about our history that they might not have known. Perhaps I’ll hand it over to others to finish it off. After all, they know more about the subject than me.

    I’m sorry, folks, but I’m not publishing the rest of the series. I’m out of here.

  8. DrakeN

    Not my point, Michael.

    Truths cannot be constructed from inadequate information.

    Consider the reality of just how much of “It must have been…” has proven to be false in retrospect.

    To add to that, we have almost no recorded venacular history at all, the history which we do have being written by those who had the priviledge of being literate, but often not well informed.

    Many long years and much varied experience has taught me to be sceptical and to question every unsubstantiated opinion.

  9. Michael Taylor

    My unsubstantiated opinion!

    Screw you.

  10. Michael Taylor

    My last two posts in the series have been deleted.

    You won’t have to worry about my unsubstantiated opinion (which was derived from reading hundreds of journals from the late 19th century) again.

  11. DrakeN

    @ Michael: “I’m sorry, folks, but I’m not publishing the rest of the series. I’m out of here.”

    I never imagined you to be a coward, Michael, but it seems that even you, like so many others of academic inclination, are thin-skinned when it comes to others who are not of your kind suggesting that you may need to reconsider the bases upon which you have formed your conclusions.

    I am truly disappointed.

  12. Michael Taylor

    No, I’m not a coward. I’m just over it. Be as disappointed as you want.

  13. Carol Taylor

    Drake N, true enough we do not have the entire picture from journals of the time as the person writing was doing so through their own veil of prejudice. However, Michael having spent 7 years in indigenous communities in APY lands, and being a bro of the Adnyamathanha is hardly just of “academic inclination”. I am also an Auntie in the Murri culture. One should never assume.

  14. Tim B

    Totally agree with Kate ” It’s so important to be able to doubt oneself, to scrutinise the motivations that lie behind and propel the conclusions we come to about ” This is called reflexivity, the ability to ask oneself ‘why do I think what I think’ … Michael’s generosity in sharing some very thorough historical research here provides us with opportunity to see the thinking of the day, which in turn can enable us to be reflexive and perhaps (if we are willing to do so) examine our own thinking. It is very obvious that some are unable to set aside their own prejudices before attacking the work.

  15. wam

    Expectation drives education. In Xavier Herbert darwin before the war, stolen generation kids were designated as having a maximum attainment of an 8 year old white, In 2021 the minimum standard for territory kids to gain the NTCET is grade 3 id est 8 year old. How does education justify that?
    How did the government justify removal Aboriginal children? Assimilation with white society as Aboriginal society was doomed? Why does white society expect to be treated as an individuals but treat Aborigines as an entity? ps Spot on leefe, the missionaries could not understand tickaround or kuntz names for a highly arithmetic card game based on baccarat so they tried, unsuccessfully, to ban gambling. I am the quickest white man in my experience, but kindergarten Aboriginal students with no arithmetic skills are far quicker. The reason is in their ability to remember and mine is on calculation. Their is a PhD in its study but white men assume that the loudest and most animate wins so the skill is downgraded. The game was an income spreader in that the family running the game would provide refreshments and take ‘tong’ to replace white goods or pay for electricity, rates or funerals. Sadly whilst the priests couldn’t stop gambling, the pokies destroyed the system and the money now goes overseas. ps 70 years ago Aborigines were making bricks and building churches. Now the gov pays white men $millions to built houses with no Aboriginal input. Why???
    I am Yirritja and my darling is Dhuwa.

  16. Kate Ahearne


    I’m so sorry this has happened. I was away from the computer, and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I came back. I do so hope that an apology will be forthcoming.

  17. Tim B

    DrakeN – I can’t see that Michael has made any ‘conclusions’ and it’s telling that you assume that he has. it seems your “long years and varied experiences” haven’t included any understanding of research.

  18. Michael Taylor

    Thank you, Kate. I’ll send you the copies of the last two posts in the morning.

    I’ve always stuck up for our authors. I don’t mind when someone argues the subject, they’re entitled to, but I do not tolerate them attacking the author. In this case I’m the author, but the same ‘policy’ applies.

  19. Kate Ahearne

    Thanks, Michael. I would appreciate the opportunity to see them. Meanwhile, let’s all get a good night’s sleep and, as my Mum used to say, things will be brighter in the morning.

  20. Tim B

    Michael, I hope you will reconsider withdrawing from posting the remainder of your thesis. Your research brings perspectives from the past that can help us understand attitudes that prevail today. This is important work, and contributes to a necessary truth-telling. Those who reactively attack such works only emphasise the need to examine one’s own thinking. Keep well.

  21. Michael Taylor

    Thank you, Tim. Give me a couple of days. There’s a few things I have to take care of first. I’ll focus better after that.

  22. DrakeN


    I quit and will let you all get on with your lives.

    I am sorry that I have been unable to make my point about the weaknesses in the academic proccessing of history without upsetting you.

    It seems that blunt objectivity has no place here.

    In my world, pandering to personal sensitivities has no place where accuracy and complete analysis is required.

    I bid you all adieu.

  23. Kate Ahearne

    Tim B,

    Thank you. Well said.

  24. Roswell

    DrakeN, what’s your expertise in this field, besides ignorance?

  25. BB

    Michael, I thank you for all you do for Aim, and for those of us, like me, who at times need your assistance. 👍👍👍
    And for the immense enlightenment you give us all in respect of the history regarding truth about Aboriginals.
    I gain so much knowledge from your series. I want you to post the remaining 2 parts.. Please.

    Ignore the ignorants, the pedants, the know it alls, they are institutionalised and lack ability to increase knowledge.
    In their accurate worlds they have become stuck in their complete analysis, narrow minded focus, philistine attitudes.
    Such persons exhibit the real reasons why Australia is saddled with such selfish greedy vain ignorance in governance!

  26. Florence Howarth

    Until the 1960s, few people had contact with Indigenous people in NSW, except for La Perouse & Redfern. They were hidden away in reserves. One example was near Lake Cargellico. In town, not one Aboriginal was seen. A few miles out of town, there was a reserve. One went a few miles into where they lived. When I was about eight, I still recall my father having to empty the car boot by the manager. I felt it wasn’t right. We were there to pick a woman to work in the home.

    I went back to Lake Cargellico a decade ago. What amazed me was the number of Aborigines in the town.

    My mother was disabled, needed assistance. Later we had a couple of young women from Cootamundra Girls Home. It meant dealing with the Aborigine Protection Board. My mother was told she was not to but clothes. The women paid one-fifth of their pay to the board. I suspect that was the last most seen of the money. My mother was told she was not to pay above what they said the wages were.

    My mother ignored all she was ordered to do. Instead, she bought clothes, dumping the case & rags the woman bought with her. She paid total wages.

    One woman, while we were in Sydney, left us alone in the city. We managed to find our way home to Annadale. My mother was angry when she found out why she did what she did. It appears she wanted to visit relatives in Redfern. Too frightened to ask mum permission. Yes, my mother was told by the Protection Board, no way was she allowed to let their happen. I am talking not about kids but women around twenty. Mum sent her back to Redfern until we were ready to go back to the bush.

    Going back to my grandmother, my family had respect for the Indigenous people, even delivering a baby or two. However, it was not until I was in my teens that I realised they patronised them. My grandfather saw them as children.

    One time we were returning home to the bush, visiting the Cootamundra swimming pool because of the heat. My baby sister & I followed others out of the pool, not knowing why. My mother soon set me straight, telling me to return to the pool. Yes, the pool emptied when a group of young Indigenous children entered the pool.

    Michael, do you recall those pictures taken in the sixties & later of children with runny noses living in shacks, not fit for human occupation.

    Michael, you should be proud to produce your thesis, which took much labour here & elsewhere.

    Michael, I was there. I suspect you were too.

  27. Graeme Taylor

    Thank you very much Michael for these 3 parts of the series. Unsurprisingly, you’ve triggered a number of readers, and their responses indicate a need for more Truth Telling,.
    To all those with inculcated Social Darwinism in 2021, are you as intelligent as Shakespeare? He lived on the other side of the world 500 years ago.
    Are you as innovative as David Unaipon? Time for white Australians to lose their superiority complex and learn some difficult truths..

  28. wam

    dear Michael, What humans believe to be true is true but only DrakeN believes DrakeN.
    The list of references shows your effort and the reading, difficult for we academically challenged, invokes memory and encourages reflection.
    It was great to read Florence, this morning.
    My family’s take on Aborigines was ‘they are such beautiful children, it is a shame they have to grow up!’
    My poor old Dad sat on my verandah, 50 years ago, having a beer with me and an old teacher friend from Melville Island, the grandfather in Top End Wedding, when he blurted out ‘don’t worry you were once white like us’.
    He went into a confused freeze and I was shocked but Bernie, a contemporary of David Kantilla, took it in his stride and calmly went on talking football. Please, Michael, publish and let the boy duck be damned.
    well said Graeme,
    Uniapon has been called Australia’s Leonardo

  29. Kate Ahearne


    So good to see the comments that have come in overnight.

    You do such good work here. You provide writers and readers with wonderful opportunities to learn from each other and to be part of this online community. Thanks for all you do. The ‘boy duck’ as wam calls him, will be more comfortable elsewhere.

  30. Samuel

    Michael, your lived experience with First Nation communities more than qualifies you to share your insights. Criticism of your article sounds a lot like criticism for the sake of being critical, a sly nod to cancel culture.

  31. leefe

    Michael: I’m glad you managed to shrug this off and post the remainder of the series. It’s a valuable insight for all of us.
    Thank you.

  32. tess lawrence

    Dearest Michael and fellow readers,

    Just to say that it was so very moving to witness the relationship you have Michael, with your readers and how they spontaneously rallied and came to your defence, persuading you to complete this contentious and compelling series. I find it so breathtakingly inspirational and uplifting Michael. This is a rare and precious moment in journalism, let alone in the life of an individual journalist.

    It says much about your calibre as a journalist Michael – and it says much about the calibre of readers and the importance of commentators. And it brings a great sense of community to the AIMN family, in this case I feel and reminds us of our shared humanity and acknowledges the role we can play if we are both proactive and responsive and participate in the discussion.

    tess xxx

  33. Kate Ahearne

    Hi, Tess.

    Beautifully said. Thank you.

  34. tess lawrence

    Dearest Kate, from day one you have remained a stalwart of independent journalism and free speech.

    You have the heart of a champion and I notice you were among the first to step into the ring to encourage Michael to continue his series. I hope he turns it into a book and I think the response to his thesis here on AIMN is one reason why it should.


  35. Michael Taylor

    Thank you, Tess and Kate. You are too kind.

    I have written extensively about Aboriginal Australia and I have always hoped that readers will learn something about our brothers and sisters. You have both shown me that it has been worthwhile. xx

  36. Michael Taylor

    In 2018 while in Munich Carol and I enjoyed sitting in a large courtyard that adjoined our hotel (we liked sitting in that courtyard as it had a number of resident squirrels – there were black ones, grey ones, and brown ones – which the coffee shop staff were at a loss to know how they got there), at the next table sat an American couple.

    Upon hearing our Aussie accent they started to chat with us. The loud-mouthed male asked us if; “Australia has problems with the blacks like we do in America?”

    If he could have read my mind he would have heard me say; “Go fuck yourself, you racist pig.”

    Though I think my returning glare said it all.

  37. Kate Ahearne

    Hi, Tess.

    You are the Queen of Encouragement. So important, and I thank you for it on behalf of all those whose boats you float with your enthusiasm, passion, dedication, outrage at injustice, and sheer talent with words. Many thanks.
    One day I’ll tell you the story of how I got to be so interested in independent journalism. We’ll swap tall tales and true of the legendary past.


    It took a lot of courage to pick up your bat and ball and come back to the pitch. I agree with Tess in hoping that you will work the thesis through to book form. As many of the commentators have pointed out, not always nicely, a lot has happened since 2001. That being the case, you’d need to put your nose to the grindstone. If you did decide to do that, nobody can save you from all that new reading and re-writing, but if you ever need a proof-reader or (metaphorical) punch bag… On the other hand, no-one could blame you for just moving right along. You have a lot to give, and you give such a lot. You’ll be the one to know what to do.

  38. BB

    Ah yes Michael, some Americans, no doubt this particular one was from the south eh..
    You are much too polite, I would have said out loud, what you thought, and added extra vernacular..
    Reminds me of a song by Randy Newman… “Rednecks”.. (PS.. Listen closely.)

  39. Michael Taylor

    Hi, Kate.

    Two fleeting moments changed whatever path I was on and put a pen in my hand.

    The first was after I asked my Adnyamathanha brother why racism didn’t make him angry. He replied that it’s fairly hard to be angry with someone you pity. It’s not their fault that they know nothing about us. They just haven’t been educated.

    Point taken.

    The other time was when asked at a job interview (after Howard closed down ATSIC) why I wanted to work in Aboriginal affairs. I told him (who himself was Aboriginal) that if I can make life better for just one Aborigine then I think I’ve done my job. He replied, “Why only one?”

    Point taken.

  40. Kate Ahearne


    Did you get the job? No need to answer. None of my business. But, you know, the stories you’ve been telling are so powerful – more powerful than the academic stuff – at least for me. Its not an either/or, though. One thing needs to be illustrated/supported by another.

    I’m the last person in the world who might be entitled to advise you, but if I did have anything sensible to say, it’d be something like, ‘Go where the energy, the skills and the confidence in yourself takes you.’ Go with the inspiration.’ Go where you’re needed.

    Hey, meanwhile, I just went to You tube for some much needed music. I was looking for Sam Bailey. Love her. Love her story. Anyhow, guess what came up all over the place? ‘I know Nothing’ from Fawlty Towers, and Ian Dury. Yep, you bet! Big Brother is watching.

  41. Michael Taylor

    Hi, Kate.

    I didn’t get the job but it didn’t matter. The department I ended up with after ATSIC closed was a good one and I enjoyed my time there.

    In Canberra it’s very hard to get into Aboriginal affairs.

    On one occasion I missed out on a job in Aboriginal affairs because I was told I wasn’t experienced enough (hmmm, two uni degrees in Aboriginal studies, six years with ATSIC, three years in Aboriginal communities) but they asked if I’d be available for consultation if they wanted any info. Huh. 😳

    On another time that I missed out I just happened to see the winner attending a course the department was running on an introduction to Aboriginal culture.

    Then I was once blasted after the department was aiming to have 2.5% of the staff Indigenous Australians, of which initiative I was on the committee. I was all for the idea, naturally, but expressed one suggestion: There are cultural restrictions on who you can speak to in Aboriginal societies. There also needed to be an understanding that some language groups have a problem with others. Namely, it’s no good having staff members whose mob are at ‘war’ with another mob over mining royalties. In Leigh Creek I saw blokes from ‘opposing’ mobs have one helluva street fight. I politely suggested that we need to be aware of – what my Adnyamathanha brother called – “Black politics”.

    Anyway, the dept thought I was talking shit so I withdrew from the committee.

  42. tess lawrence

    Dear Michael, don’t insult piggies. They are nowhere near as malicious and vindictive as some humans…

  43. tess lawrence

    Dear Kate, what lovely and affectionate things you have written about me About Michael. In the many moments of self doubt and low esteem, I shall remember them.

  44. Kate Ahearne

    Michael and Tess. Bouquets to both of you!

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