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From terra nullius to Mabo

Part Three of a history of European occupation, rule, and brutal imperialism of Indigenous Australia, by Dr George Venturini.

From terra nullius to Mabo

It was only the 1992 Mabo judgment which finally freed the continent of terra nullius as a legal doctrine. Anti-Aboriginal sentiments resurrect the idea from time to time, however. The manner in which the white Australian people and the surviving Indigenous People choose to address the injustices of the past will have the final say, though, in determining whether terra nullius has been abandoned altogether. (E. Eklund, Terra nullius and Australian colonialism, (2001), Treaty Republic).

The view of the Indigenous People as wild animals, fauna even, did not change much for over a century and authorised the white man to indulge in genocide. (Colin Tatz, Genocide in Australia, for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Canberra 1999) (And see also by the same author: Genocide Perspectives I, as editor-in-chief, Canberra 1997; Genocide Perspectives II: Essays in Holocaust and Genocide, eds. Colin Tatz, Peter Arnold, Sandra Tatz, Canberra 2003; Genocide Perspectives III: Essays in Holocaust and Genocide, eds. Colin Tatz, Peter Arnold, Sandra Tatz, Canberra 2006; and Genocide Perspectives IV: Essays on Holocaust and Genocide, ed. Colin Tatz, Canberra 2012).

Professor Colin Tatz was born in South Africa, where he graduated from Natal University. In 1948 the National Party was elected to power by the white minority – less than twenty per cent – which dominated the vastly larger black majority. The Nationalist Government strengthened the racial segregation begun under Dutch and continued under British colonial rule. The Government classified all peoples into three ‘races’ and developed rights and limitations for each. The legally institutionalised segregation became known as apartheid.

As a Jew and anti-racist Tatz left South Africa in 1960 and took refuge in Australia. In 1964 Tatz received his PhD from the Australian National University. He is the author of twenty-two books, on topics which include race politics in South Africa, the Aboriginal experience in Australia, racism and the history of sport in Australia, Aboriginal and Maori youth suicide, the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, and genocide studies.

He was professor at the University of New England, Armidale, at Macquarie University, Sydney and was visiting professor at the Australian National University, Canberra. He became the director of the Australian Institute of Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Tatz’s 1999 report asserts that the policies adopted by colonial administrations and both state and federal governments, as well as actions by new arrivals, from the beginning of colonisation up until the 1970s constituted genocide against the Aborigines.

The legal guideline for Tatz’s study is Article II (a) to (e) of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948, signed by Australia, too, of course and systematically ignored by successive governments – except for the period of the Whitlam Governments (1972-1974) and (1974-1975).

The report provides compelling evidence to justify the assertion of genocide. Even though no official figures exist, estimate of the Indigenous People population in 1788 was 750,000. It was reduced to 60,000 in 1901. By 1911 the number was 31,000. Indigenous People have only been included in the National Census since 1971. In 1996 the National Census recorded that 352,970 or 1.97 of the population were of Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander descent.

Tatz’s report states: “In 1803, Tasmania was settled. In 1806 serious killing began. In retaliation for the spearing of livestock, Aboriginal children were abducted for use in forced labour, women were raped and tortured and given poisoned flour, and the men were shot. They were systematically disposed of in ones, twos and threes, or in dozens, rather than in one systematic massacre.”

The New South Wales Act 1823 provided, through Acts of the British Parliament, for the establishment of a Supreme Court with the power to deal with all criminal and civil matters “as fully and amply as Her Majesty’s Court of King’s Bench, Common Pleas and Exchequer at Westminster” (4 Geo IV c 96, s 2). Inferior courts were also established, including courts of General or Quarter Sessions, and Courts of Requests.

By 1824 a court system was in place.

Across the English Channel, Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794) an Italian criminologist, jurist, philosopher, and politician, was busying himself writing his treatise On crimes and punishments. Published in 1764, the work condemned torture and the death penalty, and became a founding work in the field of penology and the Classical School of criminology. Beccaria is considered the father of modern criminal law and of criminal justice – and not only ‘this side of the Channel’; it was to have a profound influence on the Founding Fathers of the United States.

Something was happening meanwhile as part of the administration of justice in New South Wales: “I saw a man walk across the yard with the blood that had run from his lacerated flesh squashing out of his shoes at every step he took. A dog was licking the blood off the triangles, and the ants were carrying away great pieces of human flesh that the lash had scattered about the ground. The scourger’s foot had worn a deep hole in the ground for the violence with which he whirled himself round on it to strike the quivering and wealed back, out of which stuck the sinews, white, ragged and swollen. The infliction was a hundred lashes, at about half-minute time, so as to extend the punishment through nearly an hour. … They had a pair of scourgers, who gave one another spell and spell about; and they were bespattered with blood like a couple of butchers. I tell you this on the authority of my own eyes. It brought my heart into my mouth.” The writer, under the pseudonym ‘An emigrant mechanic’, is Alexander Harris (1805-1874) (Settlers and convicts, C.M.H. Clark ed., Melbourne University Press 1953, at 12-13).

Harris, according to his biographer, “was smuggled out to New South Wales” in 1825 and returned to England in 1841. His first and most successful book was Settlers and Convicts; or Recollections of Sixteen Years’ Labour in the Australian Backwoods, by an Emigrant Mechanic (London 1847). (John Metcalfe, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, M.U.P., 1966).

What Harris recorded was ‘the norm’, and should there be any doubt one could satisfy her/himself by reading a relative recent work: Robert Hughes, The fatal shore: The epic of Australia’s founding, which is the history of the birth of Australia which came out of the suffering and brutality of Britain’s infamous convict transportation system. It was originally published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York in 1986 and by William Collins in the England, and republished ever since.

To return now to Tatz:

“In 1824, settlers were authorised to shoot Aborigines. In 1828, the Governor declared martial law. Soldiers or settlers arrested, or shot, any blacks found in settled districts. Vigilante groups avenged Aboriginal retaliation by wholesale slaughter of men, women and children. Between 1829 and 1834, an appointed conciliator, George Robinson, collected the surviving remnants: 123 people whom were then settled on Flinders Island. By 1835, between 3,000 and 4,000 Aborigines were dead.” And further: “They were killed, with intent, not solely because of their spearing of cattle or their ‘nuisance’ value, but rather because they were Aborigines.” [Emphasis in original].

Between 1824 and 1908 approximately 10,000 Aborigines were murdered in the Colony of Queensland. “Considered ‘wild animals’, ‘vermin’, ‘scarcely human’, ‘hideous to humanity’, ‘loathsome’ and a ‘nuisance’, they were fair game for white ‘sportsmen’.”

The upshot of this slaughter was the appointment in 1896 of Archibald Meston as Royal Commissioner. In his Report on the Aborigines of North Queensland he wrote: “The treatment of the Cape York people was a shame to our common humanity.” He continued: “Their manifest joy at assurances of safety is pathetic beyond expression. God knows they were in need of it.” Indigenous People met him “like hunted wild beasts, having lived for years in a state of absolute terror.” His prescription for their salvation lay in “strict and absolute isolation from all whites, from predators who, in no particular order, wanted to kill them, take their women, sell them grog or opium.” Needless to say, none of the perpetrators of the slaughter were made to answer for their actions.

By this time, the new, fashionable slogan had become: ‘protection and segregation’.

The events in Queensland and Tasmania were typical of every colony. The result of Meston’s Royal Commission was the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897. Similar measures were enacted throughout Australia. In some colonies, ‘protective’ legislation, enforced by Protectors, began earlier, from the 1840s.

Like the fences erected to keep dingoes – wild native dogs – off pastureland, similar fences were erected around good Christian missions and places assigned to Indigenous People. The segregation had two aspects, legal and geographic. The law was meant to keep whites out and blacks in. Geographic isolation was to ensure that nobody could get in or out.

The attitude of the Protectors towards Indigenous People was one of utmost contempt, in both clerical and scientific guises. Even the ‘protectors’ found ‘the natives’ to be quite ‘different’: scantily covered, un-receptive of the Christian religion’s blessings, unable to speak English, unwilling to acknowledge the majesty of a foreign boss called the king – why, ‘barbarians’.

One Catholic priest, Eugene Perez, chief policy-maker of Catholic ‘missions’, wrote in 1879 that “Aborigines corresponded to the Palaeolithic Age.” He described them as “primitives dwarfed to the bare essentials of human existence”; people with “inborn cunning”, “lacking interest and ambition” with “undeniable immaturity”, forever seeking “the unattainable El Dorado coming to them on a silver tray”; people “with no sense of balance or proportion” who “want ‘today’ what cannot be given till tomorrow”; people to whom physical goods are “like the toy given to a child, which will soon be reduced to bits, and thrown into the rubbish dump.”

A lay person, W. Baldwin Spencer, professor of biology and the Chief Protector of Aborigines in the Northern Territory in 1911-12, concluded: “The aboriginal is, indeed, a very curious mixture: mentally about the level of a child who has little control over his feelings and is liable to give way to violent fits of temper … He has no sense of responsibility and, except in rare cases, no initiative.” Spencer added that “their customs are revolting to us” and they were “far lower than the Papuan, the New Zealander or the usual African native.” During his posting, he established the Kahlin Compound in Darwin, because he believed that “no half-caste children should be allowed in any native camp.” The Kahlin Compound specifically housed ‘half-caste’ Indigenous children, removed from their mothers.

Protection was dispensed in remote places such as Yarrabah, Palm Island, Mornington Island, Doomadgee, Bamaga, Edward River, Weipa, Bloomfield River and Woorabinda. The morality of the Indigenous People was supposedly protected by controlling their private lives, sexual relations, marriages, movements, labour, reading matter, leisure and sports activities – and even cultural and religious rituals. Income protection was the responsibility of police constables. They controlled wages, withdrawals from compulsory savings bank accounts, and rights to enter contracts of labour or purchase and sale.

In Queensland protection included internal state banishment for periods ranging from 12 months to life, at the director’s pleasure, for offences such as “disorderly conduct”, “uncontrollable” and “menace to young girls.” Other offences could only be committed by ‘the natives’. These included being cheeky, refusing to work, calling the hygiene officer a “big-eyed bastard”, and leaving a horse and dray in the yard whereby a person might have been injured. Committing adultery, playing cards, arranging to see a male person during the night, and being untidy at the recreation hall were also on the list, as was refusing to provide a sample of faeces required by the hygiene officer. Such offences brought three weeks imprisonment, which could be increased to six, nine and twelve weeks, as prison terms were not served concurrently.

A new meaning of ‘protection’

In the context of the time, ‘protection’ was the omnibus formula against ‘the intruders’ and all those who could be seen as a threat to ‘the settlement’ of the colony. That view of life in the colony would crystallise into the ‘White Australia’ policy.

The 1838 massacre at Myall Creek was followed by the adoption of a ‘policy’ to describe Australia’s approach to immigration, long before federation and until the latter part of the twentieth century.

‘Protection’ favoured applicants from certain countries – soon to be specified as ‘Anglo-Celtic countries’. Now, there is another example of double entendre. There are no Anglo-Celtic countries. There is England, and there are Ireland and Scotland; maybe in the process the Welsh were either left out of the glorious classification or assumed to be some sort of enlarged village, there, just outside England proper – hard to be specific in such lunacy.

‘Protection’ soon came to assume another meaning and purpose: it came to be used to deny access to the ill-gotten ‘settlement’ by the Asiatic ‘races’ – mainly the Chinese who had arrived in search of gold.

The origins of the ‘White Australia’ policy can be traced to the 1850s. White miners’ resentment towards industrious Chinese diggers culminated in violence on the Buckland River in Victoria, and at Lambing Flat (now Young) in New South Wales. The governments of these two colonies introduced restrictions on Chinese immigration.

Events on the Australian goldfields in the 1850s led to hostility towards Chinese miners on the part of many ‘whites’. The hostility was to affect many aspects of relations between the two groups for the following century.

The Chinese generally worked in large organised groups, covering the entire grounds surface, so that if there was any gold there, the Chinese miners usually found it. They lived communally and frugally, and could subsist on a much lower return than ‘white’ people. The rural background of most of the Chinese diggers suited them very well to life as alluvial gold-miners: they were used to long hours of hard outdoor work as members of a disciplined team, accustomed to simple sleeping quarters and basic food, and were satisfied with a much smaller return of gold than the majority of the ‘whites’.

‘White’ resentment of the apparent success of the Chinese first surfaced as petty complaints: the ‘whites’ made stereotypical claims that the Chinese muddied the water holes, they worked on the Sabbath, they were thieves, they had insanitary habits, they accepted low wages and would drive down the value of labour. No evidence was ever proffered that any of these things were true. One could paraphrase: “Labour in a white skin cannot be free so long as labour in a [yellow] skin is branded.” Ignorant people were bound to be prejudiced. So, because the Chinese were distinctive in appearance, language and dress, they became classic targets for xenophobia, and surly resentment became systematic hatred.

Modern day haters of ‘the other’ are bound not to know, or to ignore what xenophobia means; they do however practice it with a certain formal politeness, restraint. “I am not a racist, but …”

Once again a question of money – a supreme governor in a society which has remained to this day wedded to mercantilism – gave rise to several violent protests against government policies across Victoria and New South Wales in the late 1850s and early 1860s.

The first anti-Chinese demonstration occurred in Bendigo, Victoria in July 1854. Some of these incidents took the form of outright attempts at excluding the Chinese from a goldfield, or a portion of it. Disputes between ‘white’ and Chinese miners flared into brawls at Daylesford and Castlemaine. A party of Chinese en route to the Victorian diggings from Robe discovered a new goldfield at Ararat, and were driven off their find by ‘white’ competitors.

In July 1857 repeated incidents at the Buckland River goldfield in Victoria culminated in a major riot.

Similar events occurred in New South Wales, which was just feeling the impact of significant Chinese immigration. In 1856 ‘white’ miners drove Chinese off the diggings at Rocky River in New England, the northern part of New South Wales. Serious clashes followed at Adelong in 1857 and Tambaroora in 1858.

The most notorious of these incidents was the so-called Lambing Flat Riot, actually a drawn-out series of incidents between November 1860 and September 1861 on the Burrangong goldfield in New South Wales. Several place names are sometimes used interchangeably when describing these events. Lambing Flat, the name which has attached itself most persistently to the events, was a sheep paddock where one of the more violent incidents took place.

The Burrangong riot was played out against the background of a contentious debate in the New South Wales Parliament over legislation to restrict Chinese immigration. Chinese numbers on the New South Wales goldfields had been relatively small, but were rising in the wake of restrictions imposed in Victoria. Restrictive legislation had also been proposed in New South Wales as early as 1858 in the wake of Victorian and South Australian laws.

Trouble had begun late in 1860 with the formation of a Miners Protective League [emphasis added], followed by mass meetings of ‘white’ miners evicting Chinese miners from sections of the Burrangong field.

In ten months of unrest at Burrangong, the most infamous riot occurred on the night of 30 June 1861 when a mass of perhaps 3,000 ‘white’ miners drove the Chinese off the Lambing Flat, and then moved on to the Back Creek diggings, destroying tents and looting possessions. About 1,000 Chinese abandoned the field and set up camp at a sheep station, twenty kilometres away. There were two triggers for the violence: in Sydney the Legislative Council had rejected the anti-Chinese bill, and a false rumour swept the goldfield that a new group of 1,500 Chinese were marching towards Burrangong. During the following days the police arrived, identified the promoters of the riot, and three were arrested two weeks later. What followed was an armed attack on the police camp by about 1,000 ‘white’ miners on the night of 14 July 1861. The police used fire power and mounted sabre charges, leaving one rioter dead and many wounded.

The police briefly abandoned the field, but then a detachment of 280 soldiers, sailors and police reinforcements arrived from Sydney and occupied the area for a year. The Chinese were reinstated on segregated diggings, the ringleaders of the riots were tried and two were gaoled. But the lesson was not lost on the Chinese.

The ‘occupiers’ attitude – both governments’ and ‘whites’ – resulted in a long list of ‘encounters’ with Indigenous Peoples that one should, more honestly, call ‘massacres in a process of extermination’.

Brutality was particularly savage in what became the colony of Queensland, with the consequence that the cost of such encounters there exceeded that of all other colonies. No complete list is possible because such events were generally veiled in secrecy and often called for the use of deceptive practices such the poisoning of wells, the ‘generous’ distribution of flour laced with arsenic – and at ‘Christmas’ the offering of puddings laced with strychnine, the distribution of infected blankets, and the spreading of hitherto unfamiliar diseases. Those practices were, in the language of the time, considered more ‘safe’, that is to say less noticeable than armed raids.

Many massacres were to go unknown and unpunished due to these practices, through what are variously called a ‘conspiracy’ or ‘pact’ or ‘code’ of silence which fell over the killings of ‘natives’.

Still, at mid-1838, when parties of mounted and armed stockmen pursued ‘natives’ in the Gwydir River, a local magistrate branded the event as “a war of extirpation.” Such words entered the everyday use – as if ‘the natives’ were unwanted flora or execrable fauna; “vermin” was the frequently heard word.

There were more clashes in New South Wales and particularly in that part of the colony which became Victoria, against the Daung Wurrung and Dja Dja Wurrung, the Tarnbeere Gundidj and the Djargurd Wurrung clans.

The ‘encounters’ with Wiradjuri along the Murrumbidgee River were a genuine war which lasted throughout the 1830s, 1840s and up to the 1850s.

Gippsland massacres, which resulted in the killing of up to 1,000 ‘natives’ have been recorded as occurring during 1840 to 1850, while hundreds died in raids along the Brisbane River, the Balonne and Condamine Rivers, the Dawson River, the Warrigal Creek, the Barwon and Narran Rivers and in the Mount Gambier region of South Australia. Some well known perpetrators of these massacres became ‘folk heroes’ in the eyes of the ‘occupiers’: William Fraser of Queensland was one of them. He was reputed to have extinguished the Yeeman tribe.

The 1860s opened and continued with new massacres of men, women and children in Queensland and went on to conclude with ‘search and destroy’ expeditions in the Swan River colony which later became Western Australia, near La Grange Bay and at the Dampier Archipelago. Hundreds of the Yaburara tribe were killed. The ‘event’ was celebrated with a monument still visible at Freemantle – the ‘Explorers’ Monument’!

There is more than one source to suggest the existence of a ’conspiracy of silence’ about the massacres of Djara, Konejandi and Walmadjari peoples in Western Australia in 1887.

In the 1870s there were further massacres of “blacks of the [northern Queensland] interior who would first receive their ‘baptism of fire’ … [becoming] acquainted with the death-dealing properties of the mysterious weapon of the white man”, as a newspaper of the time chronicled.

In the same area, in 1874-75, according to a ‘white’ miner’s letter dated 16 April 1876, “the niggers got a dressing there”, leaving no doubt as to what the writer meant, which was complete with the invitation to “a visit from any number of phrenological students in search of a skull, or of anatomical professors in want of a ‘subject.’ ”

Among the many unrecorded episodes of police brutality one well known concerned the murder of 28 men and 13 girls of the Guugu-Yimidhirr clan of far north Queensland in 1879; this was followed by the killing of 200 Kalkadoon people near Mount Isa in 1884, and of an unknown but large number of the Djabugay clan in 1890. These were plain ‘state murders’.

This savagery was followed by the Barrow Creek massacre, in that part of South Australia which became the Northern Territory in 1911. Kaytetye people had suffered the abuse of their women and the closing of the only water source by ‘white’ men. A large police hunt killed some 90 Indigenous persons.

During 1880s-90s the ‘wars on blacks’ would continue in Arnhem Land, still in the Northern Territory, taking place at different locations. Men, women and children of the Yolngu clans of Gumatj, of Ganalpuynguh, of Djinba and Mandelpi were chased and shot dead by mounted police and men from the Eastern and African Cold Storage Supply Company, a company incorporated in South Australia, controlled by ‘honourable’ Melbourne businessmen as ‘proxies’ of English interests.

There were other forms of ‘protection’ – none of them disinterested.

Christian churches in Australia sought to convert ‘the natives’, and were often used by governments to carry out ‘welfare and assimilation policies’. Despite the many attempts at ‘detribalising’ them, the treatment by governments and landowners was so brutal as strongly to justify the position of people such as Professor Patrick Dodson, who became a minister of the Catholic religion, and was one of the co-Chairpersons of the Expert Report, and now a Senator for Western Australia. Similarly Mr. Noel Pearson, a prominent advocate of Indigenous Peoples’ right to land, who was reared at a Lutheran mission in Cape York, has written how Christian missions throughout Australia’s colonial history “provided a haven from the hell of life on the Australian frontier while at the same time facilitating colonisation.” He is reputed to be the ghost behind the 26 May 2017 Uluru ‘Statement from the heart’. (Uluru Statement from the Heart, – Referendum …).

It would take more than a century before, from the 1960s, honest Australian writers would begin to re-assess the invaders’ assumptions.

In 1968 anthropologist Professor William E.H. Stanner described the lack of historical accounts of relations between the occupiers and the Indigenous Peoples as “the great Australian silence.” Historian Professor Henry Reynolds argued that there was a “historical neglect” of the Aborigines by historians until the late 1960s.

By the late nineteenth century, ‘dispersion’ – that is killing, and disease had devastated the Indigenous population. Social Darwinist ideas, loosely derived from Charles Darwin’s 1859 Origin of species, promoted the belief that Indigenous Peoples were headed towards extinction. Discourse around the ‘White Australia’ policy seldom mentioned them, and then only to dismiss them as an ‘evanescent race’ who would eventually disappear in contrast to the dynamic, virile, enduring, and therefore threatening Asiatic races. The Japanese would occupy a peculiar position vis-à-vis the ‘White Australia’ policy.

A long period of control of Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander Peoples would begin. Already in 1860 the State of South Australia had appointed a Chief Protector of the interests of Indigenous People. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ‘protective’ legislation, known as the ‘Aborigines Acts’, would be enacted in all mainland States – in Victoria in 1869, in Queensland in 1897, in Western Australia in 1905, in New South Wales in 1909, and in South Australia in 1911 – and in the Northern Territory in 1912. The ‘Aborigines Acts’ could require people to live on reserves run by governments or in missions, where their lives were closely regulated. By 1911 there were 115 reserves in New South Wales alone. Indigenous Peoples living outside reserves, in urban areas, on pastoral properties and in more remote areas, were spared the ‘reserve’ regime, but their lives were subject to ‘protectionist’ legislation. Otherwise they could apply to the Aborigines Protection Boards for an exemption from the legislation, known as a ‘dog tag’ – a touch of English cynophilia!

The ‘Aborigines Acts’ imposed restrictions on personal interactions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples, and on Indigenous Peoples residing on and off reserves. The ‘Acts’ provided for controlling marriage, prohibiting alcohol consumption, empowering Protectors to place Indigenous People on reserves, and imposing curfews in town. Through by-laws and regulations, as well as social convention, Indigenous Peoples were denied entry to swimming pools, picture theatres, hospitals, clubs and so on.

In some States and in the Northern Territory, the Chief Protector had legal guardianship over all Indigenous children, including those who had parents. The removal of Indigenous children from their families under the auspices of Protection Boards was common during this period. Employment of Indigenous People was subject to a government permit or licence. Wages were routinely withheld from Indigenous workers; they were either paid directly to the Protector or food and clothing were provided in lieu of wages. The practice continues, particularly in the Northern Territory. In the 1930s, legislators widened the definition of ‘Aborigines’ in order to formalise control over an increasing population of mixed descent.

A bewildering array of legal definitions led to inconsistent legal treatment and arbitrary, unpredictable and capricious administrative treatment. An analysis of 700 separate pieces of legislation suggests the use of no less than sixty seven identifiable classifications, descriptions or definitions. For example, in 1934 Queensland redefined ‘Aborigines’ as persons of full descent and ‘half-castes’, including ‘any person being the grandchild of grandparents one of whom is aboriginal’ and any person of Aboriginal extraction who, in the opinion of the Chief Protector, was ‘in need of … control’. In 1936 Western Australia came up with the notions of ‘quarter-caste’ or ‘quadroon’. And in 1963 a new ‘protective’ act excluded ‘quarter-castes’ from the definition of ‘natives’. Queensland introduced the concept of ‘quarter-caste’ and a new approach to classification which distinguished between ‘Aborigine’ – being a ‘full-blood’, ‘Part-Aborigine’, ‘Assisted Aborigine’, ‘Islander’ and ‘Assisted Islander’. Such distinctions were retained to 1971, when a new act redefined ‘Aborigine’ by descent. Victoria had adopted such classification in 1957 and continued to 1972, when an ‘Aborigine’ came to be defined as an ‘inhabitant of Australia in pre-historic ages or a descendant from any such person’. In 1937 the first Commonwealth-State Native Welfare Conference was held, attended by representatives of all States, except Tasmania, and the Northern Territory. The conference officially sanctioned the policy of ‘assimilation’: “[T]his conference believes that the destiny of the natives of aboriginal origin, but not of the full blood, lies in their ultimate absorption by the people of the Commonwealth, and it therefore recommends that all efforts be directed to that end.” In 1961 the Native Welfare Conference again endorsed the policy of ’assimilation’ as follows: “[A]ll Aborigines and part-Aborigines are expected eventually to attain the same manner of living as other Australians and to live as members of a single Australian community, enjoying the same rights and privileges, accepting the same responsibilities, observing the same customs and influenced by the same beliefs, hopes and loyalties as other Australians.” Until about 1972 virtually all aspects of the lives of Indigenous Peoples were subject to control. Viewed by present day standards, fundamental human rights – such as freedom of movement, freedom of association, freedom of employment, control over property, and custody of children – were denied, and the law characterised by systematic racial discrimination.

Needless to say, Indigenous People were supposed to recognise “the sovereignty of the Crown” – an act of submission which is contemplated in the ‘Statement from the heart’ of May 2017.

It will now be seen how such point was reached.

Continued Monday with: A constitution for the 19th century (Part 1)

(Previous instalment: For a ‘redeeming view’ of history)

Dr. Venturino Giorgio (George) Venturini, formerly an avvocato at the Court of Appeal of Bologna, devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reach at


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  1. Jack Russell

    I am sickened by these appalling truths and hardly know what to say at the moment except thank you for ripping away the veil of systematic collusion, secrecy and lies utilised by every government since the first fleet to disguise the enormity of the abuse, including currently.

  2. Pappnbarra Fox

    Black armband view of history?
    Why wouldn’t you have one – it is a black history.

  3. Adrianne Haddow

    Thank you for this true history……
    it is appalling that so many ‘patriots’ do not have the wit or intellectual stamina to face up to our sad, dark history and continue to try to justify their own acceptance of the institutionalised racism that currently exists by laying the blame on the victims.

  4. Florence nee Fedup

    I suspect many people in NSW about my age, born 1941 would have no idea of the plight of Aboriginals. Most would never have seen any, except for a handful at Redfern & La Perouse.

    Most were hidden away in reserves throughout the state,. Most confined and control by a manager, with little freedom.

    There were also institutions such as Cootamundra Girls Home and Kinchela.

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