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Indigenous Australia - Issues and Perspectives Project

What I have tried to do in this Project is to timeline Indigenous Australians from their earliest memories up to the present day. I have started off with "The Dreaming" which is the essence of the Indigenous Peoples. I then look at their early anthropology before moving to the coming of the "White Man" – which I have termed The Invasion – and following the history of the two cultures as they attempted to live together.

For me it is not a pretty story. The belligerent ignorance of the British colonisers, the concept of "Terra Nullus" and the "assimilation" of the Indigenous culture and race, for me are stories that engender mixed feelings, from very angry through amazement at the resilience of the Indigenous peoples, to frustration and annoyance at the bumbling politics that have kept Indigenous people "under the thumb" even to the present day. However, the events of history did occur and there are two sides to every story. I hope that I have shown some balance – but, on reflection, I'm not sure.

What is the Dreaming?

The Dreaming means our identity as people. The cultural teaching and everything, that's part of our lives here, you know. It's the understanding of what we have around us
- Merv Penrith Elder, Wallaga Lake, 1996

From: Dreaming Online

"Stories cover many themes and topics. There are stories about creation of sacred places, landforms, people, animals and plants. There are also stories of language or the first use of fire. In more recent times there are stories telling of the arrival of the first Europeans on ships or stories about trading with Macassan fisherman in Northern Australia.

"In essence, the Dreaming comes from the land. In Aboriginal society people did not own the land it was part of them and it was part of their duty to respect and look after mother earth.

"The Dreaming did not end with the arrival of Europeans but simply entered a new phase. It is a powerful living force that must be maintained and cared for."

Straightening of The Spear

Straightening of the Spears

In the Dreaming, a group of men camped at the site of Illyingaugau, near the cave site of Mitukatjirri, southeast of the present day community of Kintore.
The men had gathered there to prepare for a confrontation with a group of men from Tjikari further to the north. They were contemplating sacred objects, making spears, and discussing matters of strategy.
The linework, which runs through the painting, represent the spears being straightened by the men. This type of spear is made from a long sinuous bush vine; straightening is an arduous process accomplished by warming the vine over a fire and working out the kinks while it is still hot.

Artist - Turkey Toulson Tjupurulla (1994)

Rainbow Serpent

rainbow serpent

This painting is about the rainbow serpent as it moved along the coast and inland, forming special landmarks. As the Rainbow serpent moved along the land it left spirits to protect and maintain these special places. Some of these special places are where the coastal and inland people met for ceremonies.

Artwork designed by Mandy Davis


indigenous image Art is a very important part of religious life, to maintain traditional representations and styles. It is still in the tradition to represent many of the desert Dreamings stories, and the sand paintings have been replaced by paintings on canvas and new styles like dot paintings and Xray styles are the most popular modern art styles based on traditional Dreamings and totemic representations.

Symbols used within paintings include concentric circles, curved lines & straight lines. Concentric circles usually represent camp sites, waterholes or places of significance. Curved lines generally represent rain or water travelling underground. Straight lines may be indicative of travelling & when these lines join concentric circles it may show the pathway travelled by the ancestors. A small "U" shaped figure may represent a person & depending on the iconography next to the person determines whether it is male or female.

Tracks, whether human or animal, are often shown as they appear on the ground. Lizards and snakes are frequently seen from a topographical view - as one would see them from above.

Dotted motifs & design work have become the trademark of the contemporary Aboriginal Art movement.

Dreamtime Paintings ~ Meanings

©2000-2003 Indigenous Dreamings

Design Information: Corroboree Dreaming

This is a celebration (corroboree) for good fortune. Giving thanks for food, protection, family & community.

Corroboree Dreaming 
           ~ Australian Aboriginal Painting

1st row:  Goannas - Good bushtucker, plentiful food supply.

2nd row: Warriors - Hunters and symbolising protection.

3rd row: Camp-sites (large circles) and camp-fires (small circles). Symbolising togetherness of family and community where corroborees & dancing are held.

Design Information: Dolphin Dreaming

Dolphins, in Aboriginal culture, like western culture, are often associated with the human spirit. This design is about lessons we can learn from the Dolphin. It shows that we, like the dolphins, must have a balance of life. Outside the serious survival issues of life, we should take time to enjoy the simple things that are around us, such as family, the sun and the waves.

This is a Dreaming of life, life giving and nurturing.

Above the waves - Dolphins above waves ~ Australian Aboriginal Painting Dolphins, frolicking and dancing in the waves. The Dolphin takes the time to play and enjoy its surroundings.

Below the waves - On a more serious note, below the waves, the Dolphin's main issue is survival. It must hunt, nurture, and feed its young, and avoid predators to survive. The animals pictured in the 'bar' represent the ecological relationship between the Dolphin and its marine surroundings.

           below the waves ~ Australian Aboriginal Painting 1st row: Dolphins - Draws a parallel between dolphins and humans. Dolphins nurture their young, like do humans. The Dolphin in Aboriginal culture, like western culture, often associates dolphins with a human spirit.

2nd row: Circles - Representing life cycles, the continuation of life & the celebration of life.

3rd row: Turtles - Like the journey the nesting Turtle makes to lay its eggs in the sand, the road of mother/parenthood is not always easy

Design Information: Heartland Dreaming

Represents what is closest to the heart, the family. The family unit, in varying forms, is at the heart of most relationships. It influences how we relate to, not only our immediate family members, but also other personal relationships on a broader scale.

Heartland ~
          Australian Aboriginal Art 1st row: Kangaroos - Kangaroos in Aboriginal culture are often used as a symbol for warriors. This represents strength of the male, the hunter, protector and provider.

2nd row: Circles - The circles symbolise the camp-fire. This is the place where a family dwells. The tracks joining the camp fires indicate that it does not matter where family is as long as they are together.

3rd row: Echidnas - Echidnas are unique creatures that lay eggs and suckle their young. This represents the feminine aspect of the family. The female is the life giver, represented by the eggs inside the Echidna, and the nurturer.

Design Information: Echidna Dreaming
          spiny ant eaterEchidna Dreaming is a representation of protection, life, unity and fertility. Echidnas (spiny ant eater) are unique creatures that are egg laying, pouch bearing mammals native to Australia

The circular shape of the design represents life cycle or the continuation of life.

The spines of the Echidna represent protection. When an Echidna is threatened it rolls up into a ball, so that only its sharp spines are exposed, warding off any predators.

The Echidna lays eggs and suckles its young. The round shape of the Echidna and its egg laying ability symbolises fertility. The two Echidnas in the design represent unity and togetherness.

Design Information: Murtoa Dreaming

          Murtoa Dreaming The Gecko (Murtoa) is a small adaptable lizard, with the ability to camouflage itself to suit its varying surroundings. Should a Gecko lose its tail in a fight or an attack, it can regrow its tail. Although it is only a small lizard, the Gecko can survive in very harsh conditions. All these attributes contribute to the Geckos survival.

Murtoa (Gecko) Dreaming represents adaptability, regeneration, strength and survival. Its lesson to us,is to make the best of a situation. In order to survive, one needs to be able to adapt, regenerate strength and go on, like the Gecko.

I find "The Dreaming" fascinating. The Indigenous culture has woven their whole life story into it. It is, in fact, timeless – The "WAS", "IS", and ‘IS TO COME", very much in accord with my own Christian philosophy. The Creator sees the people as part of the overall creation plan, and blends them together with the Land, the creatures of the Land and shapes a synchronicity among them all.


120,000 BP Analysis of pollen and charcoal giving a date of 120,000 BP suggests land was being cleared by use of fire by people in the Lake George basin in the Southern Tablelands of NSW.
55,000 - 60,000 BP Archaeological evidence suggests that a rock shelter was used by people at a site in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. They used stone tools and red ochre probably to prepare pigments for rock painting or body decoration.
45,000 BP Rock engravings made in South Australia - the earliest dated Petroglyphs.
30,780 BP An Aboriginal underground oven from this period at Lake Mungo NSW shows continuity with recent historical times.
30,000 BP A man from the Lake Mungo area is buried in a shallow grave. His forearm bones are stained pink from ochre. This is one of the earliest known burials of a distinctly modern people. Aboriginal people were living around the now extinct lakes of the Willandra Lakes system. Evidence shows signs of spiritual and creative life and technology linked to much later Aboriginal culture.
29 500 BP Devils' Lair in the southmost of Western Australia is home to Aborigines who leave bone tool artefacts, including unique bone-beads of split-pointed macropod shin bones. The cave is occupied from this time to 6,000 BP.
26,500 BP The body of a woman from Lake Mungo provides the earliest evidence of ritual cremation in the world. The body is prepared with ochre before cremation.
23,000 BP Aborigines are living at Malangangarr in Arnhem Land and using ground-edge grooved axes. Australian technology leads the world.
15-24,000 BP In deep caves under the Nullarbor Plains at Koonalda, Aborigines are mining flint and leaving grooved designs on the cave walls. This is early evidence of the close relationship in Aboriginal society of art and working life.
15-20,000 BP Aboriginal people were dispersed across the entire continent, occupying places as remote as rock shelters on the Franklin River in south-west Tasmania and at Birrigai in the ranges of the ACT.
18 000 BP Art at Ubirr in Kakadu National Park depicts now extinct animals, the Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger), and Zaglossus (the ling-beaked echidna)
12,000 – 15,000 BP At Kow Swamp in Northern Victoria, Aborigines are wearing kangaroo teeth headbands similar to those worn by men and women in the Central Desert in the 19th century.
12,000 BP At the end of the glacial period seas rise, separating Tasmania from the mainland
10,000 BP Aborigines at Wyrie Swamp are using boomerangs of the returning type to catch waterfowl
9,000 – 7,000 BP Earliest visible evidence of Aboriginal belief connected with the rainbow Serpent. This becomes the longest continuing belief in the world

Family Camp 1896 In many ways Indigenous Australia was different in the past from what it is today. Before the arrival of people from Europe on the First Fleet, there were no horses or carriages, no tall buildings, no large farms and no travellers from the other side of the world. Australia was a largely unspoiled country where people respected the environment around them and made sure animals and plants were never over hunted or over collected. People only took enough to feed the number of people there at the time and nothing was wasted. This ensured there would be food next time they or someone else needed it.

Indigenous people lived a hunter and gatherer life. The men hunted the large animals such as kangaroos, emus and turtles and the women and children hunted smaller animals and collected fruits, berries and other plants. On the coast people caught fish and collected many types of shellfish including mussels and oysters.

To maintain the fragile environment and because of seasonal variations people would only stay in an area for a certain time. This helped make sure they didn't hunt, fish or harvest an area too much so there would be food for the next season.

Every part of the animal and plant was eaten or used to make things such as clothing, baskets, tools and weapons.



indigenopus image Aboriginal encampment in rain forest behind Cairns, 1890. This is the photograph (attributed to A. Atkinson) found by Norman Tindale in 1938, which sent him and Joseph Birdsell in search of the people depicted. He identified the location by the wild banana leaves on the roof of the hut.

From the 1940's until the 1960's, it was fairly widely known there were pygmies in Australia. They lived in North Queensland and had come in from the wild of the tropical rain forests to live on missions in the region. This was a fact recorded at the time not only in anthropological textbooks and articles but also in popular books about the Australian Aborigines. There was even an award-winning children's book tracing their origins. The more famous photographs of the Australian pygmies were reproduced in both the academic and the popular literature.

At the time, there was controversy about their origins but not over the fact of their existence. In 1962, the first volume of Manning Clark's History of Australia recorded their presence on its first two pages and repeated the then influential anthropological theory about their origins and their place in the waves of migration of hunter-gatherer peoples from Asia who populated the Australian continent in the millennia before the British arrived in 1788. (Windschuttle & Gillin, 2002)

The peoples, their vastness, the diverse cultures and languages and their symmetry with the environment, make them the "perfect" man – if there can ever be such a thing. They are so diverse in their natures, and yet, there becomes a similarity among them with the way they understand where they came from and how the Creator has given them what they have. They exploit it only to the extent that they need to and they are very jealous of their roles and the requirements of their ethos.


indigenous image Ngunnawal Country

Canberra, [Australia, where I live] is Ngunnawal country. The Ngunnawal are the Indigenous people of this region and its first inhabitants. The neighbouring people are the Gundungurrato the north, the Ngarigoto the south, the Yuinon the coast, and the Wiradjuri inland. It is a harsh climate and difficult country for hunter-gatherer people. To live here required great knowledge of the environment, skilful custodianship of it and close cooperation.

People normally moved in small family groups but there were, on occasion, big gatherings of a thousand or more people at a time, coming together to make use of resources which were seasonally abundant (most famously the Bogong moth and the Yam Daisy). Important ceremonies were held, art was painted in rock shelters, marriages were arranged, goods were traded, important news was shared and old friends met again.

In summer, people visited the high country where the Bogong moth, in millions or billions, could be found hiding in rocky crevices to survive the warmer weather. The moths were rich in stored fats and oils and were enthusiastically eaten (some say the taste resembles peanut butter). The moths were shaken and teased out from under rocky overhangs into nets and then roasted on a fire. Some were smoked and stored as cakes for use in more difficult times. At other times, the lowland resources of plants, like Yam Daisies, and the freshwater resources of creeks and lakes could be harvested. In the harshness of winter, fur cloaks were worn for warmth and people would gravitate to the coast to share resources with the others there. Others moved further inland.

Indigenous people have been living here for at least 20,000 years, perhaps from the time when the extreme cold of the last Ice Age eased. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle continued to be practised into the early nineteenth century, until the arrival of Europeans with their sheep flocks and cattle herds. The arrival of introduced diseases, like smallpox and measles, quickly affected Aboriginal numbers.

Introduced animals with hard hooves and big appetites rapidly reduced the abundance of plants like Yam Daisies, damaged water holes and creeks, and the essential food resources there. Graziers may also have restricted Aboriginal movement, and movement was essential in this region. Despite this, thousands of people continued to gather in the Snowy Mountains in Bogong season and, in 1826, some 1,000 people gathered at Lake George to protest the behaviour of shepherds.

Aboriginal people adapted to the arrival of Europeans by taking jobs as stockmen, and proved their knowledge and skill could be applied to introduced stock. However, government policies and the pressures of this new occupation created severe social pressures on and neighbouring Indigenous peoples. The Ngunnawal people have always remained in the area, and in recent years they have become more visible to the general community, and increasingly involved in affairs at the local and national level.

- David Horton


indigenous image The Break Christine James Oil on linen 61 x 244 cm Diptych Photography by David Paterson Represented by Beaver Galleries. Exhibited at Footprints on the Lake: Exhibition & Forum as part of the 2006 Weereewa Festival

The ancestors of the Ngunnawal People may have been one of the first of the Indigenous cultures in Australia – there is evidence that people were living in the Lake George area some 120K years ago. It blows me away to think that "homo sapiens" was here, in my own Country at the very beginning of human life, as we understand it.

Rock Paintings

Jon Robinson (1955)

I kept a diary during the trip and the entry for June 22nd 1955 reads as follows:-

indigenous image Mt Barnett to Gibb River. ‘...........and came to Snake Creek which we found was dry, so we postponed lunch and pushed on another five miles to the Hann River, where the trackers said we were bound to find water. By the time we reached it, we were past hunger, so after watering the mules we rode on into the River homestead. … In the afternoon we went in search of the two German scientists, who are studying native paintings. The paintings are under a mushroom shaped rock, and done in charcoal, red and yellow ochre, and white chalk. Some of the paintings are snake rain gods and others look like Astronauts.

The snake paintings are fertility Gods. The main painting is of a snake coiled around a little girl. Andreas Lommel and his wife told us that the black fellows believe their souls are found in water holes and depending on where the baby is born, then that is the child's country and the place his or her soul will return to when they die. Around the paintings, which are rain gods [rain comes when you touch them] are several rectangular rocks stood up in other rocks. These are the original snakes coming out of their holes.'

Rock Painting Sites in the Kimberley Region: Descriptions and Copies of the Paintings, by Katharina and Andreas Lommel

The spirituality and creativity of the Indigenous people has to be acknowledged as one of the most advance cultures of the ancient world.

The Invasion

Aboriginal Australia pre 1700BP

(Map from

By 1788 around 500 Aboriginal tribes or nations occupied the Australian landmass, with efficient and sustainable systems for living off the land. They achieved a balanced diet by hunting and gathering, moving seasonally between camps as food supplies dictated. Fire was used methodically to burn old growth and encourage new. Being mobile, possessions were minimal. They had complex religious beliefs, sophisticated social relationships and trading links across the continent.

In 1788 the first European settlement - Britain 's latest penal colony - was established at what is now Sydney. The effects were catastrophic. With the convicts, soldiers and settlers came diseases to which Aboriginal people had no resistance - typhoid, flu, smallpox and venereal disease.

Invasion is often seen as a provocative word when used to describe the arrival of the British settlers and convicts to Australia in 1788. The white invasion isn't defined by a particular event, a key battle. It was carried out over more than 100 years, as the colonial arm stretched further, and became stronger, across Australia .

indigenous image

Invasion Timeline 1700 – 1800


Anticipating that Captain Cook would discover the great southern land he was issued with special instructions to "with the consent of the natives take possession of convenient situations in the name of the King... or if you find the land uninhabited Take Possession for His Majesty".


April 29 Captain James Cook in the Endeavour entered Botany Bay. After an encounter with local people in Botany Bay Cook wrote that "all they seem'd to want was us to be gone".


August 18 the British Government chose Botany Bay as a penal colony.


18 January Captain Arthur Phillip entered Botany Bay. A total of nine ships sailed into Botany Bay over three days. Aboriginal people watched the arrival. 25 January Phillip sailed to Port Jackson and between 25 January and 6 February 1 000 officials, marines, dependents and convicts came ashore.

Frenchman LaPerouse and two ships arrive at Botany Bay and remain until March 10.

Resistance and conflict between Europeans and Aborigines begins almost immediately.

Early February the French fire on Aborigines at Botany Bay.

29 May the first conflict between the First Fleet arrivals and Aborigines takes place near Rushcutters Bay, Sydney. Two convicts are killed

December, Arabanoois the first Aborigine captured by Europeans.

Captain Phillip estimates that there are 1 500 Aborigines living in the Sydney Region.


April, smallpox decimates the Aboriginal population of Port Jackson, Botany Bay and Broken Bay . The disease spread inland and along the coast.

The settlement spreads to Rose Hill, later called Parramatta.

November, Governor Phillip captures two Aboriginal men, Bennelong and Colebee. Colebee escapes but Bennelong is kept at Government House for five months.


Bennelong and a boy named Yemmerrawanie are taken to England by Phillip. Bennelong meets George III. Yemmerrawanie dies in England. In 1795 Bennelong returns to Australia.

September, Pemulwuy spears Phillip's gamekeeper, John McEntire, and Phillip orders the first punitive expedition. Pemulwuy and his son Tedbury led Aboriginal resistance in the Sydney area in a guerrilla campaign lasting several years.


Time-expired convicts granted land around Parramatta.


Colonists spread to Prospect Hill, Kissing Point, Northern Boundary, the Ponds and the Field of Mars.


By August, 70 colonists farming on the Hawkesbury. Aborigines dispossessed of their land.


Punitive party pursue Pemulwuy and about 100 Aborigines to Parramatta. Pemulwuy is wounded and captured but later escapes.


Colonists dispossess Aborigines of land around Georges River flats and Bankstown.


Two Aboriginal boys killed near Windsor by five Hawkesbury settlers. A court martial found them guilty but referred sentencing to the Secretary of State for Colonies and the men are released on bail. Governor Hunter is recalled. Acting-Governor King is instructed to pardon the men.

Beginning of a six-year period of resistance to white settlement by Aborigines in the Hawkesbury and Parramatta areas. Known as the 'Black Wars'.

I have mentioned earlier how the Indigenous peoples assimilated to their environment and were "at one" with the Land and their neighbours.

So along comes the duplicitous English with a policy of integration on the one hand and an arrogant attitude of dominance on the other. To me the hidden agenda was the necessity to rid England of its "unwanted" and to hell with any opposition from anybody – including the indigenous population.

What happens next is guns against "throwing sticks" and indifferent arrogance against assimilation.

Try as they may, the Indigenous peoples were between a rock and a hard place.

Stories not told by White Fellas

Pemulwuy - New South Wales

Pemulwuy was the first of the Aboriginal resistance fighters. Between 1790 and 1802,Pemulwuy waged a guerrilla war on the young colony of New South Wales. This was in response to the invasion of his country, the killing of his people and the restriction of his peoples' food sources caused by the British.

Pemulwuy planned and carried out several 'lightning' or guerilla attacks against the European settlements in the Parramatta and Toongabbie areas.

Pemulwuy was a strong, charismatic leader with a fierce determination to rid his land of the European settlers. He was able to organise his people into a force of more than 100 warriors. The early Governors of the colony recognised Pemulwuy as a threat and sent large parties of soldiers to protect the settlers.

After years of resisting and evading the authorities, Pemulwuy was eventually shot and captured in 1802 and died of his wounds shortly after.

Pemulwuy's reputation as an elusive and powerful leader was so great, that as proof of his death, his head was removed from his body and placed in a bottle of spirits. It was later sent to Sir Joseph Banks, the botanist who sailed into Botany Bay with Captain James Cook in 1770.

Waterloo Creek - New South Wales

In late 1837 and early 1838, Major James Nunn of the New South Wales Mounted Police led an expedition into northern New South Wales to resolve complaints by settles about attacks by Aboriginal people.

Nunn was instructed by the Acting Governor, Lieutenant-Colonel Snodgrass, to:

"act according to your judgement and use the utmost exertion to suppress these outrages. There are a thousand blacks there, and if they are not stopped, we may have them presently within the boundaries."

Nunn's expedition travelled widely looking for Aboriginal people believed responsible for the 'outrages'. They eventually cornered a group of Aboriginal people at Waterloo Creek and in a 'battle' lasting ten minutes, massacred 40-50 people. The exact number is not known. Nunn's party then continued its murderous path for the next three days, killing every Aboriginal person it encountered.

On their return journey to Sydney, Nunn and his party were welcomed like heroes by towns along the way.

Myall Creek - New South Wales

In early May 1838, 28 Kwiambal people camping on the Myall Creek station, were murdered by a posse of heavily armed men who had been out hunting Aboriginal people. Most of those killed were women and children.

Eleven men were eventually arrested and tried for murder on 15 November 1838, amid an atmosphere of anger over white men being tried for murder of Aboriginal people. In summing up the case, the Chief Justice said:

"It is clear that the most grievous offence has been committed; the lives of nearly thirty of our fellow creatures have been sacrificed, and in order to fulfil my duty, I must tell you that the life of a black is as precious and valuable in the eye of the law as that of the highest noble in the land."

In spite of the overwhelming evidence, the jury found all eleven men not guilty with only 15 minutes deliberation. However, a second trial was ordered amid great public indignation. This time, only seven men were accused. They were found guilty of murder and hanged. They were the first Europeans to be executed for killing Aboriginal people.

The gaoled men were not even aware they had broken the law, because killing Aborigines was commonly considered a frontier sport.

The Blackline - Tasmania

Tasmania is Australia's second oldest colony, therefore its Aboriginal population experienced early effects of colonisation and were constantly on the 'front line' of violence and reprisal. Random killings and massacres of Aboriginal people were commonplace and Aboriginal people responded in kind. The colonial administrators saw the only answer to the problem of racial violence was removal of the Aboriginal people to reserves or islands out of the way of European settlement.

'The Blackline' is the name given to a systematic attempt by Tasmania's Governor Arthur in 1830 to capture large numbers of Aboriginal people. The strategy involved 2200 soldiers and settlers marching through the bush in a closely packed continuous line. They forced the Aboriginal people in front of them, towards the Tasman Peninsula, where they could be rounded up and captured. This massive effort captured two Aboriginal people - one elderly man and a crippled boy.

Despite the failure of 'the Blackline' the process of removing Aboriginal people to islands continued. On the islands Aboriginal people died in great numbers because of European diseases, poor food and accommodation, ill treatment and, sometimes murder.

Kalkadoon - Queensland

The Kalkadoon people of the Mt Isa region of western Queensland first came into contact with the advancing European pastoralists and miners in the mid 1860s. At first the Kalkadoon people worked with the Europeans as guides and labourers. But as the number of settlers and their stock increased, the competition for the land's resources became more intense, leading to conflict.

The Kalkadoon people began a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the settlers and their stock from about 1871 to 1884. The Kalkadoon gained a reputation as ferocious warriors with an ability to vanish into the bush.

In 1884, the Kalkadoon people killed five Native Police and a prominent pastoralist. The Queensland Government responded by sending a large contingent of heavily armed police to confront the Kalkadoon. The Kalkadoon had retreated to a defensive position now known as 'Battle Mountain'. After fierce resistance the Kalkadoon succumbed to the greater firepower of the police.

It is estimated that 900 Kalkadoon people were killed during the six years that they fought to protect their land.

Jandamarra - Western Australia

One of the most complex figures of early Aboriginal resistance is Jandamarra. He was a Punubaman who lived in the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia from 1870-1897. In his early years he lived and worked as a respected stockman.

In 1889 after his initiation Jandamarra met an older Punubaman called Ellemarra and became more aware of the problems being caused by the settlers and their sheep. In 1888 there was a serious drought and the Punuba people were suffering. This was because of the arrival of the Europeans and their sheep had destroyed much of the food and water supplies that the Punuba protected to help them in times of drought. As a result the Punuba needed to hunt sheep to live.

Ellemarra, still considered a young man by his people, knew a lot about the Punuba law and was greatly respected by the younger men. Ellemarra was a natural leader - a good warrior and he was not afraid to stand up to the invaders. He taught Jandamarra and the other young men much about their law.

Jandamarra and Ellemarra were captured in 1889 when Jandamarra walked up to a number of police troopers he knew, and they tricked him into guiding them to his campsite. Jandamarra didn't know that he was wanted by the police. His old employer had laid charges against him for killing a sheep in May 1889, annoyed that Jandamarra had not return to the station after his initiation. The police dropped the charges against him and he returned to stock work. He eventually became a police tracker. He later helped police capture Ellemarra and 16 other Punuba warriors.

Jandamarra was scorned by his people for helping the police capture Ellemarra, so he assisted Ellemarra and the other warriors to escape. During the escape, Jandamarra shot a policeman. He joined the band of escapees and began a campaign to rid the area of European settlers. Colonial authorities responded by sending 30 police to capture Jandamarra and the band. In the battle that followed at Windjana Gorge Jandamarra was injured but managed to escape. He continued to taunt police and was soon believed immortal by his people. His campaign came to an end in 1897 when, after another skirmish with police, he was tracked and shot dead by an Aboriginal trooper.

Jandamarra is still remembered by his people as a defender of Aboriginal rights.

Attempts by the Indigenous peoples to assimilate with the Invaders proved futile in the long run. They were too strong and used their strength to ride rough-shod over everything that didn't suit the purposes of the moment. The Indigenous people were generally scorned as "less than" and, therefore open to manipulation.


An Aboriginal camp in the 'outback': victims of modern-day colonialism.
Photo: Peter Solness

Most Western governments relate to their native peoples through huge, self-serving bureaucracies. David Rathman argues that this continued colonialism in Australia prevents Aborigines from gaining control over their lives.

"Australia has a bewildering array of government organisations that are supposed to improve the lives of Aboriginal people. The fact is this Aboriginal industry does just the opposite. Bureaucratic meddling, political stonewalling and plain neglect have stymied gains for black people in employment, training, education and self-government.

"Aboriginal unemployment is at least five times more than the general population, while their income is half that of the average Australian family. Yet, according to a 1985 report the Commonwealth Employment Service not only failed to refer Aboriginal people to job vacancies; it also failed to inform employers about various government incentives for hiring Aboriginal people.

"Within Aboriginal communities, economic development has often suffered from short-term strategies that fail to develop skills or long-term employment. For example, government contracts are constantly awarded to non-Aboriginal companies because it is assumed that Aboriginal people lack the skills necessary to meet the needs of their own community. The government also boasts of providing essential services like sewers and electricity to communities. Unfortunately, the services are then maintained by outside companies - while the communities suffer from chronic unemployment.

"Even modest attempts at economic development have been derailed by bureaucratic meddling. In 1973, a small community in the Murray River District in South Australia sought assistance for developing a trial project in Yabby Farming (a Yabby is a fresh water lobster). The government agencies involved transformed the small trial project into a grandiose scheme, spending $800,000 on fences, breeding ponds and buildings. Due to engineering errors, the project was cancelled in 1986. Yet reports in the local and state media gave the impression that the Aboriginal people were to blame for the failure.

"In South Australia, there have been ten papers on Aboriginal employment and training needs in the past five years. Yet few of the recommendations have seen the light of day. In Queensland, Aborigines have been locked into training programmes for the past 20 years without receiving their certification. These people have provided services in their community while not receiving the recognition given non-Aboriginal people doing the same work.

"Although government agencies claim they want to cultivate Aboriginal leadership, the leaders are expected to be conduits for government policy. For example, despite repeated requests that the board for PikaWiya(an Aboriginal health organisation inSouth Australia) be elected, the minister refused to listen and instead appointed his own nominees. Real community control was not on the agenda.

"Even the land rights of Aboriginals are subject to the whims of politicians and wealthy business interests. In 1986, the Western Australian state government abandoned its plans to implement land-rights legislation in the face of intense lobbying by the mining industry and opposition politicians. In another case, the Queensland government refused to recognize the Federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs. The result?For years federal funding for Aboriginal development in Queensland was simply unavailable.

"The politics of Aboriginal rights is a sensitive issue during this Australian bicentennial year. But it seems clear that until Aboriginal people in Australia are given a greater measure of freedom to make their own political and economic decisions, the wrongs of the past - and the present - will not be rectified."

David Rathman is an Aboriginal educator based in Adelaide.

Non-Indigenous portrayals of Indigenous people

Indigenous panel at the Sydney Writers' Festival at the Wharf Theatre 2001

"An audience member asked the panel how they felt about non-Indigenous people writing from an Indigenous perspective, e.g., Thomas Keneally in The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith? Kim Scott felt it was ‘wrong' and that ‘they shouldn't do it'. His observations are that non-Indigenous writers ‘tend to divorce Aboriginal people from their history, land and people' and that they often create characters and narratives that ‘reproduce the talkback radio stereotypes and debates'.

"Aileen Moreton-Robinson agreed, saying ‘white culture still gets presented as the norm by white writers, not as the 'other''. For Scott, part of Indigenous empowerment is ‘taking control of the stories'. He sees it as more important to ‘first consolidate within the communities, get strong'. He feels that ‘ Australia wants its Indigenous cultural history now, but wants to slide the people out of the way.'

"All of the panelists agreed that Aboriginal voices have to be heard telling Indigenous stories before non-Indigenous people. However, Angela Martin was more of the opinion that ‘as long as the author does it with understanding and sensitivity'. She said, ‘as Australians we do have this indigenous heritage and we should all be proud of it'. Publishing Indigenous Authors Kim Scott raised the issue of Indigenous people not wanting to be published just because they're Aboriginal. Angela Martin agreed. Her book, Beyond Duck River , avoided this by interweaving a European and Aboriginal perspective of Sydney life.

"Her book was therefore perceived as 'Australian' history, rather than being labelled 'Aboriginal'. Martin wanted to be published by a mainstream publisher, and this style of writing gave her access to a broader audience. Support for Indigenous Literature Finally, Indigenous playwright, Noel Tovey, suggested that there was a lack of initiatives by the Australian Federal government in promoting Indigenous literature. The audience and panel applauded in agreement. It was noted, in contrast, the Canadian government had given Indigenous Canadians an apology and compensation in acknowledgement of their dispossession."


© New Internationalist 1988

There's nothing I would rather be
Than to be an Aborigine
and watch you take my precious land away.
For nothing gives me greater joy
than to watch you fill each girl and boy
with superficial existential shit.

Now you may think I'm cheeky
But I'd be satisfied
to rebuild your convict ships
and sail them on the tide.

I love the way you give me God
and of course the mining board,
for this of course I thank the Lord each day.
I'm glad you say that land rights wrong.
Then you should go where you belong
and leave me to just keep on keeping on.

– (Jimmy Chi, 1989)

This is one of the songs from Bran Nue Dae, a musical which emerged in 1989 from one of the most remote parts of Australia: the port of Broome on the North-West coast. The song itself has become an anthem for Aboriginal people: a rare unifying force for empowerment. Its quality has appealed equally to white Australians: its tune is infectious and celebratory, creating a tension with the words, which expresses both defiance of their situation as a colonised people; and an ironic self-accusation for accepting it.

- Katharine Brisbane, AM, Hon.D.Litt.


You propped me up with Christ, red tape,
Tobacco, grog and fears.
Then disease and lordly rape
Throughout the brutish years.
Now you primly say you're justified
And sing of a nation's glory,
But I think of a people crucified -
The real Australian story.
–(Jack Davis)

"Understanding and sensitivity" (Angela Martin, 2001) seem to be lacking in any of the endeavours of Non-indigenous Australia to build a co-operative bridge with Indigenous peoples. As I look at the whole history of the two cultures, I see a total misunderstanding by non-indigenous people to the fundamental premise of "The Dreaming" and the calamity that was introduced to that premise by the Invasion of the Indigenous culture from 1770 onwards.

It is too easy to say that we are trying to rectify the wrongs of the past. The two cultures are like chalk and cheese and, until the "chalk" of non-indigenous Australia comes to understand that, I do not see any real hope that Indigenous Australia will get to a position of assimilation.

Need to put an end to Aboriginal hellholes

Jack Waterford
The Canberra Times Wednesday, 24 May 2006

"THERE'S no real work, or prospect of any, the health and education system is a shambles, housing is appalling, and the cost of delivering services is phenomenal. The communities are artificial anyway, composed of different and antagonistic groups, and there is a lot of drunkenness, fighting, domestic violence, trauma, suicide, imprisonment, apathy and despair.

They may be within their own traditional lands, but there is little evidence even of sustained cultural, let alone, economic use of that proximity, and even less evidence that it is producing life, liberty, happiness and good health. …

One could say that one did not mean such inadequate provision. There would have to be decent housing proportionate to the people's needs, and real money spent in upgrading local services to meet the extra burdens such an increase in population might cause.

The cynic might ask why there should be any expectation, given the record of the federal and territorial authorities (and their old Aboriginal subcontractors, such as the now demolished Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission) in delivering services to those already there.

Dislocation of blacks is no solution. Providing the same services as whites get would be a start"

The crisis of successive generations of the manipulation of Indigenous Affairs, and, as the cartoon suggests, the bouncing back and forth of the problem by successive governments, is coming to a head. The top is going to blow right off if the powers that be don't change their attitudes – Watch this space!


Mooney, N (2004), Indigenous Australia -

Iconography, -

Windschuttle K, Gillin T, (2002), The extinction of the Australian pygmies Quadrant, June 2002 (Vol XLVI No 6), Quadrant Magazine Company, Inc, Australia, -

Brisbane, K (2002), The Future in Black and White - Aboriginality in Recent Australian Drama, -

New Internationalist, (1998), Back From The Brink – Native Peoples and the Future, (NI 186), =

Message Stick, (2001),Sydney Writers' Festival – 'Celebrating Reading and Writing', -, ABC Television, Sydney

Waterford J, (2006), Need to put an end to Aboriginal hellholes, The Canberra Times, 24 May 2006, Australian Consolidated Press, Canberra