The Effects Of European Immigration On Australian Aboriginal Culture

2714 words - 11 pages

Introduction

The Aborigines are the indigenous people of Australia. According to their traditional beliefs, the Aborigines have inhabited Australia since the beginning of time, but most modern dating techniques have placed the first native Australians at closer to 60,000 years ago, based on carbon dating of fossils and knowledge of geological changes in the region. Sea levels have fluctuated throughout history and were 200 meters lower at the time the ancestors of the Aborigines were thought to have made their way to Australia. This still left large expanses of open water that had to be crossed- up to 100 km- indicating that these people had developed some sort of sea-faring technology long before any other people. The Aboriginal culture is thought to be the oldest continuous culture still surviving today. It was traditionally a nomadic hunter-gatherer society, with intimate knowledge of the land and the seasons. The Dreaming was the central belief of all Aboriginal groups, a set of sacred stories of how all things came to be and how to live their lives. They emphasized continuity above change, and this is how the Aborigines lived for thousands of years, isolated and undisturbed.

In 1770 Captain James Cook landed in Botany Bay, claiming Australia for Britain and signaling the beginning of a flood of Europeans into the continent. Britain at this time operated under a policy of "terra nullis," regarding new territories. Under this policy, if the land in question was not being farmed, grazed or actively developed in some way, it was considered uninhabited and free for colonization, regardless of any native peoples (Broome 26). Thus Captain Cook and Britain were able to justify claiming Australia while knowing fully that the Aborigines were already living on the land.

The flood of European immigrants dramatically affected traditional Aboriginal life. The land and resources Aborigines depended on for survival were no longer available and they had to adapt to new ways of life. European diseases were introduced that the Aborigines had no resistance to, decimating the population and impacting the traditional close family structure. Most far-reaching, though, were the ethnocentric and racist attitudes of the European settlers regarding the Aboriginal culture and people. The repercussions of European colonization are still being felt today, especially on traditional family life. "All aspects of Aboriginal society have been directly affected by the arrival of British colonists…but it is arguable that traditional Aboriginal family life and the supporting kinship structures have taken the maximum disruptive effect…" (Bourke 104).

Traditional Aboriginal Life

The Aborigines were traditionally a semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer society, travelling seasonally. Their intimate knowledge of the land and the seasons allowed them to predict where and when certain food items would be available. Men hunted larger game while women gathered fruits, nuts and...

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