Aboriginal people today and their struggle for survival

Pre-University Paper 2009 28 Pages

Didactics - English - Applied Geography


Table of Contents

A Introduction

B Aboriginal people today and their struggle for survival
I. Where did things go wrong?
1. Historical background
2. Land rights
3. Stolen generations
II. Present situation
1. Housing
2. Education
3. Employment
4. Health
a) Health in general
b) Alcohol consumption
5. Oppression
a) Racism
b) Policing
6. The vicious circle closes up
III. Can the `fight´ really be won?
1. Are respective cultures reconcilable?
2. Struggle for equality by means of the case of Cathy Freeman
a) Olympic Games 2000
b) Cartoon ”Why can´t you all be like Cathy Freeman?“
3. Learn to say „I´m sorry“
IV. Forward looking

C Conclusion

D Appendix
I. Bibliography
II. List of figures

A Introduction

Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. It is well renowned for its beautiful cities, the splendid countryside and its thriving economy. In addition to that, it plays a significant role in world affairs and is highly regarded for its scientific, cultural and sporting achievements. Thousands of people travel there every year to enjoy the easy way of life and many even emigrate to start over in Australia, dreaming of opportunity, individual liberty and equality.

The facade of abundance crumbles when taking a closer look at the dire living conditions of the Aboriginal Australians. In the midst of all this plenty indigenous Australians have to lead a life of privations. They suffer from extreme exploitation and struggle desperately to realise acceptance, a situation which is deeply shameful in a presumably civilised country where everybody should be granted equal chances to pursue happiness, regardless of ethnic affiliations.

Aboriginal people have a special place in Australia´s identity. Their central role in the appealing idea of Australia is of paramount importance. The colourful and entrancing customs and traditions of Aboriginal Australians can easily be regarded as a part of the most popular heritage of the world, but at the same time they suffer from being one of the least respected. In most cases the people themselves are only perceived as alcohol addicts, derelicts and misfits[1] - a blemish in the immaculate and `white´ appearance of the nation.

In the recent decade the apparent trend was that working towards integration and equality for the Aboriginal people and the process of reconciliation with the rest of the Australian population were of special interest. But concerning these policies the question arises if improvement is actually realised or if these efforts are just exploited to sustain the illusion of a coherent society. It is to ask if integration is desirable at all as it may easily get connected with the loss of cultural identity. At this point it is questionable if the Aboriginal culture can exist next to the genuinely dominant western culture without getting absorbed.

A debate about the present deprivation and the solutions is essential for effective improvement to the situation of the Aboriginal people in futuretime. This study seeks to contribute to the debate by analysing the reasons for the failure of past policies, describing the present situation and proposing future prospects.

It begins with a brief historical overview of the encounter between the western civilisation and the secluded Aboriginal culture, a historic event which is deeply stigmatised by fatal lapses and calamities. This overview is followed by an examination of the present situation. The government´s policy of reconciliation is then examined and its results are evaluated. Finally, hopeful steps to end the struggle for survival are outlined. A short evaluation of the findings concludes the study.

B Aboriginal people today and their struggle for survival

I. Where did things go wrong

1. Historical background

Today it is assumed that about 50,000 years ago the first people arrived in Australia.[2] For several 10,000 years they were the only inhabitants of Australia, living together in peace and harmony.

The arrival of James Cook in East Australia in 1788 marks the end of the secure life of Aboriginal people.[3] The European invaders did not understand the traditions and ways of life of the indigenous people and, therefore, labelled them as “primitive savages”.2 In the following years Australia rapidly developed to an important economic power, which primarily required large landholdings. But the ever-growing demand of land and its exploitation, which coincided with the economic rise, did not fit the Aboriginal methods of conserving the land. In contrast to the white settlers, Aboriginal Australians did not perceive themselves as owners of the land but rather to be owned by the land.[4] When indigenous people tried to defend their land, Europeans made use of violence in order to get them out of the way. During the following years many Aboriginal people were murdered or died from diseases brought in by the white settlers.[5] At the time of the arrival of the Europeans the Aboriginal population was estimated to count between 300,000 and 900,000 people. Until the 1930s the number has decreased to 70,000 people. During the following years the number of indigenous people living in Australia has recovered not least due to a change in politics in the middle of the 20th century. In 2001, the number of Aboriginal people living in Australia was estimated to be 410,000 which makes up 2,2% of the total population.[6]

The end of World War II in 1945 and its resulting human rights movement are often considered to be a turning point in Aboriginal affairs. It has become evident in the 1940s and 50s that former policies have failed and led to the deprivation of the Aboriginal people.[7] The step to end their derogatory treatment began with a national referendum introduced in 1962, which was overwhelmingly supported by the Australian population, and gradually led to change in the attitude of the white Australians towards indigenous people. Aboriginal people were given full civil rights in order to encourage their autonomy instead of discriminating them any longer.[8] In 1972, the Gough Whitlam government replaced its predecessor William McMahon.[9] The following years were experienced as a time of hope and optimistic future prospects by Aboriginal Australians.8 Amongst others the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA) was created and the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act of 19769 together with the High Court´s Mabo judgement of 1992 should recognise Aboriginal Land rights in the Northern Territory.[10] But these optimistic years, which were marked by a substantial extension of native land rights harshly ended in the 1980s with the accession of power of the Hawke government.[11]

When evidence about shocking social conditions began to appear in the media it became clear that only fundamental policy reforms could give Aboriginal people the opportunities and choices of other Australians. By July 2006, The Ausralian was reflecting a widespread view when it editorialised that “Just as 40 years ago Aborigines and their allies in white society fought for indigenous rights, today the fight is to get Aborigines off the dole, away from the grog and into responsible working lives.”[12]

2. Land rights

When large amounts of uranium were found in Australia in the 1940s and 50s the state was determined to realise an increase in prosperity as uranium was a mineral of great value and increasingly demanded. Unfortunately, the big deposits were all found in Aboriginal land, which not only brought an end to their already restricted reclusive live in the few remote settlements, but implicated the risk of radiation fall-out and a serious health hazard. These concerns were mostly dismissed on behalf of government authorities until the explosion of two atomic bombs offshore Western Australia resulted in a temporary discontinuation of uranium mining. But when the Whitlam government came into power in 1972, and contemporaneously large amounts of uranium were found in Aboriginal Arnhem Land[13], the government made use of the Atomic Energy Act which had already legalised the search for uranium in Arnhem Land in 1953.[14]

At the same time the land rights question was reshaped and Aboriginal people were finally conceded in some points; the movement to return some land to the original inhabitants of Australia gathered momentum. Justice Woodward was appointed to put this symbolic act into practice and accordingly held a Commission of Inquiry into recognising Aboriginal land rights.[15] The Fraser Government stated Justice Woodward´s recommendations in the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act of 1976.[16] But additionally, Woodward supported the appointment of land trusts and land councils, which in turn hampered Aboriginal people to administer their land as this system of communal land ownership precluded any general oversight. Communal land ownership is complicated by a structure in which Land Trusts often actually own the land while land councils administer it.[17]

Today the land is still of great value for Aboriginal people as it not only helps them to retain their cultural identity but provides employment.

3. Stolen generations

The so called stolen generations represent one of the darkest chapters in Aboriginal history. These are the generations of Aboriginal children who were forcibly taken away from their families in the time between 1909 and 1969 to be assimilated into European society. This policy was managed by the Aborigines Protection Board (APB) and it´s long-term-objective was to “breed out” the Aboriginal race.[18] It is not known precisely how many children were actually taken away from their families during these years but experts estimate the number to be up to 100,000[19]. Most of them were of mixed background18 and younger than 5 years. After their removal they were brought up in institutions and churches, or fostered by white families to be trained for domestic and farming service.19

In 1995, a National Inquiry was finally established to find out more about the removal of Aboriginal children.19 It´s report “Bringing them home” described the devastating practices of a segregation policy18 based on human rights abuse. The removal of indigenous children was not only racially biased and thereby discriminatory, but an “act of genocide”. Despite some claim that children were removed for their own benefit the separation of children from their families had long term negative consequences. Many still suffer from low self-esteem and mental illness.[20] There is a great number of removed indigenous children, who have either found out about their real origin yet or have to lead a life caught between two worlds, not knowing which one they belong to[21] as they have been taught to reject their Aboriginal roots and original culture for such a long time.

A main issue of the report “Bringing them home” was the request for reparations which contained inter alia “restitution, rehabilitation and compensation”20 a formal apology from the involved governments, churches and charitable organisations. Aboriginal people had to wait for more than a decade until the government finally officially apologised in February 2008.[22]

II. Present situation

1. Housing

Although several rehabilitation programmes tried to solve the housing problem of Aboriginal Australians during the last years, they still suffer from extremely poor housing conditions in comparison to white Australians. First of all, most indigenous people can not afford the high prices in urban or rural areas and furthermore, they are not accepted by the local inhabitants, thus they are forced to occupy the less expensive houses on the outskirts and in the out-of-favour regions.[23] Most of the houses there lack the basic equipment to provide a convenient or bearable life for the inhabitants.[24] Because of their highly restricted financial means and due to their tradition of hospitality many Aboriginal people live together in very small houses and are afflicted with overcrowding.23 However, high occupancy leads to wearout and the need for repairs. Most of these houses burden their inhabitants financially as they are obliged to pay for maintenance work continually, which is a result of the reasonable prices which explain the bad construction of the houses. All those factors not really benefit to the situation of the Aboriginal people, just to the contrary. Many even blame them to be the “key factor of Aboriginal disadvantage and poor health” and consider housing conditions to be directly responsible for many of the most dysfunctional aspects of everyday life.[25]


[1] see: Leitner, Gerhard: Die Aborigines Australiens. p. 7

[2] see: Leitner, Gerhard: Die Aborigines Australiens. p. 11

[3] see: cultureandrecreation.gov.au - European discovery and the colonisation of Australia.

[4] see: Leitner, Gerhard: Die Aborigines Australiens. p. 23

[5] see: Leitner, Gerhard: Die Aborigines Australiens. p. 24

[6] see: Leitner, Gerhard: Die Aborigines Australiens. p. 70

[7] see: Griffiths, Max: Aboriginal Affairs 1967-2005: seeking a solution. p. 12

[8] see: Burger, Julian: Aborigines Today: Land and Justice. p. 65

[9] see: Griffiths, Max: Aboriginal Affairs 1967-2005: seeking a solution. p. 36-39

[10] see: Griffiths, Max: Aboriginal Affairs 1967-2005: seeking a solution. p. 109

[11] see: Griffiths, Max: Aboriginal Affairs 1967-2005: seeking a solution. p. 82, 89

[12] see: missionandjustice.org - Of substance and symbolism and 1967.

[13] The Arnhem Land is an Aboriginal reserve and nature protection area in the north of Australia. (taken out of Meyers Lexikon online)

[14] see: Griffiths, Max: Aboriginal Affairs 1967-2005: seeking a solution. p. 47

[15] see: Griffiths, Max: Aboriginal Affairs 1967-2005: seeking a solution. p. 48

[16] see: Griffiths, Max: Aboriginal Affairs 1967-2005: seeking a solution. p. 51

[17] see: Griffiths, Max: Aboriginal Affairs 1967-2005: seeking a solution. p. 49

[18] see: reconciliation.org.au - Stolen Generations Fact Sheet. [18] see: eniar.org - the stolen generations. [18] see: eniar.org - the stolen generations.

[19] see: reconciliation.org.au - Stolen Generations Fact Sheet.

[20] see: Keenan, Elizabeth: “Australia Learns to Say `I´m sorry´”.

[21] see: Burger, Julian: Aborigines Today: Land and Justice. p. 40

[22] see: Robson, Peter: ”Aboriginal housing crisis”.

[23] see: Burger, Julian: Aborigines Today: Land and Justice. p. 37-38

[24] see: unknown author: “Australia failing Aborigines on education, says survey”.

[25] see: unknown author: “Australia failing Aborigines on education, says survey”.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
558 KB
Catalog Number
14 Punkte
aborigines aboriginal people survival fight to survive present situation

Title: Aboriginal people today and their struggle for survival