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Aboriginal Resistance to White Settlement

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    When white settlement of Australia began in 1788 the continent was already inhabited by Aborigines. Aborigines did not have permanent homes; they lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle constantly moving to where food and resources would be.

    They did not build shelters or dwellings; nor did they wear clothing and they had tools and weapons made only of either stone or wood. They lived off the land and regarded it very highly as a part of themselves. To Europeans however this meant Australia was terra nullius meaning since there were no dwellings and limited residents, Australia was free for the taking .In taking the land they ignored the Aboriginal peoples rights to land they had occupied for thousands of years.

    They had little regard for Aborigines as they saw them on the lowest rung of society, even lower then convicts. Initial contact between Europeans and Aborigines appeared to be peaceful. But as settlements were becoming established and farmland developed; conflict was inevitable. This was the start of Aboriginal resistance to white settlement in Australia.

    Initially, the Aboriginal people greeted explorers and early settlers with friendship and hospitality.It soon became obvious to the Aborigines however that the Europeans intended to permanently stay on their land. The Aboriginal people were not okay with this. When European settlers took over Aboriginal peoples land; they destroyed vegetation and indigenous wildlife without a single thought for the Aboriginal people.

    Aboriginal people’s ceremonial and religious life was disrupted and important sacred Aboriginal sites where destroyed by settlement. They also forced Aborigines to move onto less then desirable land; generally away from water usually forcing them inland.As depletion of indigenous flora and fauna continued Aborigines turned their attention to European sources for food. Aborigines felt there was nothing wrong with what they were doing because they were now sharing their land with the settlers.

    The settlers did not see it this way however; they saw it as an act of defiance and something they would not put up with. Many misunderstandings like this occurred between Europeans and Aboriginal people early in the colonisation of Australia. The differences between the European and Aboriginal cultures were very apparent even to the early settlers.Misunderstanding existed on both sides.

    The Aboriginal people had no knowledge of European customs and values. They did not understand the European idea of ownership. In the beginning, they were willing to share details of their lives and knowledge of the land with Europeans. In return they expected the settlers to share their tools, animals and food with them .

    When this didn’t happen they started to make surprise attacks on isolated settlers; they would generally spear sheep and cattle before disappearing back into the landscape.Europeans lived in small numbers; so these tactics created widespread fear. The settlers sometimes became defeated and ended up abandoning their farms. At times whole communities felt the impact of Aboriginal hostility.

    Aboriginals had a deep knowledge of the land; they appreciated it and used it for religious and spiritual life as well as food survival. Europeans however saw it as a commodity. They believed that the economic value was far too important to let Aborigines get in their way. Desecration and dispossession were not the only reasons for aboriginal resistance to white settlement.

    Aboriginal women were also a major cause of conflict between white and black during the early years of settlement. It is estimated at the time of Europeans arrival, there was only one white woman to four white men until after 1820. Being that most of these men were convicts; this was not a good thing for the Aboriginal women who faced the very likely prospect of sexual assault and rape . In saying that however, initially Aboriginal men thought they were being hospitable when they would offer their women for sexual favours.

    In return Aboriginal men demanded the settlers’ food and supplies.When food and supply demands were not met Aboriginal people would then became violent. Many aboriginal attacks on Europeans were motivated by revenge for previous injury or insult. In Tasmania in particular, the small number of white females among the farmers, sealers and whalers, led to the abduction of Aboriginal women as sexual partners and Aboriginal children as labourers.

    These practices increased conflict over women among Aboriginal tribes and were also a contributing factor to the instigation of the Black War in Tasmania.During 1803 – 1830 a conflict of great significance known as the Black War occurred. It occurred on Van Diemen’s Land now commonly known as Tasmania. The Aboriginal people put up a brave fight during what can been described as a horrific time in Australian history.

    In Van Diemen’s Land in a single month during 1828, twenty two inquests were heard relating to settlers deaths. It was evident from this Aborigines were very serious about resisting settlement. Not long after this event however, Martial Law was declared; this was a huge turning point for Europeans.Even though the Aboriginal people put up a gallant fight they were not match for the firepower of the Europeans.

    The black war ended in 1830 when Governor George Arthur decided he needed to force Aborigines off Van Diemen’s Land. He did this by gathering all the white men and boys and making them line up and chase the aborigines off the land. This was known as the “black line”. Some historians claim the “Black line” was a huge success, while others suggest the amount of resources and manpower that went into this mission it wasn’t very successful.

    In my opinion it probably was successful because they eventually got the desired effect. Not long after the “black line” ended. There were only estimated to be 200 Aborigines left on Van Diemen’s Land in 1830. These 200 aborigines were then taken to Flinders Island by a Christian missionary called George Robertson; during the journey he acquired the assistance of an aboriginal woman by the name of Truganini .

    She proved very helpful to Robertson but like many interpreters of her time she was used and when he didn’t need her anymore she was just disregarded.Please note; of the 200 people they took to Flinders Island approx 15 people survived. By this stage Europeans diseases and illness was beginning to plaque Aborigines and most of them didn’t survive the journey. Many Aborigines fought hard to resist the spread of white settlement.

    One of the first leaders of this resistance was Pemulwuy, a member of the Eora descent. In 1790 Pemulwuy speared and killed Governor Phillip’s gamekeeper John Macintyre, a man he believed to be responsible for mistreating Aborigines.In retaliation, Phillip ordered his soldiers to capture or kill six people from Pemulwuy’s tribe. Such an action was uncharacteristic of Phillip, but it showed that he did not believe that Aboriginal people had to be treated according to the same laws and Europeans.

    Pemulwuy was responsible for organising small groups of Aboriginal warriors to attack British farms, small towns and troops around Parramatta and Toongabbie. Many settlers abandoned their properties as the raids continued.Soldiers were soon ordered to patrol farming areas and protect the settlers. Pemulwuy and his warriors then began using fire as a weapon.

    They lit fires in the hope of destroying the British farms, fences, crops, stock, houses and supplies. The British responded by organising revenge attacks against the Eora people. Pemulwuy was one of the people first to show the British settlers that the Aboriginal people were going to do their best to resist the invasion. Aboriginal resistance to white settlement was widespread throughout Australia.

    In many parts of eastern and southern Australia before the 1850s Aboriginal communities fought successful guerrilla style campaigns against the invaders of their land. In saying that though; it is estimated that some 2,500 European settlers and police died during the colonisation of Australia and as for the Aboriginal people however the cost was far higher: about 20,000 are believed to have been killed during the wars against settlers. Some of these aborigines died from foreign illness and disease; mostly however, they died from violence generated by the European people.Generally conflict was triggered by the misunderstanding and the possessiveness of settlers towards the land.

    At lot of retaliation occurred of both sides during the conflict. Aboriginal people fought hard for a land they had no chance of winning. White settlers’ did get a shock when they realised the Aborigines were not giving up their land without a fight but the man power and technology settlers’ utilised was far beyond the Aborigines years. Aboriginal people have adapted too many changes over their long history and they will, in the end.

    Survive the coming of the white man.

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    Aboriginal Resistance to White Settlement. (2017, May 17). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/aboriginal-resistance-to-white-settlement/

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