Aboriginal Oppression in Society

16th December 2013

Subordinated peoples’ knowledges, histories, and experiences have been left out of academic texts, discourses, and classroom pedagogies, or have been erased from them

(Sefa Dei, Hall & Rosenberg,2008)


When British settlers first arrived on the shores of Australia, the relationship of most non-Indigenous peoples to the land was one of fear and a desire to escape or return to Britain. Like it or loath it, it was these same people who began to write new stories, and new histories of a land regarded as “empty”. It is sad and unfortunate that the images that follow record portions of the worst of the stories these people chose to write. Although each describes its own history, it remain an individual piece in a lager depiction, following an all too familiar process of colonization, dual standards, oppression, marginalization and disassociation, Death and mistreatment, acquisition, and of the Social and cultural diaspora of indigenous peoples and societies, through direct and indirect means of governmental control.

An attempt has been made to sequence the images in the order that they were taken to show how much, or rather, how little change has been effected in the intervening years. So that as viewers, it becomes possible to understand a fraction of the pain and suffering has transpired throughout the short history of Australia.

Image 4

I1A group of Tasmanian Aborigines who made the journey to Oyster Cove.“The Last of the Race” Oyster Cove, Frances Russell Nixon, albumen print by Beattie Studios ca. 1890s, of 1858 photograph, (source: State Library of New South Wales, Bishop Nixon Collections).

For my own interest I have tried to identify as many individuals in this picture as possible and read a small amount about their individual stories. This picture importantly shows Kalamaruwinya and Trucanini. In the middle row is Tippo, Flora, Patty, Emma and Drayduric (Sohpia). Trucanini can be seen at rear, left. Wapperty (front left)

During the late 1820s racial conflicts in Tasmania had escalated culminating in what was known as the `Black War’. Following attacks on settlers, Colonel George Arthur decided “to deliver the knock-out blow that would bring the conflict to an end once and for all” (Reynolds 1995:117 cited Bringing them Home Report 1997), the `Black Line’. For 6 weeks upward of 2,000 men traversed the island in a costly and futile attempt to corall remaining Indiginous peoples onto two promontories. As warfare continued, beaurocrats sought alternate strategies to address `the Aboriginal problem’. One suggestion was a series of negotiations which offered protection, food, clothing and shelter away from mainland Tasmania. Under assent, the remaining Indiginous population was moved to Wybalenna settlement on Flinders Island. By 1835 more than 200 adult Aboriginal people had been compulsorily and officially reolocated, while 14 Indigenous children following assimilation policies were removed and found accomidations white families. Inadequate shelter, rations and freedom alongside disease proved a fatal combination for the Aboriginal internees such that in 1847 the 48 sole survivors were relocated to Oyster Cove.

Constructed in 1843, Oyster Cove was designed to house European convicts but, being deemed unsuitable, was abandoned in 1847. It was soon however, recomissioned as suitable accomidations for Tasmanian Aborigines. Following their 15 year incarceration at Wybalenna, the remaining Aboriginal people arrived to endured forced residency at Oyster Cove. Initial senses of elation at their new ‘luxurious’ surrounds soon fled beneath the persistance of their ‘British jailers’ to remodle them as submisive British servants, the deteriorating and unhealthy conditions, and the discoverey that children were not to live at Oyster Cove but were to be sent to Queen’s Orphan Asylum School in Hobart, to `adjust’ to non-Indigenous society. During ensuing years a continual decline in health, spirit and number was noted among Oyster Cove detainees and by 1859 only twelve had survived.

Image 3 shows a group of Aboriginal people who were transported to Oyster Cove Aboriginal Settlement. It was in all probablility taken by the photographer as a positive image displaying governmental gracefullness in providing for these people and allowing their return. Their return however, may also be discerned as a mollification of guilt, for what non-Indiginous people percieved as the ‘last’ of a distinct race, dying, at their hands, in a remote territory. Conversly, since this was taken following the removal of all children, it is unlikley that it is viewed positively by the Aboriginal people, rather it remains a stark reminder of the further abuse and enforced dispersal of their population. This image also presents an interesting puzzle. One individual, Tippo or Kalamaruwinya (born about 1812 at Kangaroo Point), seated on the far left, was reported to have remained at Wybalenna for a number of years following the 1847 move to Oyster cove and to have died at Wybalenna (Flinders Island) in 1860. Also of note is Trucanini, of the Nuenone people, widely considered to be the last full blood Tasmanian Aboriginal. She was taken to Hobart in 1874 where she lived for two years before passing away.

Image 5

I2Under the Act 2007 – etching with chine colle and lithographic techniques of the artists (Judy Watson Waanyi woman) great-grandmther  and her grandmother as a child.

An illustrated book about the removal of aboriginal children from their families

During the nineteenth century, few states have rivalled, and other than Tasmania none have surpassed, Queensland in its maltreatment of indigenous populations. (University of Queensland). Starting in Victoria, with the 1869 Aboriginal Protection Act, and soon followed by other states, Australian Indigenous and mixed descent children of were forcibly removed from their parents’ homes by a government claiming custodial authority. In Queensland, the location of the Artist, the first Act, ‘The Aboriginals Protection and the Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act, 1897’, and the subsequent ‘The Aboriginals Preservation and Protection Act 1939’, which provisioned for the appointment of the Director of Native Affairs, charged with the administration of the Act in the role of the legal guardian of every person of aboriginal decent, except mixed-race males over 16 years of age and living as Europeans (Department of Communities Child Safety and Disability Services 2001:1), meant that for almost 100 years the lives of Queensland Aboriginal people were strictly controlled. This image specifically pertains to the artist’s great-grandmother and grandmother who lived under the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of Sale of Opium Acts of 1897.

Under these Acts, the government sought to ‘protect’ Aboriginal societies from the corruption of early European settlers through their relocation to missions and reserves. Children were abducted, families destroyed, and communities devistated, the prologue for the successive Stolen Generations provided. These Acts allowed the ‘Chief Protector of Aboriginals’, ‘local Protectors’, relevant government departments, and church authorities to control virtually every aspect of the dialy lives of Aboriginal people including; prohibitations placed on mixed race marriage and even of inter-race couples without the prior consent of the Protector of Aborigines; to compel acceptance of unequal employment and wages, withhold wages without consent, and control what these wages could purchase; forcible displacment indiginous peoples; removal children without justification of neglect; mail censorship; and property seizure. Restrictive control was even maintained concerning the use and practice of traditional language and customs (Queensland Museum). The Act however, provided an automatic exemption for persons who had employment and who “in the opinion of the Minister satisfactory provision is otherwise made” (Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of Sale of Opium Acts of 1897, Section 10). Despite all these limitantions and prohibitations the Aboriginal people survived, but the effects of these restrictions continue to be felt by succeeding generations as they rebuild family networks and cultural links.

Interest in the image is generated not only as a result of the message being convayed, but also because of a direct interpersonal link between the artist and the documents chronicaling the lives of her family. In publicly providing this attestation of her family’s life in under the act, she has also provided an historic portrayal of all Aboriginal people who lived Under the Act. While it remains a positively captured image, of a mother and daughter celebrating the time that they had together, and the artist is positive not just toward the image content but toward Aboriginal people as a whole, it can be perceived to have been tainted under the negativity surrounding the circumstances through which it was revealed.

Image 1

I3The caption reads: A group of tiny half-caste and quadroon children at the Darwin half-caste home. The Minister for the Interior (Mr Perkins) recently appealed to charitable organisations in Melbourne and Sydney to find homes for the children and rescue them from becoming outcasts.

The hand-written note reads: I like the little girl in centre of group, but if taken by anyone else, any of the others would do, as long as they are strong. Photo: Australian Archives (“Between Two Worlds”)

Hagan (2013) citing Taylor (1992) proposed that frequently, Aboriginals were “dismissed as primitive or inferior people who made trouble”.  A generalized image that culminated in the implementation of monovalent state policies, by colonial officers, and resulted in the widespread oppression and diaspora of Aboriginal communities. One of these policies, The Northern Territory Aboriginals Act (No 1024 of 1910), like other similar acts, granted governments judicial powers, through the appointment of a ‘Chief Protector’, to oversee all Aboriginal affairs for the “protection, control and segregation of Aboriginal people” living in its territory (Kaartdijin Noongar). Departmental policy included the “remove[al of] children of mixed parentage as quickly as possible before the child could be accepted as a member of the community and identify with traditional ways and teachings (Pilkington, Under the Wintamarra Tree 2002:30). Commonly known as the Stolen Generations (1910 to 1970), approximately one in every three Aboriginal children, predominantly under the age of five, were forcibly removed from their homes and families (Price 2012:27), because the Australian government of the time believed that, as a race, they lacked a solid future. It was felt that these children would beneift far more greatly should they be raised by white families, particularly those of British decent. “No doubt the mothers”,according to a Northern Territory official, “would object and there would probably be an outcry from well-meaning people about depriving the mother of her child, but the future of the children should, I think, outweigh all other considerations” (cited Neill 2002:191). Numerous other state and federal statutes were legislated amidst an intent to ‘breed out’ color, help the young adapt to westernised society, and to “phase out” Aboriginal culture. Conceivably, the most frightening aspect of the protection and assimilation eras remains that so few white men controlled the futurity of so many, such that the unjust removal of Aboriginal children from their families, by the authorities, continues to effect contemporary Aboriginal societies today.

Image 1, published in a Darwin newspaper in the 1930s, is significant in portraying the abasement and suffering effected by the intrinsic racism within the Australian government’s Aboriginal assimilation policies. These policies went far beyond the sequestering of children from their families, but through the caption wording depicts an attitude where these children are sought for a life or indentured servitude bordering on slavery. There are stark similarities in the wording of the hand written note that one could confidently link it to the messages addressed to the American slave traders. Although the image depicts the chidren as strong, healthy, well-fed and holding presents, it is most likely that these children were carefully selected, and that the presents were only provided for the purpose of the photograph to provoke and air of compassion. Although unknown, it would be prudent to argue, based on the notion that the children are groomed and holding presents, that the photographers view of Aboriginal people is neutral bordering on positive, however it is also likely that he is there to capture the best possible, publically acceptible, image.

Image 3

I4Freedom route(Right) Rout taken by the Freedom Riders (AIATSIS)

American influences on the forms of Aboriginal protest arrived with the first generation to achieve tertiary education, with their wider access to sources of information (Bolton 1996:193). During the summer of 1965, empowered by the success of the Freedom Rides of the United States Civil Rights Movement, 29 students from the University of Sydney led by an Arrernte Aboriginal student Charles Perkins (notible the first Aboriginal Australian to graduate University – University of Sydney), embarked on a route that would lead them to travel through a number of towns in New South Wales, a ‘Freedom Ride’ that would change Australian history (Bolton 1996:193). Known as the ‘Students for Aboriginal Rights’ (SAFA), their journey had three aims;

“(i) to investigate race relations drawing public attention to the poor state of Aboriginal health, education and housing on reserves and in the towns, and thereby attract public pressure on governments to alleviate these conditions; (ii) to expose and lessen the social barrier which existed between the indigenous and white populations; (iii) to encourage and support the indigenous population to take an active role in resisting public discrimination” (National Museum Australia).

According to Perkins, the freedom ride, in his mind, was not so much for the “white people” but held a deeper objective of helping

 “Aboriginal people to realise, hey listen, second class is not good enough, you know. You don’t have to always be first class, but don’t always be second class. And don’t cop shit, you know, when you don’t have to. Andyou don’t want to have to live on river banks and in shanty huts and at the end of a road where there’s rubbish tips. Live in town. And you don’t have to have cocky white men sneaking around pinching Aboriginal women at night, you know. And the women not being able to say anything. And all these other things that went with it. Sitting down the front of picture theatres; not being able to sit in a restaurant, because nobody will allow you as an Aborigine to sit in a restaurant. That’s not on. And you know … and the timing was right. If I didn’t do it, somebody else would have done it. And other people have done it in a different way..” (Hughes 1998; goori2 2009)

It was about the voicing of Aboriginal perspectives at a stage where, discrimination and racial segregation existed throughout all aspects of Australian society, the local community, the workplace, and even the constitution. A constitution that was in need of dire review.

Relevant sections of the Constitution under review were:

“51. The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:-

 …(xxvi) The people of any race, other than the aboriginal people in any State, for whom it is necessary to make special laws.

127. In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives should not be counted.” (National Archives of Australia)

These revisions, although perhaps a reflection of prevailing social movements toward political transition within Indigenous affairs (New South Wales Government, Education and Communities, 2013), effected a change such that the social barrier that had existed between the white and Indigenous populations of Australia made tentative steps toward weakening. It was this social barrier that these “Freedom Riders” were attempting to break down and the referendum, held on 27 May, 1967, hailed a small but long awaited victory for Australian Aboriginal people. The omission of specific phrasing and alteration of the Australian constitution which discriminated against Aboriginal people (Section 51, Part (xxv1) and Section 127), thus granted Indigenous Australians citizenship (Brennan, 2011). This solidified to many the notion that although Aborigines had lived in Australia for a multitude of generation, they had not been legaly defined as Australian citizens, but rather as Perkins related, “second class” citizens.

The photograph, is likely of the original freedom riders since Wendy Watson-Ekstein (nee Golding) and Ann Cuthoys (AIATSIS) were both part of this group. Ostensibly captured for posterities sake and records a positive acount of the comradery that these students found during the course of the trip regardless of socio-cultural background, it is interesting to note is that there are 3 or 4 members unseen in the picture. Despite its positive appearance though it also records the founding precepts that SAFA focused on, ideas of control. As a group they worked toward the redressing and correction of injustices, not only though socio-political means, but also through the presentation of a united voice throughout rural areas, where previously there has been none, and through the provision of support to localised Aboriginal communities.

 Image 2


In perhaps what could be termed another move toward continued colonisation, oppression and control, this image fails all attempts at conceiling any sign of racial discrimination. In 2007 the Australian federal government announced the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act (NTER), also known as the Northern Territiory Intervention Act (Act No. 129 of 2007 repealed by Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Act (Act No. 101 of 2012) on 16 July 2012. It was claimed that these measures were enacted (i) in response to concerns from community elders over the adverse affects caused by child exposure to these items and (ii) in response to the Report of the Northern Territory Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse, 2007 (also referred to as the Little Children Are Sacred report), to target implied accusations of child abuse in Indigenous communities and related offences of substance abuse and pornography, among many other items (Social Justice Report 2007). Under this Act the posession or consumption of alcohol alongside the posession of pornography, whilst on aboriginal land, constituted an offence. Prior precedent of alcohol restriction to Australian Indiginous populations (for example section 28 of Queenslands ‘The Aboriginals Preservation and Protection Act 1939’) stem from early 20th century policies, through which state-controlled Aboriginal Protection Boards cited the ‘depraved’ lives of Aboriginal parents in advocation for the custodianship of Aboriginal children.

Possibly the most conspicuous consequence of the Intervention, and an exasperation among Indigenous communities, was been the erection of the ‘big blue signs’ proclaiming “Warning: Prescribed Area. No Liquor. No Pornography” (Image 2). It is difficult to comprehend what, in a period where unconventional images have become the ‘norm’ throughout social media, the photographer was thinking when taking this image. It is possible that it was captured by a passing tourist, who seeing this kind of sign for the first time observed it as a kind of novilty to be shared with friends back home. Perhaps it was a local who following the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill noted the sinage that began to appear. It is also equally, and possibly more plausible to suggest that it was captured as an illustaration, by a media or alernate public office, to depeict the descriminatory results of specific legislation as it is applied to Indiginous poeples through the creation of localised, and status type offences, where criminal sanctions are applied specific to Aboriginal inhabitants.

UNDRIP Article 3

Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

Allows for more direct and meaningful participation in decision making and political processes through freedom from discrimination and greater autonomy over their own affairs

Scope of self determination must be the same for indigenous peoples as for all peoples

(Cowan, 2013)

The implimentation of such methods contramines notions of free, prior and informed consent regarding changes that will affect indigenous peoples’ physical and spiritual environment (UNDRIP articles cited Franklin, 2013:239). Infact, the NTER Evaluation Report 2011 noted that “The signage announcing the exclusion of alcohol and pornography from designated areas was erected with little consultation. Members of some communities felt that, in erecting the signs, the government had unjustly branded all residents. Many Indigenous people described the signs as a government ‘shame job’”(DSS 2011:11), clearly in contrast to stipulations outlined in UNDRIP Article 3. Even if removed from view, the fact remains that the Federal Government required the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 to be lifted and amended in order to affect the NTER. 


In each of the images considered, not only the wrong can be portrayed. If one chooses to look deep enough there may, at times, be found reactions to fear, while at others, a benign attempt to improve the station or life of another. One example of this may be that, while most rightly condemn the forced removal of children from their mothers and the stolen generations as an act of genocide, it is also possible to interpret the intentions, likely as they themselves saw it at the time, as intent to improve the lives of aboriginal peoples. This form of confused righteousness alongside prevalent ‘Social Darwinist’ attitudes were communicated distinctly in a 1915 Parliamentary address, by a NSW board member who remarked that, “These Black Children must be rescued from danger to themselves, and from being a danger to the whole of the white population” he said, “They are an increasing danger, because although there are only a few full-blooded Aborigines left, there are 6000 of the mixed-blood growing up. It is a danger to us to have a people like that among us, looking upon our institutions with eyes different from ours.” (Marten 2002:231).

While easy to retrospectively condemn others, it is of greater importance to realize that colonization and its associated forms of oppression have been an ongoing process, one that in many ways continues to plague society today and, one that has not yet been redressed. Acknowledging and addressing various aspects of colonization will play an important role for future generations to be able to genuinely address these issues of past wrongs and indifferences, and begin to move forward.


Aboriginals Preservation and Protection Act of 1939 (3 Geo VI, No 6) (Austl.) (Qld.), Retrieved from http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/qld/hist_act/apapao19393gvn6507/

Aboriginal Protection Act 1869 (Austl.) (Vic.), Retrieved from http://foundingdocs.gov.au/item-sdid-22.html

Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 (Austl.) (Qld.) Retrieved from http://foundingdocs.gov.au/item-sdid-54.html

Australian Human Rights Commission, (2007). Social Justice Report 2007 – Chapter 3: The Northern Territory ‘Emergency Response’ intervention. Retrieved from http://www.humanrights.gov.au/publications/social-justice-report-2007-chapter-3-northern-territory-emergency-response-intervention

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AISTSIS), (nd.). Commemorating the Freedom Ride. Retrieved from http://www.aiatsis.gov.au/collections/exhibitions/freedomride/start.html

Brennan E. (2011). On this day: indigenous people get citizenship, Australian Geographic. Retrieved 23 September 2013, from http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/blogs/on-this-day/2011/05/on-this-day-indigenous-people-get-citizenship/

Bolton, G. (1996) The Oxford History of Australia, Oxford University Press Australia, Melbourne.

Cowan, A. (2013). UNDRIP and the intervention: Indigenous self determination,participation, and racial discrimination in the Northern Territory of Australia Pacific Rim Law & Policy Journal Vol. 22 No. 2 p. 247-310

Dei, S., G. Hall, B. L. & Rosenberg, D. G., (2008). Introduction in Dei, S., Hall, B. L. & Rosenberg, D. G., (Eds) Indigenous Knowledges in Global Contexts Multiple Readings of Our World. University of Toronto Press. Toronto.

Department of Communities Child Safety and Disability Services (2001). Cape York justice study report, vol. 2: a post-contact history of Cape York. (pp. 1-39). Brisbane, Qld: Department of Communities Child Safety and Disability Services

Department of Social Services (2011). Northern Territory Emergency Response Evaluation Report 2011, Australian Government. Retrieved from http://www.dss.gov.au/our-responsibilities/indigenous-australians/publications-articles/northern-territory-emergency-response-evaluation-report-2011

Franklin, J. A. (2013) Introduction Pacific Rim Law & Policy Journal Vol. 22 No. 2 p. 239-245. Retrieved from http://digital.law.washington.edu/dspace-law/bitstream/handle/1773.1/1232/22PRLPJ239.pdf?sequence=1

goori2. (2009, October 13). Charlie Perkins on 1965 Freedom Ride [Video file] Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Biy1fJXTGQ#t=20.

Hagan, S. and Hampton, R. (2013). KLN2001 Indigenous Knowledge and Australian Heritage: Introductory Book, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, QLD.

Hughes, R. (1998). Charles Perkins: Full Interview Transcript, Film Australia’s Australian Biography series. Retrieved from http://www.australianbiography.gov.au/subjects/perkins/interview1.html

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (1997). Bringing them home: report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families, HREOC, Sydney. Retrieved December 4 2013,  from http://www.humanrights.gov.au/publications/bringing-them-home-chapter-5

Kaartdijin Noongar – Noongar Knowledge (nd.). Impacts of Law Post 1905, South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council. Retrieved September 23 2013 from http://www.noongarculture.org.au/impacts-of-law-post-1905/

Marten, J.A. (2002). Children and War: A Historical Anthology. New York University Press, New York

National Archives of Australia (nd.). The 1967 Referendum [Fact Sheet]. Retrieved December 6 2013 from http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/fact-sheets/fs150.aspx

National Museum Australia, (nd.). Freedom Ride, 1965. Retrieved December 7 2013 from http://indigenousrights.net.au/section.asp?sID=33

Neill, R. (2002). White Out: How Politics is Killing Black Australia, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW.

New South Wales Government, Education and Communities (2013). Northern Territory Intervention. Retrieved December 10, 2013, from http://www.racismnoway.com.au/about-racism/timeline/index-1900s.html

Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 (Austl.) (NT) Retrieved from http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2007C00525

Pilkington, D. (2002). Under the Wintamarra Tree, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, QLD.

Price K. (2012). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education, An introduction for the teaching profession, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, Vic.

Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Austl.) Retrieved from http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2013C00013

Report of the Northern Territory Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse (2007). Retrieved from http://www.inquirysaac.nt.gov.au/pdf/bipacsa_final_report.pdf

Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Act 2012 (Austl.). Retrieved from http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2012A00101

The Northern Territory Aboriginals Act (No 1024 of 1910) (NT). Retrieved from http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/sa/num_act/tntaa1024o1910436/

University of Queensland, (nd.). Under the Act in Queensland. Retrieved December 5, 2013, from http://www.library.uq.edu.au/fryer/1967_referendum/act.html


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s