Australia’s aboriginal population has suffered a history of paternalistic government control. They were regarded as children in their own countries, forced to gain permission for the actions their countrymen took for granted. Their movements were regulated, their employment potential stagnated, and the Protector of Aborigines needed consultation before they could marry (Noyce, 2002). With the forced removal of Aboriginal children to settlements, parents had to petition to see their own children. In the Film Rabbit-Proof Fence(2002) A.O. Neville is shown in a seminar suggesting the racist “breeding out” of the Aborigines.
In this film, three half-casts run away in 1931 from a settlement at Moore River, north of Perth. For nine weeks they walk the Rabbit-Proof fence which leads back to their home in Jigalong to return to their mothers. The plight of these children highlights the struggle of a people who were made strangers in their own country;whose right to self-determination was taken (Noyce, 2002). These girls epitomize Australia’s stolen generation.
This forced assimilation truncated traditional culture (Indigenous, 2006). By the late 19th century, a majority of Aboriginals had joined the fringes of white communities. Economically, they had meager contribution and suffered illness and death from European diseases they had no immunities against. Their population did not dwindle so much as disappear. Whole tribes vanished.
In an effort to acculturate the children, they were stolen from their families and therefore lost their connection to belief, folklore, and language. The Aboriginals transfer their traditions orally. The further they are taken from their indigenous lands and their language, the more of Australia’s oldest culture is forgotten (Indigneous, 2006). By 1996, 72% of Aboriginals considered themselves Christian. A faith based on a reverence for the land was replaced by a faith of their oppressors. They reside now on the remote settlements of former missions. Eleven times more likely to be imprisoned, these youths are less likely to attend university or overcome the economic conditions of their forbears (Indigenous, 2006).
These Indigenous Australians have the potential for self-government and have made great strives towards this since 1963 when the Commonwealth election granted them the right to vote (Indigenous, 2006). A 1967 referendum allowed Aboriginal voters to be counted in the determination of electoral representation. This was Australia’s largest affirmative vote, passing with a 90% majority (Indigenous, 2006). It allowed the Commonwealth to make laws respecting Aboriginal people.
The 1970s marked a major civil rights movements for this culture. It was fueled primarily by land and property rights. They sought to regain the land forcibly taken by the British and thus reestablish themselves in their native home (Siasoco, 2006). These men and women established their own Tent Embassy on the steps of Parliament, demonstrating their sense of absence from their own country. It took until 1975 for the Whitlan government to draft the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Siasoco, 2006).
In 1998, Australia acknowledged their wrongdoing in a National Sorry Day (Siasoco, 2006). This is a monumental movement towards understanding between two cultures taught to segregate. Aboriginals are not the children they were made out to be, not the criminals they are often seen as, and not as simple as some may like. They have suffered second class citizenship in their own country, removal from their homes, loss of their way of life. Though much has not survived this exploitation, those that have continue to fight for equality. Let us hope they find it.
Indigenous Australians (30 November 2006). Retrieved December 01, 2006, from Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Web Site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IndigenousAustralians#Impact
Noyce, Phillip (Producer and Director). (2002). Rabbit-Proof Fence [Motion Picture]. Miramax Films.
Siasoco, Ricco V. Aboriginal Australia: History and Culture of Australia’s Indigenous Peoples (2006).
Retrieved December 2, 2006, from Infoplease.com. Web Site: http://www.infoplease.com/