Just Who are Aussies?

Aboriginal childThe question of Australia as a race of people is an interesting one. Just what makes up Australia as a race? Many would say Aboriginal Australia is the only race in Aus that could qualify as an Australian race and I would disagree. It comes down to just what makes the term Aboriginal relevant. What is an Australian Aboriginal?

The pic I have used in this article here is of an Aboriginal child. I know for a fact that this child is Aboriginal, in fact her Grandmother is a Traditional Owner and her full siblings are more Aboriginal in features as well as fact.

We are not talking traditional Aboriginal tribal people, very, very few of these people exist if they exist at all in today’s world and if they do exist … why would they join us? Anthropologists will tell you that the traditional tribal Aboriginal race ceased to exist in its purest form in the 1930’s. Today there are near half a million people who see themselves as Aboriginal and many more who can claim aboriginal descent but also have what is largely a convict ancestry from the Colonial Australian era.

It may come as a surprise but Aboriginality has not been defined under our Law and many for whatever reason use the word as a euphonious term. Blonde and red haired people, often with light skin are not unknown in Aboriginal communities and this is a consequence of an ancient genetics. I have known of others who have these traits and are Aboriginal, their Aboriginal links often forced onto Aboriginal communities by proud mothers where the connection can’t be denied. The most tragic was of a young man who was subject to deplorable and illegal racial treatment by his indigenous family to the point of suicide and it is a tragic reality within our Australian communities … Racism is abhorrent in all its forms!

handiesThe Country Australia was born relatively independent of England in 1901, by then many of the population saw themselves as Australian and welcomed the break from a small country on the other side of the world, even though we retained our ‘Commonwealth links’ and still do.

When I was in the UK some years ago I remember then thinking that it would be hilarious if the UK became a Republic before Aus. did and if you listen to some, it is just as likely to happen.

The population of Aus. is diverse but at the turn into the 1900’s we had moved well away from Colonial Australia and into a brave new if somewhat flawed world making some really good, and really bad decisions and forming what was often divisive legislation.

working togetherSo who are Australians? There are now around 23 ½ million of us, of which a million live outside the country. There are about ½ million Aboriginal Aussies, most of mixed race descent. We were one big penal settlement originally but by the 1840’s our free population overtook our convict population so we spent the first 75yrs as a largely convict settlement where many atrocities were committed against all racial groups. It was around then that the view of ourselves began to change as much as in reality as concept and we shook off our convict shackles in the 1850’s outlawing the inhumane practice of shipping people half way around the world for petty crimes such as stealing food to feed families and stave off starvation and other menial crimes as well as some pretty serious ones, mostly to do with stealing and surviving.

Generally we are considered to be English, but the reality could not be more from the truth. Our convicts came from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England (these are actually separate countries tied into a Commonwealth) as well as a sprinkling from elsewhere in the colonies and some who were indigenous and convicted of various crimes in the colony. All of our convicts wore shackles when they were moved around though you only see these depicted where people are extoling racist issues about Aboriginal tribal men. Shackles were not a racial issue but one of constraint and control.

GoldpanningMany of our emigrants who came after the 1860’s in the era of emigration left from English ports but they were not English. They were Scottish, Irish, German, Prussian etc. with a sprinkling of those, mostly quite early in our history from ‘Mother England’. For some reason I always choke on that phrase, the mothering we got was particularly bad and negligent in the extreme. It was more neglect than mothering, which is largely why we turned our back on England and the social strata it attempted to impose on us. However there were class differences, those of the Currency kids compared with those of the Sterling class. Soon though the Currency Kids outnumbered the Sterling and the Sterling took on the derogatory term meant for the Currency Kids. The Poms never quite recovered from that in Aus. and they viewed us largely in terms of a currency than a colony.

Our then indigenous population were of a tribal co-dependant traditional and living a very spiritual way of life for the many mobs and tribes of Aus. This way of life gave way to the more co-dependent life attached to the settlements that was easier than the daily hunt for food and a simpler lifestyle. One not stressed by the need to hunt, walk great distances and deal with the precarious demands of tribal living. Alcoholism, substance dependence and religion aided and abetted by charity and patronization along with the simple desire of people to help out each other became a dependant way of life for much of Aboriginal Australia. It is thought that 2/3rds of the Aboriginal population was decimated by diseases that they had no immunity to within the first decades of colonization and this was followed by the murder of tribal mobs by both whitefella’s and blackfella’s. Some are shocked to discover that the Native Police of the colonial era, most active in northern NSW and Qld hunted their own people.

IThe huntt should be understood that the tribes of Aus did not see themselves as a unified culture as they do today largely, but essentially family groups who lived within clan territories and traded with other clan groups and so on. Fighting was a strong tradition and the prerequisite of the warriors, a mark of their strength and prowess one often associated with initiation. There was little shame attached to retribution or payback within the culture and this was muddied by custom in claiming wives and assimilation of the two predominant cultures of the Blackfella and the Whitefella. If you want to view the system of payback as a Lore, take a look at recent events in New Guinea and judge for yourself.

Many found a way to adapt and others were shown a way to assimilate, choices were made, not all of them good. But not all of them bad either as most of what was an ancient people, living a way of life lived since the Dreamtime moved towards the modern way of living, which the rest of the world had developed. This was a choice, whether for the good or bad.

There are those who are quite pissy about this form of progress for their culture, though few could survive within their ancient cultural strictures. You usually find that in their own lives they are seated well away from the tribal existence and the culture once lived by an ancient people. What makes them pissy is the reality of dealing with todays Aboriginal cultural trends, not yesterdays. They often would have it with all the privileges and rights, without the inherent responsibilities.

Some Aboriginal settlements have huge social and structural problems, which have grown from ignorance, neglect and social poverty. The reality is that Australia began to catch up with the rest of the world some 200 years ago, for good or bad and it was an inevitable step for all of us to attempt to keep pace with what is a global sociology.

In my research over many years, given my interest in the peoples history of my country I have found that much that is valuable in what had been a deeply spiritual Aboriginal culture had been lost. This post was planned to be about research and resources but I have decided to approach this topic instead. If you were looking for the resources info. you expected, sorry but wait for it … it is coming.

Not all of the tribal Aboriginal culture was enviable, nor was much of it desirable. Which is likely why the Aus. Aboriginal people moved towards the westernized lifestyle quite voluntarily in general despite what Aboriginal activists will infer. Those who chose not to join the rest of Aus. in its development moved deeper into the quiet places of this vast continent and here, unfortunately is where the worst of abuses and cultural poverty is now occurring though not uniformally. There are however vast numbers of our indigenous people who are quite happy living where they live, and how they live. They see themselves as simply Aboriginal Australians, or even just Australians and this is the quiet majority. I know many such Australians and they ask to be simply allowed to do as they choose to do.

A small number of the indigenous people wanted the conveniences, financial advantages and commodities of civilization without understanding the commitments and demands required. The consequences of such lifestyles they ask for is in general an unknown factor, particularly related to the development of their settlements and towns.

Many of these indigenous settlements did not have a commercial basis as with the development of a township, but their growth was based on social and financial support that none of us could either afford or sustain long term. This support is often more patronizing than practical and unless the people of these communities resolve this individually or as a group themselves (as some do very well) we are never going to see an end to these social problems.

GreifThe least desirable of this ancient culture in my eyes was the status of women, which was one determined by men largely, as women were viewed as lesser creatures as with most other cultures of the time. Aboriginal cultural practices supported integration of the races in interracial relationships as much as isolation did for men who were opening up the vast often remote area’s of the country. Indeed in Aboriginal tribal culture (not Lore) women were viewed as creatures without a spiritual capability and a commodity of trade. You can read about it in a post posting ‘To Own a Woman’ even though the women had their own lore and their own spiritual presence. To me this simply indicates the need for the male to feel superior in much the same way that bullies will dominate playgrounds the world over. While you can find a type of admirable equality amongst socially educated Aboriginal men and women, you can also find the need to subjugate amongst others as with the world over, generally where the physically stronger of the sexes feels without power or purpose where they once held the traditionally stronger position. Here abuse becomes rife.

Strangely enough, as I delved deeper into this ancient lore I found that women did have a place. It was one I found at the heart and the pinnacle of their cultural spirituality. It was found in legend buried deep and usually in the legend of the strongest of the spiritual creed. It was largely a hidden apex of this ancient world.

Bush lifeAboriginal Australia was not the only social group to struggle with adapting to a new world but it was perhaps the most unsuccessful, leaving the push of their fight for equality to the mid 1900’s. Convict Australia also struggled deeply, as did Asian Australia and many of the people of the Pacific Islands who made their way to the continent by way of contract, work (forced or otherwise) or in seeking wealth. There were many abuses, often an abhorrent lack of civil rights and decency and diverse racial controversy across and between all sectors, not simply the Aboriginal sector, something that is often overlooked.

There were in Australia’s history many abhorrent legislative abuses, those dealing with Asian, Aboriginal and Convict Australia. The first groups to overcome these abuses were the convicts and those of convict descent when society demanded the cessation of the convict system in the 1850’s although many of their descendant’s remain living in poverty even to this day.

Asian Australia was dealt a dreadful blow by the deportation of many Asian Australians when the Government adapted the racially decisive and corrupt ‘White Australia Policy’. Around the same era that the Government adopted the ‘Assimilation Policy’ for Aboriginal Australia and many abuses occurred the consequences of which move into the present day. Also however given the breakdown of the Aboriginal tribal way of life, there were already many social abuses occurring in Aboriginal Australia at this time, which led to the formation of this policy. The policy itself however proved to be corrupt and corruptible. Racist’s social policies were rife in this era as England struggled for relevance within our society. I am pleased to say they largely failed aside from within our Education system.

These policies were no more than the English desire to impose upon Australia their own class and social structure. It didn’t work well because Australians are not English, we aren’t even a majority of English but a diverse population of many cultural influences. At the end of the last century approx. only 35% of the population identified as being of English descent, with 75% identified as being born in Aus. and Australian. When the rest of the world began to move into Australia as emigrants in the 1860’s – 1890’s, there were estimated to be ¾ million Aboriginal Australians in a sustainable population. Within the first 75yrs of Colonial Australia this number of indigenous Australians were reduced to around ¼ million by diseases against which they had no immunity and by social anarchy as the country moved into settlement and a colonial legislative structure.

What is largely forgotten as mentioned, with the abuses and racial massacres that occurred largely in Queensland, is that these abhorrent human rights abuses were often an extension of what were tribal practices. The Aboriginal Native Police were largely involved in these massacres and while there are those who would have you believe that they were acting solely and mindlessly at the bequest of the English and indeed were under their control largely, they were acting against other tribes and saw no error in their violent practices.

The art of war or fighting for men in tribal relationships was a large part of their cultural identity and related to their own view as ‘warriors’. It was this practice that was adulterated towards the purpose of the English military and police, in those who were largely tribally dispossessed Aboriginal men. Aside from a few socially corrupt vigilante’s these historic massacres, knowledge of which was largely suppressed, was horrific but they were undertaken by White-men and Aboriginals, against tribal Aboriginals and often but not always under the direction of the authority of the day. Which is probably one of the many reasons why Aussies of all cultures have such distaste for authority.

We need some sanity and reality in our social history instead of having it consistently hijacked to whatever purpose. It is about time we began teaching our history with some sense and reality… all of it! Not just a sanitised version bent to some ones purpose.

Jan Hawkins – Author

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4 thoughts on “Just Who are Aussies?

  1. Pingback: Just Who are Aussies? | Intercultural Effective...

  2. Pingback: The Links Between Education and Racism | Jan Hawkins Author

  3. Thanks … the most heart wrenching comment I have ever heard, I quote “I am too black for the whitefella, and too white for the backfella” I truly believe that neither culture or race should be defined by shade or colour. Yet it often is.

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