Australia Day, 26 January, is the anniversary of the arrival of the fleet from Great Britain, and the raising of the Union Jack at Sydney Cove by its commander Captain Arthur Phillip, in 1788 .
Captain Phillip wasn’t the first European to arrive in Australia. Captain Cook had been there 18 years before. In 1768, The HMB Endeavour set sail from Plymouth, England under the command of Captain James Cook. The ship’s company of 94 men were instructed to make for Tahiti, where they would observe and record the transit of Venus across the face of the Sun. However, Cook also carried instructions from the Admiralty ordering him to explore the Southern Ocean in search of Terra Australis incognita – the unknown southern land.
The Endeavour entered the South Pacific via Cape Horn, reaching Tahiti in April 1769 where the crew observed the transit of Venus on 3 June. Cook’s instructions next took him south, where he was to determine the existence of a southern continent. The Endeavour circumnavigated and mapped New Zealand before travelling west, where on 19 April 1770 Cook spotted and claimed the east coast of Australia for the Crown. He named it New South Wales. On 22 April he made his first recorded direct observation of Aboriginal Australians, writing in his journal that they “were so near the Shore as to distinguish several people upon the Sea beach they appear’d to be of a very dark or black Colour but whether this was the real colour of their skins or the clothes they might have on I know not.”
The Endeavour followed the coastline northward, landing on 29 April in Botany Bay, named after the expedition’s naturalist, Sir Joseph Banks, who collected plants there. Continuing north, the Endeavour charted a dangerous course through the Great Barrier Reef, where on 11 June it ran aground. The Endeavour eventually limped to shore, where she underwent repairs in the Endeavour River. Cook rounded Cape York in August 1770 before making for the Dutch East Indies. The Endeavour and its crew finally reached England on 13 July 1771, having been away for almost three years.
Cook undertook two further voyages in 1772-75 and 1776-79, circumnavigating the globe and mapping much of the Pacific. While exploring the Hawaiian archipelago in 1779, Cook was killed by locals during a disagreement about the theft of a small boat.
Look at the complete article in the link – notice that it says Cook “discovered” Australia in the first line – does that seem at all odd to you? What does it mean “to discover” a country?
Can you discover a country when there are already people living there, or is your discovery actually an invasion of their land?
In 1770, when Captain James Cook landed in Botany Bay, he claimed possession of the East Coast of Australia for Britain under the doctrine of terra nullius (“nobody’s land”).
According to the international law of Europe in the late 18th century, there were only three ways that Britain could take possession of another country:
- If the country was uninhabited, Britain could claim and settle that country. In this case, it could claim ownership of the land.
- If the country was already inhabited, Britain could ask for permission from the indigenous people to use some of their land. In this case, Britain could purchase land for its own use but it could not steal the land of the indigenous people.
- If the country was inhabited, Britain could take over the country by invasion and conquest- in other words, defeat that country in war. However, even after winning a war, Britain would have to respect the rights of indigenous people.
- Why do you think Cook declared the land “terra nullius” even though he had seen Aboriginal people there?
- Which attitudes towards indigenous peoples are shown by his declaration of terra nullius? Have similar situations happened with indigenous peoples in other countries? What do you know about them?
- Do you think similar things could happen now, why/why not?
As the European settlers arrived in greater numbers in Australia, they expanded their territory by taking land from the Aboriginal people. The map below shows Australia divided into language groups. Originally, each of these language groups would have represented a different Aboriginal nation:
To have a closer look at the map, you can use the magnifying glass function here: http://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/articles/aiatsis-map-indigenous-australia (NB: This map has been found to contain some inaccuracies in border lines, and has missed or incorrectly placed some groups. AIATSIS has published a disclaimer that you can read in the link above).
Aboriginal people were moved away from their ancestral land. They were sent to live in reservations (called “missions”), such as the Yarrabah mission just south of Cairns in northern Queensland. You can read more about the history of this mission here:
Aboriginal people did not give up their land without a fight. For example, the Kalkadoon of northern Queensland fought hard against the settlers, culminating in the massacre at Battle Mountain in 1884. The Kalkadoon charged down the hill on the settlers, with approximately 200 men dying under the settlers´musket fire. It is estimated that altogether 900 Kalkadoon lost their lives during the years of the settlement.
You can read about the Kalkadoon, their culture, their resistance to the Europeans and the massacre at Battle Mountain here:
Find out more about the Kalkadoon of northern Queensland, using the links above, or an Aboriginal nation in another area of Australia, such as the Ngunnawal. Make a short presentation about their history before and after the European settlers arrived. Discuss the effects of European settlement on the Aboriginal nation you have chosen.
The Stolen Generations
The Aborigines Protection Board oversaw the mass dislocation of Aboriginal people. In 1869, the state of Victoria passed the Aborigines Protection Act, allowing the government to remove indigenous children from their families and place them in reformatories or boarding schools (a reformatory is modern day youth detention centre) . In 1905, Western Australia passed the Aborigines Act, establishing a Chief Protector to be the legal guardian of all Aboriginal children under the age of 16. In New South Wales, the Director of Native Welfare was the legal guardian of all Aboriginal children, regardless of whether their parents were living or not, up until 1965.
All other states in Australia quickly followed suit, enacting laws that gave a Chief Protector the authority to control nearly every aspect of Aboriginal life, including whom they could marry and where they could live and work. Aboriginal girls were sent far away from home to be trained for domestic service. The Aborigines Protection Board could take Aboriginal children from their families, without parental consent and without a court order.
The removal of children remained legal for about a century, until the last state repealed it in 1969. It is not known precisely how many Aboriginal children were taken away between 1909 and 1969. Poor record keeping, the loss of records and changes to departmental structures have made it almost impossible to trace many connections.
Almost every Aboriginal family has been affected in some way by the policies of child removal.
The Stolen Generations is a complex and painful topic. Two songs about the Stolen Generations are presented here.
(Source: Adapted from https://www.culturalsurvival.org/news/3-horrendous-anti-indigenous-laws)
To Aboriginal Australians, 26 January is not a date to celebrate, rather it is the date when the invasion of their country, massacre of their people and the destruction of their lives started. Many call it Invasion Day or Survival Day, and take part in protest marches on this day. They would like to move Australia Day to a date when all citizens of Australia can enjoy it. In the video below, produced in January 2016, several Aboriginal Australians explain how they feel about Australia Day:
Shawn Andrews, who owns and runs Indigicate, an organization that specializes in teaching Aboriginal culture and history, sums up the conflict about the date of Australia Day as follows:
- Do you think Australia Day should be moved? Why/why not?
- Does the country where you live have a national day? Why is this day celebrated?
- Are people of all backgrounds and cultures included in your national day? Why/ why not?
- Are national days a good idea or do they create situations where people can feel excluded?
- Are there other ways to celebrate a country that are more inclusive?
Write an essay where you discuss arguments for and against having a National Day, and consider the issues that may arise from it.
A. Stan Grant, an Australian journalist, made an important speech on the situation for Aboriginal people in Australia. Before listening, review your knowledge of rhetorical devices (or look here and here if you haven´t covered them in class).
Stan Grant starts off by referring to Adam Goodes and his experience of racism. Goodes is an Australian rules football player who came in the media spotlight in 2013, when he reacted to a supporter calling him an “ape” during a game.
Listen to Grant´s speech below:
- Which point is his making about the situation of Aboriginal people?
- Which rhetorical devices is he using in his speech?
B. A new advertisement for Australian lamb has just been released (Jan 2017). Although many people of all backgrounds like it, it is also causing some controversy in Australia. What do you think is the message of this advertisement? Why do you think Aboriginal people might react negatively to it?
The Cope Street Collective, a Sydney based group of Aboriginal scriptwriters and actors, have also made a parody of this advert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=feYtFmcaA_M