Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Australian Aborigine

A lot of people when they think of Australia, is that it is inhabited predominantly by white people. Today this would be true, however they were not the first people on the Australian continent. In fact they are not even indigenous. The first people to arrive on the continent, arrived some 40,000 years ago, these people are known as Indigenous Australians, we know them more commonly as "Aborigine."

Indigenous Australians are the original inhabitants of Australia,as well as other nearby islands. The are perhaps descendants of the first modern humans to migrate out of Africa some 70,000 years ago, arriving in Australia 20,000 years later. Much like the derogatory stereotype of the African continent, there is no one such ethnic group to defines the indigenous people,as a whole, where in fact there are several tribal groups of Aborigines people on the continent. for example there are the "Koori" whom the Europeans first came into contact with upon establishing the colony of New South Wale in what is now modern day Sydney. And then there was the ethnic group of indigenous people that my brother and I lived around in Townsville, the "Murri," among others.

Historically speaking the Aborigine population was never really too big. before the arrival of settlers it is presumed that there population as a whole consisted of less than one million, or 750,000 to be more accurate. There numbers did not decline until after (surprise surprise) the  British colonization of the Botany Bay area (Sydney) in 1788. One immediate consequence of British settlement was a series of European epidemic diseases, especially measles and smallpox. In the 19th century, smallpox was the principal cause of Aboriginal deaths. An example of population decline would be the smallpox epidemic in 1789 in which 90% of the "Darug" people were killed due to the lack of an immune system to counter European illnesses. Other factors for the Aborigine population decline blatant genocide (especially in the Northern Territory) as well as the appropriation of land and water resources, which continued throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries as rural lands were converted for sheep and cattle grazing. In which case several tribes land were taken from them and settled over by British farmers.

During the 20th century the indigenous population of Australia had declined to approximately 93,000, and by the 1930's to just 74,000. That was was the lowest number before their numbers began to recover soon afterward. Then there was the horrific "Stolen Generation" lasting from 1909 until well into the 1970's in which case both the Australian federal government and the state governments deliberately taken away (Kidnap would be a more appropriate word to define this six decade long event)  from their families under the guise and excuse of "child protectiveness." The government at the time felt that indigenous children were being neglect and abused under their parents traditional ways. Though this was entire fabricated, as the government knew of the Aboriginal population decline and wanted to... speed up the matter. Nevertheless the process of forced child removal ended by 1973, and in 2008, then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made and official apology to members of the stolen generation, whom many still suffer issues from today.

As for my official experience with Indigenous Australians, especially the mainland Aborigine, I thought they were pretty cool. The first groups that I met was a family waiting at the bus stop my first week in Townsville, and could  not stop staring at them because... well I had never seen or met and Aboriginal person before in my life. I had heard about them in books (never on TV) but never actually got to sit next to one. I was so amazed by them, I just could not take my eyes off of them. As for their opinion on my brother and I, they seemed to be more curios about us than they we were about them. One day we were in downtown Townsville for the day, and two came to talk to us. we had a great conversation about... who knows what, and then what made our conversation even more powerful and emotional was that when it was time for my brother and I to leave to go home... they called us their "Brothers." You could not imagine how much jubilation wen through my entire body from just that one saying... I literally almost started crying when the bus left to take me home. That was something that never happened to me before; complete stranger calling me their brother... that was just ecstatic. On the street we lived on there were several aborigine families on it and their children were just fascinated with us. almost everyday they would ask us questions like where we were from and what the United States was like. Some of them even asked if they could come with us back to America. when we would take casual walks they would say hi to my brother and I, and to be real honest it made us feel really good about ourselves, especially since you DO NOT see these acts of kindness anywhere in the United States. Another thing that I especially loved about them was, not just because they were blatantly awesome and cool to have a conversation with, but the fact that they are an extremely proud race of people, even more than white Australians. They have been through so much throughout the history since their first contact with Europeans, and yet they have never let that get to them, something that I wish could be done here in America, where we have caste system for everything.

To me the Aborigine people made me feel really good about myself, especially the children, because they really looked up to me in a way, and because of that I really appreciate them a lot for it. When I first encountered them, I figured that they were like the Native Americans here and that they preferred to be secluded within their own. However that was not the case, and I learned that they are an outgoing race of people who tend not to let the worst situation consume them. Basically when they world gives them lemons, they make lemonade out of it. The culture and artwork are so amazing to me, and it really reminds me a lot of artwork found all across Africa. When I do go back to Australia, I personally would not mind coming across the Aborigine and the way of life again. In fact I just may like to study them for what I would like to do as a historian.

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