Genocide against Australian Aborigines
In much the same vein, we find ourselves now in Australia. There, attacks against traditional ways of life were no less effective in destroying the cohesion of an ancient people, associated with the continent for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years.
On August 22, 1770, Captain James Cook sailed into Botany Bay, the site of future Sydney Harbor, and proclaimed on behalf of His Majesty the discovery of the continent of Australia. What transpired then is a matter of common knowledge. Australia was established as a penal colony to absorb the unwanted of England, which in turn set the tone for more systematic settlement. This, of course, laid the foundation for the British dominion of Australia.
The effect of this on the aboriginal people was multifaceted, and none of it was good. The introduction of exotic diseases, against which the Aborigines had no natural immunity, might be regarded as an unintentional consequence, but it probably accounts for most of the early reductions in Aboriginal population. The introduction and free distribution of alcohol was another.
On a more systematic level, coordinated massacres of Aborigine populations began almost immediately, the first recorded incident being the Hawkesbury River Massacre of 1794. This was conducted in phases, and it was framed as a reprisal against Aboriginal theft, in particular of livestock.
Typically, minor acts of lawlessness on the part of a people unaccustomed to the concept of possession, of land ownership and livestock, were cited as reasons to attack and annihilate them. The more objective reason, of course, was the seizure and occupation of Aboriginal land, required for colonization and settlement. Recorded incidents of similar massacres, on a greater or lesser scale, continued until the early 20th century. In some instances, in particular, under the governorship of Sir George Arthur of Tasmania, cash bounties were offered on evidence of the killing of an aborigine. This was part of a phase of Tasmanian history known as the Black War, which, in combination with introduced diseases, effectively annihilated the aboriginal population of the island.
Figures, of course, are unreliable, but of an estimated population of some 750,000 indigenous Australians at the point of European arrival, only 50,000 or so remained at the turn of the 20th century. Once the direct annihilation of Aboriginal society by war or bounty had ceased to be politically tenable, a systematic attempt was made to deculturize and Christianize of Aboriginal children. The ‘Stolen Generation’ is the modern term for the removal from the care of their families and communities of half-caste and aboriginal children, and their placement in care of Christian missions and boarding schools. Although well-meaning, this policy, pursued until as late as the late 1960s, remains a scar on the conscience of modern Australia.
To date, Australian Aborigines remain marginalized and disadvantaged people, but modern concepts of cultural autonomy are helping with the slow rehabilitation and revival of an ancient society.