History of Australia and Aboriginal People

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Good morning all here I am this somewhat wet morning thinking about what to write about and after some thought decided I would tell you a little bit about the history of this country and the Aboriginal people who have lived here since way back when.

Europeans arrived in and yes I know some would say invaded this country way back in 1788, back then the locals known as Aboriginals lived here for some say thousands of years, wandering around this great country and living off the land.

“… they were so ignorant they thought there was only one race on the earth and that was the white race. So when Captain Cook first came, when Lieutenant James Cook first set foot on Wangal land over at Kundul which is now called Kurnell, he said oh lets put a flag up somewhere, because these people are illiterate, they’ve got no fences. They didn’t understand that we didn’t need fences … that we stayed here for six to eight weeks, then moved somewhere else where there was plenty of tucker and bush medicine and we kept moving and then come back in twelve months’ time when the food was all refreshed …” the late Aunty Beryl Timbery Beller

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I will not pretend to understand how the Aboriginal people feel about other Australians because I don’t know, what I do know is that the way they were treated was disgusting we can’t undo what was done we can only do better in the future.

What I do know that it must have been scary having all these strangers arrive in their country, strangers who brought with them new unknown diseases that the locals had no idea how to treat. These diseases would have caused so much suffering and death for the locals.

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It is estimated that over 750,000 Aboriginal people inhabited the island in 1788. It should be noted that the colonists were led to believe that the island was “terra nullius” (no ones land) which is what James Cook declared the country to be in 1771 during his voyage around the coast of the country.

We found the natives tolerably numerous as we advanced up the river, and even at the harbour’s mouth we had reason to conclude the country more populous than Mr Cook thought it. For on the Supply’s arrival in the [Botany] bay on the 18th of the month they assembled on the beach of the south shore to the number of not less than forty persons, shouting and making many uncouth signs and gestures. This appearance whetted curiosity to its utmost, but as prudence forbade a few people to venture wantonly among so great a number, and a party of only six men was observed on the north shore, the governor immediately proceeded to land on that side in order to take possession of this new territory and bring about an intercourse between its new and old masters.
Watkin Tench, January 1788

It is now believed that the Island continent was in fact owned by over 400 different nations at the time of Cook’s claim that the island was no ones land. In fact Captain Philip was astounded with Cook’s theory saying “Sailing up into Sydney cove we could see natives on the shore shaking spears and yelling” so how could Cook say the land was no ones.

For thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans, northern Sydney was occupied by different Aboriginal clans, living mostly on the foreshores of the harbour were they fished and hunted in the area and harvested food from the bush. They were self-sufficient and mostly harmonious, they traded with other tribes. They would move throughout their country in accordance with the seasons, they would spend around 5 hours per day working to ensure their survival.

Because they had such large amounts of what we call leisure time they developed a rich and complex life with customs and laws the heart of which was the connection to the land.

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The arrival of Lt James Cook in 1771 was the beginning of the end for this ancient way of life, his voyage of exploration had sailed under instructions to take possession of the Southern Continent if it was uninhabited, or with the consent of the natives if it was not uninhabited, either way it was to be taken. So really whether those who inhabited the land gave their consent or not didn’t matter.

Upon his arrival Lt Cook declared the land which he called New South Wales to be the property of Britain’s King George 111, and ignored the inconvenient fact that the land was already well populated. Of course his failure to even attempt to gain the consent of the Aboriginal people began the legal fiction that the country was waste and unoccupied.

Of course Cook was soon followed by the arrival of the First Fleet in January 1788, under the command of Captain Arthur Philip who mission was to establish a penal colony and take control of Terra Australia for settlement. More about that in a later post.

arthurphilip

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