Was Australia Invaded?
In the 18th and 19th Centuries the Industrial Revolution saw Britain expand and then protect British commercial and industrial growth by establishing colonies across the world. In 1788, it was Australia’s turn.
However, the British did not ’invade’ New South Wales with hundreds of warships and marines storming up beaches to slaughter the natives. There was no Aborigine military to fight, no king to lead his troops, and no one to negotiate a surrender. There would have been no ceding of land as it would have been just taken as the spoils of war.
There was no need for such an excursion and the British had no desire, or need, to cause such a disruption.
In the period of Enlightened and Christian thinking of the 19th Century, the British Government did three things that were unique in taking sovereign control of New South Wales, as expressed in King George III Letters Patent and Declaration: it forbade slavery – the first place in the world to ban slavery; second, it made all Aborigines (natives) British subjects will equal rights with all other British subjects for there was to be no subservience of any kind; and third, Governor Phillip was instructed to “… endeavour by every possible means to open an Intercourse with the Natives and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all Our Subjects to live in amity and kindness with them”.
Arthur Phillip made friends with the Aborigines from the moment he arrived. Within two years, Aborigines were living in the Sydney settlement. The British settlers were admitted to corroborees and Aborigines were in the homes of the British. In 1793, the Spanish explorer, Malaspina, called into the Sydney colony and recorded in his journal that Aborigine children were playing in the streets and Aborigine families sat down to dinner with British settlers.
Bennelong gave Phillip an Aboriginal name – ‘Wolawaree’, shared customs and traditions with him, and thereby made a kinship relationship with him. Bennelong did not call Phillip by name after that but referred to him as kin, calling him ‘father’, and himself as ‘son’. His daughter was Phillip’s daughter, or granddaughter. This kinship to Bennelong and his daughter made Phillip a member of Bennelong’s extended family and community (tribe) through the Aboriginal principle of implied genealogy, and, an elder.
The efforts by following governors were no less admirable. Indeed, given the violence, incest, and general deprivation of life through subsistence living in the bush, far from an invasion, the arrival of the British was providential.
Does a 35,000 Year Ancestry Equate to Sovereignty?
It is believed that the Aborigine people were on the Australian continent in the pre-historic period, before 5,000 BC. There is some presumptive evidence that mankind was on the continent in late Pleistocene era, before 12,000 years ago. The most recent ice age occurred between 20,000 and 11,000 years ago when glaciers covered huge parts of the earth and thus
it is suggested that human life existed on the Australian continent even before the last ice age. It is further suggested that both Homo sapiens and Neanderthals co-exited during the latter part of this period dating back, possibly, to 200,000 years ago. Modern humans are suspected to have lived as early as 50,000 years ago.
Deb Newell, writing in the Spectator on “Raft Australia”, points out that it is thought that 15,000-10,000 years ago sea levels rose, tectonic plates shifted and Australia lost its connection to New Guinea and drifted south. By this time Australia had a small, fragmented but diverse population of human tribes that had arrived from different directions at different times and wandered as hunter-gatherers on different pathways across the vast island continent. They took their languages and culture with them and, infrequently, engaged with other nomadic groups either pleasantly or unpleasantly. There were up to 15 migration waves into Australia. So, rather than a homogenous original tribal group there is increasing support for the concept that Australia was colonised by different groups that mixed together and or repelled and exterminated each other in various acts of colonisation. “This is who we humans are: a geographic blend of ancestral/tribal based DNA that selected for the survival of our species wherever our tribes settled …”
But nothing on this subject is certain before the end of the last ice age some 10,000 years ago.
The indigenous tribes in Australia have lived on the continent for thousands of years and it is thought that the people originally came from India and before that, Africa. Meaning, that the people on the Australian continent were not, strictly speaking, of the ‘origin’ of this place: marsupials are indigenous to the continent but humans are not.
To claim that my Homo sapiens and Neanderthals ancestors were here before yours may be of personal interest but it does not equate to a claim on land, and certainly not sovereignty. ‘Aborigines’, as they have been called for centuries, have never been a united people, and are still not. In every country in the world, there has been human conflict as kings and rulers replaced other rulers by force or law. To stand in front of an advancing army and say that you were here first and therefore own the land would be idiotic.
In a democratic state where all citizens have equal voting rights, claiming an ancestral, racial priority over other people and citizens, is just as idiotic. As the 1992 High Court Mabo decision stated, Aborigine people have no legal grounds to claim sovereignty against the Crown and are granted ‘native titles’ at the pleasure of the Crown: they don’t have a right to it except by legislated law.
Aborigines have been assimilating with other races, particularly Caucasians, since 1788. By 1901, 95% of people identified as Aborigine were of mixed blood. The process of assimilation of Aborigine people into the Australian mixed-race society continues today with 70% of ‘Indigenous’ people married to non-Indigenous spouses. Of all people who identify as Aborigine/Indigenous, 98% are of mixed blood.
So does a claim that some of my ancestors may have been here 65,000 years ago and before some others of my ancestry, really mean anything to anyone but me? And what kind of future society do the FNP activists foresee: a racially divided nation based on dubious ancestral linage?
Dr Christopher Reynolds is experienced as a teacher, professor, business manager and political strategist. He has worked on several American political campaigns and on staff under Senator Teddy Kennedy and Senator Mitch McConnell, and received a commendation from President Ronald Reagan for "excellent work". He's the author of several books including his most recent work, What a Capital Idea – Australia 1770-1901. His Ph.D. is in Government/Political Philosophy. [more]
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