Historical Issues

Unit 2: Contacts History

Cultural Aspects Historical Issues Race Relations Contemporary Issues

Unit 1: 18thC Britain Unit 2: Contact History Unit 3: Perceptions & Stereotypes Unit 4: Challenges & Injustices

Aliens! Arriving in strange vessels, with your pale skin and distorted faces, you're beyond our experience. You are taking the Country that is our mother. With no knowledge of her, you kill our people in ways that are mysterious even to yourselves.

Imagined voice of a Goorawal woman, Botany Bay, 1770

...they waving to us to be gone   we again signing that we wanted water & that we meant them no harm   they remaind resolute so a musquet was fired over them...

Joseph Banks, Botany Bay, 1770

Eucalyptus Globulus Tasmania's floral emblem, first identified at Recherche Bay by Labillardiere in 1792. Courtesy of Tasmaniana Library, State Library of Tasmania.




August 27, 2006

Activity 2.1


Attitudes of the Invaders

Why was New South Wales established as a British colony?

Was the decision to come 12,000 miles to establish a convict settlement connected to imperial rivalry with France?

In the 18thC England sought to expand her Empire for several reasons: she wanted economic independence from France with whom she had been at war for many years; she wanted to assert economic and cultural (including scientific) dominance that she feared losing to France, and she wanted somewhere to take the criminals who were overcrowding her goals.

The French had been exploring the South Pacific for expanding their own territories and trade around the same time as the British, and so for the British, the pressure was on make claim to Australia before France did.

An article from the 2004 France in Australia Embassy and Consulate-General News and Information on-line service reveals something of the rivalry between the English and the French around this time, in their quest for colonial expansion:

In 1769, after Bougainville’s (an earlier Frech explorer's) triumphant return to France, another French expedition set out for the Pacific. After hearing a rumour that an Englishman ( Captain James Cook) had found Terra Australis, the fifth continent and a land of wealth, Jean-François-Marie de Surville left Pondicherry, a French settlement in India, in the "S. Jean-Baptiste", but failed to make any significant discoveries.

On the 18th January 1777, Captain Arthur Phillip sailed into Botany Bay, 18 years after Captain James Cook's first visit.

The story of Australia's colonisation from the French perspective suggests that the British acted out of a 'fear of the establishment of a French colony in Australia' (France in Australia Embassy and Consulate-General, 2004):

Dumont D’Urville (a later French explorer) ... headed to Western Port, which at the time was uninhabited except for a few sealers and on to Jervis Bay from November 26 to 29, where they encountered some Aborigines and shared a fishing catch. They arrived at Port Jackson (now called Sydney Harbour) on December 2, 1826, staying until the 19th when they left for New Zealand, Tonga and Fiji. The "Astrolabe" finally returned to Marseilles on March 25, 1829 after a long and arduous voyage. Shortly after d’Urville’s voyage to Australia, settlements were established by the British at Western Port and Albany, Western Australia, possibly influenced by fear of the establishment of a French colony in Australia, and by 1830 the British had completed their occupation of Australia.

Does understanding the motives behind Britain's colonisation of Australia affect our view of the dispossession of Aboriginal people?

If the aim of the empirial colonists was to replicate its own culture of econimic control and cultural supremacy, it's unlikely that the welfare of its convicts (providing them with better conditions), or of the Aboriginal people whose land they took, was a high priority.

In 1788 Captain Phillip came to Port Jackson with instructions to 'remain in harmony with the Aboriginal inhabitants. However, the establishment of a settlement of some 1300 people could not be achieved without dispossessing the original inhabitants from at least a certain area of their land.' (Aboriginal People of New South Wales, p. 10

Growing crops the British were used to eating was not as easy, and it would take some time for them to establish reliable food sources. Struggling to survive materially would not have helped ease the relations with the local Aboriginal people, the Cadigal, whose shellfish, wallabies and kangaroos they would have taken. As the following article indicates, the colonialists at Port Jackson were struggling:

... letters from Paris were received, ordering La Perouse to visit the British settlement at Botany Bay, where he arrived on the 26th. of June 1788.

This French explorer hoped to restock with food here in Australia, but the colony had none to spare, they themselves were anxiously awaiting food relief by means of a supply ship from Britain. Fresh water and wood was all the help he could gain at Port Jackson, he sent off home to Paris his journals and letters via a British ship, and set sail for New Caledonia, Santa Cruz, and the Solomons, " Never to be seen again." (Gregory, M. J. 2006)

A vegetable garden was (unsuccessfully) established at Farm Cove, now called the Domain, where Sydney's Royal Botanical Gardens are now. A reconstruction of that garden can be seen there today. The site Governor Phillip had occupied and named Farm Cove was the site which the Aboriginal people of Sydney knew as Wuganmagulya. (Hinkson & Harris, 2001)


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August 27, 2006

Activity 2.2


Eucalyptus Globulus Tasmania's floral emblem, first identified at Recherche Bay by Labillardiere in 1792. Courtesy of Tasmaniana Library, State Library of Tasmania.

The Assumption of Terra Nullius

What does terra nullus actually mean?

terra nullius means 'undeveloped land', a Latin term for 'land belonging to no-one'. The myth of terra nullius refers to the way Britain acted as if Australia belonged to no-one, even though it belonged to Aboriginal peoples.' (Cavanaugh, P & Fisher, L. 1999, Unit 2, p. 12)

How the British defined 'undeveloped' was, inevitably, based upon their own values back home.

The British were blind to the highly developed Aboriginal culture, where Country is central to material and spiritual development.

For example, Joseph Banks, writing in his journal from Cook's ship, the Endevour, which was in Botany Bay from 28 April to 5 May , describes a first encounter with Aboriginal people in terms of a complete lack of communication:

After dinner the boats were manned and we set out from the ship intending to land at the place where we saw these people hoping that as they regarded the ship's coming into the bay so little they would as little regard our landing   we were in this however mistaken for as soon as we aproachd the rocks two of the men came down upon them each armed with a lance of about 10 feet long and a short stick which he seemed to handle as if it was a machine to throw the lance   they called to us very loud in a harsh sounding language of which neither us or Gupie understood a word shaking their lances and menecing in all appearance resolved to dispute our landing to the utmost tho they were but two and we 30 or 40 at least   in this manner we parleyd with them for about a quarter of an hour   they waving to us to be gone   we again signing that we wanted water & that we meant them no harm   they remaind resolute so a musguet was fired over them the effect of which was that the youngest of the two dropped a bundle of lances on the rock at the instant

Despite the obvious objections the Aboriginal people had to ther presence in their place, it was 'on the basis of this short visit that Banks would later advocate the establishment of a penal colony at Botony Bay' (Anemaat, L. 2004).

The accounts of British officers such as Phillip and King all mention the names of Aboriginal groups that lived around Port Jackson; they realised, moreover, that each group was associated with a particular area of land. However, the Aboriginals had no fixed residencies, no gardens with crops or domestic animals, and there were no persons in obvious control with whom treties might be signed. So the British considered (according to their laws) that the Aboriginal people had no real claim to the country.

Aboriginal People of New South Wales, p. 10


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August 27, 2006

Activity 2.3


Aboriginal Responses to Contact

Why might the Aboriginal response to initial contact with Europeans around the Sydney have been confused? Compare their response to what ours might be today if we were invaded by aliens.

You arrive in strange vessels, with your pale skin and distorted faces. You're beyond our experience. And you're taking the land to which we've belonged since time began. You have no connection with this world that we know, and kill you our people in mysterious ways. You are aliens. (Imagined voice of a Goorawal woman, Botany Bay, 1770)

...they waving to us to be gone   we again signing that we wanted water & that we meant them no harm   they remaind resolute so a musquet was fired over them... (Joseph Banks, Botany Bay, 1770)

Phillip did not realise that it was the very presence of the British settlement that was the main cause for conflict.

Aboriginal People of New South Wales, p. 10

White people arrived in strange vessels. Their skin was pale and their faces distorted. The Aboriginal people had never encountered beings such as these ones. They were totally beyond their experience. And they were were taking over the land, to which they belonged since time began. They had no connection with the world that they knew, and were killing their people in mysterious ways. The British were aliens.


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August 27, 2006

Activity 2.4


The Impact of Disease

SMALLPOX(also known by the Latin names Variola or Variola vera) is a highly contagious viral disease unique to humans. It is caused by two virus variants called Variola major and Variola minor. V. major is the more deadly form, with a typical mortality of 20–40 percent of those infected...After first contacts with Europeans and Africans, the death of a large part of the native population of the New World was caused by Old World diseases. Smallpox was the chief culprit. On at least one occasion, germ warfare was attempted by the British Army under Jeffery Amherst when two smallpox-infected blankets were deliberately given to representatives of the besieging Delaware Indians during Pontiac's Rebellion in 1763. That Amherst intended to spread the disease to the natives is not doubted by historians; whether or not the attempt succeeded is a matter of debate. (Wikipedia, August 27, 2006)/p>

Smallpox was carried to Australia, as it had been to Africa and America, infecting those indigenous peoples, who had no built up resistance to the disease.

By 1790 Govenor Phillip estimated that smallpox had resulted in the death of 50 percent of the Aboriginal population around Sydney and many explorers reported that the diseasee spread rapidly and that it even devastated didtant inland populations.

(Cavanaugh, P & Fisher, L. 1999, Unit 2, p. 51)

Other diseases which the British brought with them, and against which Aboriginal people had no resiistance included measles, chickenpox, venereal diseases, alcoholism and tuberculosis, influenza, whooping cough and other respiratory diseases.

The effects of these health problems are still experienced by Aboriginal people today.

The cultural practise of sharing fresh food, gathered from places when and where it was available, had certain health benefits. The fresh fruits, vegetables and meat had no time to decompose and cause illness.

As well, moving camps to follow food sources only available in certain places in certain seasons, ensured a greater variety of food sources, to supply a greater range of essential vitamins and minerals.

Access to fresh water was assured through their ancient knowledge of, and deep spiritual respect for water holes. Very quickly, around Port Jackson in 1777, the British were taking these over for themsleves, and in their profound ignorance and disrespect, polluting them.

Their lands were often the richest in resources, with fresh water and seasonal abundances of animal and plant life.

The Cadigal, whose land was taken to create Sydney, were pushed out, fleeing to the fringes of the town or further into the outback. Those who became town fringe dwellers struggled to survive the unhealthy, unsanitary conditions of Sydney's dumping grounds, in a no man's land between cultures. For many, alcohism obliterated the pain.

The lands further inland, on the far side of the Great Dividing Range, were later found to have good soil and water for growing crops and keeping livestock. They were therefore taken up by pastorialists, and Aboriginal people were made to work for them, or to hide away and move on.

Government regulations were made to control (or 'regulate') where Aboriginal people could live.


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August 28, 2006

Activity 2.5


The Effects of Violence

A great Australian silence (Cavanaugh, P & Fisher, L. 1999, Unit 2, p. 52) indeed remains in many places in our community. Visiting a tourist information centre on the north coast, and asking for information about the area's original inhabitants, I was led to believe there was none. However, down the road a bit, at the local Historical society, in a corner tucked away amongst the relics of colonial sea voyage memorabilia, was a table stacked with school projects on local Aboriginal history, made by local children.

The relationship between Aboriginal people and the colonialists had begun badly, and just seemed to get worse.

With so many Aboriginal having died from diseases, and being forced to physically occupy the fringes of white society, it would have been difficult for those remaining to maintain connections with each other as a land based community.

Aboriginal people were becomming dependent on white invaders for the alcohol, as well as for the little flour and sugar they had begun to use to replace some of the native bush tucker which was more difficult to source.

A consequence of colonial dominance was that Aboriginal people were not only losing touch with their old ways, but it their despair were surrendering to some of the very worst new ways of the newcommers: alcohism, and its effects of self-degradation, lethargy and violence. Both Aboriginal and colonial Australians were indulging in some pretty wild behaviour at that time, for different reasons, but together they were losing self respect, and it's conceivable that they would have been looking for blame in each other, and amonst themselves.

For the majority of colonialists, arriving in Australia had been a form of banishment from their homeland, Britain, and they were not all happy.

However, not all Aboriginal people succumbed to the worst of white ways, and were able to stand up for their rights. From 1790 to 1802 Pemulwy initiated guerrilla warfare against the whites around Sydney, and Windradyne, of the Wiradjuri, did the same around Bathurst.

Many past histories made it appear as if the Aboriginals simply 'faded away' before white occupation. However, this was not the case. While some Aboriginal people accepted or adjusted to white occupation and some sought to survive as best they could by adapting to the new conditions, many others fought to retain their land and culture.

Aboriginal People of New South Wales, p. 11

James Urry suggests (Urry, 1985, p. 64) that Aboriginal people were recognised very early on as having special knowledge of the land that was useful for their survival, and that may have found their place socially amongst colonial society if it had not been for the attitudes of the bushmen. Aboriginal people worked with bushmen to find suitable ground for pastoral development. Being mostly of convict origins, bushmen alienated themselves from both the ruling gentry and the Aboriginals, through their attitude and behaviour.

The Aboriginal tracker, in the film of that name, depicts an Indigenous person with dignity more associated with a benevolent ruling elite. His allegiance is with people of his own kind (although of different tribe), and his respect rests with those who respect him (reciprocity).

Indeed, if we are to believe early accounts, Aborigines and the gentlemen and officers got on quite well together: sport in hunting being one of their common interests. At the same time there is indisputable evidence of very bad relations between Aborigines and convicts from the first days of settlement, with killings on both sides....

Convicts felt and expressed their antagonism towards Aboriginals who were also used to track escapees and to inform on convicts, activities which certainly did not endear them to convicts and indeed violated one of the convicts' important moral codes: 'not informing on your mates'.

(Urry, 1985, p. 64)

The value of Aboriginal Land: an Anglocentric perspective

On the opposite side of the globe, British colonialists were isolated their own mother country,and could have easily felt dispossessed of their own culture. Might not this have added fuel to yet greater discontent amongst white convicts, 'dumped' in Australia and the Indigenous population? H. G. Wells, writing a world history (Wells, 1922), provides a glimpse of how Australia was regarded by some of the British intelligensia in the late 19th century.

A considerable school of political thinkers in England was disposed to regard overseas possessions as a source of weakness to the kingdom.

Listing the domains of the British colonies in 1815, he ends with ...two dumps for convicts at Botany Bay in Australia and in Tasmania. It was only when Britain could see potential for some material gain that interest in her Australian domains was rekindled.

The Australian settlements developed slowly until in 1842 the discovery of valuable copper mines, and in 1851 of gold, gave them new importance. (Wells, 1922)


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August 30, 2006

Activity 2.6-7


Christian Missions

Various religious denominations established themselves around Australia during colonisation, establishing Aboriginal missions as part of their drive to save and shape souls in the image of God.

Experience of mission life for some Aboriginal people was positive. For some, Sir Douglas Nichols valued the education and treatment he was given and went on to serve the church amongst his own people, in the cause of education and reconsciliation. Others found the missionary experience stiffling and restricting. It's only recently that education had embraced understanding of different historical and cultural perspectives. The missionary teaching philosophy was one-eyed and white, and so traditional Aboriginal culture was suppressed. As methods of aquiring and passing on knowledge, reading and writing were (and still are) valued most highly in the Western mind. Aboriginal Knowledge, on the other hand, involved the a person's whole whole being, through speaking, singing, drawing, dancing and music making.


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August 30, 2006

Activity 2.8


The Impact of government Regulation

From around the 1850's, the prevailing view was that the Aboriginal people were a dyingrace, and that the role of government was to make their last days as comfortable as possible. In the later part of the 19th Century, artists Tom Roberts, Girolamo B.Nerli, Henry King and Oscar Friston, and photographers Charles Wooley, Thomas Dick and others, framed up their images of Aboriginals as specimens of the dying race. This had been the prevailing belief.

Then the inevitable happened: interbreeding between Aboriginal and English men and women. Whether it resulted from passionate love or hate, the number of children of mixed race was increasing. The first generation 'half castes' would have presented new challenges for both white and black communities: what was left of a traditional order (Aboriginal or English) was breaking down, and it was the beginning of confused identities which would pass down to future generations. An alarmed government began to take took more active measures to control the lives of all shades of the Aboriginal, and to define for themselves who was and who was not Aboriginal.

Protective reserves were established, including one at Mount Franklin, near Fryers Creek, Victoria:

"When the (white) squatters arrived in the district, and conflict ensued between the Aborigines and the settlers, the Victorian government sent Edward Stone Parker to establish an Aboriginal Protectorate ( ''well-intentioned'', but in reality a glorified concentration camp ) in the Loddon District. Parker finally established the protectorate at Franklinford, on the slopes of Mount Franklin. The protectorate lasted from 1840-49, after which some Aboriginal families continued to farm at the foot of the mountain through to the 1860's. It is believed by local historians that the historic Franklinford cemetery is possibly the only cemetery in Victoria where blacks and whites were buried together, without segregation" Ken Mansell writes.


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Entry date:

Activity 2.9


Aboriginal Responses



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Hyacinthe de Bougainville, the eldest son of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, was given command of the "Thetis", and, accompanied by the "Esperance", set out on a mission to attempt to establish diplomatic relations in Indo-China and to improve trade as well as increase knowledge of the region. Bougainville was given a letter signed by Louis XVIII and countersigned by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Leaving the port of Brest on March 2, 1824, he arrived in Indo-China in January 1825. When he met with the Indo-Chinese authorities, he was politely avoided, but told that the Emperor wanted friendly commercial relations to continue. Bougainville had been given the choice of returning directly or via Cape Horn. He chose to pass through the Pacific in order to see some of the places his father had visited. He then sailed for Port Jackson via the west coast of Australia and Tasmania, anchoring at Port Jackson on July 1, 1825, where he stayed for almost three months, before returning to France via Rio. Just before the return of Bougainville, Jules Dumont d’Urville, one of Duperrey’s lieutenants, set out on an expedition to the Pacific in the "Coquille", which he renamed the "Astrolabe" in memory of La Pérouse, leaving Toulon on April 25, 1826. On October 5, 1826, Cape Leeuwin was sighted and two days later the . Astrolabe. dropped anchor in King George Sound, where botanic research was conducted. D’Urville then headed to Western Port, which at the time was uninhabited except for a few sealers and on to Jervis Bay from November 26 to 29, where they encountered some Aborigines and shared a fishing catch. They arrived at Port Jackson on December 2, 1826, staying until the 19th when they left for New Zealand, Tonga and Fiji. The "Astrolabe" finally returned to Marseilles on March 25, 1829 after a long and arduous voyage. Shortly after d’Urville’s voyage to Australia, settlements were established by the British at Western Port and Albany, Western Australia, possibly influenced by fear of the establishment of a French colony in Australia, and by 1830 the British had completed their occupation of Australia.

France in Australia Embassy and Consulate-General, 2004

During April 1855, a nugget weighing 1,023 ounces is found at Fryers Creek.

Gold Net Australia On Line Magazine, 2001 http://www.gold-net.com.au/archivemagazines/dec01/79428854.html


Recherche Bay - a few facts about the French expedition (1792-1793)

The expedition of Bruni d’Entrecasteaux, looking for La Pérouse, set up a temporary village and scientific observatory on the NE Peninsula of Recherche Bay for 4 weeks in 1792 and and others in the south of the bay for 3 weeks in 1793.

Important friendly exchanges were made with the Tasmanian Aboriginal People here in 1793.

Rossel made a world break-through in geo-magnetism advancing global navigation.

Labilliadiere identifies over 100 new species including the blue gum, Eucalyptus Globulus, now Tasmania’s floral emblem, the flag iris, Diplarrena moraea, and the native cherry, Exocarpus cupressiformis.

August 27, 2006

95% of Labilliadiere’s Tasmanian collection of 5000 specimens comes from here. It was the foundation for his Novae Hollandiae plantarum specimen (1804-1806) which is considered to be the first general Flora of Australia.

Félix de la Haie establishes gardens to potentially sustain future expeditions. He went on to be Head Gardener to Empress Josephine establishing a Tasmanian Garden at Malmaison in France in 1800.

On February 8th 2006 the historic forest on the North East Peninsula of Recherche Bay was saved from logging. It was the same day 213 years ago, that the French had their significant friendly meeting with the Tasmanian Aboriginal people the Lyluquonny on the nearby beach at Black Swan Lagoon.

In a significant outcome for the cultural historic landscape now listed as a National Heritage, the owners David and Robert Vernon agreed to sell their historic property to the Tasmanian Land Conservancy to be managed for the nation. In a deal brokered by Senator Bob Brown, generously underwritten by businessman Dick Smith and with the Tasmanian State Government contributing, the historic forest is now safe from logging.

(Recherche Bay Protection Group, 2006)


Sauvages du cap de Diemen, 1792,
after a sketch by Piron

courtesy of Tasmaniana Library, State Library of Tasmania

At the time of the first encounters with Europeans, Aboriginal people of two different nations were living in the area which now includes Botany Bay National Park. The northern section of the park, around La Perouse, was occupied by the Goorawal people. The southern section, around Kurnell, is part of the traditional lands of the Gweagal people. Aboriginal people had occupied this land for many thousands of years.

(New South Wales National Parks & Wildlife Service, 2006)

For thousands of years the Gunangara Gundidj clan of the Dja Dja Wurrung tribe have used Lalgambook for corroborees and initiation. White people attended some of these corroborees and there has been a certain harmony between black and white people associated with the mountain. The Gunangara Gundidj have (probably) been witness to the eruptions of Mt Franklin, which ended about 5000 years ago, for they have a story about it, one of the few stories left. Mansell, K. (2005)


Recherche Bay Protection Group, 2006 http://www.recherchebay.org/ [Online accessed 27 August 2006]

France in Australia Embassy and Consulate-General News and Information service, 2004 http://www.ambafrance-au.org/article.php3?id_article=475 [Online accesses 27 August 2006]

Aboriginal People of New South Wales, Commonwealth of Australia/ Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Cannberra, 1992

Gregory, M. J. 2006 Ahoy - Mac's Web Log, http://ahoy.tk-jk.net/macslog/EarlyFrenchExplorersofAus.html [Online accesses 27 August 2006]

Cavanaugh, P & Fisher, L. 1999, Historical Issues A , Open Training and Education Network, Sydney.

Wikipedia, 2006, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smallpox [Online accesses 27 August 2006]

Banks, J. 1770, Endevour Journal, Vol. 2, 15 August 1769 - 1771, p. 247, Sir Joseph Banks Electronic Archive, Series 03, ML Safe 1/12-13

New South Wales National Parks & Wildlife Service, 2006, http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/parks.nsf/ParkContent/N0066?OpenDocument&ParkKey=N0066&Type=Xk [Online accesses 27 August 2006]

Sheridan, J. & Tranter, J. 2000, Aspects of Cultural Studies A Learner's Guide, Open Training and Education Network, Sydney.

Hinkson & Harris, 2001 Aboriginal Sydney, Aboriginal studies Press

Isaacs, J. 1987 Australian Dreaming, 40,000 Years of Aboriginal History, Lansdowne Press, Sydney.

Benterrak, Mueke, Roe 1984 Reading the Country, Freemantle Arts Centre Press

Ngankat-kalo: Aboriginal Education , http://www.vaeai.org.au/timeline/1901.html [Online accessed 21 August 2006]

Muk Muk Burke & Langford 2004 Ngara: Living in this Place Now, Five Islands Press NSW

Clark, M. 1976 A Discovery of Australia, 1976 Boyer Lectures, Australian Broadcasting Commission, Sydney

Urry, j., 'Savage Sportsmen', in Donaldson, I. & Donaldson, T., 1985 Seeing the First Australians, George Allen & Unwin, Sydney, London, Boston

Mansell, K. (2005), cited Moore, A, http://www.geomantica.com/geom25.htm [Online accessed 31 August 2006]

Wells, H. G. 1922 A Short History of the World, Pelican Books, Great Britain