FIRST NATIONS REMAIN THE MOST VULNERABLE SECTORS OF THE SOCIETY
The brief historical context of the Australian political leadership
After a visit to Australia, Charles Darwin, the 19th-century British biologist, and geologist said, ‘Death pursues the native in every place where the European sets foot’ (Combat Genocide Association 2019). In the 1830s, Solicitor-General Alfred Stephen, later Chief Justice of New South Wales, made a public statement in relation to dealing with ‘the Aboriginal problem.' If the colony could only protect its convict servants from Aboriginal attack by extermination, ‘then I say boldly and broadly, exterminate’. Australia solved its native problem in Tasmania by reaching a final solution. It had succeeded in getting rid of all its Aboriginal people; a few children born to white male seal hunters and Tasmanian Aboriginal women remained alive (Harman 2018). ‘They were an inferior race, a meek and primitive people doomed to die out, and the coming of the English, with their diseases and guns, had merely hastened the inevitable.’ (Flanagan 2002).
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia settled in this continent at least 40,000 years ago, well before Europeans began their explorations in the 17th century (CIA 2019). When the first 4,200 convicts arrived in Australia, between 1817 and 1840, the Aboriginal population comprised about 600 different social groups speaking about 200 distinct languages and dialects (Jupp 2001). In 1788, the British occupation of Australia began. In 1889, the Government Resident’s reports stated, ‘Entrance into their country is an act of invasion.' Aboriginal people fought hard to defend their land; however, spears and boomerangs proved no match for gunfire. Thousands of Aboriginal people were brutally massacred; even more, died from introduced diseases and sickness. Since the invasion of Australia, they have resisted the colonisation of their land, but the settlers pushed Aboriginal people off the fertile lands into controlled settlements; , and justified their actions with a belief in their superiority (Leacock & Lee 1982).
In the 18th century, the British began to settle European convicts on the island of Tasmania. Criminals were removed from mainland Australia due to severe crimes and sent to Tasmania. The convicts kidnapped Aboriginal children for servants, and women for concubines and killed or mutilated the men, in order to conquer their homelands. In 1828, Governor Arthur ordered that all Tasmanian Aboriginals must leave the island where Europeans had settled. To enforce the order, government-sponsored ‘patrol teams’ made up of prisoners led by policemen. The patrol team chased and killed Aboriginal people, this hunt was known as ‘catching blacks’. It became a job or business venture for the patrol teams; to encourage the killing a price was set for Aboriginal heads; five British pounds for an adult, and two pounds for a child. The patrol teams killed Aboriginal people and dumped their bodies off a cliff, known today as Victory Hill. Arthur was encouraged, after John Batman, a well-known leader, later founding father of Melbourne, who shot two Aboriginals while they were in his custody (Combat Genocide Association 2019).
Evidence indicates that the British orchestrated genocidal policies and practices surreptitiously on Aboriginal people and their culture. According to Professor Tom Lawson, the British effectively supported the ethnic cleansing of Aboriginal Tasmanians during the period of martial law between 1828 and 1832. Professor Lawson made a compelling case for the Tasmanian genocide. He further states that the colonists’ terms were ‘extermination and extirpation’ when they discussed the colonial invasion of the homelands of the island’s Aboriginal inhabitants (Lawson 2014). Nick Brodie argues that the genocide was highly orchestrated, but deliberately downplayed, in order to eliminate Aboriginal people. Brodie used over 1,000 pages of Colonel George Arthur’s handwritten documents, informing exactly how he executed the genocide in Tasmania (Brodie 2017).
Arthur leaked stories to the press to gain support from the people. He publicly announced ‘retirement’ for people who continued to support the genocide, and also selective evidence was given to the investigative committee to cover up his atrocities. Arthur also declared that details of the genocide had to become top secret and continued with military offensives against the remaining Aboriginal people (Harman 2018). Most of the Aboriginal people had been forcibly removed from their homeland and killed or had died from introduced diseases (Lourandos 1997). The last Tasmanian Aboriginal, Truganini, watched her people being massacred, her mother killed by sailors, her uncle shot by soldiers, her sister abducted by sealers, and her fiancé brutally murdered by timber cutters. She was raped and exiled. Truganini lived through the mass killing of her own family members, relatives, friends, and other Tasmanian Aboriginals (Morris 2017).
In 1982, Patricia Cobern, who had denied the occurrence of genocide and wrote a letter to one of Australia’s leading news magazines, The Bulletin, which published her letter. ‘The letter claimed that the settlers had been ‘peaceful, moral people, while the Tasmanians were, treacherous, murderous, warmongering, filthy, covetous, parasite-infested and disturbed.’ She also claimed that it was a pure coincidence that Aboriginal people began to die when the Europeans started to settle in Australia (Combat Genocide Association 2019). Almost two centuries have passed, but Australia is still in denial. Historian Lyndall Ryan says the true story of the massacres was lost, but myths and lies were left in its place (MacDonald 2019). However, in contrast to Australians’ view about eliminating Aboriginal people through systematically orchestrated genocides, the Germans have acknowledged the killing of Jews and the Nazis’ genocides. In 1953, the German government made payments to the Jewish people as a way of acknowledging Germany’s responsibility. Not only Germans; recently, the Swiss government and banking institutions have acknowledged their complicity with the Nazis and established funds to aid Holocaust survivors (History 2004).
Notably, white Australians did not even rescue one Aboriginal Tasmanian, but Germans had rescued Jews from the Nazis’ genocides. Recently, Israel's Holocaust memorial council declared Major Karl Plagge righteous among the nations, alongside men such as Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler, for an elaborate deception that saved about 250 Jewish lives. In 1931, Plagge, an engineer, joined the Nazi party to develop the wealth of Germany, but he became disillusioned due to their racial ideology. ‘He felt he had helped create this monster and that it was his duty to try to help these imperiled Jews.’ About 90 per cent of the 57,000 Jews who lived in Vilnius were murdered, but 10 per cent were saved by Plagge. In 1958, just before his death, he told a friend. , ‘I never felt that this needed special courage. It required only the conviction and strength that anyone can draw from the depth of moral feelings that exist in all humans.’ (McGreal 2005).
The Nazis may have learned the concept of ‘mass killing’ from the British
Professor Taiaiake Alfred is a Kahnawake Mohawk educator and writer and the founding director of the University of Victoria's indigenous governance programs in Canada. He argues celebrating 'America's 400th Birthday' ignores the genocide of the continent's native people. ‘It's hard for a native person to be anything but shocked and saddened to the core by the effrontery of it all. Jamestown 2007 is, in essence, a surreptitious celebration of the conquest of our homeland and the destruction of our people in the service of imperialism and the expansion of the white race. It marks the era that saw indigenous peoples ravaged by diseases introduced by European settlers, on average, our communities lost 75 percent of their populations and the dispossession of our homelands by fraud and deceit - not a single treaty entered into by the English Crown or the US has been honoured by the white settlers.’ (Taiakake2007).
To the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, Jews were an inferior race, just as to the British settlers, Aboriginal people were an inferior race. Jews were consistently persecuted during Nazi rule in Germany. Under the Nazi regime, Jews became targets for stigmatisation and persecution, just as Aboriginal people were stigmatised and persecuted by the settlers. Hitler’s ‘final solution was eliminating the Jews in Europe by mass killing, just as Britain eliminated Aboriginal people in Tasmania. Hitler was obsessed with the idea of German superiority and needed more living space to expand the German race (History 2009), just as Britain eliminated Aboriginal people through genocides to expand their race, and justified their actions by the belief of their superiority (Leacock & Lee 1982).