Throughout this class, I have learned many different things about the aborigines and their history. When I began learning more things about them, it was hard to believe how much I did not know. Of course, I was at a relative disadvantage to other students because I am not an Australian native, nor was I born anywhere near Australia. I am an Asian student, studying internationally. Though I am learning more about the world every day, through my studies and through my life experiences, the Australian aborigines were one portion of history that otherwise would have gone unknown to me, had it not been for what I learned in this course.
I am ashamed to admit that some of my previous, uneducated views about the aboriginal people of Australia were that they were savages. History lessons and talk that I had heard made it seem that colonists and Australians did the aboriginal population a favor by attempting to civilize them, and take care of them. However, as I learned, it was clear that this was not the case. In our reading from, “The Teeth Are Smiling,” by Ellie Vasta and Stephen Castles, I was able to learn just how badly the aboriginal people were treated . The reading displayed that it was not for the aboriginal population’s own good that Australians tried to “help” them, nor was it help at all that the Australians were providing. The Australians were acted racist toward the aboriginal people, as well as immigrants. Those who made it known that they had no intention to blend with “civilized” society were either stripped from their homes, or treated badly . Fortunately, humanity has come a long way since the treatment that was endured by individuals in the early twentieth century, many laws that were meant to segregate immigrants, and aboriginals from what was classified as civilized society have been repealed or abolished. The reading in “The Teeth Are Smiling” noted that most Australians now grant everybody a free slate and attempt not to judge too harshly, which suggests that they learned a lesson from their mistake in treating people so poorly during this time.
That Australians claim to be more open and accepting since, or thanks to, these horrific incidents made me wonder if Americans feel the same way. They say they do, but based on how American culture conducts itself, it appears that it is all talk. This saddened me. The culture in Australia does appear more open and accepting than the culture in America, suggesting to me that even if atrocities are committed, some do not learn from their mistakes. While Australia cannot take back what it did to its native people, it can try to learn from the mistake and move on. Meanwhile, American policies are still built on keeping impoverished people, primarily African Americans, trapped in a sociological cycle of poverty, according to Wilder.. Within a global context, I would say that Australia has gained the upper hand when it comes to bettering itself.
Another section of our reading came from a book entitled, “Visibly Different: Face, Place, and Race in Australia .” Published in 2007, it is more recent than the aforementioned, “The Teeth Are Smiling.” “Visibly Different” concerned itself with what an Australian looks like. The reading reminded me that even if, in 1996, Australia was attempting to move forward and be more progressive than countries that had made the same mistakes, there was still ground to be covered. In Australia, people use ethnic identity to label others. This ethnic identity earns one the title of a recent arrival or a refugee. The book details several different accounts of individuals who have been judged and categorized based on their perceived ethnicity. The issue the text examines is where the line is between “them” and “us”, as well as who is in each group. Belonging, as mentioned by the narrator of the book, is the most important issue in the text.
I though the text brought up some genuinely interesting issues about ethnicity, mixed race, and who is “us” versus who is “them.” The narrator mentions that we are all mixed race because for many years now we have been mixing our DNA . Exploration such as the expeditions that took place, leading to find Australia, resulted in the mixing of genes all over the world. It no longer matters what we look like. Yes, one person may be brown, another may be black, and another may be white. However, these are just colors. Just because a person is brown, it does not mean that every person in their genetic history has been that race; some could have been black or white. Genetically, they happened to be predisposed to that skin color and so, they are brown. The same explanation can be given for black people, white people, and any other person we see. Facial features are much the same; nobody as all the facial features of just one race anymore; as a word, we have mixed too much for this to be possibly.
For Australia to limit it to choosing between who is on one side and who is on another, or to limit itself to two sides, is preposterous. At this point, there are hundreds of sides. If one were to force an issue of “us” versus “them,” the situation would inevitable boil down to “me” versus “them” simply because with all of the genetic mixing, no two people are alike any longer, even in race. Though these may be our identifiers, they are not what make us who we are, and we should no longer base our opinions on such superfluous criteria. Treating somebody a certain way based on the culture they were raised in is one thing, because I have learned many things about different cultural practices. These cultural practices are not race specific though. An Asian, having grown up in Asian culture will observe those customs, just as an Indian, growing up in Asian culture, will observe those customs. It is time we realize what is relevant when addressing people around the world.
Australia is a modern place, full of modern inventions. It is not a desolate wasteland, if you do not include the treacherous deserts that could literally suck the life out of a human. The modernized places of Australia are civilized, and one cannot look upon things like the Sydney Opera House without concluding that Australia was born out of eloquence and class. This, of course, was not the case at all. Australia’s beginnings, as a continually learned through this class, were quite bloody. “First Australians: An Illustrated History,” by Rachel Perkins and Marcia Langton is a gruesome documentation of how Australia came to be . The text was a story told from the native’s perspective, as their land was invaded, overrun, and eventually stolen by the world’s superpower for that time: Britain. The illustrated stories begin in 1788 and end in 1993, documenting revenge, loss, love, and friendship. The stories are shocking, and the visualizations do not help. Throughout each documentation, the reader learns that Australia’s history is muddy, and they are still trying to clean up the mess .
The text documented Australia’s past up until 1993. One would assume that a country could outrun their past before 1993, especially if the actions began in 1788. This was, however, obviously untrue, as situations and stories continued to crop up. It made me consider several things about the world. For one, I began to wonder how many other great empires were built on a river of blood and racism. The first example that came to mind again was America. Columbus thought the land was India, and so he called the natives Indians. He and other settlers used their naivety about property and ownership against them. Before the settlers, the natives had no concept of ownership on the grand scale that the settlers did. All was for the taking, and all was to be shared. However, after explorers and settlers began to enter the country, now realizing that it was entirely new territory, they realized they needed to secure the land for themselves and feared that the natives would create an opposition. Of course, the immediate answer was lying and violence. This began occurring in the 1700’s, as it did in Australia. Today, bad blood still runs between the natives and Caucasians.
Much of the industrial boom in America concerning crops, or anything regarding hard labor, imports, and exports of goods such as cotton and sugar cane, was built entirely on the backs of slaves. These slaves were taken from their homes in Africa. Tribespeople were taken from their families to the Americas and sold into slavery, where they were forced to work like animals so that America could flourish. I cannot decide if this is the same atrocity, or worse than invading an individual’s homeland and taking it from them. Regardless of the severity of the atrocity, other now civilized countries, such as the United States, have very bloody pasts. They are successful nations that began in unglamorous, racist, sad, and violent ways. These thoughts saddened me for a long time, but eventually I realized that though Australia had made mistakes, they had managed to make a great civilization. Though it is still flawed, it is trying.
I know it is still trying because one of the class readings was “The Politics of Human Rights in Australia,” by Louise Chappell, John Chesterman, and Lisa Hill . The full text addresses that Australia has typically been lacking in possessing strong human rights, much like many Asian countries. Equality has often been used as something more like a tool to offset the public’s outrage for mistreatment of certain groups. This has historically been in an effort to form a climate of complacency among the population, not only in Australia, but also around the world. The reading attempts to explain Australia’s human rights and the protection therein, through politics. The authors ask the reader questions about voting, responsibility to global crisis, and, most importantly to this course, how a reconciliation between the indigenous and non-indigenous people of Australia might be achieved.
The chapter called “The Rights of Indigenous Australians” states flatly that indigenous people are still the most marginalized group living in Australia. Indigenous people are discriminated against in almost every way possible: they are poorer, receive poorer education, have a lower life expectancy, and are incarcerated more often, for longer. Some argue that this is just bad luck on the part of the indigenous people; essentially the argument states that the indigenous population happens to live in bad neighborhoods, happens to go commit more crimes and, therefore, go to jail more often, and happens to make less money. They argue that these and other circumstances have nothing to do with marginalization. Human rights activists, of course, argue that everybody has the right to an adequate life, however, and that marginalization and prejudice force the indigenous people into these situations.
Given the history of Australia, and what I know now about how the indigenous people have been treated throughout history, I do not believe that this form of prejudice simply dies out. It of course has manifested in other ways in civilized society, leading to the high incarceration and poverty rates for the indigenous population. While many may argue that this means Australia is still in the midst of a moral decline, this text was written by three of the most respected political scientists in Australia, suggesting that people with influence are taking notice of what is going on between indigenous and non-indigenous people. The authors asked how reconciliation could ever be achieved between the two groups and I believe that addressing the problem head on, as it is done in this text, is the first step toward that goal. This idea is made far more believable when coupled with “Frontier, Race, Nation: Henry Reynolds and Australian History,” by Bain Attwood and Tom Griffiths . The text explored what Australia’s history has meant to its present and its future, assessing that damage it had done concerning the thievery of land, sovereign rights, and race, among other things concerning the indigenous people. Both of the recently mentioned texts boldly state the problem: non-indigenous people pillaged all there was to pillage and have since marginalized indigenous people, ignoring the fact that the land that is Australia, was their home first. Many other nations around the world have not taken this step forward. The recognition of the problem is the first step toward correcting it, as well as reconciling.
In conclusion, at the beginning of this class, I remained rather ignorant to the real atrocities that befell the aboriginal population of Australia. Now I am more informed on how the settlers have treated them from the 1700’s until now. It has changed the way I view Australia, as well as the way I view other countries around the world. I no longer assume that great nations were built heroically, without any blood on their hands. Despite this, I see that Australian policies and society is making an effort to change, which makes me positive about what is to come in the future.
Attwood, B. & Griffiths, T., 2009. Frontier, Race, Nation: Henry Reynolds and Australian History. Melbourne : Australian Scholarly Publishing.
Chappell, L., Chestermen, J. & Hill, L., 2009. The rights of indigenous Australians. In: The Politics of Human Rights in Australia. Syndney: Cambridge University Press, pp. 168-175.
Perkins, M. & Lang, P., 2007. Visibly Different; Face, Place, and Race in Australia. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford Publishing.
Perkins, R. & Langton, M., 2008. Firs Australians: An Illustrated History. Carlton: Melbourne University Publishing.
Vasta, E. & Castles, S., 1996. The Teeth Are Smiling: The Persistence of Racism in Multi-Cultural Australia. Melbourne: Allen & Unwin.
Wilder, C. S., 2013. Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America's Universities. 2nd ed. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.