How is Australia different from western culture?
A 60,000 year old culture
It was between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago that the first humans settled the continent that later became Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania. Historians and archaeologists assume that the ancestors of the Aborigines, at a time when sea levels were still significantly lower than they are today, worked their way from the later Indonesian archipelago towards Australia, island by island.
Today researchers can only speculate about the motivation: Did the crossing happen by mistake, did the first settlers land on the unknown continent in an aborted boat? Or was it on purpose? Had they seen the mainland only 150 kilometers away from the island of Timor, the smoke of the gigantic bushfires, the paths of the migratory birds?
One thing is certain: the first settlers then encountered an extremely inhospitable world. Almost half of the continent consisted of desert and steppe, with the highest average temperatures in the world. The new settlers had to deal with highly poisonous snakes, there were three-meter-tall kangaroos and huge lizards, but - in contrast to other continents - no large animals that could be tamed and domesticated.
Persevering in the Stone Age
But despite all adversities, 25,000 years after the arrival of the first humans, the entire continent has been settled - albeit sparsely: even at times of greatest population density, according to research estimates, there are a maximum of 900,000 Aborigines.
Isolated from the rest of the world, the indigenous people of Australia remain in the Stone Age for thousands of years. They do not develop any writing, do not farm, bows and arrows are just as foreign to them as tools made of metal.
There are several hundred tribes, but no hierarchical societies. They live as nomads, in clans of 25 to 50 people who roam their millennia-old tribal areas - as hunters and gatherers, on the coasts as fishermen.
Private property does not exist, stocks are not created. The land does not belong to the people, it is exactly the other way around. The Aborigines, who have a highly spiritual connection to nature, are convinced of this.
Fateful year 1788: the whites are coming
January 18, 1788 becomes fateful day for the Australian Aborigines. On this day the English captain Arthur Phillip lands with his fleet on the southeast coast of Australia, near what will later become Sydney. He wants to colonize the continent that the Europeans discovered in 1606.
Almost without exception, he has criminals on board his ships. The prisons in the English homeland are overflowing, so the British crown decides to send their criminals to the other end of the world.
In the following 80 years more than 800 ships with prisoners came from England. More than 160,000 deportees end up in Australia and try to start a new life there.
During this time, the term "Aborigines", which has its roots in Latin: "ab origine", in German: from the beginning. In linguistic usage outside of Australia, all the indigenous people of the fifth continent are named, while in Australia itself there is a differentiation.
There a distinction is made between Aborigines and the Torres Strait Islanders - another group of indigenous people who inhabit the strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea and are not related to the Aborigines from the mainland.
Reserves are intended to defuse conflicts
The first encounters between settlers and indigenous people were peaceful. Captain Phillip gives orders not to use violence against the locals if possible. First of all, you come to terms with yourself as best you can. But the more space and land the settlers claim, the greater the conflicts.
For many settlers, the Aborigines were no more than animals in the early 19th century. The settlers kill the men, rape the women, and claim the land for themselves. In addition, the Aborigines suffer from diseases brought in by the Europeans, against which they have no defenses. They die in a row from cholera, flu or smallpox.
When the atrocities increased in the middle of the 19th century, the British Parliament installed a "Chief Protector" in Australia. He is supposed to create reservations for the indigenous people in order to contain the conflicts between whites and Aborigines. And he should look after the children of the natives, take care of their education and teach them the values of the western world and Christianity.
Some of the Aborigines fight back against the oppression by the Europeans and fight back with force. Others retreat into the hinterland, still others leave their world and their culture and settle in a white settlement. But integration there often fails.
Equal civil rights only in the 1960s
In 1907, Australia, as a self-governing colony, achieved extensive independence from the British Kingdom, but this changed little in terms of policy towards the Aborigines. The repression continues until it bottomed out in the 1920s. At that time, only 60,000 Aborigines are still living, they are considered critically endangered.
But the situation improved afterwards, albeit slowly: Organizations were founded that campaign for the rights of indigenous people. Many Aborigines fought for Australia in World War II, which further raised their status within the country.
In 1949, all Aborigines were officially granted Australian citizenship, but it was not until the 1960s that the government's "White Australia" policy came to an end. Only then are the Aborigines granted equal civil rights, they can vote, own real estate, marry whites and are entitled to a state pension.
The wages are also brought into line with those of whites. With consequences: Many Aborigines are dismissed as a result. A rural exodus sets in, many are moving to the big cities.
2008: the government's apology
In the new millennium, it turns out that the prophecy of the imminent extinction of the indigenous people was wrong. About 600,000 Aboriginal people live in Australia today. However, their social situation is often still very bad. In all important statistics, they are well below whites: the unemployment rate is three times as high, as is the suicide rate, and the average life expectancy is even 17 years below that of white Australians.
Poverty, alcoholism, drugs and violence play a big role in the lives of many Aborigines. Anthropologists interpret this as a result of colonization and cultural uprooting. Over half of the Aborigines now live in cities, some in slums under dire conditions.
A quarter, on the other hand, live in settlements that are far from the nearest city in self-administered reserves. But even there there are always difficult situations.
After there were reports of child abuse and excessive drinking in several Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory in 2007, the government intervened: The sale of alcohol and pornography was heavily regulated, and more teachers, police officers and social workers were sent to the areas. In addition, the unemployed Aborigines receive part of their welfare in the form of food vouchers.
Since the highly acclaimed "Sorry" speech by Australian Prime Minister Rudd in February 2008, in which the government apologized for the first time to the Aborigines for the suffering that was inflicted on them, observers have seen a slight improvement in the situation of the Aborigines.
Their self-confidence and self-image should have increased, at the same time their problems are taken more seriously by the whites. But it is also clear to all sides: there is still a long way to go.
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