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Prejudice is a very powerful tool to ensure control. Prejudice against Australia's first peoples has epitomised the Australian experience of white settlement since 1788 and has had lasting and tragic effects.
The arrival of the First Fleet brought diseases that had never reached Australia's shores, along with attitudes about community, family, farming, land use and culture. The diseases quickly weakened and in some cases decimated Aboriginal populations, particularly in the Sydney area. The poisonous attitudes, however, slowly spread with each new tract of land taken for the British crown or individual prosperity, until each Aborigine was seen as nothing more than pests to be removed.
Laws were made in the colonies of Australia to allow white settlers a feeling of safety and the right to protect themselves from the native population, which was often antagonistic towards newcomers on its land. Some indigenous people were greatly feared by the white population due to their effective guerrilla warfare tactics. A women warrior from Tasmania, Tarenorerer, organised an army of warriors to kill white settlers and their livestock, and was skilled in the use of white firearms. (Matson-Green, 2005) Many other attacks by Aborigines against white settlers are documented in the following text: Black War in Queensland.
The following citation lists laws which made it legal to treat Aboriginal people as non-human.
· 1816 Martial Law (NSW). This proclamation declared Martial Law against Indigenous Australians who could then be shot on sight if armed with spears, or even unarmed, if they were within a certain distance of houses or settlements
· 1824 (Tasmania). Settlers are authorised to shoot Aboriginal peoples
· 1840 (NSW). Indigenous Australians forbidden to use firearms without the permission of a Justice of the Peace
· 1869 (Victoria). The Board for the Protection of Aborigines is established. The Governor can order the removal of any child to a reformatory or industrial school
· 1890 (NSW). In a denial of human rights the Aborigines Protection Board could forcibly take children off reserves and "resocialise" them. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2000)
The effect of these laws was to instil in the European population that Aborigines were less than human and did not deserve to be treated with the care and concern afforded whites. Throughout the colonial period, and indeed even in the twentieth century, Aboriginal people were forced into unfair and often unpaid work agreements to be entitled to remain on their homeland, were treated as second-class citizens without the rights to move freely, to choose whom they married or even to be a parent to their own child.
In the state of Queensland, the policies which made this prejudice legal and "the Australian way" were:
In Queensland, the process of removal of Aborigines to missions and reserves, which controlled every aspect of life and culture with the aim to destroying it, or in the very least, restrict the exposure of white society to a "dying race", meant that language, culture and history were lost. People from disparate nations were forced to live together in direct conflict with their own laws, and children of mixed race were forcibly removed in order to give them a chance to live like whites.
The effects of these policies, attitudes and actions of white society are staggering.
The Australian Human Rights Commission summarises the effects on health of the policies and prejudice discussed above in the following terms:
The inequality in health status experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is linked to systemic discrimination. Historically, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have not had the same opportunity to be as healthy as non-Indigenous people. This occurs through the inaccessibility of mainstream services and lower access to health services, including primary health care, and inadequate provision of health infrastructure in some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The Royal Australasian College of Physicians describes these health inequities as ‘both avoidableand systematic’.18 This legacy remains to be fully addressed and is a significant barrier to the full enjoyment of the right to health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. (Dick and Calma, 2007)
Mental health professionals have acknowledged that a history of colonial oppression has led to lasting negative effects.
Australians First Nation peoples have had to endure the long-term negative affects of colonization that continues to give rise to further marginalization and exclusion. There is an ever-growing theory that suggests western societies including Australia have continued to operate in ways that feed historical injustice which reinforce and maintain minorities’ low status. (Pattel, 2007)
Although attitudes of European Australians have improved their attitudes towards Indigenous Australians over the past three decades, as evidenced in the 2008 Apology to the Stolen Generations, the Mabo and Wik decisions on land rights, and improvements in the access to Indigenous support workers in the criminal justice system to combat overrepresentation and suicide, the major hurdles which are yet to be overcome include:
- Recognition of the unique and important rights of the Indigenous populations of Australia
- Improvements in Indigenous health and education, particularly in remote settlements
- Deeper appreciation of the role of Indigenous cultures in the shaping of the Australian nation, through dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
The advent of European settlers and their prejudice against the Aboriginals has had many negative effects on Aboriginal culture and lifestyles. First, many epidemic diseases brought by the Europeans decimated Aboriginal populations, and prejudice meant that little care was taken to prevent the spread of disease or give decent medical treatment.
Next, there have been significant problems with alcoholism in Aboriginal communities. Often this was used as a reason to remove children from their families, because prejudice meant that the victims of alcoholism were being blamed as unfit parents rather than treated as victims of a disease. More recently, efforts to deal with alcoholism and child abuse have moved beyond blaming the victims to creating alcohol bans and other support mechanisms.
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