Effects that colonial rule has had on Australia
Every empire has good and bad effects on their colonies, and like every other colony under British rule, Australia had both positive effects and negative effects from the British crown. Our official and most widely spoken language is English.
The Australian government and legal system is based on their British counterparts. As a result we live in a democratic society where every citizen has rights, and no one person is above the law. However the Queen is still our head of government, and her representative in Australia is the Governor-General.
A vast majority of the population are of Anglo or Irish heritage, which is a result of our colonial past, however since World War II immigration of people from both Europe and Asia has changed this percentage dramatically. This influx of immigrants has influenced Australian culture, particularly food.
Sport is an important part of Australian culture, and the most popular and most successful sports were introduced through colonial rule. Cricket, Rugby Union and Rugby League are particular sports that Australians have adopted from our British counterparts. Football, or soccer as it is known by in Australia, is beginning to become more popular among the younger generation, and Australian Rules Football, or ‘Aussie Rules’ football as it is more commonly known by, was influenced by various football codes. Australia has also competed in every single Commonwealth Games held.
Colonial Rule and the Aboriginal People
The British colonialists were not the first inhabitants of Australia. The aboriginal people have inhabited Australia from 40 000 to 45 000 years, making their civilization the oldest continuous in the world. Till European settlement they remained relatively cut off from the rest of the developing world. Due to this isolation the landmass of Australia was declared ‘Terra Nullius ‘, meaning the land was owned by no one, because it was perceived that the aborigines did not claim ownership of the land, however this was because they believed that they belonged to the land, rather than the land belonging to them. It was also because of this lack of ownership of the land that the British did not perceive the aborigines to be people.
When the British settled they brought European diseases with them, such as influenza and small pox, which the aborigines had no exposure to, therefore no immunity to them. This inadvertently caused epidemics to breakout throughout the Sydney area resulting in the deaths of hundreds of aborigines. The settlers also brought alcohol, tobacco, and opium with them; which had never been exposed to the aboriginal people before. Early local trading of these products lead to substance abuse which still affects the aboriginal community today.
The British also underestimated the value of the land to the aborigines and believed that they could simply move to different land. If the aborigines moved their spiritual ties would be broken with the land, and new food and water sources would have to be located. No treaties were made with the local people when the British settled the land, unlike the Maoris in New Zealand and the Native American Indians in North America, because of ‘Terra Nullius’.
When the aborigines began to fight back for their right to live in their ancestral land the British fought back with massacres, and tactics such as sprinkling various infectious scabs in blankets and clothing and giving them to the aborigines as gifts, and poisoning sources of fresh water. This caused a 90% decrease in aboriginal population from 1788 to 1900. The Tasmanian aborigines were particularly affected by these factors. Martial Law was declared on the aborigines in 1828 by the Governor of Tasmania, and many settlers interpreted this to mean war against them, especially with bounties being placed on both aboriginal adults and children’s heads. The last full-blood Tasmanian aborigine, Truganini, died in 1876 after a life of being passed between various aboriginal establishments.
The introduction of European animals to central Australia, such as sheep, cattle, and rabbits, caused the once fertile soils and shrub to become nothing more than desert, had a substantial effect on the native wildlife, which the aborigines depended on for a food source, and their own local economies. This forced the aboriginals to hunt the sheep and cattle, which would later cause a backlash from the stockmen.
Many massacres of aborigines occurred on mainland Australia throughout the mid-nineteenth century, through to the twentieth century. The most notable of these being the Myall Creek massacre in 1838, in which twenty-eight aboriginal people were killed by twelve squatters and stockmen. Seven of the men were found guilty for the murder, which was significant because it was the first time that white man was found guilty under British Law for a crime against the aboriginal people. The seven men were executed by hanging.
Between 1900 and 1969 aboriginal children who had European characteristics, or were of mixed descent, who were known as ‘half-caste’ were taken from their families by authority of the Australian Government and placed in orphanages or camps in order to be ‘assimilated into Australian society’.
In 1967 a referendum was held which changed the constitution which made it possible for aboriginal people to vote and the Commonwealth to make laws to respect the aboriginal people, with an overwhelming 90% majority – the largest affirmative vote in Australian referenda history.
In 1971, in an attempt by the Yolngu people to halt mining on their traditional land, Justice Blackburn ruled that the English had rightful ownership of the land on the rule of ‘terra nullius’ and the aboriginal people had no right to native title. In reaction to this a Tent Embassy was erected out the front of Parliament House in Canberra, the nation’s capital, in 1972 due to sentiments that the Aborigines felt they were strangers in their own country.
In 1992 the Australian High Court ruled the legal concept of ‘terra nullius’ to be invalid in the Mabo Case which gave way for subsequent land rights and native title legal cases in Australia, many aboriginal tribes winning traditional land rights.
Whilst overcoming adverse discrimination and prejudice, the Aboriginal people still have lower health rates than Caucasian Australians, such as a life expectancy seventeen years lower than the rest of the country. Aboriginal Australians are also eleven times more likely to be imprisoned. These have affected the image of Aboriginal culture, which has all but died due to the disbanding of tribes and extinct languages, of which there were several hundred spoken at the time of British settlement and now only 70 still exist.
Because of the historical treatment of not only the Aboriginal people but also the convict settlers, particularly the Irish convicts, by the British authorities and their oppressive nature, many Australians are not proud of their English heritage.