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Throughout second semester students of HIST106 have been privy to a breadth of revealing, and at times shocking, information regarding the history of Australia’s Indigenous people. While studying such a broad, deep topic over only twelve weeks does not allow for the most complete of understandings, students gained an invaluable introductory education into the rich heritage of Aboriginal Australians. Looking at the societal transition that occurred during and post European settlement was arguably the foremost objective of the unit, identifying the who, what, when, where and why that culminated into the dramatic economic and social disparity between Indigenous Australia and white Australia. While the course primarily provided research based, and largely recounted teachings for students, the Melbourne Museum’s First Peoples Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre exhibit (Visited 24/10/13) succeeded in providing what could be seen as more emotional and authentic perspective of certain histories and beliefs, helping students refine their perception of ideas that confronted them throughout the semester. The site visit helped reinforce a number of concepts and topics studied; linking strongly with the unit’s weekly focuses.
Cultural pride was a key feature of the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre. This immense pride however, is largely overshadowed the oppression enforced on Aboriginal people throughout settlement and beyond. It is clear that Indigenous Australians had lived in a way that satisfied their needs and they did not abuse their resources; a quote found at the exhibit “you never take more than you need” captures this idea well (Melbourne Museum, Visited 24/10/2013). With this in mind it is clear to see why the changes imposed by European settlement had such strong ramifications for the entire population, tying directly into the topic of myth of peaceful settlement. Those entrusted to pioneer this intercultural transition were certainly not an ideal group, with the initial company comprising of 759 convicts, marine guards, and civil officers. Any opportunity for a peaceful settlement was effectively quashed by the fact that the convicts, who arrived in Australia due to the over-crowding of British prisons (HIST106 Lecture 1: Narrative and Counter-Narrative in Australian History), were likely ill prepared to function in his new, multicultural environment while the officers refused to acknowledge the value and potential of the Indigenous people (HIST106 Lecture 3: Myth of Peaceful Settlement). In numerous videos displayed at the museum many Indigenous Australian figures spoke about a war between themselves and the settlers, and that survival was constant struggle (Melbourne Museum, Visited 24/10/2013). This tension, fuelled by a lack of common language, miscommunication and retaliation boiled over into bouts of extreme frontier violence, which were at times sanctioned by the colonial government (HIST106 Lecture 4: Humanitarianism or Control? Protection, Missions and Reserves). Additionally, monstrosities like that seen at the Convincing Ground massacre at Portland Bay, which took the lives of many Aboriginal Australians (Clark, 2011, p. 99), as not an alien occurrence. Not only did they have to fight to live, but also to maintain their identity.
The artifices collected for the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre highlighted how resourceful and self-sufficient Aboriginal people were prior to European settlement and contributed greatly to their cultural identity (Melbourne Museum, Visited 24/10/2013). The tools, garments and vehicles, much of which was decorated with traditional Aboriginal Australian artistry, boasted a sense of purpose and care that is not apparent in modern manufacturing. The videos spoke about the pride they take in their craft and the meaning of design. These are the details that grant insight into how creative and skilled Indigenous Australians were pre-settlement and that they thrived in a self-governed environment. These factors link closely the topic of assimilation policies. Post settlement when Indigenous Australians where stripped from their natural way of life yet still refused new opportunities they were forced to rely on Government support (HIST106 Lecture 6: Assimilation Policies). Laborious work became a necessity for much of the diminished Indigenous Australian population, denying them the freedom and creativity that was embraced by past generations, which the exhibit proudly featured. If they refused work they faced having their rations withheld or even exile from their family (Broome, 2010, p. 173). At the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre the importance of community was emphasised. Here community is described as the building blocks of life, that through the connection of family and community the past, present and future become one (Melbourne Museum, Visited 24/10/2013). With togetherness being such a valued commodity in Aboriginal Australian culture it only amplifies the tragedies that were caste barriers and the child removal scheme. With the raising of children being a communal effort, removing a single child was traumatic for a great number of people. Between 1910 and 1970 an estimated 100,000 Aboriginal children, many under the age of five (HIST106 Lecture 7: Child Removal) were taken, it is clear to see how this could fracture the spirit of a culture, especially one that values its members so highly.
Throughout the semester considerable emphasis was placed on Aboriginal people’s relationship with the land. The importance of land within their culture was also strongly promoted throughout the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre. It was clear from both sources that Aboriginal people respect and worship the land to an extent that is not easily understood by others. Their ability to not only live, but thrive in Australia for 40 millennia through extreme environmental inconsistencies (Broome, 2010, p. 6) demonstrates the effectiveness and knowledge of sustainable living possessed by Indigenous Australians. In one exhibit Eileen Alberts of Gilgar Gunditj defined sustainability relating to food as that “you never take more than you need. You allow things to grow, and allow things to build” (Melbourne Museum, Visited 24/10/2013). This mindset was clearly disregarded by settlers with the current state of modern society being considered largely unsustainable. The Aboriginal people knew the land and how to treat it. The topic of sustainability as it was presented at the museum heavily supported the content studied throughout the semester. Indigenous Australians had long ago identified areas rich in natural resources, but where forced to leave it behind when came the establishment of missions and reserves while their original, fertile land was flipped over to the highest bidder. While the reserves did not provide the same opportunity for growth, the Aboriginal people where able to transform into considerably more habitable environments (Broom, 2010, p. 85). Conversely the land taken from them brought upon a manufactured farming industry that has not properly thrived since its inception (Broome, 2010, p. 9). A particular exhibit that personally captured Indigenous marriage with the land was part of a series of child drawn pictures that represents part of their culture. One particular picture was of a flower being shielded. The caption reads “Aboriginal people saw white people crushing the flowers and said no don’t do that, they are special to us. The Aboriginal people said we’re gunna keep them, their on our land” (Melbourne Museum, Visited 24/10/2013). The writer feels as though this captures the innate bond shared between Aboriginal people and their land and emphasises the neglect and lack of respect settlers showed for this. A common thread shared between the unit and Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre was that the aboriginal passionately sought the rights to the land that was taken from them.
Aboriginal peoples’ ascension to acquiring land rights and native title was a painfully slow process. As of 1962 only New South Wales and South Australia acknowledged Indigenous Australians’ right to own property, let alone claiming land as their own. Mambo v. Queensland (1992) was momentous for Aboriginal people claiming native title while the Native Title Act (1993) produced a criterion for which future native title disputes would be clarified (HIST106 Lecture 9: Land Rights and Native Title). Jirra Lulia of Yorta Yorta, Wiradjuri traces the separation and distribution of land back to John Batman. She contends that he introduced the concept of owning, renting, buying a selling land to Australia, all of which was foreign to Indigenous Australians and suggests that his treaty was manipulative, and that foreign law resulted in the Aboriginal people being disassociated with their native land, in turn making the retrieval of native title such a difficult process (Melbourne Museum, Visited 24/10/2013). Gaining effective and influential land rights or native title is still a pressing issue, there is currently a movement towards Aboriginal people attaining the right to control economic development, as was put forward by Galarrwuy Yunupingu (Aikman, 2013, pg.1). Like land rights and native title, Aboriginal Australians are seeing progression in a number of areas.
Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the stolen generations on February 13, 2008 was, at the time, a monumental event where he also promised a “future free of inequality and injustice for all Indigenous Australians (Broome, 2010, p. 349). Despite the fact that action of this nature was well overdue, with equality movements like the Day of Morning long preceding it, the Apology was seen as a turning point of sorts (HIST106 Lecture 8: Civil Rights 1 – The Fight for Equality). Interestingly, the exhibition did not appear to have significant dedication to this event, perhaps acknowle…………………………………………….