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Indigenous Knowledge and Education

The Event

The White Australia Policy, otherwise known as the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, was a policy put in place by the newly-formed Australian government. The policy was largely driven by both the feeling of racial superiority of white people and the fears of white miners potentially losing their jobs to Chinese and Pacific Islanders, who were willing to work longer and for less pay (Waugh, 2001). Another element to the White Australia Policy was that of assimilation. One of the reasons for not allowing the Chinese and other races into the country was the belief that their culture could not be assimilated into Australian society (Jayasuria, Gothard, Walker, 2003).

The policy also included a dictation test, which called for non-white or otherwise undesirable immigrants to pronounce 50 English words correctly. If they passed this, the test was repeated in a random European language chosen by the test administrator. As a result, the number of successful applicants was miniscule, eventually dropping to zero after 1909 (National Museum of Australia, n.d.).

After the Second World War, the government slowly began to dismantle the policy. After changes to the Migration Act in 1958 removed the dictation test, 1966 announced the end of the White Australia Policy, and legislation in 1975 sealed its fate (Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection, n.d.)

Continued Effect on Indigenous Australians

While the primary purpose of the White Australia Policy was to prevent those of a different culture from entering the country, it also intended to unite Australia into one culture – the British culture. This, of course, meant that the Indigenous Australians were forced to conform to White Australian standards. At a public meeting regarding the Anti-Chinese movement in 1861, as detailed by Laksiri Jayasuria (2003, p. 23), barrister William Windeyer said “A native savage could be civilised, but a semi-civilised man like the Chinese could not”. It is possible that the attitudes exacerbated by the White Australia policy, particularly the sense of racial superiority and the commitment to a singular British culture, are what led to the change from segregation policies to assimilation policies when it came to Indigenous Australians.

Přemysl Šourek’s thesis on the effects of White Australia on Australian media (2009) indicates that the goals of the Australian government in the early years of federation was “to assimilate the Aboriginal population into the white citizenry, or let those not willing to assimilate become extinct”. Anthony Moran (2005, p. 174) writes in his journal article “for settlers and their governments, the “half-caste” or “mixed blood” was the category of Aboriginality crucial to the imagining of absorbing or assimilating into the white nation”. From this reasoning, we can assume that the perceived need for a homogenized white society enforced by the White Australia Policy was most likely at least part of the reason that half-blooded Indigenous children were removed from their families to receive a British-based education: The Stolen Generation.

Community Learnings

With the abolition of the policy, the number of non-European immigrants rose from 746 in 1966 (the year White Australia was abolished) to 2696 in 1971 (Waugh, 2001). According to the 2011 Census (data released in 2012) about 27% of the population are first-generation Australians, and approximately 20% are second generation. Efforts are also being made to repair the damage to Indigenous Society caused by events occurring during the White Australia years, including the official apology Even so, The White Australia Policy continues to have an effect on the Australian image, having only been officially dismantled in the early-to-mid seventies. The Australian Government (2013, p. 5) proudly proclaims it is “unwavering in its commitment to a multicultural Australia” when the early years of our Federation were defined by a policy that explicitly forbade it. However, perhaps this is as reflection of how far Australia has come as a whole, even if there is still a lot of work to be done.

For one thing, it seems many have not have taken to the variety of cultures now part of Australia. The returning popularity of the One Nation Party is testament to that. In his maiden speech to the Australian Senate, One Nation Senator Bryan Burston advocated for an immigration policy not dissimilar to the White Australia Policy. Burston (Commonwealth of Australia, 2016, pg. 1497) says “The motivation for the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 was threefold: to maintain high wages, preserve social cohesion and protect national identity…One Nation does not advocate racially selective immigration but does seek to minimise cultural incompatibility, evident in the case of Islamic immigration”. Time will tell if history repeats itself, but with the policy now reviled and a nation composed of immigrants, it seems unlikely that it will.

Incorporation into Future Teachings

The White Australia policy and the associated injustices make up a large part of our country’s history, and many people are desperately trying to forget it. It is important that we acknowledge this and take measures so we do not repeat it, and the primary method is through education. In Sarah Booth’s thesis on teaching Indigenous history (2014, p 1), she notes “Education can play a vital role in bringing a balanced perspective to the school system by challenging colonial values and negative stereotypes of Australia’s Indigenous peoples and encouraging reconciliation”.  “Challenging colonial values”, specifically those which led to the White Australia Policy in the first place, are the primary target of education on the matter, as limited understanding will only enforce outdated values and principles.

The primary focus should be on the time of colonialism and its effects on Indigenous people, as this is what students are likely to be familiar with and any misconceptions should be cleared up quickly. The justification and consequences of the White Australia policy should be outlined, and discussion on the matter and how to improve the situation should be discussed with students.

The key discussion points should include:

  • Why white Australians prevented people from different cultures live in this country
  • The lack of discussion of that point in our history, and why that is so
  • The idea of forcing one sort of culture onto people who aren’t familiar with it
  • The treatment of Indigenous and non-European people by white Australians in the name of assimilation
  • What we have learned from that time, and how Australia has changed

The Event

The arrival of the First Fleet was on the 26th of January, 1788. The Europeans, sanctioned by his majesty, captained by Arthur Phillips, sailed out on the 13th of May, 1987 to their destination of Botany Bay. The Fleet consisted of 11 ships that carried the Navy, convicts, and supplies such as animals, plants, tools, and weapons to begin their colonisation of Australia (Frost, 2012). The decision to establish the fleet to Botany Bay was enclosed in a letter on Monday, 21 August, 1786. The letter detailed provisions for the trip and settlement, such as supplies for survival, and tools and equipment for habitation and agricultural needs for colonisation. The land was to be a colony of convicts with minimal supervision by officials. Phillips was aware Indigenous Australians inhabited the land, they were neglected and therefore no negotiations were made on their behalf (Maddison, 2012). These included constitutional recognition or treaties. The result of the event decreased the Indigenous population significantly, due to dispassion of the land along with the family due to forced labour and massacres (Tully, 2015).

Continued Effect on Indigenous Australians

The affects of the First Fleet on the Indigenous Australians were of a devastating nature to those who suffered the accounts first had, and had lived to tell the tale. It still currently has a lasting impact. As the land was declared uninhabitable wasteland or terra nullius, there was no treaty documents evident (Langton et al, 2004). The intention, was not to have a peaceful interaction with the Indigenous people but to create a hostile relationship leading to the extermination. Considered as foreigners to the Europeans, they were viewed as less superior due to their darker skin, and their lifestyle was viewed as barbaric. A combination of fear and mistrust lead to the inhumane way the Indigenous people were treated (Tully, 2015). In the present day, the date of which was the arrival of the First Fleet, is celebrated as Australia Day. And many people, Indigenous or Non-Indigenous, believe that celebration marks the genocide of the Aboriginal people. The protests have initiated a change of date or renaming to “Invasion/Survival Day” (Hinman, 2017). Though the hardships that came with the First Fleet 200 years ago, have diminished. The events that occurred has not been forgotten (Janice et al., 2017). As it had led to the mistreatment for the Indigenous Australians for many years to come. Though presently, the circumstances are a lot more pleasant, with laws and policies to protect them. There still isn’t a recovery for catastrophe that has occurred.

Community Learnings

This event has created negative backlash that is yet to make a recovery for the Indigenous Australians. Though this was just the beginning, which lead to many horrific incidents, there has been some improvement, though the blood shed could have been minimized. In a similar situation, of the same effect, is the invasion of Turtle Island leading to the colonization. According to Maddison (2012), there was a treaty present. Though it wasn’t full executed and partial of it was ignored. The relationship between the Indigenous Americans and the settlers created more order.  Contrary, there were no legal rights for the Indigenous Australians including ownership of land and resources. And the continued discrimination towards the Aboriginal people. Though in 1967, the referendum, the Indigenous Australians were accounted for in the census and thus allowed to vote. Nonetheless, they were not recognised as the first occupants of Australia. Unable to claim ownership of their land. The arrival of the First Fleet, and the horrific events that followed, were very racially steered. The political battles that followed were far greater (Biskup, 1973). Leading to the wider community, to abolish the ‘race privilege’ that favours the ‘white’ people. And achieve ‘self-determination’. Stated as ‘Indigenous Australians to fully overcome the legacy of colonization and dispossession’ and ‘simple acknowledgement that Indigenous people are Australia’s first people’ (HREOC, 2003).

Incorporation into Future Teachings

The teaching of Indigenous Australians in the Australian aims to ‘close the gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Incorporating the knowledge raised from the arrival of the First Fleet, the relationship of the Indigenous Australians with the early settlers and current non-Indigenous Australians. The important factor in the education of Indigenous Australians history are cultural responsiveness, including the actions of the early settlers and Australians. A key discussion point will be the on the racism. The focus will be on the prejudices and misconceptions the early settlers had on their first interaction with Indigenous people. And why it remained unchanged throughout the years. Another key discussion would be the definition of ‘first people’. And the importance of this term to the Indigenous Australians, including the sense of belonging and identity. And their “spiritual and emotional relationship to the land” (Perso, 2012). The topic of colonisation and the right of the European’s to take a land that already had an owner. This begins the discussion point of the importance of the absence of treaty that lead to the murder of Indigenous people upon the arrival of the First Fleet. Including the rights and privileges that was removed. And the final discussion point is the benefits of the colonisation for the early settlers. The biggest being the profits made from the dispossession of the land (Sichel, 2015). The entitlement that came with massacre of the Indigenous people. Bringing the focus of the arrival of the First Fleet off that of the settlers but on the Aboriginal people and the suffering and hardships that followed.

The Event

The Black War (1823-1834) was fought between the Aboriginal people of Tasmania and the European settlers (Peters-Little, Curthoys & Docker, 2010). The Aboriginal people have been the sole inhabitants of Tasmania until the discovery of the island by European explorers. The discoveries lead to an influx of British settlers in 1803 (Boyce, 2010, Clements, 2014a; Clements, 2014b; Peters-Little et al., 2010; Reynolds, 2011). At the time there were approximately 15,000 Aboriginal people living in Tasmania. By 1830 number of settlers increased to approximately 23,000 outnumbering the Aboriginal people (NMA, n.d).

As the settlers began to spread and live on traditional Aboriginal land conflicts arose as the Aboriginal people and settlers competed for resources (Lehman, 2013; McMahon, 2008). The attacks continued to escalate and an operation, the Black Line, was organized to force the Aboriginal people out onto nearby islands (Boyce, 2010; Clements, 2014a; NMA, n.d; Peters-Little et al., 2010; Reynolds, 2011). After the Black Line the Aboriginal people surrendered, by then there were approximately only 220 Aboriginal people remaining due to fighting, disease and displacement (Clements, 2014b; Flood, 2006; NMA, n.d).

The remaining Tasmanian Aboriginal people were relocated to Flinders Island and lived there for about 15 years. During that time there were 132 deaths mainly due to influenza (Flood, 2006). The Aboriginal people where then relocated to Oyster Cove and their numbers continued to fall until the death of Trugannini in 1876 who was thought to be the last “pure-blood” Tasmanian Aboriginal (Flood, 2006, McMahon, 2008, p.182).

Continued Effect on Indigenous Australians

The death of Trugannini is often publicized as the “end of the Tasmanian people” although there is evidence that Trugannini was not the last full blooded Tasmanian Aboriginal (Walsh & Yallop, 2007). This belief has continued to affect the lives of the tens of thousands of Tasmanian Aboriginals to this day (Lee, 2016; NMA, n.d). The Aboriginal people have continuously been denied their rights but it has been particularly difficult for Tasmanian Aboriginals to gain acknowledgement and rights for their people (Lee, 2016; Lehman, 2013).

Despite being one of the biggest conflicts between European settlers and the Indigenous Australians it is not common knowledge (Clements, 2014b; Lehman, 2013). There is little recognition of past events and Indigenous Australians are unable to reconcile with the past. This will not be possible unless there is public recognition of the Black War (Attwood, 2005; Clements, 2014b; Lehman, 2013; McMahon, 2008).

For the Aboriginal people their land and culture is essential and it is a part of their identity (Lee, 2016; Morelli, 2017; Walsh & Yallop, 2007). However due to the sudden decrease in population it has also taken a toll on the language of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people. During the time when the Aboriginal people lived on Flinders Island they were also banned from practicing their culture including speaking their language and also due to the nature of how knowledge is passed down by the Aboriginal people there is little documentation of the language (Flood, 2006; Morelli, 2017).  For Tasmanian Aboriginals today the loss of language means it is more difficult to connect with their ancestors and their cultural, which is crucial to their identity (Lee, 2016; Morelli, 2017; Walsh & Yallop, 2007).

Community Learnings

Although it is not common knowledge in Australia, numerous historians have studied the event and many have used the Black War as an example of genocide (Clements, 2014b; Lehman, 2013; Moses  & Stone, 2013). There is constant debate over whether it is a case of genocide; although many argue that it is not genocide and shares similarities with other cases of genocide. One of the similarities of the Black War and other cases of genocide are the avoidance and denial of the event (Lehman, 2013; Lemarchand, 2011).

There is a reluctance to acknowledge and admit to the terrible events of the Black War. Although there are poor records of the event there is ample evidence of the horrific events during and after the Black War and it is discussed frequently amongst academics. It demonstrates that it is an issue that cannot be ignored and it is an issue that not only affects the Indigenous Australians but also non-Indigenous Australians (Clements, 2014b; Lehman, 2013).

For non-Indigenous Australians, it will be an issue that will continue to cause discomfit. Unless what happened in the past is acknowledged the nation cannot move forward as it will continue to live in the past. For indigenous Australians will be continue to face injustice and will be unable to gain closure of past events (Attwood, 2005; Clements, 2014b; Lehman, 2013).

What this highlights, especially when compared with similar cases, is that it is an issue that will continue to arise unless it is addressed publicly (Clements, 2014b; Lehman, 2013)

Incorporation into future teachings

I think it is an important part of Australian history and a topic that can lead into looking at human rights. As members of a multicultural and globalized society I think it is important to have an understanding of human rights and its implications, as it will allow them to be more responsible citizens. (Australian Human Rights Commission, n.d.; Clements, 2014b; Lehman, 2013; United Nations, n.d.)

Discussion of human rights can be introduced through looking at current events for example asylum seekers and have students reflect on why there is such heated debates surrounding it. This would lead to looking closely at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the reason for its creation and why global organisations, such as the UN, were established. To understanding the establishment of the UN key historical events need to be understood and its consequences and impacts and how they were addressed. This can then be applied to Australian history and what has been done to protect human rights and what needs to be done in the future.

Key Discussion Points:

  1. What is your understanding of human rights?
  2. What are other people’s views of human rights? Do they differ from your ideas?
  3. What are your individual rights? How would you feel if they were taken from you?
  4. Does everyone share the same rights as you do?
  5. Does your right conflict with the rights of others?
  6. Do you agree with all the articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Is there anything you would add or change?
  7. What are the challenges involved in protecting human rights?

(Australian Human Rights Commission, n.d.; United Nations, n.d.)

The Event

The events of “The Stolen Generation” became known throughout Australia over the last 30 years, despite occurring from the turn of the century.  Since 1788, when Australia was “discovered” or claimed by the British people using the concept of ‘Terra Nullis’ (empty land) there were decades of ‘forced assimilation’ between aboriginal people and the British.

The assimilation resulted in many mixed-race people known as ‘half caste’ which the government saw as a threat due to western law practices which would prioritise land ownership in favour of the Aboriginal people.  This was not initially considered a threat as the British did not expect the Aborigines to last more than a couple of generations and they were never treated as smart, able to think for themselves and were mostly used as free labour at the time (Dale, 2008).

The Government developed the ‘Protection Era’ in the 1900s, where ‘half-caste’ kids were removed from Aboriginal parents under the ‘protection of the government’ for skilled education, training, food and shelter.  Although, they would be separated from their roots, parents, community and the land which was distressing because in Aboriginal cultures, the land is determined by family and kinship arrangements (Price, 2015, p.22).

The Native Welfare Board took thousands of ‘half-caste’ Aboriginal kids from their families and placed them into institutions. The Board used the term ’to protect from the threats of the war’ this time (Price, 2015, p.21-25). They were relocated to ‘institutions’, temporarily, until it would be safe, or until they became old enough and no longer under the control of the Native Affair Departments.  Due to children not being functionally literate, they started employment at an early age as domestic servants. Many children were adopted by white men to raise and assimilate aboriginal children within the ‘Australian culture’ who grew up with no knowledge of their aboriginal identity and culture, most would not have social acceptance based on their appearance and lost identity.

Continued Effect on Indigenous Australians

Historically Disconnected

On 26 May 1997, the report of the Inquiry, ‘Bringing them home’, was tabled in the Commonwealth Parliament and indicated that ongoing ‘psychological and emotional damage renders many people less able to learn social and survival skills’ (Price, 2015, p.26). As a result, the removed children were ‘historically disconnected’ from their traditions, language, cultural and community and they lost their link to their traditional land.


The Bringing Them Home report reviewed many testimonies that recognised the events of the stolen generation and was at odds with many previous reports noting that the forcible transfer of children, plans and attempts to destroy a group and that mixed motives are no excuse for genocide (Barta, 2008).

The notion of genocide for the stolen generation appeared in discussions noting the recognition of atrocities that can be confronting and the conflict continued as recently as December 2016 with the desire to build a memorial in Tasmania facing opposition from the Hobart Mayor who did not want to invoke guilt in the community (Shine & Aird, 2016).  The aboriginal people wanted to acknowledge the tragedies that happened over the last 200 years noting specifically the extermination of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people.


First moral rights were obtained in 1967, when a historical referendum indicated that more than 90% white Australians supported the rights of black ones, but Australian political and bureaucratic leaders did not take it seriously (Foley, 2011, p.612).  The major second moral victory was an Aboriginal Embassy in 1972 for six months, on the lawn of Parliament House in Canberra. It forced changes in the national agenda and brought Aboriginal issues in to focus where they remain.


The importance of learning an Aborigines language at school settings will result in developing self-esteem and acceptance from the community noting that “Without knowledge of our language, we feel culturally and spiritually diminished”. (Price, 2015, p.141). Indigenous people feel excluded and isolated at schools because of language differences.

Community Learnings

National apology and acceptance of responsibility

National Apology to the Stolen Generation, on 13 February 2008, was an act of accepting responsibilities in 2008 and National Compensation Fund under the auspices of the Council of Australian Government should be established (Perkins, 2008).

‘Our ignorance and our prejudice’ (Keene, n.d.) is the main concern to overcome the barrier of misunderstanding and hostility and allow both groups to spend time together on a more personal level.

Social Justice and Treaty

There is a need to change Social Perception of Racism throughout mass-media institutions, education, government and personal acceptance and building Australian Identity on the concept of multiculturalism (Kress, 1988, p.52).  Bringing awareness to change perceptions, creating positive images of Aborigines and giving them respect and appreciation of their talents and uniqueness also letting them know how proud we are to work and live together (Barakat, Tedtalks, 2016).

Appreciation of the Land and Connectedness

The culture provides for the learning from Aborigines about the importance of the land and connectedness.  In relation to the land thus attached to the estates and its part – ranges and units (Kress p.39).

Incorporation into Future Teachings

De-colonial goals and Practice of Freedom

While we teach students about the ‘way they think’, their dispositions for more open enquiry and reflection will be developed by applying Bennett’s framework to adopt cultural differences (Climillo, 2011, p.8). ‘Interplay Wellbeing Framework’ was developed alongside with Aboriginal communities that reflects on measuring system against not our world view but their values, goals and beliefs (Cairney, Tedtalks, 2016). ‘Freedom to be themselves’ underlies in the concepts of empowerment, culture and community interlink with health, education and employment.

History lesson and Cultural competency

Inclusion in national history curriculum that fact of the forcible removal should be taught at primary and secondary schools not to be guilty of but learn from terrible mistakes of our nation and stretch the possibility of incorporating those into building an understanding and appreciation of Aborigines presence and history. Using their approach to share skills from elders as a personal training without standardised testing instead focusing on the process (Cairney, Tedstalk, 2016; Yunkaporta & McGinty, p.66-67, 2009). Teachers need to become ‘culturally competent’ and gain and use this knowledge in order to embrace Aboriginal legacy and change social perception and learn from it. (Pries, 2015, p.177).

Cultural practices, languages and Cultural interface

Using their language (Dress p.142), stories such as ‘Namorrodor’ (Lewis, 2007), drawings/symbols and dancing for math expression and re-telling a story (Pries, 2015, p117). as a transparent form of communication and social action that could convey as the metaphors and learning resources (Kress p.82).  The notion of language as a social practice will lead teachers to challenge our own identity and practices (Beynes n.d.; Perso, 2012, p. ) with a string focus on power sharing and flexibility in the classroom (Kress p.128). Interconnectedness of language and culture/society always will occur in linguistic action throughout Nakata’s Cultural Interface theory, social positioning and reflection, but it cannot reform society along (Lowe & Yunkaporta, n.d.; Mclaughin & Whatman, 2016, p.2). Other kinds of social action have to accompany the linguistic action that will convey a ’new Australian-Aboriginal’ meaning and shift the power-weal to equality.