By Jill A. Bolstridge
Saturday/Sunday, April 6, 2008.
Australia’s Aboriginal ethnic groups comprise an historic indigenous people rich in culture, advanced in social infrastructure, and innovative in discovery. The Aborigines who lived in Australia before Western society’s huge migration to the island may have been the first human beings on earth; some artifacts suggest that peoples were living in Australia at least 12,000 years before people were living in what is now known as Europe.
Though very little recorded history exists about Aboriginal culture, artifacts show that these people were hunters and gatherers in nomadic, family-centered tribes. They were artists and storytellers whose religion taught man’s oneness with nature, and their social infrastructure was based around principles of justice.
Yet today, the descendants of these noble people have been reduced within the social order of their own homeland as degenerate members of society. Why? How?
According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, indigenous people represented 22% of Australia’s prison population in June of 2005: a shocking figure, particularly since Aborigines make up less than 3% of Australia’s total population. Indigenous women are currently the fastest growing profiled group in Australia’s prison system. And throughout the 1990’s, indigenous people made up an astoundingly disproportionate 18% of prisoner deaths in custody.
These figures help to marginalize the condition of blacks in Australia, categorizing them in an all-encompassing pigeonhole as criminals and degenerates. An article entitled “Aboriginal Crime in Australia,” published by Australian News Commentary, states: “The journalists and PR experts working, at taxpayer expense, for the Aboriginal industry have created a number of terms best described as emotive propaganda. One such term is ‘Aboriginals are over-represented in jails.’
You wouldn't think they would publicise such a fact. But the propaganda effect has turned a negative into a positive. The term has been picked up and used by the Aboriginal industry, judges and do-gooders to try and make us all feel guilty about jailing any Aboriginal, regardless of the crime. Why are Aboriginals ‘over-represented’ in jails? Simply because they commit more crime. … That is why Aboriginals are ‘over-represented’ in the criminal justice system. No amount of posturing and emotional blackmail can change the facts.”
Yet that answer seems too simple. When an entire group of racially or culturally profiled people appears to make up a disproportionate figure of the total criminal population, a more investigative approach is in order.
Australian Aborigines currently suffer from poor health, inadequate housing, low education, and high unemployment and a whole host of other social inconsistencies.
- Indigenous communities report exponentially higher rates of over-crowding, sub-standard housing, and homelessness. According to the Australian government’s 2001 census, 46% of the 213 indigenous communities with a population of 50 or more were not connected to a town water supply. All of these communities had either failed water quality testing or had not been tested at all in the twelve months prior to the census.
- Blacks in Australia are making a significantly lower amount of money than whites. According to the 2001 Australian census, the average household income for indigenous people was $364 per week, a meager 62% of the average weekly household income for non-indigenous people, which was $585.
- Unemployment amongst Australian Aborigines is one of the highest in the world, ranking up to 90% in most predominately indigenous communities.
- The Australian education system is systematically failing the country’s black population. In 2003, only 66.3% of Aborigines completed non-compulsory school through their twelfth year, compared to 86.3% of white Australians. In 2002, 3% of Aborigines held a bachelor’s degree, compared to 16.9% of non-indigenous people holding the same degree.
- The Aboriginal population of Australia has a higher child mortality rate than that of Bangladesh. According to the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, twice as many low birth weight babies are born to indigenous women than to non-indigenous women. Between 1999 and 2004, twice as many Aboriginal babies died before their first birthday than white Australian babies. In 2001, it was reported that no infant mortality rate trends could be concluded because of the poor data that existed; yet in 2004, the infant mortality rate in the Northern Territory (predominantly Aboriginal communities) was 15.4 babies per 1000, which is three to four times higher than the national Australian infant mortality rate of 4.69 per 1000.
- Blacks in Australia are dying from curable, treatable diseases at rates up to ten times higher than whites. Clinical studies have proven that Aborigines suffer from chronic illnesses at exponentially higher rates than non-indigenous people. Such conditions include cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cancers, endocrine, nutritional, and metabolic diseases (such as diabetes), diseases of the digestive system, infections of the intestinal system, sexually transmitted infections, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and viral infections. The rates of diseases vary from 1.3 to 10.1 times greater than those of non-indigenous people.
- Black Australians have a life span that is about 15 years shorter than white Aussies. From 1996 to 2001, the life expectation was 59.4 years for Aboriginal men (compared to 76.6 years for non-indigenous men) and 64.8 years old for Aboriginal women (compared to 80 years for non-indigenous women).
Yet in spite of these startling statistics, the plight of these indigenous people is rarely spoken of outside of Australia. The mainstream media in Australia continues to point the finger at the criminals and accuse the criminal justice system of being “too soft,” calling them “bleeding hearts,” while the government continues to place band-aids on all of the problems of the indigenous people, without ever stopping to examine the underlying causes of the group’s true plight.
When taking a look at these facts, it is little wonder why the crime rate is so high amongst this disenfranchised group. Hasn’t history proven that desperate people will resort to desperate means? Do we not know that, globally, impoverished and oppressed people are more driven toward crime than those who are well taken care of? This condition is not exclusive to the Aboriginal people of Australia, but has proven, time and time again, to be a universal truth.
So how did these people arrive at such a desperate state? How did a noble society of family-oriented tribes, hunters and gatherers harmonious with nature, turn into an allegedly degenerate group of criminals?
According to Yabu Bilyana, a candidate for the Socialist Labour League in Australia in 1996, the problems of Australia’s Aboriginal population are the result of Western capitalism infiltrating Australian lands. In a 1996 speech, he stated: “The oppression of Aboriginal people began with the global spread of the capitalist system which led, in turn, to the colonisation of Australia. Two hundred years on, the contradictions of the profit system have reached such a point that the poverty, misery and degradation inflicted by it on the indigenous population indicates the social conditions that are being created for all sections of the working class.”
Indeed, an examination of the history of the Aboriginal people certainly reflects a frightening reality of oppression and degradation from which it is not surprising that they have yet to emerge.
In 1788, when white settlers declared Australia a British penal colony, tragedy befell the fate of the Aborigines, one of the oldest and most vibrant indigenous populations in world history. The tale is not unlike so many others we have heard. Much like Native American Indians, Inuits, and other indigenous groups throughout the world, the native people of the land suffered greatly at the hands of white settlers as their territory was claimed and their way of life was shattered. The result was devastating.
The settlers brought with them diseases the native people had never known; by 1782, long before Australia had even been claimed as a colony, Small Pox had annihilated 50% of the Aboriginal population in and around modern-day Sydney. The settlers destroyed the natural habitat of the land’s animals and raped the land for its natural resources. When the Aborigines realized that their land was being eradicated and attempted to fight back, their punishment was swift and brutal.
After so-called Aborigine “rebels” launched an attack to protect their land, killing several whites and wounding British Captain Arthur Phillip, the settlers launched a plan to eradicate the so-called trouble-makers from the planet. They set out on systematic slaughter missions. They poisoned entire tribes and destroyed sacred sites. They raped women and stole children.
As if this barbarity was not bad enough, the settlers also launched a campaign to hunt Aborigines for sport and for reward, whereby white settlers would be paid for each Aborigine they murdered. Survivors of the slaughter were pushed away from their original homelands and farther back into lands with little resources and forbidding terrains. Families were split up and children were stolen and sent off to white societies in order to be “civilized.” In order to justify their butchery, the British settlers declared that, prior to their arrival, Australia was terra nullius (uninhabited by humans).
Indisputably, these conditions would contribute to the destruction of any civilization. In just two short centuries, one of the world’s oldest civilizations lost its land, its culture, its language, its traditional way of life, and its very dignity, destroying its people and breaking their spirit.
It is no surprise then that so many members of this devastated group turned to alcoholism and drug abuse to escape the horrific realities unfolding about them. The same thing happened in the present-day United States, when Native American Indians were unable to cope with the same type of tyranny. What’s worse, the escape of alcohol was even more dangerous for indigenous people than for Europeans because their constitutions were not accustomed to alcohol’s devastating effects.
Thus followed the break-down of the Aboriginal family structure. Alcoholism had spread like wild fire. Domestic violence rose and unemployment soared, forcing droves of Aborigines into government Welfare programs. Crime increased at a staggering rate. In 1910, the Australian government decided that Aborigines had caused enough problems and decided to take action that would eradicate this troublesome people, once and for all.
Thus ensued sixty years of “baby snatching,” where whites raided Aboriginal homes, stole their children, and shipped them off to state orphanages and white foster homes. The government declared this “the Aboriginal Protection Act,” an act which declared all Aborigines wards of the state. From 1910 to 1970, this law remained in place. Over the course of six decades, 100,000 Aboriginal babies were stolen from their families and sent to government-run homes. Many of these stolen babies are still alive today, and are now known in Australia as “the Stolen Generation.”
Parents during this time had no right to claim their children, and those who resorted to “illegal” means to rescue them from their kidnappers were imprisoned or killed. It is important to note that this was occurring during the time of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, a period of time well documented in history books around the world; yet the suffering of Aborigines during this same contemporary time period is rarely spoken of and hardly known outside of Australia.
Aborigines did not even gain the right to vote in their own land until 1967, over one hundred years after African Americans gained the same right and more than half a century after women’s suffrage in the US and in Europe. Yet few in the global community seem aware of the magnitude of these atrocities, or if they are, they aren’t speaking out about it. All that is known is the high crime rates, the victims of the accusers, and the high black prison population. Why has no one stopped to question the underlying causes of this horrific tragedy???
In her article, “Killing Them Softly,” published by Australian News Commentary, Anna Marshall delivers a scathing attack on what she refers to as the “Aboriginal Genocide” in Australia.
She states: “Saddam Hussein was a clumsy amateur when it came to committing genocide. I believe there is a far more subtle way. … If a political group wants to rid itself of a troublesome ethnic minority, the most efficient method is to alienate the target group and then destroy the self-respect and motivation of the group’s members. They will do the rest for you. No guns or chemical weapons are required. … As the plan comes to fruition, the group should begin to die out from poor nutrition, alcoholic diseases and alcohol-fuelled killing of each other… Soon the group members will build up a feeling of hopelessness. There will be nothing to strive for in life apart from the vague concepts of ‘land rights’ and ‘self-determination.'”
How is it possible that the world has yet to question the horrific treatment and subsequent devastation of an entire civilization of human beings? In a world where “might makes right,” big corporations and world governments plow down the land and the cultures that were once in place, taking over in order to advance their own agenda. It started with colonialism and continues to this very day.
The result is devastating on the indigenous people of the invaded region. With so little respect for the environment, the world’s natural resources are rapidly being depleted. And with so little respect for the indigenous cultures of the native lands, the world is quickly losing some of its greatest human resources.
As these people feel more and more victimized, and government programs continue to enable the victimization, marginalized groups are rapidly being wiped off the face of the planet. If understanding is not fostered and respect developed, the future looks both grim and terrifying. And in the long run, the real victim is the whole of humanity.
Jill A. Bolstridge is with Ricenpeas - the award-winning film production company.
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