The present situation of Aborigines in Australia

Pre-University Paper, 2000

21 Pages, Grade: 15 Points

Free online reading

1. Introduction page

2. Overview of Aboriginal history page

3. Aboriginal culture and religious belief page
- The Dreamtime
- Dream paths
- Totems

4. Living conditions of Aborigines today page
- Housing
- Employment situation
- Education
- Health
- Alcohol and drug problems
- Criminality

5. Survey and Results page

6. “Modern” Aborigines page
- Sports
- Art
- Music
- Politics

7. Conclusion page

8. Bibliography

- Example of a survey
- Erklärung

1. Introduction

The indigenous people of Australia have lived on the continent for at least 40 000 years.1

They formed one of the oldest societies on earth. Compared to other ancient societies such as the Indians in America or the Indigenous people of Africa one can say that due to the late European contact the Aboriginal culture is the one, which has survived the longest. Their culture is very precious and fascinating although it might be hard to fully understand their way of life if seen through the eyes of Europeans or white Australians.

The expression “Aborigine” originally comes from Latin2and means something like “to be descended from or “to be a native”.3It stands for a person or living thing which has existed in a country or continent since the earliest time known to people.4It generally refers to “the Indigenous people of Australia” which is the politically correct term.5

Today about 400 000 Aborigines live in Australia and they form only about 2 % of the population of Australia.6Nevertheless the Aboriginal culture is present in non-Aboriginal society. Many places have Aboriginal names such as “Wollongong” or “Wooloomoloo”, which are close of Sydney. Even the name of Australia`s capital, Canberra, which means “meeting place”, originally comes from an Aboriginal word.7During the last years the Reconciliation movement and Aboriginal education have grown in priority and more Australians have become aware of Aboriginal affairs.

Aboriginal culture, however, has also become more and more commercialised as it has become very popular as a tourist attraction in recent years.

During my student exchange in Australia in year 11 1998/1999 I started to become interested in issues concerning Aborigines. First I was very fascinated by their way of life and their culture which is so different from our western culture. I adopted the harmonic picture of Aborigines which the tourism industry tries to make foreigners believe. Soon, however, I became aware of the fact that their ancient traditions do not have much in common with their present situation. During the past 200 years much of their culture has been destroyed due to the establishment of reserves missions and the so called “Stolen Generation”, when Aboriginal children were taken away from their parents in order to teach them the “civilised European way of life”.

I also discovered that it is very hard to make a decision about the treatment of Aborigines. On the one hand most people see the importance of preserving their precious culture but on the other hand it is also important to integrate them into white Australian society. This often leads to the conflict between traditional and western orientation among the Indigenous people. In the course of the following paper I want to give an overview of Aboriginal history and culture and then deal with the present situation of Aborigines, with their position in white Australian society, with their living conditions, with Reconciliation and other issues concerning Aborigines today.

2. Overview of Aboriginal history

- Approx. 40 000 years ago (some historians even suggest 60 000 years ago) The first humans start to settle in Australia. The sea level is, because of the Ice Age in the Northern Hemisphere, about 200-250 metres lower than nowadays. The islands of the present Indonesia form a land bridge, with only small distances between the Islands, which can be crossed easily with the help of simple boats and rafts . Therefore it is possible for tribes from Asia to settle in the Australian continent.8

- Approx. 2000 years ago

This is the start of contact with peoples from the islands north of Australia (e.g. Melanesians, Polynesians, Indonesians). Their appearance have an impact on local art, music and material culture especially in the northern Arnhem land. They trade goods and Aboriginal peoples allow them to enter their coastal areas for fishing. These contacts last at least until the arrival of the first Europeans.9

- Early 17th century

The first Europeans discover Australia ( e.g. 1606 Dutch sailor Willem Jansz). and the continent starts to appear in European maps.10

- 20th April 1770

The British captain James Cook arrives at Botany Bay near the present Sydney and claims the continent for Britain. He declares the continent “terra nullius” in order to justify the claim of land. “Terra nullius” is the notion that the land was unowned and empty of human habitation when Europeans arrived.11

- 26th January 1788

This is the date of the arrival of the “First Fleet” and the development of the first British settlement named “Port Jackson” (later Sydney) by Arthur Philipp.

In 1783 the 13 American states which belonged to Britain become independent and Britain planes to use the new continent “terra australis” as a convict colony. The “First Fleet “ consists of about 1500 passengers (757 convicts).12

The indigenous population is estimated to have been around 300 000. Diseases such as syphilis, tuberculosis, trachoma, smallpox, influenza, measles and whooping cough are introduced. The Aborigines being unfamiliar with these diseases have no anti-bodies to fight them and so the diseases have devastating effects.13

- 1797

The first free settlers arrive in Australia mainly from England and other countries of the United Kingdom.14

- 1805

The present governor passes a law which forbids Aborigines to enter “white people’s la nd”, their houses and public buildings.15

- 1813

Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson, known as the “Three Explorers”, find a way to cross the Blue Mountains west of “Port Jackson”. It is now possible for white settlers to expand their colony and to use the fertile land on the other side of the mountains for agriculture and sheep farming.16

- 1838

The first German settlers with Lutheran religion arrive in Australia. They settle near Adelaide and Brisbane and develop the first Lutheran mission near Adelaide named Hermannsburg.17

- Middle of 19th century

As a result of the gold rush (1851) the white population grows. Approx. 1.5 million white settlers live in Australia.

On the one hand there are cruel ex-convicts and landowners who exploit and discriminate Aborigines and on the other hand Christians develop missions in order to “civilise” the Indigenous people.18

- 1876

This is the date of the death of the last full-blooded Tasmanian.19

- 1885

This is the beginning of the so called “Stolen Generation”. Young children are taken away from their families (especially half castes) and put into missions in order to learn the European way of life. These actions lasted at least until 1970.20

- 1st January 1901

The Australian Commonwealth is established. Up to 1900 all states were independent.

- 1930´s

The first protest movements against the poor conditions of Aborigines occur in Sydney.

One group of protesters stands for assimilation of Aborigines in white Australian society.

Another one stands for apartheid and separation of indige nous from white people in order to give Aborigines the possibility to keep their own culture.21

Reserves are established which consist of tribally and linguistically mixed communities. This makes it almost impossible for Aborigines to maintain their heritage.22 Only about 80 000 Aborigines still live in Australia.23

- 26th, January (Australia day) 1938

The white population celebrates the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the “First Fleet”. More than 100 Indigenous people protest in front of Australia Hall, at great personal risk in order to achieve Aboriginal Civil Rights. Until the present day “Australia day” is known as “The Day of Mourning and Protest” or also as “Invasion Day” by the Aboriginal communities.24

- 1966

Several Aboriginal people protest against their poor living and working conditions.

The first common law land rights challenge by Aboriginal people, the “Gove Land Rights case” takes place. The attempt fails however as the notion of “terra nullius” remains.25

- 1967

90% of Australians vote in a referendum for full citizens` rights for all Aborigines and for assimilation and integration into white Australian society.

Full citizens` rights include rights to vote, to own property, to receive unemployment benefits and welfare, but also the right to buy alcohol. By now most Aborigines live in one of the approximately 120 reserves.26

- 1970/71

Aborigines are pressing for greater control over essential services such as health, housing and legal Aid. The first “Aboriginal Legal Aid“ and “Aboriginal Health” centres, which are entirely under Aboriginal control are set up in Sydney as voluntary organisation.27

- 1971

An Aboriginal land claim is rejected by Mr Justice Blackburn. He justifies his decision by saying that “the Aboriginal title to land has no t survived British settlement of the continent.” The notion of “terra nullius” remains.28

- 1972

A tent embassy is set up under the Aboriginal flag outside Parliament House in Canberra

in order to draw attention to Land Rights and other Aboriginal causes. Gough Whitlam, then leader of the opposition Labour Party and later Prime Minister enters into negotiations with Aboriginal representatives inside the tent embassy.29

Under the Gough Whitlam government organisations and institutions ( e.g. 1972 “Department of Aboriginal Affair” (DAA), 1973 “National Aboriginal Consultive Committee”(NACC) which later formes the “National Aboriginal Conference” (NAC) in 1978, 1980 “ Aboriginal Development Corporation (ADC) ) are established and governmental funding is made available for Aboriginal affairs.30

- 1975

The Racial Discrimination Act is released and an Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill is drafted by the Whitlam government.

The governor-general dismisses the government.31

- 1976

The Liberal-Country Party coalition comes to power and introduces the “Aboriginal Land Rights Act” with major modifications to the former Bill. It is now possible for indigenous people to claim land. These rights however are only limited as no land in public or private use can be claimed. Most of the land given back is land from the Northern Territory.32

- 26th, January 1988 (Bicentennial Celebration)

Aboriginal protest movements occur at several places in Australia. “Burnum Burnum“ an Australian Aborigine symbolically plants a flag on Folkstone beach in Britain and claims Britain for his people.33

The United Nations accuse Australia of violating human rights by the way they treat their indigenous people.34

- 1993 Native Title Act

The Act wants to give effect to the principles of the High Court decision in the Mabo case (a land claim which overturns the premise of “terra nullius in 1992) and make it possible for Aborigines to claim more land than under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. Even land in public or private use is claimable if a continued connection with the land under claim can be proved. This is a disadvantage for some claimants as many Aborigines have been forcibly removed from their land, especially in New South Wales.35

- 1996 Wik decision (Wik vs. Queensland)

It determines that native title can co exist with other rights on land held under a pastoral lease. In the case of any conflict however the rights of the pastoral prevail.36

In 1997 the outcome of the Wik decision leads to the “Native Title Amendment Bill” which passes the Senate in 1998 under the John Howard (Prime Minister and leader of the LiberalNational coalition ) government.

March 1999

Australia is ordered to the UNO committee because of racial discrimination of Aborigines.37

- 6th November 1999

65% of Australians vote in a referendum in order to maintain the monarchy. A preamble was included by John Howard which would confirm a “deep kinship” of Aborigines with the land. This preamble which could have made more land claims possible is rejected as well.38

- 27th May - 3rd June 2000 Reconciliation week (Corroboree 2000)

On 28th May about 250 000 people cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge in order to show their support for Aboriginal Reconciliation and to protest against John Howard´s refusal for an apology. Reconciliation week has been introduced by the “Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation” (established in 1991) . 27th May is the anniversary of the 1967 referendum and 3rd June marks the day of the famous Mabo decision. A “Sorry Day” which falls on 26th May has also been introduced to apologize especially for the “Stolen Generation”. There still has been no official apology to the Aboriginal people by the Prime Minister.39

3. Aboriginal culture and religious belief

It is hard to understand the Aboriginal traditional culture if seen through the eyes of Europeans. I think that it is almost impossible to sufficiently explain their ancient way of thinking as it involves with myths, secrets, taboos and a certain sense for sacredness. One probably has to grow up with this culture in order to develop a feeling for these things. Nevertheless I will try to give a brief outline of their traditional beliefs because I also think that one has to have certain knowledge of their ancient way of life in order to understand their present situation.

When European settlers arrived in Australia there where an estimated 500 different tribes distinguished by characteristic features in culture, language or dialect.40 They were semi- nomadic and travelled in order to hunt and collect food. Every tribe had its own territory and its size depended on the fertility of the land. Therefore the population density was highest in more fertile areas like the south east coast.41

Considering these circumstances, that is the large number of tribes, and the fact that the environmental differences in the large continent had an impact on the lifestyle it is impossible to speak of “the Aboriginal culture or religion”. Nevertheless there are similarities and most groups have almost the same way of thinking and seeing the world.


The Indigenous people of Australia believe in a creation time or “Dreamtime” when mythic ancestral beings existed on earth.

These ancestral beings were the lawmakers and taught their descendants the correct way to behave.42These beings also shaped the land as they metamorphosed as hills or rocks or turned into various creatures or plants. Their spirits however live on eternally. Therefore a lot of places, which are often marked by an unusually shaped tree, rock or hill, have a sacred meaning to Aborigines.43Because of these sacred sites Aborigines have a special connection with the land they live on. They believe that “the land owns them and not that they own the land.”44Therefore their land claims which have started to increasingly occur from the 1970`s also have a religious background.45

Aborigines also do not have the same sense of time as Europeans. The Aboriginal word “Tjukurpa” means something like existing in the past, present and future and the English word “Dreamtime” can only insufficiently translate this term.46

Dream paths:

Aborigines believe that the mythic beings, which wandered across the land during the Dreamtime, left traces on earth in the form of invisible paths. These paths still exist and Aboriginal people fo llow these paths while hunting and collecting food. The content of many songs, which are an important part of Aboriginal culture deal with these paths. The “Songlines” which are handed down from generation to generation describe the tracks which lead the Aboriginal people to fertile areas or make it possible to find water in the more arid areas.47


Totemism in an essential part in Aboriginal culture. The concept rests on the belief that human beings are an integral part of nature and that human beings share the same life essence with every form of life. Therefore Aborigines feel a deep kinship with everything that surrounds them (even “lifeless” things like hills, stones, the sun or the moon).48 Every Aborigine has his or her individual totems. The birth totem for example is often determined by parent’s dream before the child’s birth. Most Aboriginal groups believe that this dream is more decisive for the pregnancy of the mother than the actual sexual act.49The totemic belief also marks the every day life of the Indigenous people. If an Aboriginal person, for example, has the totem of the kangaroo it is forbidden for this person to hunt and eat this animal. As a result of this belief the Aboriginals found it was possible to keep the number of animals in balance and prevent extinction of certain species.

However there is a very complex and complicated concept of several types of totems.

Aborigines usually have more than one totem. The totem can also depend on the affiliation of a certain clan or social group or other factors, which cannot be covered in detail because it would go beyond the scope of this paper.

4. Living Conditions of Aborigines today

Australia belongs to the countries with the highest standard of living in the world. Most of the Indigenous people however are underprivileged and of a very low socio

economic class.

In some parts their living conditions can even be compared to those in Third World countries or the slums of Calcutta or Recife.50


Generally one can say that Aborigines live in more rural and remote areas than non- Aboriginal Australians. About 70% of the Indigenous population live in towns with less than 100 000 inhabitants compared 40% of the total population of Australia.51 Although the Aboriginal population is becoming increasingly urbanised, in cities it usually occupies the most run-down districts in the cities such as the Redfern area in Sydney. Compared to non-Aboriginal households a greater proportion of Indigenous households are family households or even multi- family households and on average there is one person more per household than among the total population. This can partly be explained by the high birth rate of Aboriginal children (There are an average 3 children per Aboriginal mother compared to 1.9 children per non-Aboriginal mother),52but can also be seen as a result of the traditional strong sense of hospitality among the Aboriginal people, which means that their house is open at all times to friends and family.53

Although in recent years improvements have been made in the standard of housing most Aboriginal homes are still sub standard.54

Employment situation:

Unemployment is one of the major problems facing Aborigines today. About 23% of the Indigenous people were unemployed in 1996, which is more than twice as much as the unemployment rate of the total population (9%).55If Aborigines do find employment it is mostly at a very low level as a consequence of racism and poor education. In the rural areas for example it is still not unusual for Aborigines to work very hard (sometimes up to 18hours a day) as a “stockman” at cattle stations for no more than accommodation, food and a very low income.56The average income of the Indigenous people in 1996 was only about 2/3 of the average income of the total population ($190 per week compared to $290 per week).57

Many Aborigines are employed in the public sector or by organisations working for Aborigines such as the Department of Aboriginal Affair (DAA) or the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). In many professions Aborigines are far underrepresented such as for example in the journalism field.58Because of the low income and the high level of unemployment many Aborigines depend on unemployment benefits and welfare. This leads to the common prejudice among many Australians that the Aboriginal people live off the government and make no attempt to find a job.59


The Australian education system fails most Aboriginal children.

Some Aboriginal children, especially those who live in more remote areas like many communities in the Northern Territory, have never attended school or only attend at a very irregular basis.60Compared to non-Aboriginal students Aboriginal children leave school at an earlier age. In 1996 about 74% of Indigenous 15 year olds were in full- time education compared to about 92% of all 15 year olds in Australia. At an older age the disparity between Indigenous and total persons being in full- time education also increases.61

The results of Aboriginal students are generally worse than those of non-Aboriginal students. On average the Aboriginal students who actually sit for the HSC (Higher School Certificate) examination receive only about half the marks of those of their white Australian counterparts.62

In a literacy test among year 3 students in 1999 the literary skills of Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal students were compared. The average mark received by Indigenous children, which was about 66%, lay well below the average mark of 90% among non-Aboriginal students.63Indigenous people are also under-represented in tertiary education as only about 14% of Aborigines compared to 35% of the total population received a post school qualification in 1996.64

Poor education is the root of many problems facing Aborigines today as it leads to less opportunities in the labour market and therefore to unemployment and poverty. Nevertheless improvements are made and programs like ABSTUDY, which is a government program that provides financial assistance for eligible Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders who undertake secondary or tertiary education helps to improve the education opportunities for Indigenous people. In 1998 for example ABSTUDY assisted 50,000 Indigenous students.65


Aborigines have the worst health of any minority group in Australia.

As a consequence the life expectancy is about 20 years under the national average and the infant mortality rate is more than five times the rate of the total population.66 Many Aborigines suffer from stress-related conditions such as depression, alcoholism, diabetes, obesity, hypertension and trauma. Also common found are infectious diseases such as influenza and syphilis. Many Aboriginal children, especially those in the more remote dessert areas suffer from the blinding eye disease, trachoma.

The bad health conditions of the Indigenous people have several reasons. Bad nutrition and low standards of hygiene, often as a result of poverty, are seen as the most devastating factors. The high alcohol intake among the Aboriginal people often leads to high blood pressure.67Nevertheless improvements have been made in Aboriginal health conditions since Aboriginal health centres were set up in many communities in the early 1970`s. Data on health of Aboriginal people is limited however as many cases of diseases are not reported and the only information source are the Aboriginal medical centres.68

Alcohol and drug problems:

Alcohol and other drugs were introduced into Aboriginal culture very suddenly when European settlers arrived. The Aboriginal people who had not been in contact with the introduced intoxicants before did not have enough time to adapt and to the present day the Indigenous population has not been able to cope with the consequences.69Many Aborigines with alcohol and drug problems try to compensate their problems, unemployment, poverty and little self-confidence caused by racism and discrimination by consuming these intoxicants.

Among young Aborigines petrol sniffing has become more frequent.70A study by the Ngahampa Health Council in 1994 found that about 1/3 of Aborigines in the 10 to 24 age group are affected by this addiction.71In recent years even cases of Aboriginal heroin addicts have been reported especially among the urban population. A doctor from the Aboriginal Medical Service in the Redfern district in Sydney prognoses that the number of Aborigines consuming heroin with even increase in the future years.72


The crime rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait slander people is far higher than the crime rate of the total population. 80% of prisoners in the Northern territory goals for example are of Aboriginal descent.73Criminality and violence are often a result of the poor living conditions and the lower socio economic class of the Indigenous people. One also has to consider that Aboriginal people are more likely to be affected by crimes than non-Aboriginal Australians. 13% of Aborigines asked in a survey expressed that they had at least once been physically attacked or verbally threatened in the 12 months prior to the survey.74In the same survey, which was conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 1994 in order to find out how Aboriginal people feel about law, justice and the police system 20% of the people asked expressed that they had been arrested in the 5 years prior to the survey. In most cases the reasons for the arrests were “disorderly conduct/drinking in public” or “drink driving”.

In the 1980`s a disproportionate level of custodial deaths of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders started to occur. In the last 10 years reported cases of Aboriginal deaths in custody have even doubled.75In a National Report in 1991 the Royal Commission stated, “the high level of Aboriginal deaths in custody was a result of their disproportionate level of incarceration rather than deliberate violence or brutality”.76Doubts however remain and opinions are very split on this topic among the Australian people.

The mandatory sentencing law in the Northern territory, another condition that affects Aboriginal people to a greater extend than non-Aboriginals has been highly discussed in recent months. In the Northern Territory one can get arrested for a longer period when committing a number of “petty crimes” like stealing minor objects or public drunkenness. In early June 2000 there has been a meeting between John Howard (present Prime Minister) and representatives of the Northern Territory in order to decide about the possible abolishment or amelioration of the law but the outcome of this is still uncertain.77

5. Survey and Results

The issue of Reconciliation has been increasingly discussed in recent years.

“The Reconciliation movement is a people’s movement and needs people involvement” sais Flora Mc Donald from the ACT (Australian capital Territory) branch for Reconciliation.78 But only if both, the Aborigines and the wider Australian community, are willing to improve the current situation of Aborigines and racism there will be a progress in Reconciliation. I wanted to find out how people, especially the younger generation feel about issues concerning Aborigines as young people are the ones who will rule Australia in the future and are the ones who will be able to make a change.

I drafted a survey, which consists of 7 questions and the possibility to make a comment. I sent this via e-mail to young Australians between 16 and 20. Unfortunately I only received 10 answers (8 girls and 2 boys). I am aware that so few results will not represent the opinion of the whole youth of Australia but I am sure that it is possible to recognize a trend. In the course of the following paper I have presented the questions and the corresponding results.

- Question 1: What do you think are the most common prejudices against Aborigines?

According to my results alcoholism is one of the major prejudices. Aborigines are also most commonly seen as “lazy dole bludgers” (people who live off welfare (dole) and make no attempt to find a job), “petty criminals” (people who continually steel minor objects), “trouble makers” (especially in reference to young Aboriginal men) and “under achievers” (as a result of poor education and poverty). Also the opinion that many Aborigines are claiming land they have no links to can be frequently found.

- Question 2: What do you think about the idea that school attendance should not be compulsory for Aboriginal children in order to give their parents the possibility to teach them about their own culture?

The majority of the people asked dislike this idea. They agree that lack of education would worsen the Aboriginal situation, as lack of education is the root of many problems facing Aborigines such as unemployment and poverty. Also many people feel it would alienate the Aborigines from the wider Australian society. Therefore one should rather encourage the improvement of education than abolish it in order to give young Aborigines a chance to succeed in white Australian society.

Although the Aboriginal people are a minority group as are many ethnic groups in Australia they, should not receive special treatment, as they are a part of Australian society. Only 3 people are in favour of the idea of non-compulsory education for Aborigines. They like the fact that Aborigines could make the choice about their children’s education by themselves but they also point out that if Aboriginal parents made the choice to teach their children in their manner they would have to take it seriously and to be aware of their responsibility.

One of the people asked is not sure about her position. She understands that it is important to maintain Aboriginal culture but she also considers the “Stolen Generation” and due to this many parents do not know enough about their cultural background any longer.

Nevertheless most of them think that it is important for the indigenous people to maintain their culture and heritage, but that it is not possible to “learn culture”. Therefore Aboriginal children should attend school just as every other Australian child does.

- Question 3: Do you think that schools are doing enough in order to teach the students about Aborigines and their culture or do you think that this topic is rather neglected in the syllabus?

Except of one person everyone agrees that generally the topic is not neglected in the syllabus. It however varies from school to school. Apparently there is a difference between public schools and private schools and between city schools and country schools. Country schools` lessons are more effective because of the direct contact with Aborigines (Approximately 70 % of Aborigines live in rural towns with less than 100 000 inhabitants)79whereas city schools` lessons are more theoretical and some students have never actually seen an Aboriginal.

Aboriginal education is emphasized in the early years of school (primary school and junior high school). Historical issues such as Aboriginal culture before the British invasion e.g. Dreamtime stories (mainly in Primary school), eating and hunting habits and the impact of European settlement are covered. Current issues and problems facing Aborigines today are neglected.

- Question 4: If you had the possibility would you join a workshop with Aborigines in order to learn more about their culture and to discuss the problem of reconciliation?

8 of the people asked are very interested in participating in such a workshop. They think that is important for Australia’s future to understand the Aboriginal way of life and their problems and to get involved with Reconciliation. They also want to get an unbiased insight into Aboriginal issues as most information usually comes through the media and school’s education.

2 girls expressed that they are not interested in joining such a workshop, one because of the lack of time and the other one because she is simply not interested. Both however also emphasize that it does not have any racist reasons.

- Question 5: Do you think it helps Aborigines that their culture is more and more used as tourist attraction (e.g. Aboriginal art, music, Aboriginal tales… are sold in souvenir shops) in order to achieve a better understanding for them or do you rather think it only gives a superficial insight and it is rather bad to commercialise their culture?

Opinions are very split concerning this topic.

Approximately a half of the people asked says that it only gives a superficial insight into Aboriginal culture and that commercialising and plagiarising their culture is an insult to their precious heritage (e.g. merchandising boomerangs and T-shirts with Aboriginal symbols produced in China…). Tourism mainly focuses on the way of life before European arrival and neglects the fact that the majority of Aborigines no longer practises this way of life. The other half sees tourism as a great chance to communicate Aboriginal culture and to draw attention to their issues. It also creates a great employment possibility for Aborigines.

Both groups however agree that the tourism industry has to stay entirely under Aboriginal control in order to avoid the abuse and commercialisation of their culture.

- Question 6: Do you think that it is fair that Aborigines get more support from the government (e.g. welfare, university scholarships…) than non Aboriginal Australians?

According to my results everybody but one person thinks this is fair. The people asked expressed that they are aware of the fact that Aborigines are of a lower socio economic background and therefore need more support that non-Aboriginal Australians. They also agree that the wider Australian society has a certain responsibility towards their indigenous people due to the injustice done to them by European settlers in the past. Most people say however that to only give money to the Aboriginal people will not improve their situation. Projects such as “ABSTUDY” (support program for education) are more effective. Some of the people asked point out that Aborigines should only receive welfare if they truly need it not only because of the fact that they are of Aboriginal descent.

- Question 7: Do you think that “Reconciliation Week” or “Sorry Day” really changes people’s understanding of Aborigines or do you think that it is just a promotion from the government to show that “they are doing something“?

About half of the people asked think that it is very important to officially celebrate Reconciliation. It informs the wider Australian community and improves the understanding of problems and issues facing Aborigines. They think that it is an important occasion where people get involved and discuss the topic of Reconciliation.

On the other hand 3 of the people asked think that the government tries to promote an image as trying to improve the situation of Aborigines but in reality they are for example cutting back on the funding for the ATSIC (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission). 2 of the people asked have never heard of Reconciliation Week.

- Question 8: Do you have any comments?

Only 2 of the people asked took the opportunity to make a comment. Rosie Butler (18) from Sydney sais: “We still have a long, long way to go” and Pete Belgum (18) from Sydney wants to emphasize that he does not have a racist attitude towards Aborigines, but that he thinks that it is important that Aborigines get an education and work and to not rely on the government for assistance quite so much.


It was a bit disappointing that only about 1/3 of the people I sent a survey to actually answered it.

Nevertheless the ones I received were very carefully answered and most of the people asked seemed to be interested in the topic. Considering the answers I received I concluded that most young Australians have dealt and frequently deal with issues concerning Aborigines and that they are aware of the problem of Reconciliation. I had the impression that most of them do not have a racist attitude towards Aborigines and that some of them are even prepared to actively get involved.

6.“Modern“ Aborigines

In the course of this paper mainly negative aspects of Aborigines have been dealt with but when talking about the present situation of Aborigines positive examples should not be neglected. Before the European invasion in 1788 there have been no reported personalities in Aboriginal Australia as all people were regarded the same.

Today there are Aborigines in many fields of life who have found a compromise between their culture and the European-Australian way of life and were able to succeed in white Australian society.

- Sports:

The most well known Aborigine in Australia at the moment probably is Cathy Freeman who is simply called “Cathy” by many Australians. Cathy Freeman is the present 400m world running champion and many Australians hope that she will win a gold medal at the Olympics in Sydney later this year. At the last Commonwealth Games she went for a victory lap after she had won holding the Aboriginal flag as well as the Australian one. Cathy is a modern sporting icon.80

Apart from Cathy Freeman there will be other Indigenous athletes at the Olympic games like the hurdler Kyle Van der Kuyp or the sprinter Patrick Johnson.

In the field of sports there have been quite a few successful Aborigines in the past like Evonne Goolagong (women’s tennis champion) or Lionel Rose (world bantamweight boxing champion in 1968).81

- Art:

Another field where successful Aborigines are frequently found is the field of arts. When Albert Namajiera became popular as an Aboriginal artist in the 1950`s and 1960`s many Indigenous people discovered that it was possible to make a living with Aboriginal art. In some communities in Australia up to 80% of the Indigenous population depends on the art industry.82

Nelson Tjakamarra, a famous Aboriginal artist, designed a granite mosaic pavement in the forecourt of the new Parliament house in Canberra.83Generally one can say that Aboriginal art has become increasingly popular in recent years, but this process has unfortunately also been in connection with commercialisation of the Aboriginal culture.

- Music:

Other Aboriginal people have become known because they combined Aboriginal traditional musical elements with element of our western music. The Aboriginal band “Tjapukai” for example, which performs regularly at the Aboriginal Cultural Centre in Cairns could be heard quite frequently in Australian radio stations with their song “proud to be Aborigine” some years ago.

- Politics

The only Aboriginal representative in the national parliament is the Senator Aden Ridgeway. He was elected on the Democrats vote. He has a great impact on the progress of Reconciliation and frequently enters into negotiations with John Howard (present Prime Minister) in Aboriginal affairs.

7. Conclusion

Before I started to work on this paper I only had a vague idea of how it was going to look like.The only knowledge I had about the topic came from the things I had leant from my stay in Australia. The information I had mainly came through the media, school’s education and from Australians I had talked to. As I lived in an area with very few Aboriginal inhabitants I rarely saw an Aboriginal person. It was only once that I actually talked to an Aboriginal. This was during a trip around Australia while we stayed in Alice Springs. The Aboriginal woman I talked to was painting a picture in a shop and although we only had a short conversation mainly talking about the picture it was an experience I have kept in mind.

I wanted to find out more about the Aboriginal people, as I was very fascinated by their way of life. Unfortunately most of the sources I used for my research were written by non-Aboriginals. Nevertheless I tried to portray an unbiased picture of Aborigines and I hope that I have achieved to do so.

With the impact of European invasion the whole lifestyle of the Indigenous people changed very suddenly. The Aboriginal history of early European settlement is a very sad one. During the last decades however the Australian people have become aware of the mistreatment and injustice done to Aborigines.

Improvements have been made since and some Aborigines have been able to find a their place in white Australian society. The majority of the Indigenous people however have still not recovered from the impact of European settlement.

Therefore I want to end this paper with a quote from 18-year-old Rosie Butler from Sydney: “We still have a long, long way to go… “


- Benton, William/Helen Hemingway (ed.): Encyclopaedia Britanica, Chicago 1974 Ø Berndt, Ronald M./Catherine H.: The World of the First Australians, Sydney 1988 Ø Burchard, Przemyslaw: Australier, Leipzig 1990

- Burger, Julian: Aborigines today, London 1988 Ø Elder, Bruce: Australien, Reiseführer, Köln 1998

- Falksohn, Rüdiger: “Das beste Land der Welt” in: Der Spiegel 26/99, p.164f. Ø Furlong, Monica: Söhne des Eisvogels, London 1996

- Haubold, Erhard: “Täglicher Terror im Outback“ in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 27.04.2000, p17

- Howard, Michael: Aboriginal power in Australian society, St Lucia/Queensland 1982 Ø Ilgenstein, Gerhard: Die Steinzeitmenschen von Australien, die heutigen Aborigines, Frankfurt/Main 1990

- Klein, Stefan: “Urzeiten“ in: Geo Special, Australien Februar/März 2000, p.58ff. Ø Microsoft Encarta Encyclopädie 2000

- Procter, Paul (ed.): Cambridge International Dictionary of English, London 1999

- Schwarz Prof., Hellmut (ed.): English G, Band A5, Berlin 1989

- Stokes, Deindre : Desert Dreamings, Melbourne 1993

- Supp, Eckard: Australiens Aborigines, Bonn 1994

Internet sites:

- ABC, television station:

- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Ilsander Commission: Ø SBS, television and radio station:

- Sydney Morning Herald: Ø

- ninemsn, television station: Ø Ø Australian Bureau of Statistics:


One example of a survey:

name (optional) : Noni Austin e-mail address (optional) : age : 16

1. What do you think are the most common prejudices against Aborigines ?

It is hard to tell what other people are thinking as what we mainly Hear about Aborigines comes from the media and that often portrays a narrow minded view from a small perspective. But as far as I know the most common prejudices include 1) alcoholism - that is drinking alcohol a lot,

2) dole bludgers - people who are unemployed and don’t attempt to look for work and so live off the dole (government handouts of money)

3) petty criminals - people who continually steal minor objects

4) the whole land rights issue - some people believe that the aborigines are claiming land rights on land they really have no association with.

5) trouble makers - this usually refers to younger men who muck up in streets late at night eg picking fights Also, have you heard about the mandatory sentencing issue. I’m not sure, you’ll have to check this, but in the Northern Territory and Western Australia (I think) after 3 petty criminal offences you have to go to Jail for a month (I think)Recently an Aboriginal teenager was convicted because he stole a rubber or a pencil or something. As it was his 3rd offence he went to jail and there he hanged himself. Mandatory sentencing doesn’t apply only to Aborigines but more young Aborigines seem to commit more petty crimes than other people. I am not 100% sure of the outcome of this issue but I think mandatory sentencing has been abolished in all states. If it hasn’t then large amounts of pressure is being put on the NT and WA to abolish it. But some people want mandatory sentencing so there is a big fuss over it

2. What do you think about the idea that school attendance should not be compulsory for Aboriginal children in order to give their parents the possibility to teach them about their own culture ?

I wasn’t aware this happened but I think it is a pretty stupid idea. I

mean you can’t learn culture - it is a thing you grow up with. I didn’t go to culture lessons and I have learnt about my culture. There are plenty of other minority cultures in Australia and they don’t miss school to learn their culture. Some people go to Saturday school where they study Chinese or Indian or wherever they come from. In the long run what is more important - a quality education or a sound knowledge of your culture? As I said before you can’t learn you culture, it is how you are brought up.

3. Do you think that schools are doing enough in order to teach the

students about Aborigines and their culture or do you think that this topic is rather neglected in the syllabus ?

Well, in my case I studied Aboriginal and Australian history from yr 3 to yr 8 which was more than enough to say the least!

But we really only learnt about the early settlement of Australia and

faced when the whites

invaded. We learnt nothing of their presentDreamtime stories and problems Aboriginals situation and problems facing them today. We learnt a fair bit about their culture though - how they lived, what they ate, early relations with whites but really nothing about how they live now or they problems they face due to eating our high in sugar/fat foods. (many are suffering from diabetes and obesity) Perhaps if school taught more of the current day situation people would be more understanding.

4.If you had the possibility would you join a workshop with Aborigines in order to learn more about their culture and to discuss the problem of reconciliation ?

Hmmm… I am not really interested in learning more about their culture.

I know a lot already. When we went to Central Australia a few years back We spent some time with an Aboriginal family living on a property past Alice Springs. To learn what Aboriginals think about reconciliation and how they feel we should be going about it would be pretty interesting.

5. Do you think if helps Aborigines that their culture is more and more

used as tourist attraction (e.g. Aboriginal art, music, Aboriginal tales… are sold in souvenir shops )in order to achieve a better understanding for them or do you think it only gives a superficial insight and it is rather bad to commercialise their culture ?

Well it is a great way to bring money back to the Aboriginal community that is if the souvenirs are authentic and the money really does flow back to the community. It the Aborigines have the say in what they sell and where the money goes then it is a good idea and if they feel their culture is being degraded they can put a stop to commercialisation then it is ok. If the whites control the industry then it isn’t OK As long as the culture isn’t being degraded and it allows the Aboriginals to communicate their history then go for it I say

6. Do think that it is fair that aborigines get more support from the government (e.g. welfare, university scholarships …) than non Aboriginal Australians ?

Well, everyone deserves an equal chance so if the Aborigines are genuinely disadvantaged it is a good idea but there are plenty of other people who are disadvantaged too and as I said everyone deserves an equal chance so they should only receive extra support if they truly need it.

7.Do you think that reconciliation day really changes people’s

understanding of Aborigines or do you think that it is just a promotion from the government to show “that they are doing something“ ?

Is there a reconciliation day? I have heard of a day called Sorry Day

but I couldn’t tell you when either of them were. No, I don’t think

Reconciliation day would change anyone’s understanding. The people who paid attention to it would probably already be sympathetic towards Aborigines and those that weren’t sympathetic wouldn’t care about it. If a gigantic deal was made out of it like say Anzac Day or Australia day then yes, it may have an effect on people. I doubt if our present Howard government would endorse reconciliation day, it’s not that type of government , in fact they are trying very hard to move away from aboriginal issues. I suspect it is endorsed by aboriginal activists.

8. do you have any comments ? I hope this has been helpful


1cf. Microsoft Encarta Encyclopädie 2000

2cf. Microsoft Encarta Encyclopädie 2000

3cf. Prezemyslaw Burchard: Australier, Leibzig 1990, p.8

4Paul Procter (ed.): Cambridge International Dictonary of English, London 1999


6cf. Australian Bureau of Statistics:

7 cf. Deindre Stokes: Desert Dreamings, Melbourne 1993, p.26

8cf. Prezemyslaw Burchard: Austraier, Leibzig 1990, p 11 ff.

9William Benton/Helen Hemingway Benton (ed.): Encyclopeadia Britanica, Chicago 1979

10cf. Prezemyslaw Burchard: Austraier, Leibzig 1990, p 7

11cf. Julian Burger: Aborigines today, London 1988, p. 8 ff.

12cf. William Benton/Helen Hemingway Benton (ed.): Encyclopeadia Britanica, Chicago 1979

13cf. Michael C. Howard: Aboriginal Power in Austalian society, St.Lucia, Queensland 1982, p.230

14 cf. Eckard Supp: Australiens Aborigines, Bonn 1994, p.214 ff.

15cf. Prezemyslaw Burchard: Austraier, Leibzig 1990, p. 94 ff.

16cf. Prezemyslaw Burchard: Austraier, Leibzig 1990, p103

17cf. Prezemyslaw Burchard: Austraier, Leibzig 1990, p.134

18cf. Prezemyslaw Burchard: Austraier, Leibzig 1990, p.134

19cf. Prezemyslaw Burchard: Austraier, Leibzig 1990, p.119


21cf. Prezemyslaw Burchard: Austraier, Leibzig 1990, p147

22cf. William Benton/Helen Hemingway Benton (ed.): Encyclopeadia Britanica, Chicago 1979

23 cf. Bruce Elder: Australien/Reiseführer, Köln 1998, p.25

25Julian Burger: Aborigines today, London 1988, p.17

26cf. Prezemyslaw Burchard: Austraier, Leibzig 1990, 148

27cf. Julian Burger: Aborigines today, London 1988, p.65

28cf. Julian Burger: Aborigines today, London 1988, p.66

29Julian Burger: Aborigines today, London 1988, p.17

30cf. Prezemyslaw Burchard: Austraier, Leibzig 1990, p.147

31 Julian Burger: Aborigines today, London 1988, p.19

32cf. Julian Burger: Aborigines today, London 1988, p.75

33Prof. Hellmut Schwarz (ed.): English G, Band 5, Berlin 1989

34cf. Microsoft Encarta Enzyclopädie 2000

35cf. Microsoft Encarta Enzyclopädie 2000


37cf. “Das beste Land der Welt“ in: Der Spiegel 26/99, p164/165


39 cf. Sydney Morning Herald 29th May 2000:

40William Benton/Helen Hemingway Benton (ed.): Encyclopeadia Britanica, Chicago 1979

41William Benton/Helen Hemingway Benton (ed.): Encyclopeadia Britanica, Chicago 1979

42cf. Deindre Stokes: Desert Dreamings, Melbourne 1993, p.3

43William Benton/Helen Hemingway Benton (ed.): Encyclopeadia Britanica, Chicago 1979

45cf. Julian Burger: Aborigines today, London 1988, p.71

46 cf. Deindre Stokes: Desert Dreamings, Melbourne 1993, p.3

47cf. Deindre Stokes: Desert Dreamings, Melbourne 1993, p.4

48William Benton/Helen Hemingway Benton (ed.): Encyclopeadia Britanica, Chicago 1979

49 Ronald M./Catherine H. Berndt: the World of the First Australians, Sydney 1988, p.233

50cf. Julian Burger: Aborigines today, London 1988, p.40



53cf. Julian Burger: Aborigines today, London 1988, p.40

54cf. Julian Burger: Aborigines today, London 1988, p.42


56cf. Julian Burger: Aborigines today, London 1988, p.38

58cf. Julian Burger: Aborigines today, London 1988, p.39

59 cf. chapter: Survey and results



62cf. Julian Burger: Aborigines today, London 1988, p.37




66cf.Erhard Haubold: “Täglicher Terror im Outback“ in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 27.04.2000, p17

67cf. Julian Burger: Aborigines today, London 1988, p.42

68 cf. Julian Burger: Aborigines today, London 1988, p.43

69cf. Julian Burger: Aborigines today, London 1988, p.43

70cf.Erhard Haubold: “Täglicher Terror im Outback“ in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 27.04.2000, p17

72cf. Julian Burger: Aborigines today, London 1988

73cf.Erhard Haubold: “Täglicher Terror im Outback“ in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 27.04.2000, p17

75cf.Erhard Haubold: “Täglicher Terror im Outback“ in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 27.04.2000, p17

77 cf.Richard Ackland: Canberra`s mandatory sidestep in: Sydney Morning Herald, 02.06.2000


79 http//

80 cf. “Chasing Cathy in: Sydney Morning Herald, 01.06.00:

81cf. William/Helen Hemingway Benton (ed.): Encyclopaedia Britanica, Chicago 1974

82Stefan Klein: “Urzeiten“ in: Geo Special, Australien Februar/März 2000, p.58ff

83 Deindre Stokes: Desert Dreamings, Melbourne 1993, p.26

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The present situation of Aborigines in Australia
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Nadja Blickle (Author), 2000, The present situation of Aborigines in Australia, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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