Prior to the British colonisation of Australia, the continent was the home of thousands of indigenous people. The Aboriginal peoples lived here for centuries, they had developed their own culture, religious beliefs and traditions. But suddenly, on one day that will make history, the life of the Aborigines changed drastically and will from this day on never be the same again. On 18 January 1788, eleven ships with British convicts and officers reached the shore of their land. The British did not only want to explore the new continent, they had come to stay. From a western point of view, explorers like Christopher Columbus or James Cook are nowadays celebrated as heroes. But what if we change the perspective and we see the colonisation from a different point of view, for instance from the view of the Aborigines. Will the explorers still be defined as heroes? This essay discusses the colonisation of Australia from an Aboriginal perspective. The reasons for British colonisation, the line of action and the question whether the colonisation of Australia was in any way justifiable will be examined.
The British colonised Australia in order to expand their empire and to place their convicts. The prisons in England were totally overcrowded. Until 1776, the British King used to send the prisoners to British colonies in North America but since America became independent, another solution was needed. After a long debate, the King accepted Australia as a great alternative and it was decided that the convicts will be send there. Another reason was that the King wanted to expand the British empire and to establish a base between the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. Also, they hoped to find resources, like wood, precious metals and other trade items on the new continent. After the King’s decision, eleven ships with 717 convicts, mainly Londoners accused of theft, and 290 seamen, soldiers and officers, left Britain with the aim of arriving at the Australian shore.
On 18 January 1788, after a voyage of eight months, the first fleet finally arrived at Botany Bay. When the indigenous people saw the arriving ships, they shouted “warra, warra”, which means “go away”, at the British fleet. The first governor, Captain Arthur Philip, was told by the crown to “open an intercourse with the natives” and “to live in amity and kindness with them” (Flood, 2006). The British saw themselves as uninvited guests, not as invaders. Their mission was to establish a colony among the natives. In order to do that, Philip tried to avoid a conflict by entering the land in an unarmed way. The first clash and the time after proceeded mostly peaceful, although both side were nervous and afraid of an attack and the settlers wanted to maintain authority. Only a few days after the arrival, on 26 January 1788, Australia became a settled colony. The British flag was raised. Consequently, the indigenous people became dominions of the crown and lost any rights of the land they inhabited for such a long time. In the first year of the settlement, the first conflicts between the two societies arose. After the surprising arrival of French ships and a following attack, the Aborigines changed their opinion on the colonists and became more aggressive. Furthermore, cultural differences led to misunderstandings and a huge problem was the occurrence of new diseases. While the colonists were immune, smallpox killed half of the population of the Aborigines. Moreover, food shortages, especially during the Australian winter months, led to further conflicts. As observers described, the Aboriginal people were threatened with starvation, while the British had not much to eat either, but seemed to get at least more food than the Aborigines did. All this circumstances and further conflicts involving killing people on both sides, made the Aboriginal people decide to keep a greater distance from the settlers. However, Governor Philip had been instructed to get to know the Aboriginal language, in order to communicate and learn more about the land and its resources. Since the Aboriginal decided to keep a greater distance from the settlers after what happened, it was hard for Philip to get in touch with them. These circumstances led to a series of kidnapping and capturing Aboriginal people.
Having examined for what reasons and how the British colonised Australia, it can be said that the colonisation is not justifiable. The British took the land from the Aboriginals by just claiming it without any form of negotiation or communication. The Aborigines could not decide at all and probably, the did not really understand what was going on at first. Due to their religious beliefs, they thought of the settlers as their spiritual ancestors that had returned from the dead. They did not know that there were other populated continents that wanted to expand their power. The British flag was raised and the Aboriginal people became British subjects without having to say anything about it. The Aborigines had lived in their land for several centuries. They developed their own religious beliefs and an astonishing culture and traditions over a long period. Their legacy was destroyed and influenced by the settlers from the day of the arrival on. Furthermore, it seems as if the Aboriginal peoples were treated as an inferior population from the beginning on, since they did not get as much food as the British did. Due to the colonisation, the population of the Aborigines was enormously reduced and violence was brought to a society that welcomed the settlers, due to their spiritual beliefs, with a good intention.