Key Events in Aboriginal Australian History

Key Events in Aboriginal Australian History

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What is the connection between official education policies and key events in Aboriginal Australian history? How have Aboriginal people responded to these policies?
Key events in Aboriginal Australian history stem from the time Australia was first discovered in 1788. For instance, when Federation came into existence in 1901, there was a prevailing belief held by non Aboriginal Australians that the Aborigines were a dying race (Nichol, 2005:259) which resulted in the Indigenous people being excluded from the constitution except for two mentions – Section 127 excluded Aborigines from the census and Section 51, part 26, which gave power over Aborigines to the States rather than to the Federal Government. Aboriginal people were officially excluded from the vote, public service, the Armed Forces and pensions. The White Australia mentality/policy Australia as “White” and unfortunately this policy was not abolished until 1972. REFERENCE
Parbury (1999:64) states that Aboriginal education “cannot be separated” from the non-Aboriginal attitudes (racially based ethnocentricity that were especially British ie. white and Christian) towards Aborigines, their culture and their very existence. The Mission Schools are an early example of the connection between official education policies and key events in Aboriginal history. Aboriginal children were separated from their parents and placed into these schools which according to McGrath (as cited by Parbury, 1999:66) it was recommended that these establishments be located ‘as far as possible’ from non Aboriginal residents so as to minimize any heathen influence that Aboriginal children might be subject to from their parents. Mission Schools not only prepared Aboriginal youth for the manual labour market but also, adds Parbury (1999:67) their aim was‘to destroy Aboriginal culture and replace it with an Anglo-European work and faith ethic.’ Despite the NSW Public Instruction Act (1880) which made education free, secular and compulsory for all children Aboriginal children could be excluded from public schools based on prevailing dominant group attitudes. Consequently, the NSW Aborigines Protection Act (1909) was introduced as a result of a perceived public education crisis and Laws had already been passed, similar to protectionist type policies. This Act gave the State the power to remove Aboriginal children from their families whereby this period of time has become known as ‘Stolen Generations.’ It was during this time that Aboriginal children were segregated from mainstream schools. (Parbury, 1999; Lippman, 1994).

According to Keefe (1992:53) “Aboriginality is a complex social reality, only artificially explained by the abstract divisions of resistance and persistence’ and modern history demonstrates the connections between official education policies (or attitudes used by the dominant group) and key events in Aboriginal Australian history.

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Aboriginality as Persistance or Resistance are two key responses which on one level seem contradictory yet their common ground is based on the desire for a unified and self determinative identity. An example of Aboriginality as Persistance is notion of ‘sharing is caring’ which is compared to the selfishness of stereotypical dominant other. The connection between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians has been fraught with indifference, cruelty, racism, exclusion, discriminatory behaviour and prejudicial attitudes by the dominant group over the lesser ‘savage, hopeless, black’ group. Hollinsworth (2006:122) adds that not only was the indifference and low regard for Indigenous culture ‘immoral’ but also foolish and doomed to fail. Examples of Aborigines response to these policies included rejection and mistrust of the education provided (Nichol, 2005:256), they also petitioned in response to the dispossession of land in 1881 (Nichol, 2005:259), Aboriginal parents complained when their children were excluded from school (Parbury, 1999:68) and more recently an overt form of resistance is the irregular attendance of Aboriginal students at school (‘jigging’) as well as ‘cheeky behaviour, sullen withdrawal and inattention (Keefe, 1992:57).’

The collaborative efforts of groups of Aboriginal Australians resulted in the most significant response that was the 1967 Referendum when an overwhelming majority of Australians voted to include Aborigines in the census and thus removed the constitutional restrictions placed on Aboriginal Australians. Despite the many injustices being committed by government and private individuals alike, both non Aboriginal and Aboriginal people continued efforts to seek equality, justice and access to meaningful public education for Aboriginal children and adults. Accordingly, the success of initiatives such as the establishment of Tranby College in the late 1950s, Aboriginal Education Consultative Groups in the 1970s, Aboriginal Studies subjects, language revival and teaching can be attributed to their dedication and commitment (Aboriginal Education Policy http://alex.edfac.usyd.edu.au/localresource/departpol/abedpolicy.html).
Furthermore, Aboriginal response to official policies has been to redress the issues of inequality and previous negative perceptions of Aboriginal culture and history with the aim of a more inclusive and equitable future where all men and women, regardless of race, gender or other are respected, valued and offered equal opportunities regarding education.

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