A Gurindji woman carrying water at the Wattie Creek settlement circa 1970. Picture: Northern Territory Photographic Services
A Gurindji woman carrying water at the Wattie Creek settlement circa 1970. Picture: Northern Territory Photographic Services

Aussie History: Aboriginal women were preyed on

As the Australia Day debate heats up, so many people don't seem to understand why Aboriginal people are so upset by the January 26 date.

Some argue that Aboriginal people should be grateful about the modernisation of the country and all the benefits this has brought them. That they should just get on with things and let the past go.

But for those whose ancestors lived through colonisation and the brutal treatment Aboriginal people suffered, maybe it's not so easy to trust authorities that beat, killed and raped them.

Here's an idea of what happened to Aboriginal people during colonisation.

WOMEN PREYED ON BY 'ANY AND EVERY WHITE MAN'

In a paper called Sexual Assault: Issues For Aboriginal Women, Carol Thomas pulled together research into the shocking sexual violence that Aboriginal women suffered through.

She quotes from historian Henry Reynolds' book With The White People.

"On pastoral stations Aboriginal women were preyed on by any and every white man whose whim it was to have a piece of 'black velvet' wherever and whenever they pleased," the book states.

"On many stations there was no attempt to hide the extent of sexual relations between white station workers and black women," the book notes.

"A pastoralist from the edge of the Nullarbor Plain told a South Australia Royal Commission in 1899 that he had known stations 'where every hand on the place had a gin, even down to boys of 15 years of age'.

"Similar comments were made to a Western Australian Royal Commission six years later. On Vitriol River stations, a witness observed that on many stations 'there are no white women at all. On these the Aboriginal women are usually at the mercy of anybody, from the proprietor or Manager, to the stockmen, cook, rouseabout and jacked."

An Aboriginal woman backs away from a white man holding a gun on Bentinck Island, Queensland, in 1901. Picture from the book ‘North Of Capricorn — The Untold Story of Australia’s North’ by Henry Reynolds.
An Aboriginal woman backs away from a white man holding a gun on Bentinck Island, Queensland, in 1901. Picture from the book ‘North Of Capricorn — The Untold Story of Australia’s North’ by Henry Reynolds.

It was a terrifying time for Aboriginal women, who had been considered equals to men within their own traditional culture.

The idea of "chastity" among Aboriginal women was considered by the European men as "preposterous".

In a strategy paper by Professor Judy Atkinson, she quotes Northern Territory pastoralist Alfred Giles as saying: "No less preposterous is the idea of black women being outraged."

Giles' friend, mounted constable William Willshire, who became notorious for his skill in "dispersing the natives", wrote rapturously about "black virgins all nude" and suggested perhaps God "meant them for use as He has placed them wherever the pioneers go".

"Willshire … argued for the use of Aboriginal women by white bushmen but loathed the resulting offspring of these unions."

A Gurindji woman carrying water at the Wattie Creek settlement circa 1970. Picture: Northern Territory Photographic Services
A Gurindji woman carrying water at the Wattie Creek settlement circa 1970. Picture: Northern Territory Photographic Services

'DISPERSING THE NATIVES'

This phrase was used as a euphemism to describe the killing of Aboriginal people.

As white settlers took over more and more land, the presence of Aboriginal people became a nuisance to them.

In theory, Aboriginal people were protected as British subjects once English Common Law came into effect when the First Fleet arrived in Australia. They could not be treated as "enemies of the state" but even so, many were shot on sight, although this was often done secretly or justified as retaliation for things like stealing livestock or the murder of a white man.

During the early contact years, some 20,000 Aboriginal people were killed.

In Tasmania (then Van Diemen's Land) at the height of the conflict with settlers between 1824 and 1834, Lieutenant Governor George Arthur tried to solve the problem in a number of ways.

"Initially he created a reserve for Aboriginal people in order to 'protect' them from the European settlers," a 1991 report into racist violence by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission noted.

"However, when Aboriginal people failed to voluntarily settle in the reserve, Arthur organised a military campaign to forcibly remove them from the settled districts.

"Following sustained Aboriginal resistance to the presence of Europeans, the Governor gave

the settlers the power to use force to drive Aborigines off settled land.

"In November 1828 the Governor introduced martial law against Aboriginal people in the settled districts, effectively giving the military the power to shoot on sight any Aborigine found there."

An image depicting the violence against Aborigines killed in massacres during the white settlement.
An image depicting the violence against Aborigines killed in massacres during the white settlement.

Random shootings and massacres of men, women and children were common.

Professor Lyndall Ryan at the University of Newcastle is mapping massacres against the Aboriginal people, which she has defined as the indiscriminate killing of six or more undefended people.

She has identified more than 170 massacres of Aboriginal people in eastern Australia and six recorded massacres of colonists between 1794 and 1872.

RELATED: What life was like for Aboriginal people during colonisation

"Sometimes Aboriginal waterholes were poisoned, or Aboriginal people given flour, sugar

or damper mixed with arsenic.

"These practices, common last century, continued into the first half of (the 1900s) in some parts of Australia," she said.

FLOGGED, SEGREGATED, UNPAID AND UNCOUNTED

One study by Ann McGrath into the Northern Territory cattle industry found "flogging an Aboriginal was considered trivial".

Farmers argued that the standards applied to European employees were out of place when dealing with Aboriginal workers. Some weren't paid, or paid very little and treated poorly.

"They maintained that Aborigines did not have the same needs as European workers, that they could not understand the value of money and did not behave rationally," the human rights report noted.

Those who caused trouble or questioned authorities expected little protection from the law, according to Aboriginal oral history.

Many Australians may not realise it, but Aboriginal people were segregated from other non-Aboriginal people until the 1960s - just over 50 years ago.

Theatres and hospitals had sections roped off for Aboriginal people, they were often refused drinks in hotels, and schools could refuse to educate their children.

It wasn't until the referendum on May 27, 1967 that Aboriginal people were recognised as Australian citizens with full voting rights and included in the Census.

Demonstration protest rally at Martin Place in Sydney prior to May 1967 referendum, campaigning for the right of Aboriginal people to vote in elections.
Demonstration protest rally at Martin Place in Sydney prior to May 1967 referendum, campaigning for the right of Aboriginal people to vote in elections.

 

Aboriginal activist Dr Faith Bandler (centre) with both Aboriginal and white supporters during 1967 referendum celebrations.
Aboriginal activist Dr Faith Bandler (centre) with both Aboriginal and white supporters during 1967 referendum celebrations.

Continue the conversation @charischang2 | charis.chang@news.com.au


Celebrate all of Lockyer's cultures

Celebrate all of Lockyer's cultures

A wonderful way to come together

Good samaritan seriously injured at crash scene

Good samaritan seriously injured at crash scene

Rescue helicopter called to help bystander.