On the 26th of January 1788 Captain James Cook representing Great Britain laid claim to the whole of the Australian mainland. This act would mark the beginning of a difficult, testing and vexed relationship with Australian Aboriginals. In 1788 it is estimated that 750,000 Aboriginals lived in Australia. Between 1788 and 1900 the population of Aboriginal Australians declined by 90% due to introduced illnesses, land acquisition and violent conflict between settlers and Aboriginal's.
While controversy exists as to precise figures it is an undeniable fact that Aboriginal's were killed or seriously injured by settlers in the 1800's. Disruptions to Aboriginal way of life occured and most Aboriginals become marginalised second class citizens who did not have the right to vote or access government services (including being counted in census figures). The settlement and dispossession of Aboriginal lands had serious consequences for their traditional way of life. European's took a highly negative view to Aboriginal life which they considered to be uncivilised and inadequate.
The Stolen Generations had a substantial impact on Aboriginal culture.
To combat what white Europeans thought was an "inadequate" lifestyle forced removals of children began to take place starting with Victorian Aboriginals in 1869. By 1905 removal policies became widespread. Children were separated from their parents from a young age and abuse, both sexual and physical, was commonplace. The Bringing them Home report estimates that at least 100,000 children were taken away from 1905 to the end of removal's in 1969. The effects of removal were widespread and included the loss of traditional customs and way of life.
In 1957 the Grayden report revealed that malnutrition, poverty and disease was common amongst Aboriginal communities due to state based discriminatory laws. During the 1960's community discourse calling for Aboriginal recognition and citizenship began to occur as education and awareness increased. In 1962 the federal government gave Aboriginal's the right to vote and citizenship was gradually granted by states and territories. After significant campaigning and advocacy a referendum to amend Section 51 and 127 of the Australian Constitution (which allowed discrimination against Aboriginals) was held in 1967 ending the last legal discrimination of Aboriginals. Despite this, discrimination and inequality continued to occur with Aboriginals facing disadvantage in education, health, employment and access to the justice system.
Aboriginal Disadvantage - A Social Perspective
Australian Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in the 20th century faced significant and systemic disadvantage. Between the 1840's and 1970's Aboriginal's were taken by the Queensland government to work on cattle and sheep stations . Records were not kept by the Queensland government as to the extent of the amount of people taken but their mistreatment was extensive. Until 1919 their were no limits on the amount of hours worked and payment was not made. The minimum standards imposed in 1919 were routinely ignored and inspections were scant.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who were employed in other industries including as domestic servants and in manufacturing had little control over their lives. Frequently, employers were able to buy and sell employees as possessions. In other cases restrictions were placed on their movement and consent was needed from employers to make most decisions. Wages were on average a third of what would have been paid to a non Aboriginal employee. Violence and threats were common and while it not to say that all employer's mistreated Aboriginal employees in the significant majority of cases they were disadvantaged against Caucasians.