Australian Northern territory and northern part of Western Australia are the places where most of aboriginal people live.
We haven't seen them before, and after the first occasion, a question immediately appeared in our heads that in its very simple form could sound:
"What the hell has happened?"


Group of aborigines sitting in the shade, Katherine, Australia

Group of aborigines sitting in the shade, Katherine, Australia


You see, at first glance the situation seems disastrous. Most of aborigines that we saw, were slowly walking with seemingly no destination, or sitting in the shade and doing absolutely nothing. Most of their clothes seemed dirty, the wearers unkempt. The looks from deeply nested dark eyes - meaningless or unwelcoming. Health condition, judging from plasters, bandages and obvious skin problems - bad.

Just a few of aborigines that we saw, looked healthy and tidy to our eyes.


Worried indigenous woman passing by the petrol station, Halls Creek, Australia

Worried indigenous woman passing by the petrol station, Halls Creek, Australia


While researching the topic further, it became clear that everything is a matter of point of view.
Let me start from the beginning.

First indigenous people started settling in the land around 40 thousand years ago. Even though the conditions and climate were harsh and unforgiving, the settlers managed to come into harmony with the land, saving and effectively reusing the resources, caring about the nature that gave them food and shelter.

Living as hunters and gatherers, indigenous people did not evolve much in sense of agriculture, probably due to soil erosion and general infertility of the land. In turn that led to absence of technological evolution.

Then came the current 200 years (or 0,5%) of aborigines' history that has brought the biggest changes. The white men appeared on the continent. With their rifles and organized social structure they quickly realized that indigenous tribes were no match to them.
Aborigines were raped, shot and forced to work as slaves.

All of this was (and in some sense still is) a very sensitive topic in Australia. Only in last decades (!) the legal status of aborigines shifted from "part of wild nature" to "more or less a citizen".
(At the same time, rumour is that racist actions are not so uncommon in Northwestern part of the country).


At some point in mid 20th century the government started various social programmes that to me sound like "we feel somewhat guilty, so we'll give you money".
It wasn't exactly a success, as there was some corruption present from government's side, and spending money on new cars from recipients' side.
Furthermore, with "free" money, the aborigines no longer needed to work. Having both time and money on their hands, they found out that most fun activity to spend both is drinking.
That's when the alcohol problem started (it has the same physiological effect on aborigines as to American indians or eskimo people), and with it - health issues. It all still continues.

Trying different approaches, Australian government started giving back land ownership to aborigines (previously having it investigated for ore, oil and minerals), which created something similar to reservations.

Clearly, white people had their devastating impact to the life of aborigines. However, it does not seem to me that the latter are active or energetic enough to try something on their own. Probably due to very different values in life, the "wait and see what happens" mood is dominant.

There certainly are aborigines running a business, such as travel agency, or working in government offices. Still, it's not the majority. From what I see, only art and sport are the areas that indigenous people have clear and strong impact. At present, aboriginal people make up 2 percent of the whole population, while in Australian Fooball League they are around 10 percent of all players.

Aboriginal paintings and didgeridoos look fantastic, and, if original, are expensive. On a sad part, some of them are made in Indonesia by enterpreneur minded Asians.


Sample of aboriginal art with explanatory legend, Halls Creek, Australia

Sample of aboriginal art with explanatory legend, Halls Creek, Australia


Without any further comments, my two encounters with aborigines were meeting three aggressive teenage girls in a bus, and being asked for money by a drunk person.

Tim, one of our collocutors, wisely said, "there aren't two persons in Australia that have the same outlook on aboriginal issues".
You may think or act different, and you will be right in your way.

All that's written here is what we found out during our short stay from various sources and by small amount of personal experience.
The one time I tried to talk to aborigine about the situation, he was not interested in the topic.


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Saulelis's picture

The good aboriginals

Newest scientific evidence suggests, that aboriginals of Australia were not all so 'in harmony' with the land... Apparently they are likely to have caused a mass extinction of Australian megafauna and other drastic changes in environment some 47.000 ago. They did that by employing so called 'fire-stick farming' in which they regularly set huge areas of vegetation on fire in order to improve hunting conditions.

Considering this evidence is true, the white man might have been nothing more than a cure for a lethally infested continent. Who knows what Australia would look like now, if the natives weren't slain in good time...

Make sure to mention that next time you encounter any aboriginals :) I hear they are particularly fond of the aforementioned evidence.

Marius's picture

Fire and farming

Wow, you have a harsh opinion there.

Would you mind sharing the link to that evidence? That's interesting, as our next post is specifically about fire.