Pluma Migrant Writers Guild. "Write to be heard."
January last year I wrote a post on my previous blog about the genocide of Australian Aboriginals, and it has been in the back of my mind ever since to continue it, as promised at the end of that post. First though it’s interesting to observe the length of time it took me to keep my promise, exactly 666 days! This certainly was not my intention, but it is fitting that the Devil’s number should be associated with such a grim topic.
PEOPLE USED TO BE PROUD OF GENOCIDE
Let’s start with the general topic of genocide, covered in a recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, by one of my intellectual heroes, Steven Pinker. Naturally it has been covered by Edge.org and check that page for a recording of his talk. At the 27:15 minute mark he talks about genocide and because I can neither embed this video or provide a link to start it at that point, let me quote some of what he has to say:
Historians who have tried to track genocide over the centuries are unanimous that the notion that the 20th was “a century of genocide” is a myth. Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn, their The History and Sociology of Genocide, write on page one, “Genocide has been practiced in all regions of the world and during all periods in history.”
What did change during the 20th century was that for the first time people started to care about genocide. It’s the century in which the word “genocide” was coined and in which, for the first time, genocide was considered a bad thing, something to be denied instead of boasted about.
FACTS ABOUT THE GENOCIDE OF AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINALS
In light of this, we can understand the plight of Australian Aboriginals at the hands European colonists. The initial encounters happened during a time when, according to Pinker, genocide was something to boast about. Settlement began in 1788 and by the beginning of the 20th century the Aboriginal population had reduced to between 60-72,000. Can you feel a graph coming on? I can too! Let’s discuss the numbers and sources a bit first though. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has no firm number on the pre-colonisation Australian Aboriginal population, but I have been able to find four figures from two Australian Government sources:
Let’s take an average then: 716,125 Australian Aboriginals before European colonisation. For the numbers on the post-colonisation decline of this population, the same 1994 ABS article states in the text that the lowest number was approximately 60,000 in the 1920s, although the lowest formally recorded via the census was 72,000 in 1921. A curious thing to note is that until 1967 the constitution of this country stated that Aboriginals should be excluded from official population counts! Thankfully the numbers were still collected, just not reported. Can we say, then, that 1967 was the year that Australia finally caught the 20th century zeitgeist of being ashamed, rather than proud, of genocide? A final number to discuss for our upcoming graph is the current Aboriginal population – an easy one now that the constitution has changed: 669,900, 3% of Australians. A related, victorious Koori Mail headline:
You’ll note that this essentially trumpets, based on this ABS prediction report, a return to the pre-colonisation population spoken of earlier. Essentially then, the prediction is that it will take 100 years to return to this level from the 1921 nadir of 72,000. Note, also, that the nadir was ‘achieved’ by the colonists in approximately 133 years , assuming 1921 was when the fewest number of Australian Aboriginals were alive. This is a kill rate of 4,843 per year over that period, pardon the bleak terminology. This was achieved by the proud genocidal colonists through massacres and disease. Note, also, that when this didn’t seem to be completely successful, the more subtle approach of a cultural genocide was attempted by taking their children:
One of the problems with local debates surrounding genocide – also a problem the organisers of the conference have set out to address – is that it is often equated with the Holocaust and implies for many total physical extermination. An important part of the history relating to the Aboriginal experience wants to stress Aboriginal survival and cultural endurance, however. While serious historians agree that there was a degree of extermination, they also stress that survival entailed a considerable degree of accommodation. This is where the ‘agency’ issue comes in – in not depicting Aboriginal people as hapless victims. Genocide studies, however, can address these concerns, and Dirk Moses has stressed this dynamic in a recent article published in the Journal of Genocide Research, in which he argues that the genocidal moments in Australia’s past were especially provoked by effective and stiff Aboriginal resistance.2 In the specific case of Australia, it is the realisation that the high number of little and localised colonial genocides had failed to dispose of the Aboriginal population – that is, when the colonial expectation that the Aborigines should disappear proved unfulfilled – that produces another genocide impulse, in the form of the systematic removal of children. Robert van Krieken has dealt with these issues in the British Journal of Sociology.3
Taking the children of Aboriginals occurred during the period 1905-69, although an official apology for the practice was only delivered by Prime Minister Rudd in 2008:
The practice of taking aboriginal children was not confined to Australia, it happened in the US as well:
Let’s return to the topic of the predicted population by 2021. Assuming it comes true, it implies a replacement rate of 6,490 per year although things are actually moving at an exponential rate because of the expanding population. In fact, as the Koori Mail article says, the predicted replacement rate is 204,000 over the 15 year period from 2006-2021! This is what I’d call a come back! And all power to them. So now, with all of that out of the way, let’s look at the long awaited genocide and bounce-back graph:
For those living in Victoria, you may also be interested in this graph (skip midway down page). It’s a wonderful thing to look at, although the job isn’t done, as discussed next.
QUALITY OF LIFE
Quality of life for Australian Aboriginals should be the next topic to focus on. The Creative Spirits article mentioned above contains the following table:
I have made this into a chart:
Australia unfortunately stands out here as having the worst disparity between the normal population HDI, the best of all, and the Aboriginals’, the worst of all! The primary source for this information is a UN report, State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (and there has since been a second volume of this report). This shows that in 2001 Australia was ranked 3rd in the world in terms of human development index, whilst its Aboriginal population was 100 ranks behind, the same as Mongolia, Maldives and Turkmenistan. Fourteen years later in 2015 it is now 2nd in the world but, as the second volume of that report shows, the gap persists. One way this is illustrated is life expectancy:
This shows that, rather embarrassingly, Australia’s Aboriginals have the same 20 year life expectancy deficit as those of Nepal, despite Australia having a HDI ranking of 2 vs. Nepal’s 145! A lot of work in terms of quality of life therefore needs to be done, but at least things are on track for restoring the population to pre-genocide levels.
In the previous blog post I mentioned wanting to create a list of facts to accompany Pilger’s documentary about the plight of Australian Aboriginals, to make it more impactful. I have done so above in supplying a graph showing the catastrophic 90% decline in their population over a 133 year period to 1921. There is positive news as well, because by 2021 it seems like the original population level will be restored. The picture, however, is not completely rosy because their quality of life is at the level of Mongolia, 100 ranks behind that of non-Aboriginal Australians. The damage done by colonists will be fully repaired once the original population level is regained and they have the same HDI ranking.