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The period 1788-1820 saw the growth of the British colony in Australia. Settlement spread up and down the coast from Sydney, and inland to Parramatta, the Hawkesbury Valley; and then across the Blue Mountains in 1813. A new British colony was also settled in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) in 1803. During this time, British-Aboriginal relations generally began to deteriorate. As the British took over the land and prevented the Aboriginal peoples from using it, there was inevitable conflict.

First contact

The British had hoped to assimilate (absorb) the Aboriginal peoples into the British culture and make them work in the new colony. At first, the Aboriginal peoples avoided the British settlers; but as the number of settlers increased and more land was being taken, contact became unavoidable. As discussed in Chapter 2 of Topic 3, Governor Phillip wanted to avoid unnecessary conflict with the Aboriginal peoples by treating them with kindness and ordering his soldiers not to shoot at them. He captured several Aboriginals, including Bennelong. Phillip wanted them to learn English and act as translators between the Indigenous groups and the British.

Soon, however, there were clashes over land and culture. Phillip started ordering his soldiers to fire at the Aboriginal people, as his efforts to 'civilise' them and assimilate them into the British culture and society was not working as he had hoped. The Aboriginal peoples saw that the British settlers were clearing the land, putting up fences, restricting access and introducing different animals; so they started to retaliate against the invasion.

'Line of blood'

The conflict around Sydney Harbour and Parramatta foreshadowed the conflict that broke out as the settlers moved into the Hawkesbury Valley, and eventually across all areas of Australia.

By 1797, attitudes and policy toward the Indigenous peoples had changed. No longer did the government hope to assimilate the Indigenous peoples, but rather the policy was to 'keep them out'. In 1800 Governor King (the third governor of New South Wales) had reported to the British government that the advance of the British settlement was marked by a 'line of blood', and that the number of Aboriginal peoples killed in fighting was far greater than the number of British people killed. Refer Image 1

Punitive expeditions

In the 1790s and the 1800s the common response of the government to Aboriginal resistance was to send out expeditions of soldiers to punish any groups that threatened farms and settlers. These soldiers hunted down and killed groups of Indigenous people that were thought responsible for stealing stock or food or generally harassing the settlers. Government instructions after 1800 were to fire at Indigenous peoples until they were far away from British settlements. Refer Image 2

In 1816, Governor Macquarie announced that if any Indigenous peoples approached British settlements or were unwilling to leave British properties, then the settlers could drive them away with the use of firearms. Similar encouragement by the government was given in Tasmania and Western Australia, and in most other areas of Australia.

Aboriginal resistance

The Indigenous peoples generally resisted the settlement of their land, but they had little resistance against the guns of the British settlers. One Aboriginal warrior, named Pemulwuy, led the Aboriginal resistance around Sydney Harbour from 1790 to 1802 and was feared by many British settlers. Pemulwuy is discussed further in Chapter 2 of Topic 5.

As the British settlement grew, the Indigenous peoples lost more of their land and many of their family members. They became more reliant on the British settlers to provide them with food, water and shelter. As their traditional way of life was slowly eroded, many Aboriginal people started living on the outskirts of towns or started working as servants in the British settlements. This further consolidated the European view of the time that Indigenous peoples were inferior, and were unable look after themselves or the land. Refer Image 3

Not all contact with the British settlers was violent. At times there was peaceful and friendly contact. Some Indigenous peoples voluntarily became part of the British society. There is also evidence that groups of Indigenous peoples helped Europeans when they were in trouble; which was quite often, as life for British settlers was very hard in the early years of the colony. The way of life for British settlers is discussed in the next chapter.

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1. Who announced in 1816 that settlers could use firearms to drive Aboriginal people away from their settlements?

King George III

Governor Macquarie

Governor King



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