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Colonising Australia was certainly not an easy process for the British. Not only was it unfamiliar land with strange plants and animals, but the settlers also had to deal with a diverse, indigenous population that defended their land and territory from the invasion of another people. The resistance of the Indigenous peoples was a fact of life for the British settlers on the frontier, from the early years of the colony to over 100 years later. The reasons for the Indigenous peoples resisting the European invasion is summarised in this chapter.

Resistance to the invasion

Wherever the British settled in Australia, they were met by groups of Indigenous peoples. Sometimes, particularly at the beginning, the Indigenous peoples either avoided the settlers, or were curious about their ways. In later years, the contact became increasingly violent and hostile as Indigenous peoples were forcibly removed or prevented from returning to their own land.

Not all contact was violent. Some Indigenous peoples readily adopted the British ways and voluntarily became part of life on the settlements. Overall, however, the British settlers arrived in the colony with a desire to own the land and everything on it, and this was resisted by the Indigenous peoples. Refer Image 1

Land ownership, dispossession and resistance

The main reason for the Aboriginal peoples resisting the invasion was that the British settlers started taking their land and prevented them from using it. Indigenous peoples have strong, spiritual links to the land and each group had territory that they used for hunting, ceremonies, shelter and water. The concept that someone could take over the land without sharing it was not considered by the Indigenous peoples. The European settlers, however, believed that the Indigenous peoples did not own the land, and that they were free to take it.

Initially, the Indigenous people believed that the settlers would eventually go away, and may have tolerated the settlers living on their land. As time went on, it became clear that the settlers were staying and were going to prevent the Indigenous peoples from using the land as they had done for centuries. This was when many Indigenous peoples started to fight back and resist the invasion.

Ownership and sharing

Sometimes, the Indigenous people and settlers lived in close proximity with few problems. The trouble started when arguments arose over the sharing of resources. The Indigenous peoples had a culture of sharing which was central to their social organisation. The settlers had a culture of individualism and possessiveness. These two cultures were could not live together without conflict.

When Indigenous people took a sheep or a cow to eat, they believed it was their right as they were sharing the land. By taking property of the settlers, the Indigenous groups were forcing them to share. Some groups also shared their women with the settlers. In return, the Indigenous peoples expected food or clothing, but often the settlers abused the women and gave nothing in return. Refer Image 2

Changing beliefs and attitudes

The mood changed as the settlers and Indigenous peoples began to hear stories of violence and racial abuse that was occurring in other parts of the country. During the 1820s and 1830s, most British settlers started to believe that the Indigenous people were nothing more than savages that needed to be kept away from their settlements. Many settlers thought that killing Indigenous people for revenge, or to protect their family and property, was the right thing to do. Refer Image 3

The Indigenous peoples also started to consider the British differently. The expansion of the British settlement into inland Australia meant that there was more contact with the Indigenous peoples. They were hearing horrific stories of murder, massacres and of children and women being kidnapped and abused or kept as servants. For many Indigenous people, the attacks on the settlers became motivated by revenge.


Revenge attacks were common in traditional Indigenous society, so when the British settlers started abusing, injuring and killing Aboriginal men, women and children, the Aboriginal peoples wanted revenge. Often the Aboriginal people only wanted to punish particular individual settlers who had been involved in the incident or attack, and spent days preparing for the revenge.

The settlers also wanted revenge for any killings or theft, but they often killed whole groups of Aboriginal people, even if they were not involved in the crimes. The settlers wanted to overcome all resistance from the Indigenous peoples and would continue the violence until there was no more conflict.

Final straw

Resistance and revenge continued to worsen on the frontier as misunderstandings, fear and anxiety produced more brutal killings and attacks. The loss of land, way of life and the destruction of their family, band and clan led many Indigenous peoples into war with the European invaders. In the end, however, the British invaders were too powerful for the Indigenous peoples.

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1. What type of culture was central to the European social organisation?

A culture of public ownership of the land

A culture of sharing

A culture of hunting

A culture of possession and individualism


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