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Consequences of British colonisation for Aboriginal People

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How Aboriginal people lived before colonisation

Aboriginal people lived according to efficient laws and ways of interacting with the environment to meet their needs.

Aboriginal peoples were lived in tribes and were nomadic. They moved from place to place in search of food and water. For food, Aboriginal people caught fish and shellfish from the sea and rivers, hunted kangaroos, possums and birds, collected plants or caught lizards. They used wood, bone and shells to make tools and weapons. When the natural resources of an area began to run low, Aboriginal people moved on to the next place. They did not farm the land, plant or harvest crops or herd animals

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Treatment of Aboriginal people

In the winter of 1791, when George Vancouver claimed the Albany region in Western Australia in the name of King George III, the process of British colonisation began.

Initially, the European explorers had reasonably friendly relations with the Aboriginal people. Governor Phillip always encouraged the new settlers to treat Aboriginal people fairly. Phillip traded items such as axes and cloth with Aboriginal people in exchange for food and water.

The relationship became hostile when Aboriginal people realised that the colonisers would seriously disturb their lives. The settlers took away land, natural food resources and the order of a nomadic life from Aborigines. Between 1790 and 1810, clan people of the Eora group in the Sydney area, led by Pemulwuy of the Bidjigal clan, undertook a series of attacks against the English colonisers.

When Macquarie became governor in 1810, the clashes between the settlers and Aboriginal people increased. Governor Macquarie believed that the best way to treat Aboriginal people was to 'civilise' them. That meant replacing the traditional Aboriginal way of life with European ways.

Macquarie tried to send Aboriginal children to school but many left or returned to their tribes after a short time. Macquarie tried to create a settlement for Aboriginal people by teaching them farming and building techniques. His attempts failed because Aboriginal people did not want to become farmers. After all his failures, Macquarie then made laws to place Aboriginal people under British control. Under these laws it was permitted to shoot Aboriginal people if they resisted.

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The effect of British colonisation on Aboriginal people

Between 1788 and 1900, the Aboriginal population was reduced by 90%. Three main reasons for this were the introduction of new diseases, loss of land and loss of people through direct fighting with the colonisers.

Introduced diseases

The most immediate consequence of British settlement was the appearance of European diseases. Most were epidemic diseases such as chickenpox, smallpox, influenza and measles. As these diseases were infectious, they spread very quickly and killed many people. In large Aboriginal communities, the diseases spread even more quickly.

Loss of land

Another consequence of British settlement was the reduction of access to land and water resources. The settlers took the view that Aboriginal people, with a nomadic lifestyle, could easily be driven away from their lands. By the 1870s all the fertile areas of Australia had been taken from Aboriginal people and given to the white settlers. The loss of land and other essential resources such as food and water posed great danger to Aboriginal people who were left with no place to live and nowhere to hunt food. Already weakened by the new diseases spread by the new settlers, Aboriginal people had dramatically reduced chances for survival.

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The British settlers also introduced alcohol to Aboriginal people which affected them very badly.

When the Europeans started raising stock in ranches, several changes took place. Many Aboriginal people lost their land. The spread of European livestock over vast areas also restricted the nomadic lifestyle of Aboriginal people.

From these ranches, Aboriginal people had a new supply of fresh meat, which changed their nutrition, their eating habits and ways of finding food. As a consequence, Aboriginal people started to depend on European settlers for their food and livelihood.

In the later 19th century, new settlers took vital parts of the land in the north, such as waterholes or soaks, for their own use. They also introduced sheep, rabbits and cattle. These animals took over fertile areas and fouled the land. Consequently, the native animals that Aboriginal people depended on to hunt began to disappear. Aboriginal people started to hunt sheep and cattle as they could no longer rely on hunting native animals.

During the 1850s, gold was found in south-eastern Australia. Many white pastoral workers left their stock farms or ranches to search for gold. Many Aboriginal men, women and children were hired to work in cattle stations and in other less popular industries, such as diving for pearls. Instead of being paid, Aboriginal people received food, clothing and other basic necessities.

Christian missions often provided food and clothing for Aboriginal communities and opened schools and orphanages for Aboriginal children. In some places, colonial governments also provided some resources.

In remote areas, some Aboriginal communities managed to retain their traditional lifestyles as late as the 1930s.
In general, at the beginning, the British colonisers were welcomed, or at least not opposed by Aboriginal people. With time, however, when the impact of the British settlement increased, there were more and more conflicts between the white settlers and Aboriginal people, which often resulted in massacre.
In the Northern Territory until as late as the 1930s, Europeans travellers were sometimes speared to death.In retaliation, some European settlers shot Aboriginal people. The most severe series of killings in the Northern Territory occurred at Caledon Bay, which became a turning point in the relationship between Aboriginal people and the white settlers.


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