Content Description

The extension of settlement, including the effects of contact (intended and unintended) between European settlers in Australia and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples


Investigating the forcible removal of children from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families in the late nineteenth century/early twentieth century (leading to the Stolen Generations), such as the motivations for the removal of children, the practices and laws that were in place, and experiences of separation

Essential Question

In what ways are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples affected by colonisation and settlement?


Colonisation and settlement has detrimental effects for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the past, present and future

Due to colonisation, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been negatively affected through dispossession of land, displacement and disease. Government policies implemented have resulted in the loss of language, culture, systems and lifestyle.

Violent conflicts such as the Frontier Wars between Aboriginal and European people resulted in many deaths. The effects and continued sorrow have been felt by generations ever since (a term referred to as 'inter-generational or trans-generational trauma').

The Frontier Wars are largely, unknown, unrecognised or acknowledged by the majority of Australians, continuing to invalidate the ongoing experiences and suffering of many Aboriginal Australians today.

Text: Blood on the Wattle, by Bruce Elder, published by New Holland Australia, first edition 1999

Historians estimate that hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal people were massacred by European colonisers, occupiers (settlers), squatters and land-owners between 1788 and 1928. In comparison, it is estimated that a few hundred European people were killed in that same period.

When colonisers and occupiers arrived in Australia they brought many European diseases including chickenpox, smallpox, typhoid, measles and influenza. Aboriginal people had no immunity to these new diseases, leading to sickness and many deaths. They also brought sexually transmitted infections, and social diseases such as alcohol-related illness and substance abuse.

While many Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people were killed in violent clashes over the rights to occupy the land, some occupiers avoided fighting by poisoning food and water sources to kill or drive away Aboriginal people from areas occupiers wanted to inhabit.

The dispossession of land, and damage to the environment by the introduction of European livestock led to the destruction of traditional food sources. Many Aboriginal people were unable to access clean water or an adequate and nutritious supply of food. This malnourishment adversely affected the health of Aboriginal people leading to fatal diseases. In acts of desperation, some resorted to hunting and eating livestock. This resulted in extreme punitive measures such as massacres, further straining already desperate Aboriginal families and communities.

The dispossession of Aboriginal people from their traditional country contributed further to a drastic decline in population. Between 1788-1900, the Aboriginal Australian population was reduced by around 80-90%.

The systemic removal of children from families - commonly known as the ‘Stolen Generations’ - caused severe stress and loss for many Aboriginal families for decades. Despite the government’s apparent abolishment of the practice in the 1970’s, it continues under different auspices, and there continues to be many individuals, families and communities suffering the trans-generational effects of severe trauma, grief and loss today.

Text: Expeditionary Anthropology Teamwork, Travel and the ‘Science of Man, by Martin Edward Thomas and Amanda Harris, published by Berghahn Books New York Oxford, 2018

We need to be aware of our true Australian history so that we don’t continue to make the mistakes of the past. We need to understand that the past continues to affect and influence the present, and that understanding our history is vital to Reconciliation.

When people arrive in an area with intent to live or develop, there needs to be a mutually respectful process developed. This should include consultation with existing inhabitants, respect and acknowledgment of culture and an agreed outcome that doesn’t disadvantage either group.

As Australians, we are all inter-connected, so this has everything to do with all of us. We are not individually responsible for the past, and should not be burdened with the guilt and shame associated with it, but with a sound understanding of the impacts of the past, we can help shape the future.

When the first European colonisers arrived in 1788, it is estimated that there were over 750,000 to 1,500,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in Australia. These people were all part of an estimated 700 different nations, with hundreds of spoken languages. Each regional group had their own set of rules regarding kinship, marriage, responsibilities and relationship with country. Many of these cultural elements were totally disregarded by the Europeans who subsequently imposed their own values and rules on the traditional custodians of the lands. This cultural dominance remains firmly in place within Australian society today. It is commonly associated with the terms ‘white privilege’ and ‘white entitlement’.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are largely unknown, misunderstood, or are not acknowledged by many Australians.

For all people, loss of culture has a huge impact on human identity.

Text: Torres Strait Islander: Custom and Colonialism, by Jeremy Beckett, published by Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990

Text: Myths and legends of Torres Strait, by Margaret Lawrie, published by University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1970 

There are many ways to respond, including:

Helping others to understand the true history and lasting impacts of colonisation in Australia, including dispossession, genocide, disease, displacement and ill-treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Seeking more information on a personal level in order to develop the confidence, knowledge and determination to assist in the elimination of the trans-generational impacts of colonisation.

Showing empathy and compassion for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who, through the impact of colonisation, continue to experience the effects of inter-generational trauma today.

Speaking up for disadvantaged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and advocate for positive change that will authentically lead to Reconciliation.