Content Description

Changes in the way of life of a group(s) of people who moved to Australia in this period, such as free settlers on the frontier in Australia


Describing the impact of this group on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples of the region

Essential Question

In what ways did the arrival of the colonisers and early occupiers to Australia change traditional ways of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?


People arrived in Australia in various groups and moved throughout the country as they colonised and occupied

The colonisers and early occupiers (settlers) in the Sydney region introduced a wave of epidemic diseases including chickenpox, smallpox, typhoid, measles and influenza, which then spread into other parts of the country. This lead to the deaths of many Aboriginal people.

The colonisers had no understanding of, nor respect for, Aboriginal people on their traditional lands, and disregarded sacred Aboriginal sites or places of importance to the traditional way of life.

After the Blue Mountains were crossed and occupation established on new grazing land, the introduction of sheep and cattle drove away native animals and destroyed vegetation and waterholes.

In Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) the colonisers instigated deliberate conflict with Aboriginal people, and kidnapped Aboriginal women. Their aim appeared to be to exterminate all Aboriginal people on the island.

The impact of colonisation is still being felt by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today. 

Largely unknown, although well documented, is the landfall of Spanish Captain Luiz Vaz de Torres and Dutch Captain Willem Janszoon in the Torres Strait and Cape York in 1606, where interactions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples occurred.

Upon Captain James Cook landing in Botany Bay, home of the Eora people, in 1770 he claimed possession of the east coast of Australia for Britain under the false doctrine of 'terra nullius'. This was the basis on which the British claimed to be the first settlers on the land in the Sydney area. By denying recognition of humanity to Aboriginal people, land was falsely claimed and traditional custodial connection to land was ignored and not recognised.

Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet reached Botany Bay in 1788 and began what they regarded as ‘the colonisation and settlement of Australia’. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ perspective has always regarded this as an act of invasion.

Governor Phillip reported that smallpox had killed half of the Aboriginal people in the Eora (Sydney) region within fourteen months of the arrival of the First Fleet.

The establishment of colonies in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), Adelaide, Moreton Bay (Brisbane) and Port Phillip (Melbourne), resulted in a struggle for land and resources which lead to frequent violent outbreaks and deaths. Evidence illustrates that deaths were disproportionately higher for Aboriginal peoples than that of the occupiers.

Traditional fighting was part of Aboriginal law and culture, often used to settle disputes between individuals and clan groups.
Due to the lack of knowledge about Aboriginal custom and practice, when clashes were witnessed and recorded, the common perception was that they were war-faring people. 

When Aboriginal people were forced from their traditional lands there was a loss of connection to their land, customs, language, kinship, law and ceremony. The trans-generational effects are still causing suffering and feelings of grief and loss today (referred to as inter-generational trauma).

All people have a basic right to food, water and safety without fear of being removed from their homes or negatively affected through the actions of others.

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. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have used traditional knowledge and systems to maintain ecosystems, and cultivate land sustainably, for many thousands of years. During this period of time the seasons and natural environment had provided food, shelter, clean water and medical needs. This changed drastically for Aboriginal people with the European occupation.

Aboriginal and Western views on the importance of land and land ownership are vastly different. In essence, Aboriginal people believe they belong to the land and have custodial ties and responsibilities, whereas the Western view is that land is quantified in terms of deeds and titles and, when purchased or claimed, it belongs to the people.

Text: The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia, by Bill Gammage, published by Allen & Unwin, 2012

There are many ways to respond, including:

Acknowledging the often-understated fact that Aboriginal people have experienced the dispossession of land, violence, intentional removal of children and families, and have continually been subjected to untold harms inflicted over generations.

Being open to learning the whole truth about colonisation and settlement (invasion/occupation) in Australia from 1788 onwards.

Acknowledging that historical texts and contemporary media sources do not always depict the truth regarding colonisation and the ongoing effects for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Helping others to understand why Aboriginal people today still suffer varying forms of grief and loss associated with the 200- plus years of trans-generational disadvantage and trauma, along with the continued, forced disconnection from their country.