When Australia is so frequently deemed to be the ‘Lucky Country’; why does a small but significant proportion of their population have a considerably lower quality of life? For aboriginals, their life expectancy is –at most, 17 years less than other Australians, as well as being much lower than many others in the underdeveloped world. Since initial involvement of Europeans in Aboriginal culture and society, it seems the vastly different ideals have clashed. The presence of Europeans, Australian officials and other external bodies has lead to the marginalisation and disempowerment of aboriginal groups. Whilst Australian officials are quick to show their dedication and prevalence in helping aboriginals the steps forward are shallow and small.
One of the biggest examples in which aboriginal groups and external parties come to blows is over the use of land. Firstly when Europeans first ‘found’ Australia they made drastic changes to the land use and management. By introducing flammable gases, the prominent grass type altered over time, causing a vicious cycle of uncontrollable fires due to the foreign grass being more susceptible. As well as this, Europeans introduced large herbivores, such horses, pigs and cattle, which were poorly regulated and became feral and dangerous, as well as damaging the land. Thus, by 1930 the Australian tiger had become extinct as well as endangering many other traditional animals.
Furthermore, in Australia more than 80% of the minerals extracted in the northern territory come from mining on Aboriginal land, producing an income of more than $1 Billion per annum. The economics behind mining show the clear positives to this industry. But this point of view is blind the indigenous land rights that form the foundation mining issues. Under Land rights act aboriginals have the right to approve or reject mining and mineral exploitation on their land, however resent news highlights that perhaps companies do not respect these decisions. Dr Marsh speaks of recent studies into a divide and conquers approach in which individual members of the community are alienated and pressurised into agreeing to mining projects. As well as this, Australian Geographic talks about how some mining companies will only converse with those supporting their projects, furthering the marginalisation of some members of society.
Whilst mining, to aboriginals is deemed disrespectful of their culture, in which the environment and culture is one and the same, mining companies also show complete disregard to other aspects of aboriginal culture. In 2011 there was outrage from aboriginals when a sacred stone, that is thought to cause death when looked at, was being sold on eBay by external bodies as memorabilia.
It is clear that a current method of intertwining aboriginals with the rest of Australia’s population is not working. Aboriginals are not getting the respect they deserve. But dealing with this problem is difficult. It is important to not just ride in on our white horse and save the day for these disempowered Australians. Let’s educate ourselves in their precious knowledge and understanding of the environment, and then perhaps, with the caution and respect that the Australian officials fail to provide, Aboriginal Australians can work with the rest of Australia, in finding their own management methods, like they are so very capable of doing so. We must pull the focus away from trying to fix aboriginals or help them adapt the modern ways, and rather, focus on fixing ourselves.
A. Yengoyan, 1978 Economy, Society, and Myth in Aboriginal Australia. Annual Review of Anthropology. Vol 8.
D. Bowman, 2011. Australia’s deeply trouble ecology demands fresh thinking. The Guardian.
D. Bowman, 2010. Australia plans referendum on aboriginal recognition. The Guardian.
L. Martin. 2011. Is mining trampling on Aboriginal culture. Australian Geographic.
Oxfam, Close the gap campaign.
National Geographic, 2010. The last Speakers.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O89PkSNTtbg