The history of western colonization of Australia begins with the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, which comprised of 11 British ships (2 royal navy vessels, 3 storage vessels and 6 ships carrying convicts (1000 to 1500). The ships arrived at Sydney in New South Wales, and set up a penal colony followed by European Land Exploration of Australia and later with the establishment of colonies and set up of democratic governments in the colonies (Day & Day, 2015; Gergis et al., 2010; Bateson, 1983). The essay will critically analyse both these conflicting versions to develop an argument on this topic, and understand both the perspectives of the western colonisers as well as the indigenous inhabitants of Australia.
The attempt to create colonies in Australia was based on several different factors which supported the decision of the United Kingdom to create colonies there. Each of these factors is discussed along with how such contexts have affected the Indigenous populations of Australia.
Possibility of a Perfect Colony:
From the British perspective, Australia was an untouched, empty continent, which they could occupy without any opposition. Even though the land was discovered parts of Australia long before the arrival of Captain Cook, there was no attempt by them to settle in the land (Harvey, 1849; Madden, 2018). Moreover, Captain Cook thought that the natives of the land were of docile nature, and did not show any intentions for resisting European settlement in their lands. This served a significant factor in the British Decision to set up colonies in Australia, and also do so in a peaceful and civilized manner (Eisler & Eisler, 1995). However, from the perspective of the first settlers in Australia, the continent was considered very unfriendly, due to its harsh environment, remoteness and the lack of any infrastructure on which the colonisers could work upon. This significantly challenged the prospects of the colonisers settling in the country (Cawthorn & Archaeology, 2016). From the perspective of the native Australians, this move resulted in the early conflicts between the colonisers, as they slowly started to displace the natives out of their lands (Leane, 2010; Hall, 2002). Since the Aboriginal cultures were based on the principles of sharing the land, they never protested being displaced, and accommodated the outsiders to share their resources. However, with further development of the colonies, the access of the natives to their own resources became constrained by the European colonies (Graham & Davoren, 2015).
A Place to Deport British Criminals:
Based on the ideas from the American colonies like those in Georgia and Carolinas, the British considered Australia to be the site of the new convict settlement, after the American independence (Sheridan, 1960). This was an important move towards reducing the population of convicts in the UK, as well as help in the selection of people who can be the first western colonisers of Australia (Chesterman, 1999; Rickard, 2018). The remoteness of Australia ensured that the convicts are unable to escape the continent and instead are forced to live their full sentence in the convict settlements. Such attributes could have been decisive in their ability to settle in land with a harsh environment and deal with any hostility from the native people (Keen, 2004). From the perspectives of the native Australians, the rapid influx of Europeans resulted in the set up on Penal Colonies in which they were no longer allowed, and resources on those lands becoming out of reach for the natives (Then, 2015). This increased their struggle to continue with their way of life, as well as created a boundary between the native people with the western colonisers. The aggressive nature of the western convicts arriving in Australia was probable another factor that facilitated the dispersion of the colony, as the docile inhabitants rarely would challenge the spread of the colonisers in the land (Rechniewski, 2015).
The Vagabonds Act 1597 and the Transportation Act 1717:
The Vagabonds Act of 1597 legislated the lawbreakers of Great Britain to be expelled from the country. After the Transportation Act of 1717 came to a halt after the American war of Independence, which resulted in war between British colonisers and 13 of their former colonies in 1775 (Goldberg, 2018; Knight, 2018). Transporting the convicts from Britain to the Americas under the Vagabonds Act and Transportation Act was no longer considered feasible, since the American economy already relied on an existing supply of slave labours from Africa. This caused the British prisons to be overcrowded. The British Government then started converting old wartime ships into floating jails to keep these prisoners. From the British perspectives, Australia seemed like the perfect place to be explored further for British settlements, as well as an ideal place to incarcerate the convicts due to its remote location (Day & Day, 2015). From the perspectives of the natives, however, such act only resulted in the transportation of criminals and law breakers into their land, and this increased the chances of more violence and hostility between the natives and the western colonisers (Harris, 2003; Edmonds, 2016).
Spreading the British Reach:
Increasing the British reach also allowed them access to new natural resources which could be exploited and thus help the ailing economy of Great Britain at that time. The strategies for exploration of the continent were aimed to find more habitable locations where colonies could be set up, and thus create a network of infrastructure for the inhabitants (Fedorowich & Thompson, 2015). However, the inhabitants considered for these advantages were the British settlers in Australia, and not the indigenous population. The Aboriginals initially never had a proper framework of exploiting and distributing resources, and depended on a hunter gatherer lifestyle, which so far was good enough for their sustenance. However after the arrival of the British settlers, there was a significant competition for the resources, due to which the native populations started declining (McGregor, 1997). Moreover, the European settlers brought along diseases unknown to the natives, and they easily were affected, and their traditional medicines were ineffective against them (Campbell, 2007).
Civilizing the World:
The British saw the native inhabitants of Australia as docile, uncivilized and underdeveloped tribe, and after the set up of the western colonies, they wanted the Aboriginals to give up their traditional ways of life and philosophies which they followed for thousands of years and adopt the western lifestyle and philosophies to enable them to integrate with the western society created in Australia. The idea that the natives do not have credible knowledge, which is backed up by science and technology underlined such decisions to encourage the native population of change their thinking and ways of life (Wilson, 2004). However, such acts led to the systematic destruction of the Aboriginal cultures, and alienated several native youths from their traditions and lifestyles. Consequently, the health conditions of the native populations showed rapid decline, as more and more youth were prone to diseases such as obesity, diabetes and related co morbidities which were previously unknown to the natives (Kelm, 1999; Sherwood, 2009; Hunter, 1993). The alienation from their culture further helped the sustenance of unhealthy lifestyle and also disconnected their ties with the land and the hunter gatherer lifestyle which they evolved to have mastered. These aspects severely affected the overall health and well being of the native Australians and aided their gradual decline in numbers across Australia (Hatala et al., 2016).
With a rising economic problems across Europe and the British struggling to keep up with its expenses and the closure of many of its former colonies, it needed new territories to be controlled to fill the deficits left by the old colonies (Braudel, 1982). Australia served as a new territory, as well as have a strategic advantage location wise (Day & Day, 2015). The occasional violent resistance from the Native Australians that ensued these massacres were also subdued quickly with even more violent force, resulting in tragic outcomes and loss of innocent lives. As a result of these conflicts the native populations kept dwindling almost to the point of the entire culture being almost lost forever (Triandis, 2018; Evans & Thorpe, 2001).
Even though the colonisation of Australia was a strategic decision of the British Government to acquire new lands as well as to set up new locations for the incarceration of the convicts, the process had severely affected the native populations of the continent. The inhabitants who lived peacefully in the lands for thousands of years were now existentially challenged, as their already limited resources caused steep competition with the new settlers. The criminal histories of the settlers as well as the set up of penal colonies in the continent lead to an increase violence in the conflicts between the settlers and the native Australians, which along with the new diseases introduced to the land, and through the loss of the traditional lifestyles of the native population severely jeopardised their health and well being, and caused their populations to rapidly dwindle. Hence, even if the colonisation was considered a strategic move by the British and also a step towards civilizing the new world, it resulted in the native population to be almost wiped out of existence.
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