Social Commentator

Birth of a nation.

Once a upon a time, a man called Bennelong of the Eora people saw Captain Cook sail by and wondered what he was doing? When Cook did not stop, Bennelong thought no more about it; then sometime later, he heard on the bush telegraph that Captain Cook had been doing the rounds of London saying he had discovered Australia. Bennelong thought about this and said, “Dat can’t be true because we already knowed we’re ‘ere. Dat Captain Cook plenty humbug.” “Nebba mind,” he thought, “E’s no more worri.” Then many seasons later, Captain Arthur Phillip turned up with his family and said he had moved into a place called Port Jackson. Bennelong thought to himself, Why does this white man want Eora kuntri for his sit-down kuntri? We nebba asked him to come ‘ere.
So, my dear reader that is how the story of Australia began. Of course, what Bennelong did not know was that on 22 August 1770, Cook landed on Possession Island, and claimed the entire coastline that he had just explored as British territory. With the arrival of Arthur Phillip together with his instructions from George III on 21 January 1788, the Crown had taken possession of its Territory of New South Wales and its Dependencies, and we know possession is nine tenths of the law. In setting up a penal colony or settlement, what would be best practices for carrying out such a project? Perhaps the first step might be an environmental planning and assessment study to take into consideration the impact to the environment and the community of the proposed development or land-use change; detailing the impact to both natural and human environments. A fair-minded person would, of course, accept that Captain Cook’s survey of the East Coast of Australia, conducted from the Endeavour in 1770, was a more than an adequate examination and estimation of the conditions of both the natural and human environments as they then existed in New South Wales. In writing this book there were many imponderables to consider and perhaps the most obvious was, did anyone think to ask the Aborigines what they thought of the occupation of the country. The question is mildly absurd because Cook made every attempt to parley with the indigenous people he found along the coast but he received no coherent answer from them, either because they failed to understand him or his presence had no significance to them or they saw no issue in his questions and actions; perhaps, their silence or failure to respond signalled that they did not care or were accepting or acquiescing of the white man’s presence. Captain Cook observed:
There are no chiefs, and the land is divided into sections, occupied by families, who consider everything in their district as their own. Internecine war exists between the different tribes, which are very small. Their treachery, which is unsurpassed, is simply an outcome of their savage ideas, and in their eyes is a form of independence which resents any intrusion on THEIR land, THEIR wild animals, and THEIR rights generally. In their untutored state, they therefore consider that any method of getting rid of the invader is proper.
Of course, it would be wonderful to go back to the beginning and asked the leaders of the then First Nation what they wanted in return for allowing the British to set up a settlement in Australia. If one was to ask the current bunch of illustrious leaders, they would probably put forward the following conditions for a lease of Australia:
Term of lease 99 years with an option for a further 99 years; on signing the lease an immediate payment or a fine of twenty billion in gold sovereigns; the First Nation to retain sovereignty over the lands and oceans of and pertaining to Australia and the said sovereignty will not be diminished, reduced or limited by the lease; the First Nation to have complete and total ownership and control over all things animate or inanimate in the seas and on the land and above or below the ground; the First Nation to receive annually fifty percent of the gross profits generated by the lessee; each First Nation citizen to be given a pension for life according to his needs and status; each First Nation citizen to be given free education, free health, etc. & etc. Moreover, neither the First Nation nor its members shall be liable to any form of taxation or conscription by the lessee. Disclaimer: should the party of the first part, the First Nation find that they have under quoted in regards to the above lease of the said Australia then on notice from the First Nation the lease will become null and void and a further lease more favourable to the First Nation will be entered into forthwith.
As amusing as the above may seem, the reality is as follows: the 2014 Indigenous Expenditure Report was released on December 12, 2014 reporting a total spend for 2012-2013 of $30.3 billion, accounting for 6.1 per cent of total direct government expenditure. Total estimated expenditure per person across all government programs in 2012-13 was $43,449 per Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander compared to $20,900 for non-Aboriginal Australians. This sort of public spending has gone on for years under Labor, welfare ad infinitum.
The birth of a nation is a phenomenon. Profound yes, but it does not require an in-depth metaphysical analysis of the whys and wherefores of its conception and physical delivery. In the case of Australia, the Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland were acting according to the doctrine of discovery or exploration pursuant to international law. Moreover, they had social problems in regard to a section of their population, namely, the criminal classes. A humane solution had to be found to the overcrowding of prisons. A policy of executing convicted felons no longer seemed meritorious; something more humane was needed. Commuting a sentence of death to transportation for the term of one’s natural life seemed eminently more preferable to hanging a felon by the neck until dead. Accordingly, steps were taken to set up a penal colony in the Territory of New South Wales and its Dependencies. The landing and disembarkation of Governor Phillip and his party onto the Territory of New South Wales immediately brought into existence a colony. This act of entry by Governor Phillip made lawful by his authorised instructions from the Crown of Great Britain and Ireland is the basis of the legitimate sovereignty of Australia. In the course of this occupation, an interaction arose between indigenous groups of people already present in the same territory. The analysis or description of that interaction should cause no difficulty provided records were kept of that contact. However, Australian history has been plunged into an internecine dispute among historians which has now claimed the lofty title of History War. The conflict seems petty when looked at from the point of view of the challenges that faced the colony, which were overcome and a thriving democratic, first world country has arisen in its place. However, one group did not respond to the challenges facing it and thus did not thrive and withered on the vine. Of course, there has been social engineering in the creation of Australia. Like many countries, Australia brought in coolie labour to work and overcome what appeared to be difficult production costs in certain industries like mining and sugar cane. These coolie races then appeared to assume a threatening posture to the pioneer white race and thus were deported and prevented from entering the country evermore. Although the original native class has withered and appeared as if it had almost vanished, there has arisen in its place a mestizo class who are claiming the pedigree of the original native class and asserting that they stand in the footsteps of the long lost indigenous race. This cannot be right but the assertion is driven by the modern concept of reparations for past perceived political wrongs.
… having mated and intermarried with Europeans and with Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and Malay fisherman and pearl divers in the north the population both full blood and miscegenated is increasing rapidly. … physically and/or culturally it is a different kind of population that is increasing. Aborigines are becoming other than they were. Quite soon, anthropologists will speak of the “Aborigines” and their culture in a strictly historical sense.
Australia was never invaded. Australia arose ex nihilo from nothing. The act of settlement was not in furtherance of an ideology but a phenomenon. The pioneers improved the country so as to live more comfortably. Abophiles have assiduously asserted that they have found dishonourable motives and hidden genocidal blueprints in the detritus of Australian history. They have become obsessed with conspiracy theories behind every event in the calendar of settlement. Regrettably, this approach to Australian history lacks merit; is unconvincing in its argument, and divisive in its effect. Aborigines, in situ, cannot be categorised without bringing down on the head of the poor scribe an avalanche of abuse and hatred, if you do not conform to the party line. Moreover, the publisher may incur the sanctions of the Racial Discrimination Act. Voltaire might sound his lofty principles but unchained, heartfelt thoughts allowed to wander across the page in barefaced, black ink need to keep Keats close by. However, in the scheme of things, it is fair to say Aborigines were a Stone Age people. In classifying their economy, Marx’s theory of history is more than fair, a primitive form of communism: shared property, no concept of ownership beyond individual possessions like tools, weapons, wives; hunter and gatherer, survival is a daily struggle; and a proto-democracy, no concept of leadership other than best warrior.
From the Toynbeean perspective of challenge and response, the Aborigines of Australia had lived in an environment which provided all too readily the means of sustenance, and thus, they had faced no serious challenge and remained in a cultural stasis. On the current upbeat view of pre-history in Australia, this stasis extended over 65,000 years. When at last, a serious challenge in the form of white settlement in 1788 did confront the Aborigines of Australia, which carried within it the germ of opportunity for them, what was their response? The response required from the Aborigines was vision, leadership, and action to meet the encounter and create a basis for their survival and, hopefully, their prosperity.
It is from this challenge that so much historical debate nay, heat has arisen. One side of the debate is drawn from the politics of Marxism seeing only the cruelty, crimes, injustices, and exploitation of the collision of the two cultures; not wanting to see the meeting of the two cultures as a steady process of osmosis; only wanting to portray it as a brutal state of war, redolent of the Vietnam War , where the policy was search and destroy and the rules of engagement were: for native police operations in areas beyond the settled districts, shoot anything that moved, and in populated areas, shoot individuals who were either armed, dressed in war paint or behaving in a disorderly fashion. Whereas the early settler accepted the challenge, the burden was picked up and carried through to the success that Australia is today.
What then might we call the other side of the collision who are generally known as squatters? Why capitalists, as Marx would rightly say. The total numbers of licensed occupants of the stations in the Sydney District in 1848 was 1,041; the estimated quantity of land occupied by these squatters was 54,821 square miles; the average quantity of land occupied by each squatter was 53 square miles or 34,000 acres; the quantity of stock depastured upon these runs was horses 17,000, cattle 644,000, sheep 2,358,000, totalling 3,019,000 animals; and the amount of money paid to the Crown, in license fees, for one year’s occupancy of these magnificent runs, was £18,812. The squatters, at all times, believed and acted according to the prevailing law and founding principles of the colony, genuinely and firmly accepting the sovereign as the fountainhead of all law and the source of their legitimacy.
What can be said about the Aborigines? I suspect whatever one might say will be considered too little. Then, perhaps, it might be too much. In researching my family history, one of them was a founding member of the Fenians who the British took quite seriously and perhaps set up as a result of the Fenian threat, the Royal Irish Constabulary, a very efficient police force. However, the point is this, many have tried to characterise the Fenians. The Spectator said the following:
Its (Fenian) leaders are such mean people, a schoolmaster, a tailor, a news agent, a fifth-rate journalist, and a discharged sergeant. But rather than laugh at such a mean lot, as most Englishmen have done to date, one needs to remember the Indian mutiny which was started by ignorant sepoys in circumstances where they had no chance of winning. It is their ignorance that makes them dangerous because they are unpredictable and not amenable to the normal ways of diplomacy or war. If they were men of education, or standing, or wealth, a politician would have some basis for calculation. They can reason, or argue, or concede, or at worst, coerce; with O’Connell, it was possible to deal by compromise. But no man can anticipate even in thought the course these Fenian leaders would adopt. They are capable of rebelling in a county in which they have not a hundred followers, of trying to seize Cork and defeat its garrison with a squad of half-drilled peasants, of hurling their followers barehanded on to men armed with Enfield rifles. Therefore, the Fenians are formidable, not indeed to the Empire, but to the peace and good order of certain Irish counties. They are contemptible, their means are trifling, and their organization is ludicrously defective; why arrest fifty or sixty obscure fools for talking treason and drilling with big sticks?
Well I hate to suggest it, but if one substituted Aborigine for Fenian, perhaps one would obtain a colonial view of how the squatters and the administration saw the Aborigines. If I may be permitted to extract one element from the above, then it would be that the Aborigines were unpredictable and not amenable to the normal ways of diplomacy or war and formidable, not indeed to the Empire, but to the peace and good order of parts beyond the settled districts. If the Aborigines thought about the encroachment of their territory, why did they not conciliate? There was a total failure to respond in a meaningful way. There was a total failure to communicate on their behalf with the Governor. I would put it this way, trial and error and experience had taught the Aborigines that their way of life was successful therefore why change? They were the top predator. To date they had beaten all other predators. Furthermore, in hand-to-hand combat, the Aborigine was the better warrior. Aborigines had the self-assurance of an aggressor. A more generous white man perhaps, would have agreed with them, but he would have added the proviso, yes, you win and prosper, but you are pagans suckled in a creed outworn. I doubt very much that the Aborigines of the time would have accepted that analysis of their way of life and as a consequence the rebuttal would have been a spear or a nulla nulla. My view is that each side was entrenched in their positions of self-justification and that each side believed they had right on their side. Therefore, collisions took place between settlers and Aborigines as Governor Fitz Roy described them.
I do not, for one moment, accept that the conflict between the settlers or indeed, the government of the day and the Aborigines even when it became physical and involved killing people, black or white, was a war of any kind. First of all, the government did not have a policy of aggression against the Aborigines and did its best to discourage it and, on one occasion, took the executive steps necessary to have accused white persons charged with the murder of Aborigines, tried and on conviction, hanged. However much historians may wish to downplay this event, I believe it signalled a significant warning to all whites that taking the law into their own hands when dealing with Aborigines was done at their own peril. I hasten to add; did whites think badly of Aborigines? Yes. Did they agitate for their removal? Yes. Did they agitate for the control and regulation of Aborigines? Yes. And did they seek to have Aborigines punished for breaches of white man’s law? Yes.
What about the Aborigines, did they make war? There is a consensus among many historians, who might be categorised as left-wing, who argue they did? I cannot warrant that the Aborigines did not have in their mind conflict against the white settlers. What conflict resolution strategies did the Aborigines have? On the face of it, Aborigines saw violence as the one and only way to resolve conflict and from the point of view of efficiency, violence is swift and final; attributes most arbiters see as desirable. Whether it was fair and equitable is perhaps not relevant that far back in time; it took the English legal system a long time to develop the jurisprudence of Equity. It is one thing to be an armchair freedom fighter. Terrorists are not backyard amateurs but highly skilled operatives, consider 9/11. Compare and contrast Pearl Harbour with 9/11. 9/11 is remarkable because the perpetrators used American hardware to attack and destroy American assets on the American homeland. How brazen was that? Firstly, Aborigines had no surplus (food or weapons), no bureaucracy, no inventory, no strategy, no high command, no order of battle, no troops, and no transport; you can whistle Dixie all you like and play the trumpet till ya blue in the face but there was no warfare. Frederick Walker gave this example of aboriginal tactics: The blacks being on the ranges attempted to kill them by throwing stones down on the dismounted police but these missiles, however unpleasant to whites under such circumstances, are perfectly harmless when used against the Native Police. How Palaeolithic can one get? The killing of whites by Aborigines was idiosyncratic: breach of contract, tribal law, payback, food, murder, pleasure, revenge, insults, self-defence, trespass, accidentally, to obtain goods, and maybe, other reasons still unknown. They gave the appearance of fighting a war because it was done on their terms, and as I have said, in a one-on-one situation, most white men had no chance whatsoever against marauding Aborigines. As they were British subjects and their actions had no meaningful policy behind them, they were seen therefore as acts of violence by the individual and thus amenable to civil authority namely the police. Aborigines were never a threat to Her Britannic Majesty’s government at Westminster, they were never a threat to the Government Resident at Moreton Bay and they were never a threat to the Governor in Sydney. On the borders of the unsettled districts, they could skirmish, hold corroborees, sing and kill and mutilate whites and their livestock to their heart’s content, and that was the limit of it. Left-wing authors write romanticised historical works about heroic aboriginal battles akin to Marathon which according to these authors were regularly waged with the white foe being driven off and aboriginal borders re-secured. This heady mixture of boys’ own triumphs and dastardly whites wiping out whole tribes in reprisals could, if not watched carefully, lead to the whites taking Australia by conquest. That would put an end to native title if this view ever became the received consensus of aboriginal resistance to colonisation. These battles need to be toned down. Let us assume for the sake of argument that they did conduct a war. They certainly conducted a no holds-barred campaign. Of course, the apologists will counter with the tit for tat rule. However most importantly, the Aborigines never attempted a settlement of any kind in which they set out their demands and or their grievances. In other words, the Aborigines threw away an opportunity to respond to the white invitation to grow and prosper with the white expansion. Let us now look at how it was resolved? If it was war, then the only category that Aborigines could fall into was that of a belligerent making them enemies of the Queen and beyond the reach of British domestic law. Furthermore, my view is that if there was a war, a state of armed conflict, then the Aborigines lost the war and as a result became prisoners and forfeited any territory they may have held. If that is the case, then the rhetoric about the history of Aborigines from the time of the settlement of Australia by Australians becomes even more prone to woolly thinking than it already is. Some may argue that my approach ignores the reality and is based on a definitional approach: if the Aborigines by definition had no conceptual and organisational capacity to wage war, then there was no war. Unlike most commentators, I have tendered my evidence, see Chapter 11. The ability to make war comprehends an ability to make peace and secure one’s national integrity and borders by treaty. Aborigines, in my view, never sued for peace, each group learning nothing from their collective experience of dealing with settlers. Their actions were a meaningless destruction of settlers’ assets. By meaningless I mean, not amenable to analysis, without policy, random and opportunistic, criminal in nature.
If settlement was, as I argue, one of gradual exchange which I call the Cook exchange, then it is a process that involved first giving the Aborigines the protection of the British domestic law and trying to reach an accommodation with them in their adjusting to the colonial economy and its rules and regulations. It was not the old confrontationist approach of who owns that particular piece of land, where the first person says, “I want this land.” The second person says, “No, you can’t have it, it’s mine.” The first-person replies, “Where did you get it?” The answer, “From my father.” “Where did he get it?” “From his father.” “Where did he get it?” “From his father.” “Where did he get it?” “He fought for it.” “Well, I’ll fight you for it.”
I have postulated elsewhere that the aboriginal culture endemic to Australia prior to settlement was clearly a Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer society which, as a consequence of no real challenges, remained in a cultural stasis for something like 65,000 years. However, when challenged by European settlement, failed to respond to the challenge and faded away. This hypothesis in itself would be sufficient but certain historians, in reviewing the settlement of Australia, are asserting that it was a brutal form of genocide, and one rather much abused indicator employed by this school of thought is to showcase the alleged genocide by constructing crude causality lists. Now you cannot have a causality list unless you have a population, and given that these historians use modern anachronistic terms and concepts like total war then one must go beyond combatant numbers to population figures. The logic is simple, if the native population can be shown to be high then the constructed causality lists will be high also and thus give the impression of uncontrolled aggression against the “legitimate defenders of their territory”. When looking at the Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer certain characteristics remain fixed, a short lifespan, say, a median age of 35 years for men and 30 years for women; the best explanation for the relatively short [Palaeolithic] lifespan is the combination of stresses of nomadism, climate, and tribal warfare. One other dynamic in Palaeolithic populations is that such populations have a low-density rate per square kilometres of tribal territory. In other words, animal reproduction rates in the wild determine or influence the density rate of the hunting population living at one person per x square kilometres. Whether hunters needed a margin of safety (not over hunting) is another issue, further limiting density rates. Moreover, it would seem to me that aboriginal society appeared to have been rather stable, perhaps putting aside the Bradshaws and the extinction of the megafauna; if so, then population densities throughout the continent must never have risen to a level where the society became threatened by an ever-expanding population which in turn would have produced a response to this challenge and created either a ruling elite or some other form of society or perhaps extinction. The population must have always remained static and at a low level of density thus never threatening the abundant supply of food available and what appears to be the leisurely effort needed to obtain it.
After looking at the literature, there seems to be a lot of high rollers out there and to date they appear to have taken over the craps table. Without canvassing the field, there is the received wisdom of John Mulvaney who estimated the pre-1788 Aborigine population at 800,000 and a reduced population of 200,000 at 1890. That is a solid kill rate of 75% of the population, impressive by any standards. Now it doesn’t stop there:
Professor Ben Kiernan is director of the Genocide Studies Program at Yale University. He argues (2002:177) that “the Aboriginal rights issue emerged slowly against a backdrop of genocide”. He notes that the Aboriginal population is estimated to have fallen from 750,000 in 1788 to 31,000 by 1911, with most deaths due to introduced diseases, but, according to historian Henry Reynolds, with perhaps another 20,000 killed resisting white occupation between 1788 and 1901.
Others have argued that by 1933 the population had fallen to either 117,000 or 70,000. Take ya pick. Within this period, the reader is asked to accept that the major killer is not the usual suspects such as white diseases and substances of addiction together with low reproduction rates but gun play on the part of the whites and their hired gunslingers, the Native Police. In this regard, you have a choice, Mr Reynolds with a causality list of dead from the range warfare of 20,000 or Mr Ørsted-Jensen, with a causality list of 65,000 dead. These figures are listed as murders. They seem so absurd that I have had difficulty in accepting them as sane and reasoned conclusions from, it is said, empirical historians writing an archivally based narrative. My point is this, if smallpox and other diseases reduced the Aboriginal population to 200,000 or lower by 1890 and white diseases continued to kill Aborigines, then there cannot have been a population pool big enough for the whites to have gone out and intentionally shot Aborigines on a continuous basis. The numbers were simply not there to sustain this level of killing, which is extremely inefficient because the victims did not expose themselves to such activity voluntarily.
It might be as well to take a break from the morbidity and mortality figures and reflect on the following:
Historian David Henige has argued that many population figures are the result of arbitrary formulas selectively applied to numbers from unreliable historical sources. He believes this is a weakness unrecognized by several contributors to the field, and insists there is not sufficient evidence to produce population numbers that have any real meaning. He characterizes the modern trend of high estimates as “pseudo-scientific number-crunching.” Henige does not advocate a low population estimate, but argues that the scanty and unreliable nature of the evidence renders broad estimates inevitably suspect, saying “high counters” (as he calls them) have been particularly flagrant in their misuse of sources.
There are of course, lower, Aborigine population figures such as, pre-1788 of 300,000 and 150,000 by 1908. These figures give poor kill rates when a balance has to be made between disease and firearm deaths by whites and their allies. I will try to deal with the firearm deaths of Aborigines elsewhere in the book but at this point I will briefly deal with the effect of introduced diseases. It is beyond question that contact between the First Fleeters and the Aborigines would have led to infectious diseases overtaking the Aborigines and reducing their numbers significantly. The principal pathogen has been identified as smallpox and I see no need to challenge that and other pathogens would have equally contributed to the mortality and decline of the Aborigine population together with the knock-on effect of low reproduction rates. The main epidemic for Aborigines is said to be the time of the First Fleet and then a further outbreak in the Bathurst area in 1828-1830. The main culprit for the outbreak, of course, has to be the English. Much effort has gone into proving how they carried out their clandestine biological warfare but it appears to me that the pedlars of this school of thought are like all dumb cops, who look no further than the ever-present rule of thumb, the killer is always a known associate of the deceased, voila, the English. It was in fact those damn Frenchies who were anchored at Botany Bay immediately after the arrival of the First Fleet, who infected the Aborigines with smallpox. A rather more elaborate theory has been put abroad by Judy Campbell which appears to have a good deal credibility about it.
The following two surveys suggest to me that Australia never had a large population of Aborigines for the obvious reasons that reproduction rates would have been very low not only because of low fertility issues but also because of the hair-trigger nature of aboriginal society to resort to violence to resolve all disputes, both male and female. Lancelot Edward Threlkeld, Ebenezer, Lake Macquarie, NSW, wrote to the Colonial Secretary, December 30, 1837 as follows:
The disappearance of so many of the Blacks, in this District, induced me to address a letter to His Excellency the Governor, stating the circumstance, and requesting the loan of the Official Returns of the Black Natives throughout the Colony, for the years 1835, 1836 and 1837, in order to ascertain whether the decrease was merely local, or general.
An ABSTRACT from the Official General Returns of the Black Natives, taken at the Annual Distribution of the Government Donation of Blankets, to each Tribe, within the four divisions of the Colony, for the Years 1835, 1836, 1837.
South and South Western District, from Sydney to Twofold Bay 422
Western District, Bathurst, Wellington Valley 127
North and North Western District, from Sydney to Port Macquarie 1220
Home District, Sydney and Windsor inclusive 825
1835 Individuals 2094
1836 ditto 1528
1837 ditto 1531
The last, but not the least, cause to mention, as occasioning the rapid diminution of the Aborigines of this Territory, is far above the control of mortal man, and not confined to the limits of the Colony. He who “increaseth the nation,” or “destroys that there shall be no inhabitant,” has visited the Land; and the Measles, the Hopping-cough, and the Influenza, have stretched the Black victims in hundreds on the earth, until, in some places, scarcely a Tribe can be found.
The Guardian of Aborigines, 27 March 1854 published the following returns, Aborigines in Portland Bay District 31st December 1853: 599; Gippsland number of Aborigines 1843: 1800, 1853: 131 and February 1854: 126; Yarra tribe 1852: 39, 1853: 36; and Western Port tribe 1852: 20, 1853: 17.
Large populations mean either a very large area to range over or the opposite, concentration in small areas. The paradigm does not fit either. If large rivers such as the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Indus and Yellow saw the beginning of civilisations, then, perhaps the Murray Darling may have been conducive to a concentration of Aborigines and some form of intensification of living conditions-not so. Concentration brings some form of social control and regulation in an organisational sense. The Aborigines of the day had no such skills or concepts. Furthermore, perhaps Dunbar’s number may also have been a limiting factor in keeping populations low. The 1849 State of Aborigines report for the District of Lower Darling recorded as follows: Estimated numbers 1500, in eight tribes residing chiefly in the Dumosa scrub at the back of the Lachlan; identical with blacks on the Upper Darling. The following report also lends weight to this theory: the Commissioner of Crown Lands, Mr Rolleston, advised the number of aboriginal tribes in the Darling Downs District: 7 tribes (Upper and Lower Condamine, Gowrie, Jimbour, Mooney, Lower Macintyre and the Severn River), 100-150 in each tribe, uppermost of 1000 altogether. The following may add a dimension to the debate about aboriginal population densities in Australia (excluding Tasmania and Torres Strait):
According to Mr Parker’s estimate, by a census, taken partly in 1843, and partly in 1844, the total number of the Aborigines throughout the District west of the River Goulburn is 1522. This District runs westward to the South Australian frontier and north from Mount Macedon and Mount William to the Murray. The tribes on the banks of the Murray, still very numerous, are not included. Mr Watton, in the district or country around Mount Rouse, comprising about 20,000 square miles, estimates the numbers of the Aborigines at 2,000. That proportion of the territory of New South Wales that may in a general sense he termed “occupied,” extends over an area of about 320,000 square miles, and may be estimated to contain about 15,000 Aborigines. Allowing 80,000 square miles of this area to Port Philip, and assuming Mr Robinson’s estimate of 5,000 Aborigines, there will be one Aboriginal inhabitant to each 16 square miles (41.44 square kilometres) for that District, and 1 to 24 for the remainder of the colony; the average for all New South Wales being one Aboriginal inhabitant to 21⅓ square miles (55.25 km2). Considerable numbers of the Aborigines were met with by Dr Leichhardt and his party on their route to Port Essington, more particularly throughout Northern Australia. The banks of the rivers of that locality appeared comparatively well inhabited, and the travellers encountered native fisheries, numerous wells of fresh water, and the remains of vegetable food prepared for preservation. Captain Sturt gives an interesting account of numerous tribes of Aborigines which he met with towards the central regions of Australia, thickly planted along the grassy banks of a large creek, the bed of which was about the size of the Darling. Judging from the comparatively numerous Aboriginal population in the earlier years of the colony, the present average ratio of Aboriginal inhabitants to extent of territory for the entire Australian continent might be anticipated greatly to exceed the very slender estimate, above, given for New South Wales. But the explorations of Captain Sturt, Mr. Eyre, and other travellers, have made known the existence of such extensive tracks of sterile country, throughout central and Northwest Australia that it may be doubted if that estimate can be much exceeded.
The Mulvaney pre-1788 population estimate gives a density of 3.2 Aborigine per 20 square kilometres ; on the other hand, a pre-1788 population of 300,000 gives a density rate 1.2:20 km2. I have taken a view that the Aborigines never over exploited their environment and lived in a relatively modest way with an entrenched mindset of not disturbing the status quo, inimical to change. Of course, I like the high rollers cannot speak for the devastation brought about by cyclones and droughts that must have afflicted Australia from time immemorial.


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