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Posted on May 8th, 2012, by

Before the invasion, which started in 1834-1835, the country, which existed on the territory of modern Australia and was known as Victoria, was home for thirty-eight different Aboriginal groups. Aboriginal people had been living on this territory for over 60,000 years until Europeans came and demanded that some parts of the land become their property.  The only wealth that Aboriginals had was land on which they worked and where they hunted, thus, they could not permit that Europeans took it for granted. For this reason Victorian Colonial Government, thought it supported the invasion and tried to strictly control the life of Aboriginals, took some measures to protect the native inhabitants of the area, who “were pushed to the edge of survival as the natural resources they relied upon in order to live were depleted and fouled by livestock and agriculture” [1]. Aboriginals could not defend themselves as they did not have such advanced weapons as Europeans had.  Being concerned about the fate of Aboriginal people, the Victorian Colonial Government decided to localize specially organized portions of land, which later received the name reserves, stations or missions. These lands were used by Aboriginal people as the only places they could live on.  Historical evidence proves that there were thirty-four governmentally supported Aboriginal missions, “while over two hundred existed across Australia” [1].

The main goal of the current study is to speak about one of the Aboriginal Missions existing in Australia in 19th century known as Lake Tyers Mission The paper will focus on the impact of this mission on Aboriginal people’s life and the subsequent policies and decisions that were developed during the mission to recognize Aboriginal Spirituality and connection with the land.

1. Lake Tyers Mission

Lake Tyers Mission was established in 1861 by the missionary of the Church of England John Bulmer. John Bulmer was the leader of the mission for more than forty years in a row, until 1907. In 1863 significant event happen in the lives of people inhabiting the territory of the Lake Tyers Mission, when the Victorian Colonial Government announced 2,000 acres of land are secured of the Lake Tyers Reserve. Lake Tyers Mission was originally called as “Bung Yarnda” Mission. It was situated in Gippsland region in Victoria State.  People, who originally inhabited the land, were known as “Gunai” or “Kurnai” people. Before this territory became a reserve they lived there, however, were forced to leave their homelands when Lake Tyers became home for Indigenous people. The same thing happened many years afterwards when “some of these same families were forced to leave the mission and ”˜assimilate’ into townships” [2].

The main goal of creating Lake Tyers Mission was to preserve historical and cultural background of Aboriginal people, who could find some, indeed very little freedom, practicing their culture while being a part of the mission.  John Bulmer, the leader of the mission, took a rather good care of the Aboriginal people living in the mission. He “encouraged the residents to continue their hunting practices to subsidise their rations” [2] and “requested that an exclusive area of waters be established for the Mission residents when changes in the law threatened fishing activities” [2].  Unfortunately this request was not honoured, so the people had to look for “an alternative livelihood” [2].

Very soon Lake Tyers Reserve became an important tourist attraction, which was bringing some little economic benefit to its people, who were engaged into selling handmade souvenirs.  Life of aboriginal people in the mission was strictly controlled from the side of the government. That’s why a lot of Aboriginal people could not even see their families and friends outside the reserve as their movements were limited, and system of punishment was created to prevent the people from violating the rules. Despite of all difficulties Aboriginals had to face, the impact of Lake Tyers Mission on their culture can be considered rather positive, as they were not very limited in their practicing culture, and until now many Indigenous people consider this reserve as their homeland.

2. Government Policies and their main goals

As it has been mentioned above, government or the Board had issued many rules and regulations with the main goal to gain a full control of people’s lives. For this reason strict regimes were designed inside the missions in order to limit any possible movements of Aboriginal people, which made it much easier for the government to control every aspect of people’s lives. The main function of the government was to “protect, confine, convert and ”˜civilise’ Koorie people” [3], however, “the Board saw its tasks as transitory as it held the premise that the Aboriginal race was dying” [3]. That is why not too many efforts were directed towards the improvement of life of Aboriginal people. While establishing reserves and stationing people at different reserves or mission, government did not pay attention that families were separated as a result of its actions. And because Aboriginal people were not allowed to travel, it meant that they had to part with their families forever, because it was very difficult to receive permission from the government. Children were removed from their families as the government considered that they were neglected by their families.

These policies were relevant starting 1860s and until 1950s, when in 1856 the Board was replaced by the Aborigines Welfare Board. The policy of assimilation was widely spread in Australia during that period of time, as Aboriginal people were considered uncivilized, thus, the government considered that they needed to be assimilated into Australian population.  In 1967 Aboriginal people were granted equal rights with the rest of Australian population, however, it was only in theory.

Speaking about spirituality of Aboriginal people it is necessary to emphasize that spirituality is one of the central aspects of life of Aboriginal people, who are very attached to their cultural and religious background. Aboriginal spirituality is closely linked to special feelings of Aboriginal people towards land, which provided them with all necessary things. When Aboriginal missions were created spirituality of Aboriginal people was extensively attacked by Europeans who treated them as uncivilised and absolutely ignorant. For this reason, Europeans considered that it would be better for Aboriginals to adapt to new way of life, to so-called Christian life. Inside the missions Aboriginal kept their traditions, and if it was necessary they practiced their culture secretly.

3. Native Title and Fight for Cultural Identity

     “The National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families” was developed to bring about the awareness of Aboriginal spirituality and their connection with their kinship in a way that it raised the problem of so-called “Stolen Generations” as one of the main issues of Aboriginals. “Stolen Generation” is the name for such a phenomenon when Aboriginal children were taken away from their families just because Europeans thought that Aboriginals were “unclean” and could not take a good care of their children. The report that has been created as a result of inquiry contains information about the effects of family separations, policies that were designed to re-unite families and spirituality of Indigenous people that were able to survive all difficulties. Some families were able to re-unite while others never met each other; parents died never seeing their children growing up, and children grew up without their parents, as for some reason, invaders thought that their culture and way of life are much better than living in a loving and caring family.

Speaking about Native Title it is necessary to mention that exactly this document known as Native Title Act has put “onus on Indigenous groups to prove their continued connection with the land, while ignoring the fact that government policy for over a century was focused on breaking this connection” [4]. Because Englishmen came to invade the land of Indigenous Australians, the latter had to protect their lands or at least their cultural heritage and identity. Aboriginal people were engaged into fights with the invaders; however, in most cases they lost battles as they did not possess any modern weapons.  This is how it was in the 19th century. In the twentieth century they adopted European ways of protest, and Native Title is one of them. Until now Indigenous people claim (by Native Title) to return the land to its original owners, however “no group in Victoria has been successful” [4].

 

Conclusion

Having spoken about Lake Tyers Mission and the life of Aboriginal people it is necessary to make a conclusion. When estimating the impact of mission of life of Aboriginal population of Australia a lot of facts have to be considered.  On one hand, the impact of missions and most government laws and regulations are negative, as they were designed to limit the rights of Indigenous people and to control their lives, which obviously harmed people not only physically but also morally. They were forced to leave their families, to adapt to European culture and to forget their own cultural heritage.  On the other hand, positive effect of mission can be seen. If to think about the invasion of Englishmen as something inevitable, the creation of missions had a positive impact on Aboriginal population, as in a mission they could live in a group continuing to practice their culture. Invasion of Europeans stimulated Aboriginal people’s fight for their culture and spirituality, and they managed to survive all hardships and to preserve their spirituality.

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