Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have inhabited Australia since millennia, and their cultures, laws, ceremonies and connection to the land is strong and enduring.
This chapter will investigate our shared history since European settlement. Discussing the events that unfolded at the time of European settlement, it will consider the ongoing impacts of intergenerational trauma on Australia’s First People.
“The lives of Indigenous Australians today are affected by what has happened to us and our ancestors over the past 230 years since Europeans arrived. This can be hard for non-Indigenous people to understand, particularly if you haven’t learned much about Australian history at school. When people have some knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and the history of our contact with non-Indigenous Australians since 1788, they have a much better feel for our achievements and our persistent problems.
They are more likely to share our pride and to want to improve relationships between us as fellow Australians.”
“All over the world, when communities have traumatic experiences, there are long term consequences. Their children and grandchildren are affected, and depending on whether and how wrongdoings are acknowledged and continuing problems are addressed, the trauma tracks down the generations.
Australians of today are not directly responsible for what happened in the past. But it is part of our shared history as Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and, together, we are responsible for what happens in the future.”
“Sharing our history means honouring Australians who have stood up for Aboriginal rights over the years. Recognising how many other Australians have always wanted to belong to this land, for example, most White Australian art has always been basically about land … Sharing our heritage means recognising what Aboriginal Australia has contributed to Australia: war service, the outback cattle industry, sports stars, and more recently art. Also a sense of the power of the Dreaming in Australian arts, a vividness in Australian language largely based on image and metaphor, eg. flash talk, big smoke, sit down money; elements of the Aussie sense of humour.”
“In 1992 the Mabo judgement offered us all an opportunity and indeed a challenge that called for a national acceptance and sharing. The judgement called for a recognition of the historical reality that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples were the Indigenous peoples of this, now shared land.
It was an opportunity for all Australians to come to an understanding of our shared history and realign the distorted relationship that has existed between us for over two centuries…This was a challenge that was not met. Instead the Governments of this country used the legislative powers that are entrusted to them to diminish Indigenous peoples’ rights within the land and introduced administrative regimes to restrict our access and use to our country, the rivers and the seas…Despite this legislative denial, there are millions of Australians that have recognised and embraced the opportunity that these events have presented to us as a nation.
They have sought to learn and understand the reality of our shared history. They have gone into their schools, their workplaces, their centres of worship and their sporting clubs and said; Here is an opportunity for healing and understanding, an opportunity for something profoundly better than what has gone before us in this country.
They have placed the symbols of our Indigenous society along side their own in recognition that a shared country requires a society of equals with all the rights and responsibilities that this entails.
Australians of courage and vision walked across bridges in every part of this land in recognition of the fact that we are all Australians and that we do really have something to share.
After more than two centuries, despite the ne’er-do-wells we have determined that we must at last come to terms with the reality of our shared history.”
Many Australians seem to think that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples surrendered their country without a fight.
In fact there were significant wars and battles between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous people. At least 10,000, and probably more than 20,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait people died at the hands of colonisers, and around 2,000 colonisers died at the hands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Dr Tom Calma addresses Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Minister Jenny Macklin and crowds gathered at Parliament House for the 2008 apology to The Stolen Generations.
The events of the past are very important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. These events weren’t that long ago. There are many people alive today who:
There are even a few very old people today who witnessed killings and poisonings as young children. This affected those people deeply.
When people experience trauma, the wounds can also affect their children, and their grandchildren, and their great grandchildren. When someone is traumatised by a difficult event, their life is often turned upside down by emotional ‘wounds’. And if they are unable to heal those wounds themselves, they can pass them on to their children.
Many generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples around the nation have been affected by traumatic events in the last 100 – 200 years. These experiences have included war in the earlier years as they tried to defend their country, or continue to live on it; widespread death from disease; slavery; forced removal from land; imprisonment (often for offences they didn’t know they’d committed); being taken from their parents and families at a young age and held in institutions (where abuse of children was often rife); having their children taken from them and many other traumatic experiences.
The following video provides a short insight into the ongoing impacts that colonisation has had on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Bob Randall, a Yankunytjatjara Elder and a traditional owner of Uluru (Ayers Rock), wrote “Brown Skin Baby (They Took Me Away)” in the early 70s and it became an anthem for Aboriginal people. He sings about the intergenerational impacts of the forced removal of Aboriginal children.
Many Vietnam Veterans were traumatised by their experiences in the Vietnam War and found it difficult to heal from those wounds because their experience was not widely honoured until years later. For some of these men these wounds played out in the form of addiction, alcoholism, violence, suicide, or simply an inability to truly connect with others. Some of their children then, were raised in a traumatic environment – deeply affected by their father’s or mother’s wounds. Those children, then, developed their own wounds which also get played out in addiction, suicide, etc, and so it gets passed down the generations.
One of the big differences between Vietnam Veterans and those from previous wars was that, on their return, their nation as a whole did not acknowledge what they had been through. Because of this, individuals, families and governments have had to explore how to ensure that these wounds are healed, so that the inter-generational impacts of that war of 40 years ago are minimised.
History records that even where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples shared traumatic experiences with other Australians, they often didn’t have the same support extended to them. For example Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans from the first and second world wars were not provided the same entitlements as their fellow diggers such as war pensions and cheap housing loans.
And, like Vietnam Veterans, the fact that the wider community did not know or acknowledge what they had been through has made the healing process very difficult. In many families, inter-generational trauma has been the result.