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Culture Collision - Aborigines vs European Settlers

THEME: Timber Creek
SUBJECT AREA: Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
TOPIC: European expansion for cattle ranching

“Natives are numerous on Victoria and Ord and are very treacherous, a fine race and very independent”. Lindsay Crawford 1885.

The story of European settlement of the Victoria River Region for the purpose of raising cattle was a classic case – seen throughout the rest of Australia during this era – of outsiders encroaching and taking over land lived on by the native people for more than 50,000 years. The legacy of this collision between two cultures is something the people living in the district today are still trying to resolve in the form of Land Ownership claims.

Aboriginal resistance was apparent from the very start of European settlement and continued for 50 years. Open warfare seems to have been the general state throughout the region for at least the first decade. As different areas were ‘tamed’, Aboriginal resistance continued in or spread to other areas.


By the turn of the century most of the prime cattle lands were under European control. Some Aborigines had given up the struggle and had come into camps near the homesteads, but others stayed out in the rough range country, killing cattle – and white men – whenever possible.

In 1910 a new wave of hostilities broke out when the last remaining refuge areas of the ‘wild blacks’ was taken up for pastoral use. Brigalow Bill was speared and killed on the Humbert River, and Harry Condon was wounded on Bullita station. Another manager was speared and killed on Bullita in 1919, followed by the alleged murder of an Aborigine in 1922 in which the victim was chopped up and burnt. The station cook was charged, and a warrant also issued for the arrest of the manager. The cook was acquitted and the manager never seen again.

Small groups of Aborigines held out in the ranges in the 1920’s and there were occasional clashes with the newcomers. The last round of serious Aboriginal resistance began with the murder to two European prospectors on the Fitzmaurice River in 1930. The hunt lasted 2 years and finally ended with the leader, Nemarluk, on Legune Station.

This tide of displacement and associated hostilities was part-way reversed in 1976 when the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act was passed allowing traditional owners to claim some of their original land back. But, as we discussed in the geography update of September 27, the only land that was really left to be claimed was Crown land – mainly desert areas with little or no water, or any other value to anyone (such as the potential for mining). Some ‘useful’ land was however given back, such as the area around Dagaragu (see history update for Oct 1st). But for the most part the choice areas, in the form of pastoral leases, were retained for existing European cattle ranchers.

And so today the bad feeling still seems to be there, bubbling beneath the surface. From our limited perspective - biking through the region with just a few day’s to get up to speed on the situation - it seems the hostilities were too recent to yet be forgotten. But the way forward according to all the people we’ve spoken to from both Aboriginal and European backgrounds is for both cultures to work together to overcome the past and build a positive future for Australia. With the passing of a few more generations, and a great deal of effort and perseverance on both sides, this ideal should hopefully one day become a reality.

Suggested learning activities: can you think of at least one other area of the world in which European colonists took over lands already inhabited by indigenous peoples? Compare the differences and similarities between this area and the situation in Australia, as detailed above. How is this area today? Has there been any reconciliation? Can the situation be described as ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than it was when the Europeans first arrived.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 9, 2001 8:19 AM.

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