27 May 2015

Indigenous Australians

Well into the 20th century, Indigenous Australians were – both in Australia itself and in many other countries – the subject of widespread crude racist stereotyping. For example, the American birth control campaigner Margaret Sanger could write casually: "The aboriginal Australian, the lowest known species of the human family, just a step higher than the chimpanzee in brain development, has so little sexual control that police authority alone prevents him from obtaining sexual satisfaction on the streets" (What Every Girl Should Know, 1920).

By the end of World War II, many Indigenous men had served in the military. They were among the few Indigenous Australians to have been granted citizenship; even those that had were obliged to carry papers, known in the vernacular as a "dog licence", with them to prove it. However, Aboriginal pastoral workers in northern Australia remained unfree labourers, paid only small amounts of cash, in addition to rations, and severely restricted in their movements by regulations and/or police action. On 1 May 1946, Aboriginal station workers in the Pilbara region of Western Australia initiated the 1946 Pilbara strike and never returned to work. Mass layoffs across northern Australia followed the Federal Pastoral Industry Award of 1968, which required the payment of a minimum wage to Aboriginal station workers, as they were not paid by the Pastoralist discretion, many however were not and those who were had their money held by the government. Many of the workers and their families became refugees or fringe dwellers, living in camps on the outskirts of towns and cities.
In 1984, a group of Pintupi people who were living a traditional hunter-gatherer desert-dwelling life were tracked down in the Gibson Desert in Western Australia and brought into a settlement. They are believed to have been the last uncontacted tribe in Australia.