By Owei Lakemfa
AUSTRALIAN Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, sparked off quite a controversy when he rejected the historical truth that there was slavery in his country. The truth is that slavery was a way of life in that beautiful continent. But there are denials because the perpetrators did not regard the indigenous Australians, referred to as the Aborigines, as human beings. In fact, some Austro-British scientists until 1940 claimed the indigenes who lived in the Tasmanian part of Australia, were the last link between man and monkeys.
The Australians officially treated the Tasmanians not only as animals of burden, but also regarded them as game, hunting them down. The usual method was to attack and corner them, kill and mutilate all the men, turn the women to concubines and the children to slaves. When the Tasmanians began self-defence to stay alive, Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur in 1820 ordered all Tasmanians to give up their ancestral lands to Europeans. The government then set up armed “patrol teams” of thousands of soldiers, policemen and prisoners with the authority to hunt down and kill all the locals. Only one Tasmanian was left alive in 1876, that is 234 years after the first Briton, Abel Janszoon Tasman set foot on the island.
The survivor, a lady generally called Truganini (the invaders never learnt the real name of their victims), died on May 8, 1876. She had witnessed other Tasmanians being used for scientific experiments and had made a wish to be buried at sea. But after her death, the Australians displayed her skeleton in a museum until 1940 when pressure forced the government to remove it. It was not until 1976, the centenary of her death, was her skeleton cremated and the ashes scattered at sea in accordance with her dying wish. Other Aborigines suffered a not- too dissimilar fate as they were hunted and murdered.
The British migrants poisoned the Aborigines water sources, killed them at will and subjected them to legally-sanctioned forced labour with no payment. They also introduced one of the earliest cases of biological warfare. For instance, the Aborigines had no resistance to small pox which was brought by the migrants. However, small pox had a vaccine; but the Whites saw the disease as a way of eliminating the indigenes; so they refused to allow them access to the vaccine. Eventually, small pox wiped out about 70 percent of the Aborigines. A more sinister case was the deliberate introduction of syphilis into the Aboriginal population to reduce their population. This had been used by American Whites against the indigenous Indians.
The Aborigines were so depopulated that from being 100 per cent of the population in 1787, they became 3.3 per cent by 2016. In contrast, Europeans make up 70 per cent of the population. This figure excludes non-European Whites. Actually, as part of its rabid racism, the Australian government passed its ‘White Australia Policy’ under the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 which barred non-European migration. This racist practice still subsists. In 2001, Australia rounded up hundreds of non-White boat people and paid Nauru to detain them. This programme survived until 2009.
Then in 2013, it struck a similar deal with Papua New Guinea to indefinitely detain Australian asylum seekers. Some 850 such victims were held until at least 2016These inhuman policies are part of the Australian inheritance.
The famous British naturalist, geologist and biologist, Charles Darwin, after visiting Australia in the 19th Century, wrote in his book, The Voyage of the Beagle, that: “Wherever the European has trod, death seems to pursue the aboriginal.” Prime Minister Morrison’s denial of slavery in Australia can be due to a culture of some people seeking to rewrite history by denying the truth such as the Holocaust. On the other hand, it could be the old Australian culture of not regarding the Aborigines as human beings. Can anybody argue that beasts of burden are enslaved?
His false claims were deliberate, assertive and declarative: “My forefathers and foremothers were on the First and Second Fleets (of convict settlers). It was a pretty brutal place, but there was no slavery in Australia.” Since he knew he was lying, Morrison added mockingly: “I’ve always said we’ve got to be honest about our history”. He is also known for his deniability of reality such as the nexus between the Australian wild fires, weather and climate change.
In a sense, his denial of slavery might make sense in the contest that what the Aborigines experienced was worse than slavery and colonialism. They were subjected to dehumanisation, depersonalisation, slavery, colonialism and dispossession of their ancestral lands, legal theft of their children and unacknowledged genocide.
One of the most horrifying policies of Australia which endured until 1970, was that of the government and the church forcibly taking children of Aborigines from their parents, families and communities in the warped belief that the indigenous people were unfit to be parents. These evil abductions were backed by acts of parliament. It was not until 2008 the Australian government apologised to the parents and these children who became known as the Stolen Generation.
It was not until 1967, Australia formally recognised the Aborigines as human beings that should be counted during census. It was also that 1967 all Aborigines of age irrespective of gender, had the right to vote. It was on September 18, 1973, that it became illegal for White Australians to kill Aborigines. It was in 1993 under The Native Title Act that the Aborigines were granted land rights.
But why were a large percentage of the European immigrants to Australia so brutal and inhuman? It has to do with their origins. Britain shipped its worst criminals to Australia. These were prisoners who had seven years to life imprisonment for crimes like highway robbery, burglary, prostitution and military crimes. Also included were political prisoners from Scotland and Ireland. Mary Ward, an 11-year- old was the youngest convict sent to Australia. Part of the conditions for sending the convicts was that upon completing their terms or being granted pardon, they would settle in Australia.
There was another category of migrants: the poor, the wretched of the British earth and the desperate. For a fare of ten pounds, this group was transported to Australia in chartered ships, especially the P&O and Orient Line. They became known as the Ten Pound Poms (Immigrants in local parlance). A combination of these groups of immigrants, who have no homes to return to, was deadly and could only produce the type of society humanity witnessed in Australia.
Prime Minister Morrison, despite his half-hearted apology on the slavery issue, is a true son of his ex-convict forefathers and foremothers. For the sake of humanity, Australia has to be transformed beyond its origins.