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The Origins Of The Indigenous Australians History Essay

The origins, and the length of time that aboriginal people have lived in Australia has been a matter of debate since Europeans first encountered them. Stone tools found in a quarry at Penrith, New South Wales, have been dated to 47,000 years before the present. A large number of radio-carbon dated materials have been found dating to about 36,000 years. Arguments supporting antiquity from 70,000 to 200,000 years have been made using a technique known as optically stimulated luminescence, but these are not widely accepted by archeologists. Arguments have been made that people first migrated to Australia from southern Asia, but a lack of physical resemblance makes that doubtful. They may have migrated from present-day New Guinea, or come to share physical traits from later trade and intermarriage.

Whatever their origins, more than 400 Australian aboriginal peoples are known to live, or have lived, across the continent, each with different names, languages or dialects, and other markers of history and culture. This range of indigenous cultures compares to similar geographic areas in North and South America. Aboriginal Australians have long lived in a harsh environment, and become very enterprising in hunting as well as foraging for food. Major foods included yams, edible roots, fruits, berries, and seeds. Forms of life that most peoples do not eat (such as various insects, snakes, small birds, and lizards) have been used. Large game, including kangaroos and emus, were taken down with inventive weapons unique to Australia, such as the boomerang and powerful lances, as well as stone weapons. Tracking skills have been very highly developed. Where the environment allowed, the people adapted agriculture, and fishing. Torres Strait Islanders domesticated pigs.

Estimates of human population in Australia at British first contact range from 315,000 to 1,250,000, with a consensus figure at about 750,000. Lt. James Cook claimed the continent for Great Britain in 1770. The first British colony was begun in Sydney during 1788. As in North America, a number of European diseases, the most severe being smallpox, soon devastated aboriginal peoples as European colonization spread.

Many conflicts between non-native Australians and indigenous peoples following European contact have been environmental in nature, and hinge on the aboriginals’ protection of their lands, and sacred sites as vessels of culture and livelihood – not merely, as many white Australians assume, the empty, arid “outback,” good for little except resource exploitation.

When uranium mining was initiated on their lands, Australia’s aborigines were promised that it would be their ticket to the modern world. Decades later, promised jobs were nearly nonexistent, housing was substandard, and stretches of customary aboriginal homelands, piled high with waste tailings, were unusable because of residual radioactivity. In addition to problems associated with uranium mining, Australian aborigines also have reported health problems stemming from nuclear testing in the neighboring South Pacific during the mid-twentieth century, after which fallout that the native peoples called a “black mist” was carried over their homelands by prevailing winds. Elsewhere in Australia, native peoples are resisting industrial-scale gold mining that may replace sacred sites with open pits.

The Mirrar Aborigines of Australia's Northern Territory have resisted development of new uranium mining within their territory, contending that similar projects had shown that the proposed Jabiluka mine could destroy their way of life. Environmentalists argued that the nearby Ranger uranium mine provided a disastrous environmental precedent, with a severe impact on local aboriginal people. Mine workers came to greatly outnumber aboriginal people, who suffer from chronic alcohol abuse, several other health problems, and lack of adequate housing – problems which afflict native peoples who have been deprived of their traditional economic systems the world over. The Mirrar aborigines feared that they would face a similar fate if the Australian government approved a proposal by Energy Resources of Australia (E.R.A.), an Australian company, to develop Jabiluka. Development of the mine also would leave the Mirrar with millions of tons of radioactive waste.

The Mirrar people regard the area as their ancestral home and point to the damage done over years by the Ranger mine, which has left 20 million tons of radioactive tailings in spoil heaps around its operations. According to Friends of the Earth, there have been 120 breaches of the mine's operational guidelines, most recently in May, 2000, when 2 million gallons of radioactive liquid contaminated with manganese, uranium and radium was released. Some of this contamination escaped into the Kakadu wetlands.

The Mirrar agreed to allow initial uranium mining after they were led to believe that approval was their only way to secure legal rights to their land. An Australian Senate inquiry and the United Nations have criticized the tactics used by Australian authorities to obtain to this agreement. Between 1979 and 1988, the Nabarlek uranium mine in West Arnhem Land, owned by Queensland Mines Ltd., extracted, stockpiled and processed 11,000 tons of ore. This open-pit mine was constructed despite opposition by many local aboriginal people, who staged a sit-in on its access road and later took Queensland Mines to court. The mine was less than one mile from an area of special significance to aboriginal people, the Gabo-djang, the Dreaming Place of the Green Ants.

During March 1981, after heavy rain from a tropical cyclone, radioactive material was released from the mine’s tailings dumps into a nearby creek. After the mine was closed, required cleanup work was not completed, leaving local aboriginals with a pile of radioactive rubbish. Given such experiences, many Australian aborigines have opposed new proposals to mine uranium on or near their traditional lands. Vincent Forester, writing under the aegis of Australia’s Sustainable Energy and Anti-Uranium Service, said that aboriginals suffered seepage from existing tailings dams; concentration of radioactive contaminants in water systems; soil erosion; and radon gases escaping from the tailings. Closed uranium mines also pose problems for aboriginal people. One such mine, Rum Jungle, was abandoned in 1971. Its tailings dam had been breached by monsoon rains that have polluted the Finniss River with radioactive materials. Aboriginal people who live in the area can no longer safely use the affected land.

Radioactive leaks have become a constant problem on Mirrar lands. Early in 2002, a uranium leak from the Jabiluka and Ranger uranium mines contaminated Swift Creek in Kakadu National Park. Resident Mirrar people said that Energy Resources of Australia Ltd (E.R.A.), the company that owns and operates the two mines, waited six weeks to notify them of the leak.

Most Australian aborigines united against further uranium mining on their traditional lands. Nonwithstanding aboriginal protests, by 2000, uranium mining was back again. Aboriginals and environmentalists have called E.R.A. to rescind plans for the Jabiluka mine, which would adjoin the Kakadu National Park, an area made famous by the Crocodile Dundee films. The Kakadu Park houses an extraordinary ecosystem that the aboriginals endowed with spiritual significance from ancient times. Along with some of the richest uranium deposits in the world, the area also is home to communities of Australian aboriginals who comprise one of the world's oldest surviving indigenous populations.

Extralegal means have been used by the Mirrar to protect their country and sacred sites, including a blockade during 1998. Despite the blockade, construction work at the mine was delayed for little more than a few hours. E.R.A. used helicopters to fly its workers into the mine compound for several weeks during April and May, when blockaders cemented cars into place, blocking a mine gate. Police later cleared the obstruction. Subsequently, the blockade was cleared witb bulldozers.

Protestors then resorted to mass trespass on the Mineral Lease area, occasionally locking themselves to trucks, gates and mining equipment. Similar protests also took place at the Ranger Mine. Mass trespass actions often resulted in large numbers of arrests. As many as 118 people were taken into custody on one June morning alone. The last of several protests took place during the week preceding the federal election on October 3, 1998, producing more than 90 arrests, as protesters walked onto the lease area wearing masks depicting Australian Prime Minister John Howard. A few days later, after Howard won re-election as Prime Minister, the blockade camp was dismantled as the monsoon season set in.

During spring 2002, yet another large uranium tailings leak was detected at the Ranger mine, raising renewed protests from the Mirrar people. Australia's Office of the Supervising Scientist released a report which said the internal management at the scene in charge of the mine had failed. Andy Ralph from the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents Mirrar traditional landowners, said that the latest leak was seven times larger than the one discovered earlier in the same year.

Australian aborigines also have suffered health problems following tests of atomic bombs in the neighboring South Pacific. The Pitjantjatjara and Yaknunytyara peoples believe that many deaths among their peoples during the 1950s and early 1960s can be associated with fallout from the tests.

Following some of the tests, clouds of fallout carried by prevailing winds passed over and adjacent to Australian aboriginal communities. According to Forrester, the Pitjantjatjara Council called for a Royal Commission to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the nuclear tests in South Australia in the 1950s and 1960s. Council representatives went to London to lobby over the issue. Leading the delegation was Yami Lester, who lost his sight after a fallout cloud from the first Emu test descended on him and his people.

An Australian Royal Commission, established during July, 1984 under the leadership of Justice Jim McLelland, reported in November 1985 that an aboriginal community at Wallatinna had been exposed to a black mist (radioactivitive fallout). The mist could have caused harm to the people's health, according to the Royal Commission’s report. The same inquiry also found that aboriginal people had been denied access to their traditional lands and that plutonium-contaminated areas at Maralinga should be cleaned up. During 1994, the British Government agreed to a limited clean-up in which plutonium-contaminated soil would be gathered into existing pits of radioactive rubbish where it would be fused into a solid mass.

Aboriginal landowners and environmentalists in New South Wales, Australia have been battling Canadian mining giant Barrick Homestake to prevent exploratory drilling for gold near Lake Cowal, 47 kilometers northeast of West Wyalong, in Wiradjuri County. The Mooka Traditional Owners Council filed a lawsuit after an Australian court dismissed an injunction that would restrain the subsidiary company, Homestake Australia Limited, from drilling. The Council hopes that the lawsuit will prevent further exploratory drilling until current National Parks and Wildlife Service inspections have been completed and a report issued in court.

Barrick Gold acquired Homestake, the former parent company of Homestake Australia Limited, during June 2001. The company plans to mine 2.7 million ounces of gold from 76 million tons of ore, creating a 1-kilometer-long by 825-meters-wide and 325-meters-deep open pit on Lake Cowal. "They are tearing up the very fabric of the sacred land. That is our sacred heartland. It is the heartland of the Wiradjuri people. We are not going to give up," said Neville Williams, a representative of the Mooka Traditional Owners Council of the Wiradjuri Nation. Aboriginals said that the drilling rigs on the site were breaking up the ground and destroying a number of rare stone artifacts, including stone hammers and axes.


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