[Editor: Article reports on the proposal for a separate Aboriginal state in Australia.]
The Black Australians
New State movements appear to be popular just at present. A Royal Commission has just spent about nine months and a good many thousand pounds of the taxpayers’ money in travelling round and taking evidence on the desirableness or otherwise of splitting off a portion of northern New South Wales for this purpose. Then Mr. Theodore, the Premier of Queensland, comes along with another scheme for creating a new State in the tropics for the better development of the neglected north. This was followed a few days ago by a similar proposal, which, however, differs from the other two in one important essential. Those projects were for the opening up and developing of the country in the interest of the white population chiefly. The latest suggestion is to reserve a large tract in the north for the exclusive settlement of the remnant of Australia’s black inhabitants.
These people, whose ancestors were the original owners of the country (as far as we know), are fast dying out, their present number being estimated at about 60,000. Excepting in the extreme north of the continent, they are steadily being dispossessed by the onward march of settlement. The early colonists began the work of extermination, large numbers, of the aborigines being shot or driven away in the conflicts between blacks and whites, and drink and disease will finish it unless steps are taken to preserve the rapidly dwindling remnants of the once numerous tribes which roamed the country before the coming of the white man. It is the old story of the clash between the superior and the inferior races. The blacks have disappeared almost completely in the southern portions of the continent and Tasmania, except for a handful at one or two mission stations in Victoria, and in the central settled districts they are so scarce that many of the present generation have never seen an aboriginal.
The far north is their stronghold, among the fastnesses of Arnheimland and along the coast, where there are still wild blacks, some of whom are credited with being cannibals. This is where it is suggested to form the new Black State, away from the contaminating influences of a civilisation which is foreign to their nature, and of which they appear to absorb the evil more readily than the good. There will be many difficulties to overcome in collecting the wandering tribes from the central and western portions of the Commonwealth, not the least of which may be that of inducing the present untamed denizens of the Far North to keep the peace towards their weaker brothers from other parts, and the equally great difficulty of keeping the whites away from them once they are
To the student of ethnology the Australian aborigines are of absorbing interest. Although generally classed as an inferior race, in their own environment and under favorable conditions they are a virile people, and, moreover, form the last link with a period which to us represents the dawn of civilisation. Eminent scientists like Professor Spencer and Dr. Gillen have spent much time and devoted patient research to studying their customs and their religious beliefs so far as any can be classed as such, and tracing the history of this ancient race, perhaps the oldest still existing on the earth at the present day. Hardly anywhere else are there such opportunities for studying a primeval people living under conditions but little changed from those of their ancestors in the days when Britain also was inhabited by savage races who painted their bodies and fought with equally primitive weapons.
Australia is a white man’s country now, and its policy is to remain white; but the former inhabitants have a claim on our sympathies which cannot be denied. If there is any prospect of their extinction being prevented by the means suggested, it is worthy of consideration on philanthropic no less than on scientific grounds. Schemes on similar lines are said to have been successful in the United States and other countries, although it is doubtful whether that success is as complete as is claimed. At the same time it appears to be the only chance of preserving those people from the fate which has overtaken them in Tasmania, where there is not an aboriginal left. It is not a question of individuals surviving, but of the race as a whole, with its own institutions. Even the virile and warlike Maori have a hard task to hold their own in the struggle between the old and the new, and the Australian native is much less resistant, and much more in need of protection than his distant relation in New Zealand.
The Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW), Thursday 26 March 1925, page 2