Many Indigenous people around Australia are thriving and proudly reviving, protecting and celebrating their Indigenous culture and identity. This is despite the colonisation of Australia resulting in an injustice towards Indigenous Australians that is still ongoing today. This wound is apparent in the Indigenous Australian statistics across a range of life indicators such as higher rates of suicide, youth incarceration, homelessness, unemployment and life expectancy.

Statistics show a difference between the wellbeing and outcomes enjoyed by non-Indigenous people compared to Indigenous people. The disparity we see today results from the lingering injustices of colonisation – dispossession, exploitation and violence that started at first contact. The colonial system didn’t understand, respect, or value Indigenous Australians as humans to justify oppression and cruelty towards Aboriginal people.

In his book, One Blood, John Harris cites historical examples of colonists’ attitudes toward Aboriginal people, including one of the jurors in the trial of seven settlers for the massacre of Aboriginal men, women and children at Myall Creek in 1838; “I look on the blacks as a set of monkeys, and the earlier they are exterminated from the face of the earth the better. I would never consent to hang a white man for a black one. I knew well (the settlers) were guilty of the murder, but I, for one, would never see a white man suffer for shooting a black.” [1]  

The disadvantage has been amplified by the various Australian state protection laws, where Aboriginal people were driven off their lands and gathered into specific missions, reserves and stations, setting in motion a series of events that continue to impact Indigenous Australians today. These actions resulted in a fractured relationship between Indigenous and non- Indigenous Australians.

Australia is the only Commonwealth nation where a treaty doesn’t exist between the colonisers and Indigenous people. This absence of a treaty is at the very heart of the historical injustice in Australia. No treaty is a denial of the prior occupation and dispossession of Indigenous people in Australia and a general disregard for a dispossessed people.

The granting of certain rights in the 1960s and recognition of Native Title in 1993 have made some progress in addressing the denial of dispossession. However, these changes haven’t been enough to reverse the negative impact past policies continue to have on Indigenous Australians.

A 1934 newspaper clipping showing Indigenous children who have been taken from their families as part of the stolen generations. Source: The Guardian

When Indigenous people were dispossessed of their land, they were dispossessed of a significant part of their identity. Loss of identity was heightened when people were separated from their families, known as the Stolen Generations. The loss of identity, connection to family and culture continues to impact them to this day. The consequence did affect not only the Stolen Generations but also their children and grandchildren.

Whilst being Indigenous means different things to different people, it’s about being connected to Country, community, and culture for many Indigenous people.

Discrimination is reinforced by misconceptions that only ‘real’ Indigenous people live in the desert and negative stereotypes such as being lazy, violent, and alcoholic.[2] Intolerance has meant that our mainstream Australian culture has missed many opportunities to inherit aspects of rich Indigenous cultures and deep knowledge of the land we all live on.

Despite our disturbing history, there‘s significant goodwill in Australia. But, unfortunately, while considerable effort has been made to set things right, many attempts to address injustice and disadvantage are simply not working.

Can we address the wound in our nation by changing the way we understand one another? Coming together respectfully has the power to change everything, to address the wound in our nation and create a better-shared future for all Australians.


[1] Harris, J. (2012). One blood: 200 years of Aboriginal encounter with Christianity. (3rd ed.) Concilia Ltd.

[2]  Beyondblue, 2014 Discrimination against Indigenous Australians: A snapshot of the views of non-Indigenous people aged 24-44