By Danny Yee
January 1, 1901
People of the Commonwealth of Australia and fellow citizens, today marks a mainly symbolic event, the separation between the United Kingdom and Australia. Although Australia will be recognized as a sovereign state (governed by the Commonwealth of Australia), the United Kingdom still has the right to participate in foreign engagements of Australia. We should use this day to reflect on the history of Australian colonization and whether it was for better or for worse.
Picture for a minute that you are a convict in 1787 and the only reason you are in jail is because you stole a bit of food from your neighbor’s house because you had no money for food to feed your starving family. Because the laws are extremely strict, this petty theft is considered a capital offense. You are crammed into a small jail with many other prisoners, told that the government is establishing a penal colony in a strange land called Australia which you are to be part of. You are loaded up on a boat and sailed off with 750 other convicts and 600 disciplinarians. As more and more colonists arrive in the new land, you and your fellow convicts are working more and more. It becomes apparent that you are in this new land to provide a source of free labor for your government.
This was the reality for the thousands of convicts that would make their way to Australia. As slavery was outlawed, the U.K. needed a new source of free labor and found that using criminals was a great way to obtain free labor, lower the crime rate in the motherland, and hopefully keep convicts out of trouble. However, many of the convicts would resort to their old ways and frequently clashed violently with the natives. The new citizens and soldiers of the colonies were also in frequent conflict with the Aborigines. The colonists often killed the natives for fun, a cruel way to go about settling their squabbles. Settlers on the island of Tasmania destroyed the Aborigines sources of food and when the Aborigines retaliated, the settlers rounded up and killed many of them reducing the Aborigine population from over 2000 to about 200. The remaining Aborigines were forced to relocate to a neighboring island but the population quickly died out due to being too small a community.
The British colonies for the most part were successful in bringing about a positive change to the people in the colonies and the colonies themselves. In India, Africa, and America, British colonies thrived and grew through collaboration with the natives. For the most part the natives in these colonies were agreeable and only had minor conflicts with the British. However, the colony in Australia was an extremely poor decision and handled thoughtlessly. Putting prisoners, who already had the disposition to act violently and selfishly, on a colony that was to be self-sufficient, was a reckless solution. Instead of rehabilitating the convicts, the government just relocated them. What was the government thinking? Destructive and bad behavior does not go away with relocation and hard labor. The government should have established some sort of rehabilitating program to teach the convicts how to behave and adjust to society. Convicts need to learn to respect others and abide by the law of the government and society. Prisoners were obviously going to be in conflict with the natives and responded violently in their disputes. The natives were also ill-suited for incorporation into Western society. The natives had their own way of life and suddenly a group of white strangers invade their land and force them to live their life differently. The natives were expected to adjust to a new way of life even though they were not even incorporated into the colonies to be educated.
However the solution to right these wrongs is not to leave Australia. It would be impractical to ship an entire population of colonists back to the United Kingdom. The solution is to educate the Aborigines along with the colonists to avoid further conflicts. Education will also help stamp out any criminal tendencies of children who may be descended from convicts. Citizens of Australia, join me in asking the Commonwealth to help educate all the people of Australia.
1. “Australian history,” ASA Group, accessed December 7, 2011, http://www.australianaustralia.com.
2. “History of Australia,” History World, accessed December 7, 2011, http://www.historyworld.net/.
1. Australian convicts, http://www.glogster.com/media/15/41/16/50/41165052.png.
2. “The Last Four Tasmanian Aborigines,” Wikipedia, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons