On colonisation: before and after

John Harris describes a way of life – and what happened to it.



John Harris describes a way of life – and what happened to it.


Before Europeans came and invaded or colonised this continent, however you want to say it, Aboriginal people lived in what we call tribes – although anthropologists don’t like the word “tribe” anymore; speech communities, clans of people, who occupied a relatively small tract of land if it was good land like New South Wales, a very big tract if it was in the centre. And they were nomadic within that, they didn’t cross the boundary to another person’s Country, as they’d say today, without a really good reason, without permission. If they went without permission they were going for hostile reasons. And within that land they hunted and gathered and lived out their whole lives within the boundaries of their land.

Well as we all know the impact of white colonisation was disastrous for Aboriginal people. In the simpler terms, it meant that they couldn’t get to their waterholes, they couldn’t get to their hunting grounds. But it disrupted society in all sorts of other ways because they were a religious people, all different parts of their land had religious meaning to them. They weren’t able to fulfil the ceremonies, they weren’t able to care religiously and spiritually for their land. And so their whole way of life was made nought.