Australia History: 'Assimilation' of Aboriginal People

The process of social change for Aboriginal people was accelerated by WW II. After the war 'assimilation' of Aboriginal people became the stated aim of the government. To this end, the rights of Aboriginal people were subjugated even further - the government had control over everything, from where they could live to whom they could marry. Many people were forcibly moved from their homes to townships, the idea being that they would adapt to European culture, which would in turn aid their economic development. This policy was a dismal failure.

In the 1960s the assimilation policy came under a great deal of scrutiny, and White Australians became increasingly aware of the inequity of their treatment of Aboriginal people. In 1967 non-Aboriginal Australians voted to give Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders the status of citizens, and gave the Federal government power to legislate for them in all states.

The states had to provide them with the same services as were available to other citizens, and the Federal government set up the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to identify and legislate for the special needs of Aboriginal people. The assimilation policy was finally dumped in 1972, to be replaced by the government's policy of self-determination, which for the first time enabled Aboriginal people to participate in decision-making processes by granting them rights to their land.

Although the outcome of the Mabo case (see Aboriginal Land Rights under Government later in this chapter) gives rise to cautious optimism, many Aboriginal people still live in appalling conditions, and alcohol and drug abuse remain widespread problems, particularly among young and middle-aged men.

Aboriginal communities have taken up the challenge to try and eradicate these problems -many communities are now 'dry', and there are a number of rehabilitation programmes for alcoholics, petrol-sniffers and others with drug problems. Thanks for much of this work goes to Aboriginal women, many of whom have found themselves on the receiving end of domestic violence.

All in all it's been a tough 200 years for Australia's Aboriginal people. One can only be thankful for their resilience, which has enabled them to withstand the pressures placed on their culture, traditions and dignity, and that after so many years of domination they've been able to keep so much of that culture intact.