A doomed race?
Through the late nineteenth and early twentieth century science had begun to document the complexity and intrinsic worth of Aboriginal civilisation. These same scientists believed that Aboriginal society was probably not fit to survive contact with modern, more sophisticated people such as Europeans. Aborigines were likened to a species of plant or animal which could not compete with stronger species. Their numbers were declining and, as a degenerate race, they would soon be extinct. At the same time as this prognosis of racial doom was being propounded, the humanitarian tradition in Australia, confronted by a rapid, aggressive and morally confident colonising process, gradually lowered its expectations about what version of 'justice' could be delivered.
The combined effect of these two trends in colonial thinking was that Australian governments began to 'tidy up' the native problem. Indigenous Australians of mixed descent began to be encouraged, even forced, to keep away from the 'backward' influence of their Indigenous parents. (Victoria led the way with legislation on the management of 'half-castes' in 1886.) And there were renewed calls for Aborigines 'unspoilt by contact' to be allowed to live on reserves, where colonisation's harms would be delayed for as long as possible.
Keywords: anthropology, assimilation, barbarism, colonists, Darwin, Charles, humanitarians, religion, Victoria
Author: Rowse, Tim and Graham, Trevor