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Colonisation

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Part Two

dispossession and denial

". . . that Australia itself, professedly the new home of liberty and light, should have become the theatre of the dark deeds of oppression and cruelty . . "

Reverend John Brown Gribble, 1886.

ABORIGINAL people have lived for more than fifty thousand years in Western Australia. It is now widely understood that their communities depended upon close economic, social and religious ties with the land, and that these relationships were irrevocably fractured by the arrival of British settlers in 1829. Colonisation led to the replacement of traditional laws, customs and territorial rights by new, introduced systems of legal and political processes, in which Aboriginal people had no influence or power. They were dispossessed of their lands, suffered deaths from introduced diseases and conflict with armed settlers, and saw much of the fabric of their traditional societies and ways of life destroyed.

It is self-evident, then, that the growth of colonial society and the constitutional development of its government did not occur in a social or political vacuum, but was dependant on the cultural and territorial dispossession of Aboriginal people. The eventual achievement of colonial self-government in 1890, while it may have allowed for wider circles of settlers to be involved in political activity, also restated the long-standing denial of pre-existing Aboriginal rights - to land, to self-determination and to their own systems of law and justice. Even at the time of colonisation, some colonists recognised this basic injustice. George Fletcher Moore, a prominent settler in the colony's early years, wrote in 1841 that  . . . "This people have been taken under protection of the British nation, and claimed as its subjects - their country has been taken possession of -  their existence has been overlooked -  their rights unregarded - their claims have been unattended to -  their lands have been sold by the British Government without reference to their existence".

"Western Australia was invaded by the British in 1829, and claimed by the British without negotiation of a treaty. The concept of a treaty remains a crucial matter which has yet to be fully addressed in order for Aboriginal people to have any confidence and faith in the concept of natural justice. That form of natural justice could emanate from governments or from the institutions that symbolise from where justice should be dispensed."

P. Dodson, Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, 1991.