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Assimilation is a word that many Aboriginals associate with being bred out and losing their identity through being incorporated into other cultures through marriages. The goal of Aboriginals was to remain distinct in their own culture and way of life, with no interference and external influence, thus remaining to be authentic and distinct. The 20th century assimilation by the white people in Australia was one of the most detrimental issues in the lives of the Aboriginals. The white politicians wanted to assimilate the indigenous people in different ways. Some of the politicians were of the idea of teaching the indigenous people how to live a better life and therefore sustain themselves just like the white people did. Another section of the people concentrated on the loss of the Aboriginals’ physical appearances by biological absorption (Nettelbeck et al. 2016, p. 42-48). The paper, therefore, explores the various assimilation policies used by Auber Octavius Neville in the 20th century.
Most of the individuals who took part in these plans of solving the Aboriginal problem did not seem to agree in many areas, especially on the best way to assimilate the Aboriginals into the white culture (Haebich 2008, p. 137-141). The differences in the assimilation problem was due to the fact that there was no full explanation given on whether the assimilation was to be accelerated through births of mixed descent people who would be physically different from the indigenous individuals or whether the goal was to transform the lives of the indigenous people through training them to live like the white people. The initial plans of assimilation started with the enactment of Dawes Act whose attempt was to turn the Native Americans into farmers who would support themselves through allocating a portion of land to each one of them and reward those who would take up citizenship (De Bono 2018, p. 1-3). The government also set up funds for a comprehensive education system with off and on-reservation schools which were designed to teach the Native Americans’ children on living like the whites. This move by the government caused immense suffering to the Native Americans, as well as loss of land to many of them.
This initiative of citizenship, education, and the perceived improvement of lives of the indigenous people were lacking on the side of the Australian legislation. The Australian government was not of the idea of assimilation, and none of their legislation was about the idea of assimilation. Additionally, there were no policies aimed at educating the Aboriginal people. The only education that was available for the Aboriginals in Australia was substandard (Nettelbeck et al. 2016, p. 52-59). The Australian government also discouraged people who wanted to do farming with the aim of becoming independent, and in most cases, they were undermined through unfavourable farming conditions.
The existing legislation did not also entail land allocation to the Aboriginal people for their farm use. Essentially, there were no treaties in Australia like those signed between the white people and the Native Americans in the US, but instead, there was the doctrine of terra nullius. This type of canon considered the land to belong to nobody, a situation that left the indigenous people with little legal status. As such, there was no basis from which the indigenous individuals would claim sovereignty over their land because they were referred to as “domestic depended on the nation” (De Bono 2018, p. 2-5). The biggest threat to their land was that the Europeans or the white people who wanted the land which belonged to the indigenous people because of the doctrine of terra nullius.
History in Australia showed that there were raging debated before the 20th century on whether the Aboriginals were to be segregated from the society or amalgamated. Due to some reasons, the Australia white people were not able to carry amalgamation. Additionally, there were few efforts directed on civilising the Aboriginals, and many of the white politicians avoided the debates, as well as refraining from writing about the “Aboriginal problem” (Lino 2017, p. 363-368). The only forums in which the issues of assimilation were talked about were characterised by assurances that if the Aboriginals were assimilated, they would live contentedly, advance their status and be handled with high esteem. These promises were never kept. This shows that the focus of the country was not entirely the issue of assimilation.
Auber Octavius Neville is introduced in the start of the film, Rabbit-Proof Fence, when he is writing the approval for the elimination of Molly Craig, Daisy Craig as well as Gracie Fields by Constable Riggs to the settlement within river Moore. Neville is regarded as the protector of Aborigines, meaning that every person from the Aborigine was automatically in his control, known as Rabbit (Pilkington 2013, p. 30-38). The 1905 Aborigines Act, provided Neville the power which permitted him to be capable of making decisions on each facet affecting the Aboriginals living within Western Australia. It will, therefore, be realised during the 20th century, most of the individuals were not able to make any move without the consent of Neville.
During this time of assimilation, the aboriginal people were often assumed to be of lower ranks as compared to the whites, however, mixed marriages were acknowledged, and were also inspired by their chief protector. One of the issues of contention was that the marriage between the white and black people was considered to result into the birth of half-caste children, but Neville reports that many people detested the creation of another third race which would result into a worse problem than the one being solved. The Aboriginals were causing many problems to the whites due to the fact that they were black, and the focus had been to assimilate them and lose their physical appearance (Beresford and Omaji 1998, p. 29-34). This also destroyed the culture and values of both the aboriginal people and the whites. Due to this, the government was not ready to have another third race to compound the already existing problem, a problem which seems to be more permanent than the first one.
In response to this critical problem, the government devised a way of dealing with the rising number of half-caste people. It was claimed that the problem affected the current and future generation hence required urgent intervention as it would result in loss of the native origin (Haebich 2008, p. 141-148). The ever enduring penetration of the white people would gradually destroy the black population, and thus the Aboriginal people will be bred out completely. Neville’s calculations happened to be impersonal as well as scientific. Through the utilisation of “breed out”, it appeared that he was not kind to the black people because he assumed that they were animals which had bad genetic qualities, and they could be fixed through cross-breeding (De Bono 2018, p. 3-5). As such, the resulting generation comprising of mixed parents would gradually be absorbed and advanced to white status. The idea of “whitening-out” is apparent to the disregard of the black people as inferior. The policies by Neville depict a well thought-out plan for genocide according to the fundamental strategy of whiteness as a metonym for temperance, morality in addition to purity. It will be recognised that the objective of Neville was geared at ensuring that the black people were segregated, engross the half-caste, and make sure that the population remains white in the long run. Research reveals that 60 years ago, the real Aboriginal people were nearly 60,000 within Western Australia (De Bono 2018, p. 1-3). However, the current statistics reveal that there are close to 20,000 people and in time there will be none.
Neville believed in the helpful and necessary impacts of the education programs which were aimed at raising the living standards of the Aboriginals. It is held that Neville’s key assumptions disclosed that the Aboriginals were not intellectual people and therefore they could not take care of themselves. The Aboriginal Protection Board gave a massive favour to the black individuals by taking up their encumbrances to give them direction. Unluckily, the black people, due to ignorance, they were not able to comprehend the objectives of the government to them and their children too. Through the actions of moving the children to native settlements, they were capable of benefiting from the same treatment that the white people received, and they will be able to learn the appropriate way of living well. As such, the Aboriginals had to be safeguarded from themselves.
The policies and the intentions of assimilation did not live up to the expectations. The black people were not entirely integrated into society. This may have been partly because the black people were not willing to be integrated but also due to the racist actions depicted by the white people towards the blacks who tried to adopt the prevailing conditions (Lino 2017, p. 365-370). Another setback of the assimilation was due to the fact that the principles of assimilation were constantly being violated by those who set them up. In addition, the objective of assimilation was to deny the Aboriginals their indigenous culture and thus change them into the culture of the whites. The problem was that the whites concentrated only on depriving the Aboriginals their culture and ignored the issue of adopting them into the white culture (Beresford and Omaji 1998, p. 31-38). The Aborigines and the half-caste individuals were also not accepted within the Australian communities hence they did not have any identity. They were not able to enjoy the same rights as the rest of the society in Australia, being regarded as people who were less than an adult of the white people.
Beresford, Q. and Omaji, P. (1998). Our State of Mind: Racial Planning and the Stolen Generations. Fremantle, Western Australia: Fremantle Arts Centre Press.
De Bono, A. (2018). Seeing Aboriginal history in black and white: the contested history of the Stolen Generation. NEW: Emerging scholars in Australian Indigenous Studies, 2(1), pp.1-8.
Haebich, A. (2008). Spinning the Dream: Assimilation in Australia 1950-1970. Fremantle: Fremantle Press.
Lino, D. (2017). The Indigenous Franchise and Assimilation. Australian Historical Studies, 48(3), pp.363-380.
Nettelbeck, A., Smandych, R., Knafla, L. and Foster, R. (2016). Fragile Settlements: Aboriginal Peoples, Law, and Resistance in South-West Australia and Prairie Canada. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Pilkington, D. (2013). Follow the rabbit-proof fence. Brisbane, Queensland: University of Queensland Press.
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