By the early twentieth century the surviving Aborigines, now only a quarter of the number alive in 1788, were controlled by special Aboriginal legislation which severely restricted their freedom and lives. These acts of parliament were a product of the twin forces of white racism and the humanitarian desire to protect the remaining Aborigines from destruction. This chapter examines these two forces and the acts that arose out of them. First of all the nature of racism must be understood as well as the forces which determined its growth in nineteenth century Australia.
It is perhaps natural for humans to feel superior to other humans. People collect together in groups for mutual survival, shelter and protection, and for such benefits each group demands loyalty from its members. Part of such loyalty is the belief that one's own group is superior to other groups. This feeling also develops unconsciously because each group creates its own distinct customs and culture and individuals who grow up in a group naturally and generally believe its ways are the best. This belief in the superiority of one's group and culture is termed ethnocentrism. It is and has been strong enough to move individuals to offer their life for the defence of the group.
This basic prejudice is not the same as racism. Indeed, racism has not existed at all times and in all places in human history. It is a prejudice that contains more than just feelings of cultural superiority. Racism occurs where two groups see themselves as being physically and racially (as opposed to just culturally) different and when one group claims the alleged inferiority of the other group is caused by the innate physical differences of its members. This more extreme form of prejudice occurs when one group seeks to dominate and exploit the other through invasion, economic control or slavery. In recent times racism has been closely linked with European colonial expansion. 1
Racist beliefs are myths and yet they have been extremely powerful in shaping human affairs over the past few centuries. The racist claims all the people of the one race have common characteristics and abilities. Yet a glance at those around you will show this is a ludicrous view.