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Standing Strong - Aboriginal resistance and the strength of our culture

Aboriginal people in Victoria and across Australia have survived huge injustices and continue to stand strong today. Since the beginning of colonisation in 1788, we have resisted and fought to protect our people, Country and culture. While we have faced violence, loss, discrimination and racism, our survival shows the strength of our people and our culture. This article explores Aboriginal experiences of colonisation and our mob’s resistance and strength through history and today.

Understanding history – what is colonisation?

Aboriginal people have lived in and cared for this country for thousands of generations. In 1788 our lives changed forever when 11 ships arrived in Botany Bay in New South Wales to begin a penal (prison) colony. This was the beginning of the invasion and colonisation of Australia by Great Britain.

Put simply, colonisation is one group of people ruling over another. The global history of colonisation has involved European invasion and rule over most of the world from the 1400s onwards. Colonisation occurred so that European kings, queens and leaders could steal resources, land and people for their own economic gain. It was based on the false view that non-Europeans were not equal to Europeans. 

When the British invaded Australia from 1788 onwards, they started what’s known as a settler colony. This means that the British came to stay and create their own society by stealing the lands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The foundation of Australia, including its laws and customs were created during these colonial times and many of them are still in place today. 

To learn more about Aboriginal history and culture, visit the link below.  

LINK: The Little Red Yellow Black Website

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Resistance

Aboriginal people have fought and resisted colonisation since the beginning – from 1788 in Sydney and in the 1830s when Europeans came to what is now called Victoria. 

Some of the many acts of resistance include:

  • Fighting back against invasion – in the early days of colonisation many Aboriginal warriors fought to protect people and Country. One example was Pemulwuy, a Bidjigal man of the Eora nation who fought against the theft of his people’s land and atrocities committed against Aboriginal people, often by burning crops and raiding food stores. In Victoria, Gunditjmara people from South West of the State were known as the ‘Fighting Gunditjmara’ in the 1800s because of their strong resistance to violence and invasion of their Country.
  • Forming organisations and cooperatives to bring Community together and fight for Aboriginal rights – key examples include the Australian Aboriginal Progress Association founded in 1925, Aborigines Progressive Organisation founded in 1937, Aborigines Advancement League founded in 1957 and the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders founded in 1958. These organisations all fought for human, cultural and land rights for Aboriginal people.
  • Today there are many people and organisations who work tirelessly to make change for Aboriginal people. They are seeking to change laws, policies and Community attitudes so our mob can achieve and thrive. For example, the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) leads the Family Matters campaign. This campaign aims to stop the over-representation of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care and make sure our “children and young people grow up safe and cared for in family, community and culture.”
  • Marches, rallies, sit ins and protests – there have been many rallies and protests throughout history and these continue today. Some important examples that drew huge crowds to fight for Aboriginal rights include the Day of Mourning protests in Sydney in 1938, the protest against the Australian Bicentenary (200th anniversary) in 1988 or the protests that occur each year on Invasion or Survival Day.
  • Petitions – a petition is a request or a demand that is signed by people to show their support. Today petitions are usually created and shared on the internet however in the past people gathered signatures on paper. A famous petition in Koorie history was the 1937 petition to King George VI made by the Yorta Yorta leader Uncle William Cooper. The petition demanded an Aboriginal representative in Federal Parliament and criticised land theft and denial of legal rights for Aboriginal people. It was signed by more than 1800 people. 
  • Practicing and strengthening culture – throughout colonisation, Europeans have actively tried to prevent Aboriginal people from practicing our culture, based on the racist view that European ways were better. For example, Koorie people were punished for speaking language or practicing ceremonies on reserves and missions. Despite this, many of our ancestors preserved cultural practices and many of our mob are reviving song, language, dance, art and ceremony today. 
  • Supporting Community – in the Koorie Community there have been and continue to be countless Aunties, Uncles and others who work behind the scenes to support our people and keep culture strong. These are the people organising Community events, who keep their homes open if someone needs a place to stay or who support, mentor and encourage our young ones. We are very lucky to have such a close and caring Community that supports each other.

Despite the many injustices inflicted on Aboriginal people, our people and culture are still strong today. While there is still much pain that we face, our mob are continuing to fight injustice and heal together through culture.

To read more about our history and struggles for justice, see the Deadly Story Historical Timeline.

Racism. It stops with me

"Racism. It stops with me" has been developed throuigh a partnership led by the Australian Human Rights Commission and is supported by a wide range of organisations and individuals.

Our Culture, Our Strength

Aboriginal people are resilient and proud people, we have the oldest culture in the world. We are unique because we have had to endure adversity and dispossession of our culture, but through all of this we stay strong and reconnected to our cultural practices.

As a parent I have taught my children and grandchildren to educate with your brain/voice never use violence whenever they come up against racism. Always be proud of who you are and walk away if they don’t want to learn – Aunty Sharon Jones, Cultural Support Advisor at Rumbalara Aboriginal Cooperative in Shepparton.

Our culture, Country and Community is the source of our strength. Some things to remember if you are ever confronted with racism are:

Give Nothing To Racism

Give Nothing to Racism is a funny campaign by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission featuring director and actor Taika Waititi.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in photographs, film, audio recordings or printed material. To listen to our Acknowledgement to Country, click here.