The British had lived for centuries under an accepted cultural system.
The native peoples had lived for millennia under a completely different accepted cultural system; in fact you could say it was a road untraveled by any other culture.
The British and most other cultures worked on a notion of private property, and understood that this system accepted violence as a cost of civilisation. If you had something, you had to be prepared to defend it; and if you wanted to grow in importance then you had to usurp the property of others either by violence or coercion.
The native peoples came up with a completely different solution.
Instead of regular patterns of group vs group violence they chose mutual benevolence. Admittedly being human, disputes over mating rights did occur. However that is observable behaviour in the animal kingdom. What they chose was mutual survival. Part of this was choosing hospitality towards strangers to diffuse any possible violent intent.
Even now it is a difficult concept for Western minds to grasp.
The native people used what they needed from the land, and then moved on to a new location. They never depleted an area of resources. Tribes consisted of a number of family groups. Estimates for this location have a minimum number of 10 family groups, but there could have been 15 family groups, or even 20 family groups as part of one tribe. Survival depended on being part of a family group.
At certain times during the year and at agreed locations the whole tribe would gather together to conduct necessary tribal business including dispute resolution. When children neared the age of becoming an eligible mating partner, the men took the boys for initiation rites and the women took the girls for initiation rites. There were complicated rules to prevent relationships between close blood lines.
Picture an area of some 240 km2 and that would be a tribal area or country. Within it the various family groups are moving independently. Place names within country either describe geographical features, or the specific flora and fauna of a sub area, or the tribal purpose of the area. Therefore the next family group to pass where your family group has had a sojourn is most likely to be another family group within the tribe. Making sure your family group didn’t deplete the resources of a sub-area meant that the next family group to stay in that sub-area would have enough to survive.
You could think of this locality as a submerged mountain range. Which means getting anywhere other than along the waterline is going to be up hill and down dale, over rocks and timbered terrain with an occasional cave or hard rock surface. Therefore it made a lot of sense to leave tools made of natural materials where the next family group could find and use them than to carry them from place to place. In hospitality to each other on hard rock surfaces simple images of the safe game to hunt were painstakingly carved, or sometimes simple images conveying other messages to the initiated.
The other thing about this locality was the threat of flood, bushfire and drought. Anything built would either get washed away or burned away, so it truly was pointless to build anything permanent. But what was possible was working with the seasons and the locations of flora and fauna to obtain the best outcomes for everyone.
Here’s an example: In most places the tree line came down to the waterline. But there were areas that were flat, having been built up by natural sand deposits from the beach. These places were covered with native grasses due to specific cultivation. At the right time of year when the wind was in the necessary direction this flat land would be set on fire in such a way that the fire went towards the beach and burnt itself out for lack of fuel. The fire did two things: it dissuaded trees from growing and the fresh shoots of grasses after the fire would attract game animals. What this meant was that when the tribe gathered annually in that location to be together there was a plentiful food supply.
If someone was guilty of grave misdemeanor there was effective punishment. The miscreant was obliged to become the ‘first taster’ of the family group. Until a new miscreant emerged, the current miscreant became the go-to person to test whether a food stuff was poisonous or not, and if a food stuff was sufficiently ripe or not. The rest of the group would wait a day or two to see what happened to the first taster before sampling the food stuff themselves. As both a deterrent strategy and as a way of safeguarding the group from toxins it is quite brilliant.
What we often fail to appreciate is that this way of life was so successful that it didn’t need to change. It had remained a successful way of life through long stretches of drought and through long stretches of rain, through hail, storm and bushfire. It was a way of life sufficiently adaptable that paradigm change wasn’t necessary.
What this culture did do was to closely observe the natural environment. They studied the plants, the animals, the weather patterns and the landscape patterns. It wasn’t for interest, it was for survival. If you studied the life cycle and the migration patterns and eating patterns of the kangaroo then the hunt would be more successful. Not only did they study, but they used what they had learned in dancing in imitation of kangaroo and emu and through that medium passed knowledge to the younger members.
Stories were passed down from generation to generation which contained not only knowledge of the local animals but also moral lessons. On the surface they were simple and entertaining stories, but they had multiple layers of meaning. The deeper layers of meaning were only taught when a member was considered ready to learn them. This is not dissimilar to memory by association techniques.
These patterns of listening and observing the created world, and the stillness necessary for successful observation meant that this ancient culture was also in tune with the spiritual realms. Most tribes would be in tune with the good, the true and the beautiful, but some tribes would align with the darker elements in the spirit world. Not everything in the dreamtime is safe. Human beings wherever they reside are capable of both cruelty and gentleness; they thrive under good leadership and they suffer under poor leadership.
When the explorers arrived in 1770 with their western eyes they saw a natural landscape bereft of built structures; no stone structures like the Aztecs, no tents like the native Americans, no huts like the Polynesians. What they didn’t have eyes to see was a respectfully and minimally cultivated native landscape with everything needed for the survival of an ancient culture.
The description of the land as terra nullius was incorrect and wrong, yet convenient for a small island nation with dense population and many persons convicted of crime to punish. It was the first injustice upon which other injustices were perpetrated.
If not for help the native peoples gave to these strange idiots who were beginning to starve due to lack of local knowledge, the fledgling colony would not have survived. This pattern of help was repeated as explorations and new settlements began. When a convict absconded into the woods, or when someone got lost or shipwrecked, native tribes enabled them to survive.
Due to terra nullius the governor of the colony felt free to award large areas of land firstly to non-convicts, and later to convicts who had either proved themselves useful or who had served their time. No consideration was given to the what the native tribes had used these tracts of land for. The more important the ancient land use, the more likely native retaliation would be, and ancient weapons - lethal though they could be - were no match for guns.
The native population only had naturally occurring sugars in their diet from honey and berry-like fruit. Therefore the introduction of complex sugars and especially alcohol had severe effects including addiction and diabetes. Neither were they immune to the diseases that the settlers brought with them. Due to this many lives were lost prematurely.
When settlers began looking further afield than the Sydney colony there were two motives; one to find farm land with which to feed the colony and the other to exploit any other resources they found to the best of their ability. Hence the deforestation of cedar trees in the Brisbane Water area, and the commercial harvesting of seafood, particularly crayfish. No consideration was given to the impact of these exploitive activities upon the stable ecosystems and the well-trodden hunting and gathering routes of the native tribes. Local resistance was met with violence, written complaints to colonial authority, and with imprisonment and deportation. Some natives were tried for snatching the equivalent of a cigar out of a local colonial bigwig’s hands, and sentenced to deportation to Tasmania. It was commuted to two years’ hard labour in iron chains quarrying rock on a rocky outcrop island near Newcastle.
The net effect over several decades of occupation was the genocide of some native tribes and the decimation of other tribes. Since the early settlers had a very high male to female ratio of inhabitants many of the local tribeswomen were impregnated against their will and the resulting children suffered from not fully belonging to either culture. Such practices broke down the kinship bonds designed to transmit culture from one generation to the next.
The losses sustained by the native tribes are incalculable.
Sadly it has taken almost 235 years for us to begin to understand those immense losses.
This cannot have been God’s original plan.
Only the evil one is known for robbing, killing and destroying.
The losses of the early decades were followed up by the White Australia policy, and the systematic destruction of families by taking the children of native tribes to be raised in anglo-celtic families, and continued with other government policies which ultimately harmed more than helped.
So what could have been God’s original plan, and what’s behind this implacable hatred of the evil one for the native peoples of this land?
God’s plan must have been that we should learn the best from each other in order to build a completely new society based on respect for God, respect for creation, the cherishing of family life and the mutually beneficial sharing and conserving of resources.
Why the evil one’s hatred? Because this ancient culture was remarkably resilient against temptation to sin. Because it had so much good to teach and bequeath to humanity. Consider that greed, the root of all evil, did not have a foothold in this culture. Sloth is deadly in a survival culture, so it didn’t have much of a foothold either. That’s why the vehement desire for it to be snuffed out, disfigured and destroyed as quickly as possible.
Yet despite that hatred, despite the areas of genocide, the threads of that ancient culture are being slowly put back together with each artefact return, with each rediscovery of the wisdom in ancient practices and in ancient stories, and with each discovery of the gentle imprints upon the land by the ancient cultures. The deposit of good is beginning to be treasured as it should have been from the beginning.
What can we do to co-operate with God’s Plan?
We can ask God’s pardon and mercy upon all the sins and crimes perpetrated against the native peoples of this land.
We can ask God’s blessing upon the descendants of the native peoples of this land.
We can ask God to recompence the native peoples for all the losses and injustice they have suffered.
We can ask for God’s perfect will to be accomplished in this land.
We can work on eradicating greed and sloth from our own lives.