Bruce Pascoe explains how the First Nations peoples worked the land sustainably before colonisation.
In 1926 a group of colonists with self acclaimed 'high moral standards' and with a small touch of guilt, came up with the idea to create an Aboriginal state. The idea was to give Arnhem Land to Aboriginal people and teach them how to be self-sufficient. Arnhem Land was an ideal location because it was considered 'unsuitable' for any Western development.
From an article in 'News' Adelaide, SA, Saturday 17th April 1926 - page 4
Source: National Library of Australia Trove Digital Newspapers)
(By A. C. Garnett, M.A., Litt.D.)
It would be dificult to assess our debt to the aborigines from whom we took this country.
This much, at all events, is certain that we owe them an opportunity to live lives at least as healthy and happy as they did before the white man introduced himself and bereft them of their hunting grounds.
The way in which the race has died out wherever settlement has spread shows that this minimum obligation has been far from paid.
But more than this we owe. We owe it to ourselves as a people of high moral standards to do every thing possible to assist the progress of those in whose land we have come to live, and we owe it to international science to study, preserve, and stimulate the development of a race which is even more valuable to science than the priceless traces and fossils of primitive man found in the older countries of the world.
Since all the plans adopted in the past have so obviously failed to fulfil these obligations it is not surprising that a body of earnest, learned, and philanthropic ladies and gentlemen should have come forward with an entirely new and ambitious scheme to replace in some parts of the country
the old methods.
This is no less than the creation of a model aboriginal state from which all whites other than Government teachers and agricultural experts would be excluded, and where the natives would be left to live and govern themselves according to their own tribal laws and customs, certain cruelties alone being prohibited.
Arnheim Land Proposed
With the help of white instructors and guides who would be present as teachers and advisers, and not as controlling officials, it is hoped by the promoters of the scheme that the natives after a brief time would develop self reliance and the simpler civilised arts and a large measure of self-government much more quickly and fully than they' do under the present system of mingled patronage, oppression, and neglect.
It is proposed that the area selected for this aboriginal state should be Arnheim Land.
This seems a good choice, for the country carries a relatively large black population, and on account of its rugged nature and tropical climate is probably the least suitable part of Australia for development by white labor.
It is a gift which would cost us little, but might prove of inestimable value to the people to whom it is given.
Small cost would be entailed on the Commonwealth in the salary of an administrator, who should be a trained anthropologist, and his staff consisting of medical and a few other experts and police.
At first the administration of the state would necessarily be in the hands of these officials, assisted by a council of educated aborigines, but it is hoped that gradually a self-governing state would be developed.
Limits of Scheme
It is not proposed that natives should be brougiht from other parts and settled in Arnhem Land. Native superstition, sentiment, and tribal antipathy are too strong for that.
Later, when the civilisation of these people had progressed, numbers may willingly move into the native state and be welcomed there.
Perhaps all may even trually be induced thus to gather into this or other such communities, but that movement would not begin for many years.
The nucleus of the state would be the tribes already- living in the area. They might immediately be taught to keep small beef cattle or perhaps goats.
The passage from the hunting to the pastoral stage of culture is the natural one and is not beyond the intelligence and industry of the aborigine. He makes a good stockman, as all our northern station owners can testify.
This increase of food supply, with a diminution of disease through broken contact with the white man and adoption of his unsuitable clothes and habits, would certainly mean an advance in population and thus the preservation of an increasing remnant at least of a race so valuable to scientific study. If the scheme achieved no more than this it would be some payment of our heavy indebtedness.
Whether the native state had to remain under white administration or, as some optimists hope, grew into independent nationhood within the British Empire it would offer opportunity and hope for the survival and development of a portion of this interesting people, and past experience has revealed no other plan that does. If the scheme is to receive the sympathetic consideration which it deserves it must not be put forward as a complete solution of the aboriginal problem. It may solve the problem for Arnhem Land, but that is all.
In various parts of the Northern Territory and at intervals on each side of the East-West and North-South lines in South Australia aboriginal reserves need to be established, and if they are fitted out as cattle stations, with capable white superintendents, to give some employment to the natives so much the better.
The aborigine, if he is to be preserved, must be segregated where he is and suitably employed. He must not be pauperised.
These two fundamental principles experience has revealed. If to a policy of such segregation of stations natives states are added, whether all might eventually be drafted, there is. hope for the permanent survival and progress of a large proportion of these people as a real asset to the Commonwealth