Thalia Anthony, Stephen Gray, ‘Was there slavery in Australia? Yes. It shouldn’t even be up for debate’, The Conversation, 11.06.20
Prime Minister Scott Morrison asserted in a radio interview that “there was no slavery in Australia”.
This is a common misunderstanding which often obscures our nation’s history of exploitation of First Nations people and Pacific Islanders.
Morrison followed up with “I’ve always said we’ve got to be honest about our history”. Unfortunately, his statement is at odds with the historical record.
This history was widely and publicly documented, among other sources, in the 2006 Australian Senate report Unfinished Business: Indigenous Stolen Wages.
What is slavery?
Australia was not a “slave state” like the American South. However, slavery is a broader concept. As Article 1 of the United Nations Slavery Convention says:
Slavery is the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.
These powers might include non-payment of wages, physical or sexual abuse, controls over freedom of movement, or selling a person like a piece of property. In the words of slavery historian Orlando Patterson, slavery is a form of “social death”.
Slavery has been illegal in the (former) British Empire since the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade of 1807, and certainly since 1833.
Slavery practices emerged in Australia in the 19th century and in some places endured until the 1950s.
Early coverage of slavery in Australia
As early as the 1860s, anti-slavery campaigners began to invoke “charges of chattel bondage and slavery” to describe north Australian conditions for Aboriginal labour.
In 1891 a “Slave Map of Modern Australia” was printed in the British Anti-Slavery Reporter, a journal that documented slavery around the world and campaigned against it.
Reprinted from English journalist Arthur Vogan’s account of frontier relations in Queensland, it showed large areas where:
… the traffic in Aboriginal labour, both children and adults, had descended into slavery conditions.
Seeds of slavery in Australia
Some 62,000 Melanesian people were brought to Australia and enslaved to work in Queensland’s sugar plantations between 1863 and 1904. First Nations Australians had a more enduring experience of slavery, originally in the pearling industry in Western Australia and the Torres Strait and then in the cattle industry.
In the pastoral industry, employers exercised a high degree of control over “their” Aboriginal workers, who were bought and sold as chattels, particularly where they “went with” the property upon sale. There were restrictions on their freedom of choice and movement. There was cruel treatment and abuse, control of sexuality, and forced labour.
A stock worker at Meda Station in the Kimberley, Jimmy Bird, recalled:
… whitefellas would pull their gun out and kill any Aborigines who stood up to them. And there was none of this taking your time to pull up your boots either. No fear!
Aboriginal woman Ruby de Satge, who worked on a Queensland station, described the Queensland Protection Act as meaning:
if you are sitting down minding your own business, a station manager can come up to you and say, “I want a couple of blackfellows” … Just like picking up a cat or a dog.
Through their roles under the legislation, police, Aboriginal protectors and pastoral managers were complicit in this force.
Slavery was sanctioned by Australian law
Legislation facilitated the enslavement of Aboriginal people across the Northern Territory, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland. Under the South Australian Aborigines Act 1911, the government empowered police to “inspect workers and their conditions” but not to uphold basic working conditions or enforce payment. The Aboriginals Ordinance 1918 (Cth) allowed the forced recruitment of Indigenous workers in the Northern Territory, and legalised the non-payment of wages.
In Queensland, the licence system was effectively a blank cheque to recruit Aboriginal people into employment without their consent. Amendments to the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 gave powers to the Protector or police officer to “expend” their wages or invest them in a trust fund – which was never paid out.
Officials were well aware that “slavery” was a public relations problem. The Chief Protector in the Northern Territory noted in 1927 that pastoral workers:
… are kept in a servitude that is nothing short of slavery.
In the early 1930s, Chief Protector Dr Cecil Cook pointed out Australia was in breach of its obligations under the League of Nations Slavery Convention.
‘… it certainly exists here in its worst form’
Accusations of slavery continued into the 1930s, including through the British Commonwealth League.
In 1932 the North Australian Workers’ Union (NAWU) characterised Aboriginal workers as “slaves”. Unionist Owen Rowe argued:
If there is no slavery in the British Empire then the NT is not part of the British Empire; for it certainly exists here in its worst form.
In the 1940s, anthropologists Ronald and Catherine Berndt surveyed conditions on cattle stations owned by Lord Vestey, commenting that Aboriginal people:
… owned neither the huts in which they lived nor the land on which these were built, they had no rights of tenure, and in some cases have been sold or transferred with the property.
In 1958, counsel for the well-known Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira argued that the Welfare Ordinance 1953 (Cth) was unconstitutional, because the enacting legislation was:
… a law for the enslavement of part of the population of the Northern Territory.
Profits from slaves
Australia has unfinished business in repaying wages to Aboriginal and South Sea Islander slaves. First Nations slave work allowed big businesses to reap substantial profits, and helped maintain the Australian economy through the Great Depression. Aboriginal people are proud of their work on stations even though the historical narrative is enshrined in silence and denial.
As Bundjalung woman Valerie Linow has said of her experiences of slavery in the 1950s:
What if your wages got stolen? Honestly, wouldn’t you like to have your wages back? Honestly. I think it should be owed to the ones who were slave labour. We got up and worked from dawn to dusk … We lost everything – family, everything. You cannot go stealing our lousy little sixpence. We have got to have money back. You have got to give something back after all this country did to the Aboriginal people. You cannot keep stealing off us.
Addendum: the above addresses only part of the story – e.g. convicts were also used as slave labour.
Natassia Chrysanthos, ‘Subjects on US slavery and fascism slated for cuts at Sydney University’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 11.06.20
History subjects about the making of the US, American slavery, fascism and anti-fascism are nominated to be cut from the University of Sydney’s arts and social sciences faculty due to budget-saving measures. …
It comes as the statues of slave traders are torn down in Britain and thousands worldwide protest against police brutality in the Black Lives Matter movement, after the death of George Floyd in the United States.
History student Annabel Pettit said she was hoping to study American slavery next semester.
“It feels like a vital time to be thinking critically, and learning as much as we can about what has led us to this particular moment in history,” she said.
“It’s disappointing news to hear as a student, and deeply concerning given the current global anti-racist movement and the upcoming US election.”…
Seventy history students have written to the arts and social sciences dean, Annamarie Jagose, petitioning to save the subjects.
“These are vital subjects to study in a world where the mass Black Lives Matter movement has been threatened by the US President with military action to disperse protesters,” they wrote.
Senior history lecturer David Brophy said students felt they were being denied the opportunity to study topics that were “really important at this point”.
“It’s not a good time for Sydney to be weakening its offerings in these areas,” he said. “We’re in the middle of a global uprising against racism centred in America, and we’re stripping away these units that speak directly to the current context.
“There’s also an intense discussion that’s sparked up again about the way we speak about history, the debate about the commemoration of figures involved in slavery. They would normally be expected to attract significant interest in a time like this.” …
Jarni Blakkarly, SBS, ’Melbourne refugee protesters fined $43,000 for breaching coronavirus rules’ 10.04.20
‘Victoria Police has arrested one refugee advocate and fined dozens of others a total of $43,000 for breaching coronavirus stay at home orders by conducting a protest outside a Melbourne hotel housing refugees and asylum seekers.
The protesters on Friday formed a car motorcade to protest the situation faced by the men inside the Mantra Hotel in the northern Melbourne suburb of Preston, where they say the men are in danger of contracting COVID-19.
The men inside the hotel have themselves been protesting their crowded conditions and what they say is a lack of personal hygiene supplies, such as hand sanitiser.
Protest organisers said the demonstration was done in cars so that all protesters maintained their required social distance at all times.
The Refugee Action Collective’s Lucy Honan was one of those issued a fine by Victoria Police for participating in the protest.
“We were told that we had breached the stay at home direction. We said we are there for compassionate reasons. Compassion and care is one of the reasons you can leave the house,” she said.
“It’s completely egregious and hypocritical. You have people inside the detention centre unable to physically distance, that’s why we were there, and instead of using those health powers to agitate for their freedom, the [Premier Daniel] Andrews government has used police to quash protests,” Ms Honan said.
Victoria Police told SBS News 26 demonstrators were fined for failing to comply with the chief health officer’s orders, while three were issued with traffic infringement notices.
“While Victoria Police respects the public’s right to protest, these are extraordinary times and the health and safety of every Victorian needs to be our number one priority at this time,” a police spokesperson said.
Protest organiser Chris Breen was also arrested at his home prior to the protest beginning. He was charged with incitement and is due to face court in August.
He told SBS News he was taken to the Preston police station where he spent nine hours in custody while police obtained a warrant to seize his phone and home computers.
“It’s absurd. People can drive to Bunnings, to get a haircut, to go to your holiday house in Victoria, but we aren’t allowed to drive around the block to highlight the deadly conditions for refugees,” Mr Breen said.
“Health rules around coronavirus can’t be used to shut down safe protests,” he added.
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.
The warning is out for tomorrow, at least right across NSW – we will be facing the ‘catastrophic’ threat of fire. Many schools will close! Keep to the cities! Keep out of national parks! etc. etc.
I have never read and heard the word ‘catastrophic’ so often as I have over the last couple of days – the media is full of it – and the only cause referred to is climate change.
The message appears to be totally rational. But that it is not is indicated by what is totally absent from this relentless fear-mongering – the least mention, questioning or discussion of fire/these fires being caused by human action, particularly deliberate.
From the Australian govt./Australian Institute of Criminology website: ‘It is estimated that 50 percent of fires are either deliberately lit or suspicious in origin as shown in Figure 1.’ Figure 1 itself (above) is even more interesting – it shows that at least 85% of the causes of fires in Australia are human related – 13% deliberately, with another 37% ‘suspicious’ and 35% ‘accidental’.
Why the urgent drum-beat of this co-ordinated fear campaign, and why now?
Is this a trial run for something much bigger, later?
By Chris Hedges Source: TruthDig Chris Hedges gave this talk Tuesday, June 11, at an event held in London in support of Julian Assange. Ask the Iraqi parents of Sabiha Hamed Salih, aged 15, and Ashwaq Hamed Salih, aged 16, who were killed by shrapnel in Baghdad on July 31, 2004, what they think of […]