Aboriginal rights in the Northern Territory
To understand the problems that Aboriginal Australians face today – and learn how your holiday choices can help them – you have to understand the history of the Northern Territory. Aboriginal Australians are thought to be the oldest living civilisation
in the world. They’ve lived continuously in Australia for around 58,000 years, unwavering as transient European and Indonesian explorers came and went. It wasn’t until the 19th century that settlers started to stick, tempted by farming and mining opportunities. That’s when the tides turned against indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.
Land confiscation for cattle farming was widespread. The protest killing of cattle by Aboriginal Australians was parried with violent revenge from white settlers, who often hired armed gangs to shoot indigenous people seen as a threat. The gold rush era followed, kicking off the development of railways and cities.
The government and missionaries followed hugely damaging assimilation policies in the 20th century. They resettled rural Aboriginal Australians in suburban housing or town camps; they also removed Aboriginal children into white families in a disastrous attempt to absorb indigenous people into the general population. Those that remained on Aboriginal land were – and still are – largely neglected by the government, with access to standard housing, electricity and healthcare often limited.
The Land Rights Act 1976 returned half the Northern Territory to the original landowners. Clan-based communities called outstations sprung up. Despite both deliberate and accidental destruction of their culture, rural Aboriginal Australians managed to mostly keep hold of their clan structure, language and customs. Aboriginal populations increased as conditions improved; they now represent a quarter of the Northern Territory population.