Stuff People Get Wrong About Aboriginal History: A Thread

Picture of the slogan: What Australia Has a Black History, against the backdrop of an Aboriginal flag.


The good people at Thread Reader have provided an ‘unroll’ of the brilliant series of tweets by Evelyn Araluen, correcting myths of Aboriginal History. Her tweet thread came in response to an article by Channel 10 morning show Stud1o 10 co-host Joe Hildebrand which repeats several of these myths following the anti-Invasion Day protest remarks made by the show’s guest Kerry-Anne Kennerley which were countered by fellow guest Yumi Stynes for their racism.

Evelyn has kindly allowed us to reproduce her thread in the interests of preserving this as a resource for our readers.

The original thread is here.

No, we didn’t kill any pygmy people. There were no pygmy people here. I feel like that’s probably a very offensive term but I see this one doing the rounds quite a lot and it’s completely false. We are not the “second Australians” who usurped the land from pygmies.We didn’t arrive here four thousand years ago, or even forty thousand years. Every few years they find earlier and older evidence of our occupation here. Count is currently at 65k, significantly older than any living culture. 

Humans First Arrived in Australia 65,000 Years Ago, Study Suggests Ancestors of Aboriginal Australians arrived thousands of years earlier than previously believed, according to newly uncovered archaeological evidence.

Many Aboriginal people, including myself, don’t believe in so called “migration theories” and believe that we were created here on this land. We have creation songlines which link many different language groups together with shared ancestral beings.Speaking of language – we had a lot of them. Around up to 700 dialects from around 250 different language groups. These languages were and are geographically situated and mob would be familiar with/able to communicate in multiple. 

AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia: Move your cursor over any area of the map to reveal the ‘magnifying glass’ circle.

There is no cultural/spiritual origin for sexual abuse, cannibalism, or infanticide.

1788 was an invasion. Phillip had orders from King George to avoid causing harm to local Aboriginal people if at all possible, and was instructed to try to negotiate with locals so as to better acquire land and resources.

There were multiple military expeditions/raids throughout NSW in the decades following invasion. MacArthur gave instructions to soldiers in 1795 to drive away “the natives”, ie kill them and clear the land. That’s what the term “dispersed” means in many colonial records.

Aboriginal people did resist invasion and did organise against settlers, attacking farms, stealing back resources, killing settlers etc. The punishment for these actions was typically far harsher from settlers and regularly involved the killing of women and children.

Aboriginal people did help settlers on multiple occasions. Sometimes they were rewarded for this with land packets, money, and breast plates. Often enough, as in the case of Galmarra/Jackey Jackey and the Cape York expedition, they rejected these offerings.

Disease spread often before settlers. Disease accounts for significant losses even before some communities had ever seen a white person. It is almost certainly true that smallpox was spread willfully through the distribution of infected blankets, as had been done in the US.

Missions and reserves were usually terrible and oppressive places for Aboriginal people and many people died of poor sanitation and starvation. Missions = religious control, reserve = welfare/protection board. Aboriginal people typically didn’t have freedom of movement.

Welfare/protection boards were managed on state authority until 1967 and there was significant inconsistency in policy/practice. Aboriginal people were mostly considered wards of the state under the authority of these boards up until the mid 20th century.

Boards had the power to regulate residence, marriage, force unpaid employment, remove children, etc. In late 19thC the movement towards assimilation began and families were separated on the basis of “blood quantum”, an imprecise science (it wasn’t science).

Speaking of remains, stolen Aboriginal remains were being passed around in anthropology classes as late as the 1960s. There are no laws for repatriation of Aboriginal remains in Australia.

Australia did have a slave trade, commonly referred to as Black Birding 

Blackbirding: Australia’s history of kidnapping Pacific Islanders Starting from the 1860s, tens of thousands of Pacific Islanders were taken to Australia to work on plantations in Queensland — often by force or trickery, in a practice known as blackbirding.

In the 20thC after being institutionalised many Aboriginal boys were forced into unpaid manual/station work while girls were forced into unpaid domestic apprenticeships. Protection board knew girls were being raped in these positions but felt it was beneficial for assimilation.

Land Rights didn’t begin with Mabo, it began with Invasion. There was the handover of land to the Gurindji peoples in 1975 after almost a decade of political organising which preceded Mabo.

The 1967 didn’t give us the right to vote or to be citizens, those rights came in gradually in the 20thC depending on state, but voting wasn’t encouraged or accessible. 67 gave us the right to be counted in the census, and for the federal gov to make laws regarding us.

The gov has a bad history in its use of these powers, often operating alongside the repeal of the Racial Discrimination Act in cases such as Hindmarsh Bridge and the NT Intervention.

We were never considered flora and fauna. Honestly a lot of the time we had less rights than that. Altho the management of Aboriginal affairs did at one stage come under a flora and fauna portfolio, which is probably where that myth comes from.

Aboriginal people have been writing for a long time. First western-recognised form of authorship comes in the form of Bennelong’s 1796 letter to Lord Sydney’s steward. First written petition for land was in 1832 from Maria Lock. First book from David Unaipon in 1928.

This one’s a biggun: YES WE DID HAVE AGRICULTURE! The denial of systems of farming and land cultivation is central to the denial of our rights and sovereignty to the land BUT we totally cultivated the land and still practice things like fire stick farming 

Cover of the book Dark Emu by Bruce Pasco

Dark Emu Dark Emu puts forward an argument for a reconsideration of the hunter-gatherer tag for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians. The evidence insists that Aboriginal people right across the continent were…

Terra nullius was never “declared”, it only appeared in legal usage/documentation in the 20th century. The notion that Aboriginal people didn’t sufficiently fulfil western criteria for land possession was certainly around at invasion but it wasn’t formalised as a doctrine



Evelyn Araluen is a poet, researcher and educator working with Indigenous literatures at the University of Sydney. She has been awarded the Nakata Brophy Prize for Young Indigenous Writers, the Judith Wright Poetry Prize, and a Wheeler Centre Next Chapter fellowship. Born, raised, and writing on Dharug country, she is a descendant of the Bundjalung nation.

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