“The treatment which women experience must be taken into account in considering the causes which lead to the extinction of the native tribes. Amongst them the woman is an absolute slave. She is treated with the greatest cruelty and indignity, has to do all laborious work, and to carry all the burthens [sic]. For the slightest offence or dereliction of duty, she is beaten with a waddyu or yam stick and not infrequently speared. The records of the Supreme Court in Adelaide furnish numberless instances of blacks being tried for murdering lubras. The woman’s life is of no account if her husband chooses to destroy it, and no one ever attempts to protect or take her part under any circumstances. In times of scarcity of food, she is the last to be fed, and the last considered in any way. That many die in consequence cannot be a matter of wonder …”
— George Taplin, The Native Tribes of South Australia, 1878
“After marriage, the women are compelled to do all the hard work of erecting habitations, collecting fuel and water, carrying burdens, procuring roots and delicacies of various kinds, making baskets for cooking roots and other purposes, preparing food, and attending to the children. The only work men do, in times of peace, is to hunt for opossums and large animals of various kinds, and to make rugs and weapons.”
–James Dawson, Australian Aborigines: The Language and Customs of Several Tribes of Aborigines in the Western District of Victoria, 1881
“A great man, or ‘turrwan’, might have two or three or even four wives … They were useful in carrying burdens from one place to another. A woman, because she was a woman, always carried the heaviest load. A man took his tomahawk, his spear, and waddy, and that sort of thing; a woman humped along with the weighty kangaroo and ’possum skin coverings, the dillies with eatables, and sometimes also a heavy little piece of goods in the form of a child. At times, too, she would carry tea-tree bark on her back for the humpies [makeshift tents], while ever and anon as they travelled along the men enjoyed themselves hunting and looking for ‘sugar bags’ (native bees nests), etc.”
— Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences of Early Queensland, 1904
“In 1849 I saw a battle where about 500 of the Narrinyeri met some 800 of the Wakanuwan, and it was very evident that if the conflict had not been stopped by the colonial authorities the Narrinyeri would have been signally defeated by their opponents. They bore a special enmity to [their opponents] because these latter had a propensity for stealing fat people and eating them. If a man had a fat wife, he was always particularly careful not to leave her unprotected, lest she might be seized by prowling cannibals.”
— George Taplin, The Narrinyeri: An Account of the Tribes of South Australian Aborigines
“The natives told me that some twenty years before I came to Port Macleay they first saw white men on horseback, and thought that the horses were their visitors’ mothers, because they carry them on their back! I have also heard that another tribe regarded the first pack-bullocks they saw as whitefellows’ wives, because they carried the luggage!” — Taplin, ibid., p. 68, footnote
“If a man has several girls at his disposal he speedily obtains several wives who, however, very seldom agree well with each other, but are continually quarrelling, each endeavouring to be the favourite. The man, regarding them as mere slaves than in any other light, employs them in every possible way to his own advantage. They are obliged to get shellfish, roots, and eatable plants. If one [man] from another tribe should arrive having anything he desires to purchase, he perhaps makes a bargain to pay by letting him have one of his wives for a longer or shorter period.” — H.E.A. Meyer, Manners and Customs of the Aborigines of the Encounter Bay Tribe, South Australia, in Taplin, ibid., p. 191.)
Virtually every white observer of Aboriginal life in colonial Australia remarked on the endemic and often shocking mistreatment of women almost invariably found in Aboriginal tribes throughout Australia. Women were treated as little better than animals, if that. Women did have a role in tribal life, as gatherers of plant foodstuffs to complement the meat killed and brought to their camps by the men, but, apart from this, and apart from their role as mothers and as cooks, women did most of the heavy carrying as the nomadic tribes moved from place to place in search of food and water. Women’s role as human pack animals—in a society where there were, of course, no beasts of burden or wheeled vehicles—was also invariably noted and condemned by white observers.
But it gets much worse, as the following stomach-churning quotations by well-qualified white observers make clear:
“The First Ceremonial (Female) in the Boulia District: Among the Pitta Pitta and neighbouring tribes … a young girl when she begins to show signs of puberty … Two or three men manage to get the young woman, when ripe enough, all alone by herself away in the bush, and, throwing her down, one of them forcibly enlarges the vaginal orifice by tearing it downwards with the first three fingers round and round with opposum-string … Other men come forward from all directions, and the struggling victim has to submit in rotation to promiscuous coition with all the ‘bucks’ present: should any sick individual be in camp, he would drink the bloody semen collected from her … Among the Ulaolinya, as well as the tribes around Glenormiston, any ordinary corrobboree [sic] is held during the day-time, and the young woman who has been fixed upon … is decoyed by some old woman to come outside the main body of the camp for the purpose of collecting pappa-seeds, etc. She is stealthily followed by two or three men who suddenly pounce upon her, seize her by the wrists while the other bucks, till now in ambush, come rushing upon the scene: she at once realizes her position, and, despite all shrieks and intreaties, is thrown upon her back on the ground, the old chaperone clearing away to a distance. Four ‘bucks’ hold one to each limb while another presses upon her so as to compel her to draw her legs up: her thighs are now drawn apart and her eyes covered so as to prevent her seeing the individual, probably a very old man, who is beckoned from some hiding place to come and operate directly. Everything is now ready. This he does by slitting up a portion of the perineum with a stone-knife, and sweeping his three fingers round inside the vaginal orifice.” — Walter Edmund Roth, Ethnological Studies Among the North-West-Central Queensland Aborigines, Brisbane, 1897, p. 174; cited in part in Louis Nowra, Bad Dreaming: Aboriginal Men’s Violence Against Women and Children,
“When a betrothed girl is of a marriageable age, the man to whom she is promised, having received her father’s consent, or even that of her mother, which would suffice, took her away when she was out from the camp with the other women … He was accompanied by a comrade … Having seized her, they dragged her away, she screaming and biting as much as she was able to … No one interfered, the other women looking on and laughing … The marriage was then consummated by the Abaijas [relatives], who remained with her for one or two days of ceremonial dancing, during which there was between her and the men of the camp unrestrained license, not even excluding her father.”
— A.W. Howitt, The Native Tribes of South-East Australia, 1904, p. 193, cited in Nowra
Violence against women was thus endemic and pervasive in Aboriginal society. It was witnessed, reported on, often in graphic detail, and condemned by dozens of white observers. Nearly all of them, it must be noted, were highly sympathetic to the Aborigines and often devoted years of their lives to living with them and improving their condition. The books they wrote also show that they were careful and scientific observers of Aboriginal life; many of the books contain detailed accounts of the local Aboriginal languages (often our only record of these now extinct tongues), of their extremely complex kinship and marriage laws, and of their myths and lifestyles.
While it is self-evident that these abominations against women were unknown in the English-speaking world—or indeed, anywhere in the Western world—one aspect of the utterly categorical differences between the West and Australian Aboriginal society was the realistic possibility of growth and improvement which existed in the West but was utterly lacking in Aboriginal society. Their society was wholly static, and without improvement or change, for the whole of its 40,000-year history prior to the coming of the white man. In particular, the possibility of any improvement in the status of women did not exist. This was the opposite of the situation in, for instance, the UK. In the 1830s, literacy rates among women in England are believed to have been around 45 per cent, compared with 60 per cent for men. By 1870, the literacy rates for both sexes were equal, at about 90 per cent. The UK Education Act of 1870 made primary education mandatory for girls as well as boys. The first two institutions of higher education for women, Bedford College (in Bloomsbury and later in Regent’s Park, London) and Royal Holloway College in Egham, Surrey, were founded, respectively, in 1849 and 1879. It need hardly be pointed out that the literacy rates among pre-contact Aborigines of both sexes were also equal, as they had been for 40,000 years: 0 per cent.
As countless reports have shown, and as is well known, violence against Aboriginal women by Aboriginal men occurs at a vastly higher rate than violence against white women by white men. According to the most commonly cited statistic, Aboriginal women are thirty-two times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of family violence, and five times more likely to die in a homicide caused by family violence, than among the rest of the Australian population. (Bronwen Carlson, “No Public Outrage, No Vigils: Australia’s Silence at Violence Against Indigenous Women,” The Conversation, April 16, 2021.) This is now widely recognised by judges when handing down sentences to Aboriginal men for violence against Aboriginal women. For example, Samuel Edwards of Palmerston, near Darwin, was recently jailed for life for killing his female partner after what the judge, Judith Kelly, described as a “prolonged, savage and brutal” attack following an afternoon of heavy drinking. Edwards had thirteen previous convictions for assault. “Justice Kelly ended her sentencing remarks with references to the high rate of violent crimes and sexual offences represented in the majority Aboriginal male prison population in the Northern Territory, saying that most of them were domestic violence related. ‘That translates into a steady stream of Aboriginal women going into hospital, or, like this poor woman, into the morgue,’ she said.” (ABC News Online, October 1, 2021.) Even the left-wing ABC, for whom the Aborigines can do no wrong, reported this prominently and at length: could it really be that violence against women is now beginning to trump their taboo on reporting Aboriginal misdeeds?
For the Australian Left and for almost all radical feminists, there is one cause of the astronomical rate of male Aboriginal violence against Aboriginal women: the white man. According to Bronwen Carlson, in the Conversation article cited above, “Violence against Indigenous women is deeply ingrained in Australia’s colonial history which condoned the murder, rape, and sexual abuse of Indigenous women.” In other words, this egregious piece of anti-white racism blames the white man for crimes against Aboriginal women, not the Aboriginal men who actually carried out presumably each and every one of these attacks.
According to Liz Conor’s Skin Deep: Settler Impressions of Aboriginal Women (2016, p. 95), there was an “undoubted upsurge in violence towards Aboriginal women, particularly in the two decades following first contact”, which was attributed to Aboriginal men as “an expedient contrivance”. It would be interesting to learn how Conor knows that there was an “undoubted upsurge in violence” in the two decades after first contact, as absolutely no statistics exist, or could possibly exist, about Aboriginal male violence against Aboriginal women in pre-contact Australia. All of the accounts made by well-qualified early white observers of Aboriginal society suggest the exact opposite, that violence and the grossest kinds of discrimination against Aboriginal women by Aboriginal men in pre-contact Aboriginal society were endemic and pervasive, and had been for 40,000 years.
It therefore seems surely to have been the case that a main cause of the extraordinarily high levels of violence by Aboriginal men against Aboriginal women, and in all likelihood, the main cause of it, is to be found in pre-contact Aboriginal society, in which, as George Taplin put it in the extract above, “the woman’s life is of no account if her husband wishes to destroy it”. Once again, the current depiction of pre-contact Aboriginal society by the Left as that of a rustic utopia is the exact opposite of its actual nature, Orwellian in its total distortion of the truth, in the interests of maligning the society which white Europeans have built up in Australia.
William D. Rubinstein held Chairs of History at Deakin University and at the University of Wales. A frequent contributor to Quadrant, he wrote on cannibalism in traditional Aboriginal society in the September issue