Tyson Holloway-Clarke explains the history of colonisation, and how it affects us today.
To understand colonisation and its effects today, we ought to take a step back and talk about colony, empire and talk a little about history.
Think of the colony as a dam that has been built on the land to collect as much water as it can, and colonisation as the building and maintenance of that dam. Then think of an empire as a farm on a far away land that pipes that water away from the dam and the land, ensuring the farm is well watered and thriving.
That is what Australia was and continues to be.
For thousands of years empires and nations have waged war, conquered territory and grown their pile of treasure in measures of gold and blood. They could have been ruled by a royal monarch like a queen, or a warlord like Genghis Khan. What they all have in common is a core elite group of rulers who grow rich and powerful, and a vast array of subjects that make that empire richer.
In the last few hundred years, many of the empires originated from Europe, but empires have existed all around the world. The largest of these empires was the British Empire, powered by a dominant navy and ruthless expansion. Their empire was so vast, they became the eventual colonisers of Australia all the way on the other side of the world. There were many other empires spread across the world at the time. The French, Belgian, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, German and other European empires all competed with the British for colonial rule over Africa, Asia and the Americas. Only the most remote and isolated parts of the world managed to avoid the spread of empire for the last few hundred years.
With so much global competition over land, new laws governed the trade of land between these nations and empires. There were 3 rules for acquiring land that are the same today. Land had to either be conquered, given freely, or be free of other people entirely. The fancy name for the last one is terra nullius and was what James Cook wrongly invoked when they sought to claim the land for the British Empire. It is the lie that Australia was built on that the Mabo Case revealed.
Each and every empire has had a different playbook, a different idea of how to best colonise. For some empires, getting the workers was the hard part so they ensured they could leverage slavery like in the North Atlantic. For Australia, they knew they had lied about terra nullius and have done whatever they could to diminish the First Nations that held sovereignty over the land. It is a fundamental insecurity that Australia still has not found a way to get over.
Invariably the history of colonisation has been violent. Always, the process of building the colony resulted in dispossession of land, the genocide of peoples Indigenous to the land, and exploitation of the survivors and of the land itself. Hundreds of millions of people have been killed in the pursuit of empire. Massacre, starvation, disease, slavery, and imprisonment are all part of an empire’s tool box.
If you think about the building of a dam, and the syphoning of water away from the land you can see how colonisation kills. When land is seen only through the lens of the resources to be extracted and money to be made, it's seen as expendable and replaceable. That is why empires have been so obsessed with expansion. Why ensure a colony survives when you can just drain it of everything of use to you before abandoning it.
Religion has also been a tool of colonisation, and Christian orders around Australia and the world have their own fair share of blood on their hands. Together, empires and churches have sought to erase culture and replace it with their own, control and separate families and rule over millions of people for their own enrichment. These are just some of the tactics of colonisation. If you have been to The Vatican or any number of European palaces and museums you have seen their collection. In human history, there have been no greater or more evil partners in crime than church and empire.
Once you understand a little about empire and colonisation, you start seeing it everywhere. When Australia became a Federation, the deed to the dam was handed from the British themselves to a new class of acceptable people in the eyes of the empire, “Australians”.
To maintain Australia is to maintain the lie that founded it. As this nation has grown and evolved, its purpose has remained the same. Through the export of food and natural resources, land produces wealth and that wealth is held by our own version of modern queens and warlords. Now, there are less divine blessings from churches, and the carving of flesh happens more in prison cells rather than in the open on Country. Rule over the colony is decided by votes and dollars now. Yet we still have kings and queens of private corporate empires, inheriting land from their forebears and hoarding that wealth. All while destroying Country.
If the colony is our home, colonisation is what ensures we remain children under this roof, abiding by rules we had no say in making. As custodians, we look upon Country as the walls of this house rot and the building threatens to collapse. The land this house has built on is now seeking to reject its parasite. Waters rise in diseased and muddy deluge, fires rage and kill billions of animals. The colony seeks to endure, raising wealth as best it can, until the inevitable day its hunger can no longer be satiated. Then the empire will move on. The dam will be dry, the waters gone. What will become of all of us then, not just the First Nations?