European settlement had a severe and devastating impact on Indigenous people. Their dispossession of the land, exposure to new diseases and involvement in violent conflict, resulted in the death of a vast number of the Aboriginal peoples. The small percentage of Aboriginal people who did not die during these early decades of the colony, were not unaffected. The impact of the white settlers changed their lives, and the lives of future generations, forever.
Colonisation or invasion?
In 1770, English explorer Captain James Cook claimed the eastern portion of the Australian continent in the name of King George III. While sailing from Botany Bay to Cape York, Captain Cook recorded in his journal a number of interactions with the Indigenous peoples of Australia.
It is believed that at least 750 000 Aboriginal people were living in Australia at the time of Captain Cook's arrival. These people were divided into around 600 different tribes and had hundreds of different languages. Archaeological evidence suggests that the ancestors of the modern Indigenous people of Australia migrated to the continent more than 50 000 years ago. Isolated from external influences, the Aboriginal peoples developed their own way of life, in accordance with their religious and spiritual beliefs of the Dreamtime (Indigenous time of creation).
Despite knowing of the existence of these peoples, the British considered the Australian continent to be a terra nullius under English law. Terra nullius is a Latin term meaning 'land belonging to no one.' Eight years later, the British went ahead with their plans to establish a penal colony in New South Wales. On 26 January 1788, the First Fleet, led by Captain Arthur Phillip, arrived in Sydney Cove.
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Not long after the First Fleet arrived in New South Wales, colonial governments began to grant, lease and sell land to white settlers. As the prosperity of the colonial wool industry increased, more settlers...