EDUC5140 Research essay JIN Man 110158709

Assimilation policies and the impacts on the Aboriginal people in Australia

Throughout Aboriginal history and Australian history, many Aboriginal policies have been

made as tools of solving the problems and conflicts between European colonizers and

Indigenous Australian people. By the end of the 19th century, as the white population

spread across the continent, the contact and conflicts with Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Islander people were intensified. As important policies at the beginning of the 20th century,

Aboriginal assimilation policies, especially the Australian indigenous child removal policies,

between the 1930s and the 1960s have significant impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Islander people's life. Thus, the purpose of this essay is to examine the effects of

assimilation policies on Aboriginal people and Aboriginal education. Firstly, this essay will

review the historical background of assimilation policies and briefly introduce the

implementation of the policies focusing on the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Islander children from their families. Secondly, the essay will outlines the ways in which

assimilation policies has profoundly affected on Aboriginal people's family life, culture and

education in terms of the negative impacts on their physical and mental health and the

emerging of other social problems.

Review of assimilation policies

The assimilation policies between the 1930s and the 1960s play important roles during

development of Australian Aboriginal policies and in Australian and Aboriginal history.

Around the end of 19th century, as the European settlers established more and more

EDUC5140 Research essay JIN Man 110158709

colonies across Australia, the direct contacts between white Australian and Aboriginal and

Torres Strait Islander people were established fast as well, which results in the increasing

number of 'mixed-descent' children (Krieken 2006, p.301). Chesterman and Douglas (2004,

p. 51) point out the statistics from Northern Standard shows that in the Northern Territory in

1934, four fifths newborn babies were 'mixed-blood' and their parents were 'mixed-blood' as

well. Therefore, the rapid growth of 'mixed descent' population caused growing concern

among governments and Indigenous administrators about their dominant population and

culture. Consequently, as a 'solution' of 'half-caste problem', assimilation policy was

established in1937 (Carter 2006, p. 79). Experts state that the aim of the policy is to

assimilate the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, especially the 'mixed descent'

population, into the white society and culture(Carter 2006; Chesterman & Douglas 2004;

Krieken 2006). This involves acting in the same living manner, having and sharing the same

rights and responsibilities, adapting the customs and affecting by same beliefs with white

Australians (Chesterman & Douglas 2004, p. 48). It implies that as the process of

assimilation, Aboriginal people would have to be disconnected from their prior communities

and remove their own culture, build the links and establish the positions within the

European society and eventually integrate with white society.

However, although governments claimed that the official policies would help Aboriginal

people, especially 'mixed-descent' children adapt into white society, they pursued the

policies in a erroneous way. During the practical implementation of assimilation policies, a

large number of 'mixed descent' Indigenous children were forced to separate from their

EDUC5140 Research essay JIN Man 110158709

family members and sent to special institutions or adopted by white Australian families

(Carter 2006; Moran 2005). For example, in the period between 1910 and 1970, under the

forced Aboriginal child removal policy, between 30 percent to 10 percent Aboriginal children

were taken away from their families (Mozley 2015, p. 27). Moreover, Austin (cited in Krieken

2006, p. 303) claims that in the period between 1912 to 1962, due to the policy of forced

removal, about 60 percent of 'mixed blood' children suffered from separation from their

family members. This may cause both Indigenous children, who were known as the stolen

generations, and their parents the emotional and psychological trauma and generate

profound negative impacts on several generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander


Impacts on Aboriginal people's life and culture

There are significant impacts of assimilation polices on Aboriginal life and culture. One of

them is the destruction of Aboriginal family life. The Australian Human Rights and Equal

Opportunity Commission (HREOC) report (cited in Krieken 2006, p. 303) shows that as a

result of the separation of Aboriginal children from their parents and communities, most

Indigenous families have been disrupted deeply. For example, experts agrees that

assimilation policies have led to the noticeable changes and failure in Aboriginal family

structures during that period of time (Ban 2005; Mozley 2015; Short 2003). This means that

under the process of assimilation policies, the links between the removed Aboriginal

children and their families and communities were eroded severely and their parents were

suffering from serious emotional distress because of the loss of their children. Ban (2005, p.

EDUC5140 Research essay JIN Man 110158709

387) further explains that the traumatic experience of family life in the childhood may result

in the poor performance in raising their own children. It implies that the negative influence

of assimilation policies on Aboriginal family life may produce a vicious circle and not only

exist within the stolen generation, but also affect Aboriginal people today.

Another considerable effect of assimilation policies is that the Aboriginal culture was

destroyed. According to some authors, Aboriginal people were deprived of their cultural

rights and their cultural links were severed (Ban 2005; Mozley 2015) In this case, they may

lose the spiritual identity as Aboriginal culture group which can result in the destruction of

Aboriginal people's self-esteem, reduction of their sense of security and increase of mental

stress (Ban 2005, p. 387). Furthermore, as the consequences of destruction of Aboriginal

families and culture, forcible removed Aboriginal children and their family members have

suffered from serious mental and social problems. According to Ban (2005), generations of

Aboriginal people have negatively affected by the assimilation policies and they have

experienced emotional pain and psychological suffering, which can lead to substance and

alcohol abuse and other health problems. Similarly, Mozley (2015) points out that as the

adverse effect of assimilation policies, physical, sexual and emotional abuse have

damaged Aboriginal people's life. It seems that because of the assimilation policies,

situation was disadvantageous for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as both

culture groups and individuals.

EDUC5140 Research essay JIN Man 110158709

Impacts on Aboriginal education

There are also negative impacts of assimilation polices on Aboriginal education. After

Aboriginal children were brought into mainstream society, they were experiencing unequal

treatment and governments failed to provide support (Carter 2006, p. 80). Firstly, education

policy makers set lower education standards and expectations for Aboriginal children

removed in institutions. For example, according to Price (2015, p. 4), young Aboriginal

children were trained as cheap labours and servants rather than obtained the formal

education as other white Australian children. Instead of formal education curriculum, the

main content knowledge that Aboriginal children who were taken into white society received

was Christian doctrine (Beresford 2012, p. 90). Allied to this, the author also found that

teaching staff in the institutions had limited knowledge without professional training

((Beresford 2012, p. 90). This means that the quality of teachers for Aboriginal and Torres

Strait Islander children were lower than other white Australian educators. Consequently,

due to the low levels of knowledge and lack of understanding of Aboriginal background,

they may not able to provide effective teaching for meeting the needs of Aboriginal children

as the preparation of stepping into white Australian society. This implies that there was

racial discrimination in the mainstream education and Aboriginal children were treated

unfairly. They were forced to remove their own cultural and spiritual beliefs and accept new

religion by the policies of assimilation. As a result, Aboriginal children of the stolen

generation had less chances and capability to acquire and develop social skills and

competence for their future life in white Australian society. Even today, the adverse

consequences still can be seen from the current situation of Aboriginal education. Price

EDUC5140 Research essay JIN Man 110158709

(2015, p. 11) notes that in Year 3, nearly 80 percent of Aboriginal students are under the

standard of national English literacy. And on average, they tend to skip one day of

education per week. These numbers are significantly higher than that for other Australian

students. As a result, poor schooling experiences produce more difficulties for their survival

in the white society.

Secondly, the living condition of Aboriginal children in institutions was poor. According to

Beresford (2012, p. 90), there was a lack of even basic amenities and a large number of

have to sleep in a poor conditioned dormitory. This may lead to the spread of diseases and

health problems among the children removed. For example, Short (2003, p. 503) found that

many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the institutions were commonly in ill

health condition because of the appalling living conditions. It can be seen that governments

failed to provide the equal access to facilities and resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Islander children as the white children. This may cause obstacles and produce the

resentment against the adaptation into the white society.

Moreover, Aboriginal children were required to do considerable manual work when they

were in state schools and institutions. For instance, according to, the schooling of

Aboriginal children involved high intensity of labour work every day. It can be seen that

children removed have suffered from physical abuse during their education in European

society. The author further claims that many Aboriginal children were commonly

experiencing the sexual and emotional abuse (Beresford 2012, p. 90) which made their

EDUC5140 Research essay JIN Man 110158709

childhood and assimilation into the society bleak. In this situation, their emotional and

physical problem may result in self-harm, criminal violence, and even suicide (Mozley 2015,

p. 27; Short 2003, p. 503). An example can be seen in a report, according to Krieken (2006,

p. 298), an Aboriginal person who committed suicide after a long period of time regulating

by special institutions expressed that his life and family was destroyed and he could not

bear the pain of racial discrimination. It seems that under the policies of assimilation, there

were adverse impacts on Aboriginal education and serious physical and mental health

problems were generated which may still be concerned issues today among Aboriginal


In conclusion, under the policies of assimilation, forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres

Strait Islander children have negative effects on Aboriginal people and education to a large

extent. A great deal of Aboriginal children, especially 'mixed-blood' children, were forced to

separate from their families and generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

were living under the threat and fear of loss of family members. The traditional family

structures and cultural identities of Indigenous Australian people were deeply ruined which

resulted in the mental and psychological health damages and social problems such as

violence and alcohol or substance abuse. Furthermore, the low quality and inequality of

education and resources which Aboriginal children in institutions received led to low

educational achievement. Meanwhile, the pain of heavily overload manual labour and

physical abuse was more than they could bear. All of these aspects and impacts of

assimilation policies can not be ignored in the Aboriginal history and Australian history

EDUC5140 Research essay JIN Man 110158709

because they contributed to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's profound

suffering from mental, emotional and physical health problems throughout the Aboriginal

generations mentioned above.

Word account: 1831

EDUC5140 Research essay JIN Man 110158709

Ban, P 2005, 'Aboriginal child placement principle and family group conferences',
Australian Social Work, vol. 58, no. 4, pp. 384-394.

Beresford, Q 2012, 'Separate and equal: an outline of Aboriginal education 1900-1996', in
Q Beresford, G Partington & G Gower (eds), Reform and Resistance in Aboriginal
Education, UWA Press, Western Australia, pp. 85-119.

Carter, DJ 2006, 'Aboriginal history and Australian history', Dispossession, dreams and
diversity: issues in Australian studies, Pearson Education, N. S. W., pp. 64-85.

Chesterman, J &Douglas, H 2004, ' Their ultimate absorption: assimilation in 1930s
Australia', Journal of Australian Studies, vol. 28, no. 81, pp. 47-58.

Krieken, RV 2006, 'The stolen generations and cultural genocide: the forced removal of
Australian Indigenous children from their families and its implications for the sociology of
childhood', Childhood, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 297-311.

Moran, A 2005, 'White Australia, settler nationalism and Aboriginal assimilation', Australian
Journal of Politics and History, vol. 51, no. 2, pp. 168-193.

Mozley, JW 2015, 'The stolen generations: what does this mean for Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander children and young people today?', in K Price (ed.), Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Education: An Introduction for the Teaching Profession, Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, pp. 21-34.

Price, K 2015, 'A brief history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education in Australia',
in K Price (ed.), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education: An Introduction for the
Teaching Profession, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 1-20.

Short, D 2003, 'Reconciliation, assimilation, and the Indigenous peoples of Australia',
International Political Science Review, vol. 24, no. 4, pp. 491-513.