I’m Australian. From a few years after our country’s federation in 1901 until the late 60s (and in some places, illegally, into the 1970s) we separated mixed-race children from Indigenous families in a policy now referred to as the Stolen Generations. The reason given by the government was that Indigenous Australians had been noble savages as the first population of the country, well done, but, citing their declining population (caused of course by colonialism), they would inevitably go extinct, and white Australians had a moral obligation to save their, less hopeless, mixed-race descendants from this fate, aided by the fact that Indigenous visual features tend to be coded for by recessive genes, resulting in greater comfort for the white population assimilating people who looked more like them. This is obviously a bizarre reason, and what seems more plausible to me is that upon federating, like South Africa, Australia was wary of an America-style one-drop rule lessening the numbers of the dominant social group, so Australia decided to reverse it to maintain white supremacy. (Actually, the policy only extended to half-white children.)

That makes a lot more sense, although it begs the question: why did Australia care so much about white supremacy after federation when the non-white (by the day's standards) population was only a couple of percentage points of the total? Indeed, Australia at the same time was busy instituting the White Australia Policy to prevent migration of non-white groups to Australia and giving white women political rights and protecting white workers, both with world-first policies, to make life more equal and enjoyable for white Australians while keeping their population comparatively huge. What’s the point of oppressing a negligible minority? And at that rate, putting so much cunning legislative effort into reducing it? Surely at a certain point it pays to have more people to oppress. I mean, many Southern states in the US had majority slave populations. Obviously the profits of oppression in that context were huge. I can’t see exactly how Australia has gotten anything near that from oppressing Indigenous people, at least after we forced them off the land we now exploit.

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    White supremacy doesn't oppress (solely) for economic gains. It is foremost a social order - by making their chosen ingroup superior to an outgroup, the government secures the ingroup's loyalty even though other aspects of their existence (such as living conditions) are lacking. They needed no reason to inflict cruelty on these children beyond the fact that the children were part of the out-group.
    – SPavel
    Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 19:19
  • I think that's a cogent point. The lacking "other aspects" of white existence in Australia are mysterious to me. We were the first country to give white women full political rights at the federal level and enshrined strong protections of the working class, seeking to abolish "class" in the social sense altogether, the reason Australians to this day blow far more of their money before they die than most and sit in the front of taxis. We continue to rank in the top handful of the human development index, despite third-world living conditions in remote Indigenous communities. Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 1:20
  • Perhaps it was important to have a scapegoat and a sense of crisis to form a collective identity at a time when Western Australia very much looked like it could secede, and the rest of the country still didn't have a sense of nationhood until bonding during World War One. Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 1:22

1 Answer 1


Native Australians were not a small minority

While Native Australians were a small total, it was still pretty big for Australia. Plus it doesn't particularly matter how many members of that group are actually around. For example the German population in 1933 was about 66 million, and only about half a million Jews. In Australia there were just under 800,000 Native Australians in 1900, while the total Australian population was about 3.74 million. Granted that "800,000" number is a modern count, and in 1900 they may well have under-counted the native population. But it goes to show that there were plenty of "natives" to make oppressing them "worthwhile". 1900 was also a time where eugenics was in vogue, as was the idea of racial duty. So it makes sense that, regardless of population, the Australians would feel they had a "duty" to a "lesser race." Plus on the face of it it's easier to oppress a minority the smaller it is. Push back on too big a group and you get a ethno-based civil war instead of an oppressed minority!

Also, the reason the US South has large/majority African-American populations is that at the time slavery paid. But also slavery of Africans was made VASTLY EASIER because Africans were resistant to European diseases, and had no way to get home should they run away. Those last two are big reasons why both Native Americans and Native Australians were not enslaved in large numbers. They died in droves to European diseases and they could always run "back home" to locations whites would have a hard time following. So the Aussies have little or no financial reason to preserve the Native Australian population.

  • I'm sorry, but could you provide a source? There are, according to the last census, just under 800,000 Indigenous Australians today, and someone with a small amount of Indigenous ancestry is now considered fully Indigenous, supported by the community in response to the Stolen Generations. Any figure I can find in the early twentieth century is an order of magnitude lower than the one you cite, including the one I cited. Are you sure you're not mixing up the past and present? Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 23:52
  • Additionally, and I'm not trying to chastise you but merely inform you, the term "native Australians" is not used, and would be considered unacceptable. "Native" became a derogatory term in our history, unlike other English-speaking colonial countries. It persists, I think, only in the legal recognition of "native title", which I've never heard criticised, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have opposition. "Aboriginal" refers to all first Australians except Torres Strait Islanders, and "Indigenous" refers to both. Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 23:56

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